A couple of months ago, I mentioned the Paris book fair, where the theme was “Francophonie.” I did not realize, until I read this article in the Hindustan Times, however, that for all the celebrations of ‘Francophone Literature,’ not a single native French writer had been invited:
The absence of French writing at the Fair had much to do with a very widespread interpretation of the term Francophone literature as covering writing in French by the non-French. This implicit definition touched a raw nerve. ‘Isn’t France Francophone?’, asked one delegate ironically evoking what is a sensitive topic at the best of times. The first salvo was fired by Amin Maalouf, the Paris based Franco-Lebanese writer-journalist who raised his voice against this appellation.
After all, who is a Francophone writer? It is a person who writes in French. This is obvious but yet it is true only in theory. For the French, the term Francophone writers should mean us (the French included), says Maalouf, but it actually means ‘them’, ‘the others’, ‘the foreigners’, the ones from the former colonies.
And they are often relegated to a separate shelf in bookstores, whereas the work of white writers writing in French, like Milan Kundera, are placed on the regular French literature shelves.