Camara Laye was a writer from Guinea. He was the author of The African Child (L’Enfant noir), a novel based loosely on his own childhood, and The Radiance of the King (Le Regard du roi). Both novels are among the earliest major works in Francophone African literature.
Camara Laye was born in Kouroussa, a town in what was then the colony of French Guinea January 1, 1928
His family were Malinke (a Mandé-speaking ethnicity), and he was born into a system where he had to follow his forefathers footsteps who traditionally worked as blacksmiths and goldsmiths. His mother was from the village of Tindican, and his immediate childhood surroundings were not predominantly influenced by French culture.
He attended both Quranic and French elementary schools in Kouroussa. At the age of 15 he went to Conakry, the colonial capital, to continue his education. He attended vocational studies in motor mechanics. In 1947, he travelled to Paris to continue studying mechanics. There he worked and took further courses in engineering and worked towards the baccalauréat.
Camara Laye published his first novel in 1953, the autobiographical L’Enfant noir (The African Child, also published as The Dark Child). It follows his own journey from childhood in Kouroussa, his education in Conakry, and eventual departure for France. The book won the Prix Charles Veillon in 1954. L’Enfant noir was followed the next year by Le Regard du roi (The Radiance of the King). The Radiance of the King was described by Kwame Anthony Appiah as “one of the greatest of the African novels of the colonial period.”
In 1956 Camara Laye returned to Africa, first to Dahomey, then the Gold Coast, and finally to newly independent Guinea, where he held several government posts. He left Guinea for Senegal in 1965 because of political issues, never returning to his home country. In 1966 Camara Laye’s third novel, Dramouss (A Dream of Africa), was published. In 1978 his fourth and final work, Le Maître de la parole – Kouma Lafôlô Kouma (The Guardian of the Word), was published. The novel was based on a Malian epic told by the griot Babou Condé about Sundiata Keita, the 13th-century founder of the Mali Empire.
Camara Laye died in 1980 in Dakar of a kidney infection.
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