Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Outtakes 3: a conversation with the French-African playwright and novelist Koffi Kwahulé

What follows is the last of three outtakes from a conversation I had with Koffi Kwahulé for a special section, "Africa Writes Back," which I curated, edited and wrote for the November issue of American Theatre magazine.

RANDY: How old were you when you changed your citizenship into French?
KOFFI: I became French again on December 13, 1995, so at 39. I say became French again because since I was born before 1960, the year of Ivory Coast's Independence (so during colonization), I was born French. So I asked for what is called a Reintegration.

RANDY: In an interview elsewhere, Koffi, you acknowledged that Sony Labou Tansi was your "mentor." Was Tansi truly a mentor who was a real-life friend? Or was he just an inspiration? There is a difference, you know, and sometimes they are blurred.
KOFFI: The interview where I'm supposed to have said that Sony Labou Tansi was my mentor is pure nonsense. I never met Sony while he was alive and I only read his plays after he had died. While I respect Sony's language, I don't really like the architecture of his plays, which I find too dated. In addition, Sony's work was, in my opinion, Francophonie's "thing" or alibi. Thus, all of Sony's plays were systematically produced by the Festival de la Francophonie de Limoges. It seems to me that this "comfort" didn't allow him to go beyond what the Festival expected from him, and to create much more ambitious dramaturgical work, which his incontestable talent would have allowed. As a matter of fact, since his death, his plays are not performed anymore. So, all this to say: I didn't know Sony, and he is not my mentor.
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