The Lights of Pointe-Noire and The New Press Win the French Voices Grand Prize

Thursday, March 3, 2016

On February 29, 2016, Alain Mabanckou’s The Lights of Pointe-Noire: A Memoir, translated by Helen Stevenson, and the book’s English-language publisher, The New Press, received the French Voices Grand Prize at a ceremony at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York City. The book, published this month by The New Press, is a dazzling meditation on homecoming and belonging from the writer The Guardian has called one of “Africa’s greatest writers.” A Man Booker International Prize finalist, Mabanckou is an award-winning novelist, poet, and essayist. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches literature at UCLA.

In The Lights of Pointe-Noire, Mabanckou—who left Congo in 1989 and did not return until a quarter of a century later—offers a stirring exploration of the way our hometowns never leave us. When the author returned to Pointe-Noire, a bustling port town on Congo’s southeastern coast, he found a country that in some ways had changed beyond recognition, but in others remained unchanged.  

As the book’s translator, Helen Stevenson, wrote about Mabanckou’s writing in The Guardian, “Alain's literary voice is so strong, so rhythmic, the words he uses carry it entirely; I find that simply translating them honestly, without strain, with facility, is enough. It’s an attempt to let the writer speak, just in my language.” Pete Ayrton of Serpent’s Tail Books, who published the book in the UK, similarly praised Mabanckou’s writing, calling it “a brilliant clash of African and European cultures.”

Created to reflect the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the French American Cultural Exchange Foundation’s commitment to translation and independent publishing, the French Voices Awards honor translators and American publishers working to bring the best contemporary French writing to U.S. audiences.