[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“When these conflicts start, there’s a reason. But after a while, nobody knows why people are fighting. The militias start by being on one side, and then they become autonomous, and they don’t know why they are fighting anymore – except for the loot, for the power.” – Emmanuel Dongala – Chemist and Poet (Brazzaville)
Award-winning author, Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala was born on June 14, 1941 to a Congolese father and a Central-African mother. After completing his secondary school education in Brazzaville, he left for the US in the mid-sixties for further education, earning a BA in Chemistry from Oberlin College and an MA from Rutgers University.
While in America, Emmanuel Dongala developed an interest in Jazz music and was particularly intrigued by John Coltrane’s quest in finding “the absolute” – the mystic perfection of music. In sharp contrast to the political turmoil he experienced in the streets of New York during the civil rights movement, it was a beauty which later inspired an ode to the Jazz legend in Dongala’s novella, “A Love Supreme” (1982).
After obtaining his Masters, Dongala continued his academic pursuits by heading to Montpellier, France where he bagged a PhD in Organic Chemistry, before taken up an appointment with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), a public organization under the responsibility of the French Ministry of Education and Research.
On his return to Congo, Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala took up a teaching appointment at the Université Marien Ngouabi, Brazzaville, with his spare time shared between laboratory works and literary writing. He founded the National Association of Congolese Writers and was president of the Congolese chapter of PEN.
In 1982, Dongala’s collection of short stories “Jazz et Vin de Palme” was published, but the book was later banned by the then Marxist Congolese government, because it satirizes those in power. By the late ‘80s, he started devoting more time to artistic expression and founded the theater company, Le Theatre de L’éclair.
“I have so many stories to tell…usually when you have conflict…women suffer more than men. And also all these kids…it’s a lost generation. I mean they don’t go to school anymore. And I’m really afraid for the future of the country.”
Emmanuel Dongala was dean at Université Marien Ngouabi when the Congolese civil war broke out in 1997. He fled the country the following year and was offered a teaching job at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Massachusetts, USA, and was Richard B. Fisher Chair in Natural Sciences at the institution from 1998 to 2014.
Several of Dongala’s writings have been translated into other languages from French which he writes in. His works have also been put on stage while a film adaptation of his 2005 novel “Johnny Chien Méchant” (Johnny Mad Dog) was made in 2008. In addition, Emmanuel Dongala has won several literary awards.
Afro Tourism salutes this brilliant chemist, poet, novelist, playwright, professor emeritus, and city icon Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala!
Did You Know?
- Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala was born on July 14, 1941.
- His father was Congolese while his mother was from Central African Republic (CAR).
- He had his early education in Brazzaville before going to the US in the ‘60s for further studies.
- Dongala is a qualified chemist with specialty in Stereochemistry, Asymmetric Synthesis and Environmental Toxicology.
- He founded the National Association of Congolese Writers and was president of the Congolese chapter of PEN.
- His first novel “Un Fusil dans la Main, un Poème dans la Poche” (A Gun in the Hand, a Poem in Your Pocket) was translated into several European languages and received the 1974 Ladisla Dormandi Prize for Best Foreign Book.
- Dongala’s collection of short stories “Jazz et Vin de Palme” (1982), was banned by the Marxist Congolese government, until 1990 when the ban was lifted following the collapse of Soviet Union and the Congolese one-party state.
- In 1988, his novel “Le Feu des Origines” (The Fires of Origins) received the Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique Noir and the Prix Charles Oulmont.
- His essays and articles have appeared in several international publications such as: New York Times, Le Monde,
- Emmanuel Dongala was founder and artistic director of the theater company, Le Theatre de L’éclair.
- A Love Supreme which appears in his “Jazz et Vin de Palme” (1982) is an ode to the American Jazz legend, John Coltrane. It was inspired by Coltrane album “A Love Supreme” released in 1965.
- In 1999, Emmanuel Dongala was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, while he received the 2003 Fonlon-Nichols prize and Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE in 2004.
- “Johnny Chien Méchant” (Johnny Mad Dog) was selected as one of the best books of the year by Los Angeles Times Book Review (2005).
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