Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Emmanuel Dongala

Emmanuel Dongala

Emmanuel Dongala born July 14, 1941 is a Congolese Chemist, short story writer, novelist and playwright, schooled in Brazzaville , and studied in the United States where he earned a BA in Chemistry from Oberlin College and an MA from Rutgers University . He then left the United States for France , where he was awarded a PhD in Organic Chemistry. Upon his return to the Congo he worked as a teacher and dean until 1998, when he was forced to leave because of the civil war. Helped by his friend, the writer Philip Roth, Dongala now lives in the United States , where he teaches at Bard College and holds the Richard B. Fisher Chair in Natural Sciences.

Dongala, who writes in French and whose books have been translated into a dozen languages, has published four novels, a collection of short stories and a play. His collection of short stories, Jazz et Vin de Palme ( Jazz and Palm Wine) , published while the Congo was a Marxist-Leninist state, was banned because it satirised those in power. The ban was only lifted in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent collapse of the Congolese one-party state.

Dongala is the founder and former president of the National Association of Congolese Writers and the Congolese chapter of PEN. He also founded and led the theatre company, Le Théâtre de l'Eclair. His essays and articles have appeared in numerous major newspapers and magazines, including Le Monde, The New York Times, and Transition.

Dongala's novel Le Feu des Origines ( The Fires of Origins) , received the Grand Prix d'Afrique Noire and the Grand Prix de la Fondation de France. La Marseillaise described it as "a stunning novel…the art of Emmanuel Dongala is extreme…this novel, which plunges into the heart of reality, becomes legend." His novel, Johnny Mad Dog , was selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of its books of the year - a film adaptation was released in 2008. Questioned on his reasons for writing, Dongala answers “Why do people make love?”

A great African novel: inspired yet sober, wide-ranging yet written concisely, purely, without a superfluous word. . .a human history of an entire continent." - La Suisse on The Fire of Origins

In 1999 Emmanuel Dongala was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 2003, he was the winner of the prestigious Fonlon-Nichols Prize 2003 for literary excellence. His works have been translated into a dozen different languages.

Writers Festival Appearances