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Davidson French Professor Publishes First Complete Translation Of Contemporary African Writer's Work

By Mario Prohasky '05

October 4, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

Lauren Yoder
Professor of French Lauren Yoder with a grinding bowl from the Congo.

Professor Lauren Yoder, chair of the Davidson College French department, recently published the first English language translations of works by the prominent contemporary Congolese writer Kama Kamanda. The two books are a collection of tales entitled "Tales: Volume One" and a collection of poems--"Wind Whispering Soul."

Kamanda was born in 1952 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. From 1967 until 1977 he was actively involved in politics and worked as a journalist. His earliest poetry dates from that period. In 1977 he left the country because of political reasons, and has been in exile ever since, first in Belgium and now in Luxemburg. He studied at the University of Liege, Belgium from 1981 until 1984.

Kama Kamanda
Kama Kamanda

In 1985 Kamanda founded the Association of African Writers, and during the next two years published his first collections of tales and poetry. He has been a distinguished lecturer at a number of conferences throughout the world, and has received literary accolades such as the Prix Paul Verlaine de l'Académie française (1987) and the Grand Prix littéraire de l'Afrique noire (1991).

Kamanda has published ten collections of poetry in French, as well as one novel and four collections of tales. Yoder said Kamanda's works are an excellent representation of the African literary tradition because they unite traditional African folklore with literary creation.

Despite his extensive literary contributions, he has been relatively unknown to the American public. Yoder previously translated two of the tales for the International Quarterly, and several of the poems for various publications. However, Yoder's most recent translations are are the first of Kamanda's complete works to be translated into English.

The two men developed a close friendship during their first meeting in Belgium in 1994. In 1995 Yoder invited Kamanda as a guest lecturer in his African literature class at Davidson, and to give a public lecture to the Davidson community. They have attended a number of literary conferences together since that time.

Lauren Yoder Translation
Tales by Kama Kamanda, translated by Lauren Yoder

They also share a common interest in the African literary tradition. Yoder has lived for two years in Congo and Burundi, and for one year in Gabon. During these five years he developed a strong interest in the role of the writer as a shaper of national and regional identity.

Yoder became interested in translation in 1993 while participating in a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute about translation theory. He said that translating Kamanda's poetry was both an "intellectual game" and "a fascinating challenge," because he had to find the balance between maintaining the original meaning and imagery of each poem, and the best English translation of the words.

Lauren Yoder Translation
Wind Whispering Soul, Poems by Kama Kamanda, translated by Lauren Yoder

Though he acknowledged the task was difficult, he said that he thoroughly enjoyed his first extensive experience in translation. In fact, he is now at work with his faculty colleague, Professor Alberto Hernández Chiroldes of the Spanish department, in translating a work by a Cuban writer who wrote in both Spanish and French.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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