Awards and Honors, Faculty News

Visiting Faculty Member Maboula Soumahoro Appointed to Prestigious Columbia Fellowship

Bennington College is proud to announce that long-time visiting faculty member Maboula Soumahoro will join scholars from around the world for a year-long fellowship at Columbia University’s Institute for Ideas and Imagination in Paris starting this fall.

Image of Maboula Soumahoro

Soumahoro applied for the highly selective writing residency fellowship in November and heard that she was awarded the fellowship in February. 

“I was really surprised and happy,” Soumahoro said. “Teaching is great, and I love teaching, but, as researchers, we also need time to simply think and create. This is a great honor for me.”

Soumahoro, who teaches Cultural Studies and Languages courses related to Africana Studies, French, film, and literature, has been working on linguistic translation, including having translated Lose Your Mother: A journey along the Atlantic Slave Route, by Saidiya Hartman. 

The fellowship allows her to explore another form of translation, film adaptation. She has been commissioned to adapt a book, Segu by Maryse Condé, into a script for the screen. 

“Condé is a novelist I've taught for years now, and the book is one of the great landmarks of the literature of the African continent and the African diaspora,” Soumahoro said. “I think it's a great idea to turn it into a series, but that's a totally new project for me. I've never written scripts before. I see it as an exercise in translation, only in the form.” 

It is an ambitious project. The 1984 novel spans two volumes and nearly 65 years. It follows a myriad of characters across continents, including Africa and North Africa, South America, the Caribbean and Europe. 

“To respect the magnitude of the saga, it cannot be covered in one season,” Soumahoro explains. “It must be [an epic,] like Game of Thrones.”

The book is deeply personal to Soumahoro. While she was born and raised in France, her family is culturally and traditionally Dyula (sometimes also spelled Dioula or Juula). She traces her heritage to West Africa, where the book opens. She recognizes words and family situations from the book. 

Growing up, Soumahoro said, “there was this kind of dichotomy between my French life and my Dyula life. Sometimes, it was difficult. [The book] really helped me better understand my family and my culture from afar.”  

“Maboula is such a talented and insightful scholar,” said Bennington faculty member Noelle Rouxel-Cubberly. “We are all overjoyed that she has been chosen for this wonderful opportunity and have no doubt she will make significant contributions to this crucial cultural conversation.”

In addition to her work at Bennington College, Soumahoro is an associate professor at the University of Tours in France and has taught at Barnard College, the Bard Prison Initiative, and Columbia University, where she was also invited as a Visiting Scholar in 2002 and Mellon Arts Project International Visiting Professor in the Fall 2022.

She is the author of Le Triangle et l’Hexagone, réflexions sur une identité noire (La Découverte, 2021), translated in English by Dr. Kaiama L. Glover as Black Is the Journey, Africana the Name (Polity, 2021). This book received special distinction the FetKann! Maryse Condé literary prize in 2020.

Based in France, Soumahoro is the president of the Black History Month Association and has served as an appointed member of the National Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery from 2013 to 2016.