Marguerite Abouet : « Aya de Yopougon is the best ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire»

Writer, screenwriter and now director, Marguerite Abouet keeps the same leitmotiv: «to tell different Africa». This Africa seduces while believing the success of its comics, Aya de Yopougon, since its premiere on bigger screens. Today, she ventures into other genres including western. But it is also waging a fight: democratize the book on the continent with her association Books for all.

She made «Yop cité», a district of the Ivorian economic capital, famous for her comic book Aya de Yopougon whose rights have since been acquired for the cinema and the story on the big screen. Marguerite Abouet belongs to the restricted circle of contemporary African authors known internationally. And for good reason. She takes her readers to the suburbs of another Africa, the one she knows and she visits. An adventure that started ten years ago, with the release of the first volume of the Aya de Yopougon comics. This series now contains five volumes and has sold 700,000 copies.

Marguerite Abouet draws her sources in her early childhood in Abidjan. «I was born in Côte d’Ivoire. I grew up having fun outdoors, pampered and happy with my parents. One day at the age of 12, I left this country and my family that I love to find myself in the 18th arrondissement of Paris and start high school. After my baccalaureate, I studied law for two years and then a training as a legal assistant. As a little boy, as a real tomboy, I only dreamed of living the stories of adventures, legends and tales told by my maternal grandfather during the summer holidays in the village. I made my life with her stories. I like to summarize my life journey with this beautiful sentence: Africa is the nucleus, the center around which I built myself. This gives a cocktail of good humor, inventiveness and sharing that I took with me leaving Yopougon and I distilled in the pages of Aya and Akissi».

« Aya de Yopougon has contributed in changing the miserable image of Africa. »

The Marguerite Abouet stories mix memories of childhoods, tales, African legends and current realities. « For me, writing is primarily nostalgic. As to make them live, I want to share my childhood and my memories in a wider network. It means publishing them. A kind of therapy. I felt the need to tell about my country, my life in Abidjan to first not to forget them and always maintain the link. My first stories are inspired by my many nonsense as a little girl, under the name of Akissi [the sixth volume was released in November 2015, ed] ». Marguerite aspires to «tell this happy Africa» because she suffered during her stay in France, like many Africans in the diaspora, the image conveyed on her continent. Aya is a sort of African response to Tintin in Congo. «Aya de Yopougon has contributed in changing the miserable image that Europeans had of Africa. My heroine was surely the best ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire to the French public and elsewhere, during these last ten years. I continue to present it around the world and I am very proud of it. »

A tribute to African women

It is no coincidence that she chose a woman as one of her favorite heroines. The women of the African continent are the first sources of inspiration for Marguerite. « I am lucky to travel a lot in Africa. Each time, I meet mostly women. They tell me their story, and I try to speak for them. They confide, I also observe them a lot. And the more I look at them, the more I want to report on this dynamic Africa. Although we must acknowledge that it moves more slowly for women. That is why I accepted to participate in the web series C’est la vie. Many things remain to be done as a woman, an author, a human being. I feel responsible for writing stories related to women issues. Today, women are becoming more and more prominent in the world of publishing and literature, but their struggle remains the same as that of men: « Authors publish most often abroad. Sometimes it seems easier to be somewhere else to tell about your country. Often, the main reason is that the African continent lacks the infrastructure publication. Too bad. »

A success in the service of book promotion

Thanks to the success of her comic book, Marguerite embarked on another fight by creating the association «Books for all». «I founded and I chair this association. Its goal is to make the book accessible to African children and young people by creating neighborhood libraries in cities. We now have two beautiful libraries in Abidjan [the first opened in October 2009 in Adjamé and the second in Treichville in April 2014, ed]. Today, more than 1,500 children are enrolled. The aim is to get young people to become familiar with books and to contribute to the reduction of illiteracy through regular reading, to encourage them to continue their schooling and to enable them to quench their thirst for knowledge. Our goal is to create a new link to issue, to make reading a personal pleasure rather than a school constraint. We also contribute to the preservation of the literary heritage in general and African in particular. We provide our users with a workplace, exchange and opening to the world. And finally, we provide them with a quiet welcome place dedicated to learning and culture. For the implementation of our mission, we have documentarists and cultural animators who assist the children. Regular activities such as storytelling, writing, illustration, theater or music workshops, film screenings, author meetings, conferences and exhibitions. School support is also available, as well as access to the internet and the computer tool. Two other libraries have been created in Dakar and I hope that new projects will emerge. »

Write common stories

In the meantime, after a first experience in the cinema, with Aya, Marguerite continues her audiovisual experience. « I am working on a feature film that I wrote and that I will direct. It will take place in Normandy and Ivory Coast. This film is a step for me. I also have series projects between Africa and Europe. It seems to me very complicated today to tell common stories, to bring to the screen for people, Whites, Blacks, who live in Africa. They answer you that the French are not ready to see blacks in prime time on television. It irritates me. We have this chance to share this multiple identity. For this, we must tell about singular identities, understand and respect them. There reason why this film. Also soon on the screens, an adaptation of the famous sheriff Kouame with Thomas Ngijol. And Terre gâtée, her latest comic, an African western with the backdrop of the delicate thorny issue of immigration.

For more information: www.deslivrepourtous.org

Bibliography:

Akissi, tome 8 : Mission pas possible ; Marguerite Abouet ; Mathieu Sapin ; GALLIMARD JEUNESSE ; sortie le 23/08/2018.

Terre gâtée, tome 1 : Ange, le migrant ; Marguerite Abouet, Charli Beleteau, Christian De Metter (Illustrateur) ; RUE DE SÈVRES ; 24/01/2018.

Commissaire Kouamé: Un si joli jardin ; Marguerite Abouet, Donatien Mary ; GALLIMARD JEUNESSE ; 09/11/2017.

Aya de Yopougon – Intégrale, tome 1 ; Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie ; GALLIMARD JEUNESSE ; 14/11/2016.

Aya de Yopougon – Intégrale, tome 2 ; Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie ; GALLIMARD JEUNESSE ; 14/11/2016.

Akissi, tome 1 : Attaque de chats ; Marguerite Abouet, Mathieu Sapin ; GALLIMARD JEUNESSE ; 03/06/2010.

Aya de Yopougon, tome 1 ; Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie ; GALLIMARD ; 17/11/2005. Angoulême – Prix Révélation – 2006