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An Interview with Gisèle Pineau
A writer by passion and a psychiatric nurse by profession, Gisèle Pineau, a French woman with Antillean roots, is part of the generation of writers whose works cannot be confined to a specific time or space and who defy conventions. Gisèle Pineau's writings were first published in Paris by Editions Hatier in 1987. Her short stories appeared on a francophone literary scene which was then dominated by the Creolist authors Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphaël Confiant and Jean Bernabé. Their literary texts and theoretical manifesto Eloge de la créolité [In Praise of Creoleness, 1990] attempted to redefine the parameters of the mergence of a "true" Antillean writing. Pineau's trajectory is different. She is committed to rethinking the Antillean situation and wants to shine a new light on its underlying phenomena.
From children's literature, to essays, and coffee table books, not to mention novels, the 1993 winner of the Carbet de la Caraïbe prize for La grande drive des esprits [The Drifting of Spirits, 2000], Gisèle Pineau, earned accolades with L'espérance macadam (1995) [Macadam dreams, 2003], L'exil selon Julia (1996) [Exile according to Julia, 2003], and L'âme prêtée aux oiseaux (1998). Chair Piment, her latest work published by Mercure de France in 2002, is also receiving critical praise. Femmes des Antilles: traces et voix: 150 ans après l'abolition de l'esclavage, a reference work written in collaboration with journalist Marie Abraham, is an edifying homage to the struggles and the resistance of Antillean women as hearth and head of their families in a matrifocal society.
This interview took place in December 2002, in her apartment in Paris, where she now resides after having lived for some twenty years in Guadeloupe.
Violence and Renewal in Guadeloupe: The First Novels
Nadège Veldwachter: Gisèle Pineau, you are one of those writers whose reputation is confirmed with the appearance of each of your works. While bringing your style to bear in different registers, the recurrence of problems related to the history and daily life of Antillean society is clear. What draws attention is your use of natural elements, which are never an end in themselves. It serves as a mold to articulate the complexity of the present social and economic situation of Guadeloupe, its psyche affected by a colonial past that must be overcome. How would you describe your process of creation? What mechanisms trigger your writing?
Gisèle Pineau: That depends on the works. For the first novels, especially La grande drive des esprits, I was writing a little bit every day without a specific plan. The story took shape little by little, and I understood where I wanted to go with it. I am rather [End Page 180] the kind of writer who lets herself be carried away; I enter, in a way, into an unknown, unsuspected world, and I keep moving forward. It's like wandering.
For the second novel, L'espérance-macadam, I had a structure to follow since I had a theme: incest. I wanted to bring to life the forces of nature, their violence, and the violence of human beings. I wanted to evoke the whirling winds of the cyclones through a circular construction that grows denser and denser until you see the father commit this act of violence. That plan was adapted to the story and the characters who, even if they weren't there at the beginning, presented themselves in the course of the writing. I am quite attuned to the role of the obscure in the process of creation. I don't control much from the beginning, and I try to go as far as possible over into the unknown. It would be like going into something that appears in a fog.
L'espérance-macadam relates the violence that is done to women and girls. I have met many people who were victims of incest and it...