Recently, I attended the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association’s 71st annual convention in Spokane, Washington. I have been participating in the conference for many years now and, without exception, always come away reinvigorated and full of new ideas.
I usually alternate my presentations between literature and pedagogy. As I gave a paper on pedagogy last year, this year my presentation was on Franco-immigrant writers. My paper was titled: Writing in the Adopted Country: Return to the Past or Moving Forward? The presentation examined the phenomenon of immigrant writers and their relationship with their birthplace, adopted country, and their writing. What is the importance of the genius loci of the native and adopted land? What is the role of the remembrance of past places in their writing and their creative process?
Besides the geographical separation, there is often linguistic and literary border crossing for some immigrant writers. The reason for the move also influences their relationship with the language and what it allows them to do. The new land is not inherited but adopted. It’s an appropriation. How does the experience differ among immigrants from francophone and non-francophone countries? My paper compared the œuvre of two immigrant writers, one from the former, Andrée Chedid, and one from the latter, Chahdortt Djavann. For Chedid, the border crossing was smoother because she was well-versed in the French language and culture prior to her arrival in Paris. For Djavann, coming from a non-francophone country, the initial period was fraught with obstacles. Nevertheless, she succeeded in writing her first book in French only 13 years after her arrival in Paris. Despite the initial difficulty, she found her balance and liberation through literature. Once she crossed the linguistic barrier, the creative expression became an equilibrium and thus a liberation.
Through an in-depth examination of some of their work, the presentation examined in what way the displacement has defined their writing. For both writers, rather than being nostalgic, the past becomes a forward-moving force that defines and shapes their present as well as their creative process. Albeit in very different ways, both authors use the interplay between the old and new as a passage that fuels their creativity. The space between the two lands has defined and given Chedid and Djavann their literary identity, the “other” helping define the new “self”. We concluded by showing how immigrant writers have been receiving wider critical acclaim in France in the 21st century. Their writings have even been recognized by the mainstream literary establishment by way of prestigious literary prizes. For example, in 2008, the Afghani writer, Atiq Rahimi won the Goncourt prize and the Guinean novelist Tierno Monénembo received the Prix Renaudot for their first novels written in French. It is indeed fascinating to take the linguistic, cultural, and literary voyage of immigrant writers and to learn how the return to the past becomes a forward-moving force.
The RMMLA conference is also very rich in the variety of pedagogy sessions it offers. I attended several presentations on “Practical Approaches to Teaching Literature”, “Teaching Foreign Languages”, “Flipping the Classroom in Language and Literature Courses” and “Interdisciplinary Approaches in Teaching Language and Literature”. All the presentations were followed by stimulating discussions and sharing of tried-and-true teaching experiences.
I am forever grateful to Berkeley Language Center for supporting lecturers with the travel grants and making it possible for us to attend conferences and continue our professional development.
Butor, Michel. Le Génie du lieu. Paris : Grasset, 1958.
Chedid, Andrée. Les Saisons de passage. Paris : Flammarion, 1996.
Kernel, Brigitte. Entre Nil et Seine. Paris : Belfond, 2006.
Djavann, Chahdortt. Comment peut-on être français ? Paris : Flammarion, 2006.
Les Putes voilées n’iront jamais au paradis. Paris : Grasset, 2016.
Comment lutter efficacement contre l’idéologie islamique. Paris : Grasset, 2016.