Gadjigo Publishes New Book on Sembène

March 26, 2010

Mount Holyoke professor of French Samba Gadjigo is continuing his work on Ousmane Sembène with a new book about the renowned African author and filmmaker: Ousmane Sembène: The Making of a Militant Artist is being published April 9 by Indiana University Press.

In 2007, Gadjigo penned a long-awaited biography, titled Ousmane Sembène: Une Conscience Africaine, which covered Sembène's life from his birth in 1923 to the writing of his first book in 1956. In his new book, he presents a personal portrait and intellectual history of Sembène, a towering figure of African literature who is also widely considered the "father of African film."

The new book is the first comprehensive biography of Sembène; according to the publisher, it contributes a critical appraisal of his life and art in the context of the political and social influences on his work. Beginning with Sembène’s life in Casamance, Senegal, and ending with his militant career as a dockworker in Marseilles, Gadjigo places Sembène into the context of African colonial and postcolonial culture and charts his achievements in film and literature. This landmark book reveals the inner workings of one of Africa’s most distinguished and controversial figures.

"Samba Gadjigo's book is both biography and demystification. It exposes the situations and historical moments which created Sembène the artist. Concisely and convincingly written, this investigation of the life of a man who inhabited various intellectual, artistic, and political spaces is an eloquent duty of memory," said Sada Niang, author of Djibril Diop Mambety. The book includes a foreward by actor Danny Glover.

Sembène, who died in 2007 at age 84, started out working as a bricklayer, fought in World War II as a colonial infantryman, and then became a trade union organizer and a political activist in the French Communist Party and in pro-independence African parties in Marseilles, France, before turning his attention to writing and filmmaking in the 1960s. Born and raised in Senegal, Gadjigo had his first taste of Sembène's work as a high school student, when he read God's Bits of Wood. From that point on, he was an avid follower and scholar of Sembène's writing and films.

The two first met in 1989 when Gadjigo invited the filmmaker to participate in a Five College African Studies Consortium conference on his work. When Gadjigo approached Sembène in 1994 about writing his biography, Sembène anointed him his official biographer. Though Sembène—who died in 2007 at age 84—persistently deflected attention away from his private life and past, Gadjigo had unprecedented access to the artist and his family.

Gadjigo's academic research focuses on French-speaking Africa, particularly the work of Sembene. He is also the author of Ecole blanche, Afrique noire: L'image de l'école coloniale dans le roman africaine francophone and editor of Ousmane Sembène: Dialogue with Critics and Writers. He has directed a documentary on Sembene's film, Moolaade, and his writing has appeared in First of the Month, Research in African Literatures, and Contributions in Black Studies. In addition to his course offerings in the French department, Gadjigo is a member of the African American and African Studies program faculty.

Related Links:

Samba Gadjigo Faculty Profile

Ousmane Sembène: The Making of a Militant Artist