Born in 1928 in Kouroussa, upper Guineea, to a blacksmith, Camara Laye grew to become one of Africa’s first authors of Francophone African literature.
Laye attended both Koranic and French elementary schools in Kouroussa. At the age of fifteen, he went to Conakry, the colonial capital, to continue his education. While there, he attended vocational studies in motor mechanics.
In 1947, Laye travelled to Paris to continue with his mechanical studies. While there, he worked and took further courses in engineering and worked towards the beccalaureat.
After the completion of his studies, Laye decided to remain in Paris.
Even though he loved literature, he had not yet developed any pretensions of becoming a writer himself.
After receiving his diploma in engineering, Laye supported himself as a porter in Les Halles and at an automobile plant.
Camara Laye had deep beliefs that the sacrifices he made by leaving Guinea warranted more than just fending for himself and his family. He says’ “It was not, in my opinion, worth the trouble to leave Africa only to become a mechanic. It was too simple a job.”
Laye felt rather lonely in this foreign land, subsequently making the decision to write down warm memories of his childhood in Guinea. It is these spontaneous writings that would later become the basis of his first novel.
The Guinean published his first book, ‘L’Enfant noir’, meaning ‘Dark Child’ in 1953.
L’Enfant noir is basically a narration of Laye’s own childhood, growing up besides his father to the time when he left for France to pursue his studies further, as a gifted young man.
Laye wins his audience’s hearts through his ability to make his narration tender, while giving it an unsentimental treatment of the older African life and the dignity and immense beauty of that nostalgically lamented past.
He expressed his deep anxiety at the time when he left Guines for France. “It was a terrible parting! I do not like to think of it. I can still hear my mother wailing. It was as if I was being torn apart.”
This separation is however seen as a great influence in his appreciation for his homeland and his people’s culture.
Before he published his first novel, Laye brought Marie Lorifo to Paris from Conakry and married her.
L’Enfant noir received immense praise and won the Prix Charles Veillon in February of 1954; the novel was recognized as one of the most important pieces of contemporary prose from French-speaking Africa.
In 1956 Camara Laye returned to Africa, first to Dahomey, then the Gold Coast, and finally to newly independent Guinea, where he held several government posts.
Other books published by Laye include ‘The Guardian of the Word’, ‘The Radiance of the King’, ‘The Radiance of the King’, ‘A dream of Africa’ and ‘The African Child’.
Sadly, Camara Laye died in 1980 in Dakar of a kidney infection.