Students meet celebrated French writer

Tuesday 2 April 2024

St Catharine’s students recently met the celebrated French writer Marie NDiaye, who has just this year been added to the syllabus for first-year Modern & Medieval Languages undergraduates specialising in French.

St Catharine's students meeting Marie NDiaye
St Catharine's students meeting Marie NDiaye (far right). Photo courtesy of Professor Clare Finburgh Delijani

Marie published her first novel, Quant au riche avenir, in 1985 when she was 17 years old. In 2009, she won the Prix Goncourt, which celebrates the best and most imaginative prose work in French literature. Her play Papa doit manger is the sole play by a living female writer to be part of the repertoire of the Comédie Française. She co-wrote the screenplay for the 2022 legal drama Saint Omer, which was selected as France's official selection for Best International Film at the 95th Academy Awards.

The meeting came about thanks to Dr Sura Qadiri (2018), Dawson College Assistant Professor and Director of Studies in Modern & Medieval Languages at St Catharine’s, who organised a group trip to hear Marie deliver a lecture for UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies. There was a St Catharine’s connection to the lecture because the proceeding Q&A session was co-chaired by Professor Nicholas Harrison FBA (Research Fellow 1992–95). The evening concluded with reception, which provided a rare opportunity for students to speak with a writer who they are studying. 

Hannah Bekman, a first-year History & Modern Languages undergraduate, brought along her copy of Autoportrait en vert (Self Portrait in Green), which she is currently studying. Marie kindly signed it with an inscription that reads, 'For Hannah, in memory of a beautiful meeting in London.’ 

Hannah said, “It was a privilege to engage in conversation with Marie NDiaye about ‘Autoportrait en vert’; having greatly enjoyed studying her work in Michaelmas Term, my classmates and I were keen to gain as much insight on her writing process as possible. We revelled in the unique ability to ask NDiaye direct questions about what inspired her work and writing style; NDiaye’s wisdom, enthusiasm, and kindness in answering our questions made the experience truly unforgettable.”

An inscription in French from Marie NDiaye which translates as 'For Hannah, in memory of a beautiful meeting in London.’
The inscription from Marie NDiaye, which translates as 'For Hannah, in memory of a beautiful meeting in London.’

Dr Qadiri added, “I was kindly invited by the London hosts of the event to dinner with the author, and she expressed pleasure at seeing younger readers take an interest in her work, and some of my London colleagues were also delighted with the St Catharine’s students’ enthusiasm and even emailed me and the head of French to reiterate this, calling the student presence 'life-affirming’. I look forward to welcoming Marie to Cambridge soon so she can meet even more of our students.”