Françoise Pfaff likes to talk. But while gab may come easily to the Howard University French professor, putting together Conversations With Maryse Condé, her book of dialogues with the Guadeloupean author, proved to be an entirely different matter. The book, in its English translation, is the product of over 15 years of work, with interviews taking place in D.C., New York, the Caribbean, and France. “People always say a book of interviews is easy. You just take a microphone and go to the person,” says Pfaff. “Well, it’s not that easy.”

“Maryse Condé is a very nice and knowledgeable person, but because she can get impatient if she can see that you don’t know your subject matter, I spent three or four months reading her work—novels, plays, children’s books, articles,” says Pfaff.

She

adds, “It was a lot of work to prepare the interviews, conduct the interviews, to follow her from location to location, and then the whole work of editing the spoken word without betraying the spontaneity.”

The liveliness of the conversations between the two women is the book’s greatest strength. Even those not familiar with Condé’s work will find the writer’s incisive opinions, on everything from Africa’s decolonization period to current literary trends, engaging and thought-provoking.

Pfaff is currently working on a new book, though she has put away the tape recorder for the time being. Her book on Mauritanian filmmaker Med Hondo will consist of critical essays rather than interviews.

Not that Pfaff regrets her experience with Condé. On the contrary, for Pfaff the process went beyond academic enrichment. “I’m also of West Indian descent,” says Pfaff, whose father is from Guadeloupe, though she grew up in France. “Interviewing Maryse Condé was not only knowing her and her work, but it allowed me to know who I was and what the culture of my ancestors was.”—Holly Bass