Sylviane A. Diouf (1952–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
(Sylviane Anna Diouf)
Born 1952, in France; Education: Paris University, B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.
Office—Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd., New York, NY 10037-1801.
Writer. Libreville University, Gabon, assistant professor, 1976–79; Jeune Afrique, Paris, France, journalist, 1979–82; Senegalese diplomatic service, first counselor, 1982–99; New York University, New York, NY, adjunct professor, 1999–2001; Rutgers University, conference initiator and organizer, 2001; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY, researcher, 2001–. Commentator for television series, including This Far by Faith: African-American Spiritual Journeys, History Detectives, Prince among Slaves, and Like It Is.
Honorable mention, Outstanding Books Award, Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America, and Outstanding Academic Book citation, Choice, both 1999, both for Servants of Allah; Children Africana Book Award for Older Readers, African Studies Association, 2001, for Kings and Queens of West Africa; best book citation, Cooperative Children's Book Center, 2002, and laureate, Comité des Mamans, 2003, both for Bintou's Braids.
(With Karen Gravelle) Growing up in Crawfish Country: A Cajun Childhood, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1998.
Kings and Queens of East Africa, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2000.
Kings and Queens of Southern Africa, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2000.
Kings and Queens of Central Africa, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2000.
Kings and Queens of West Africa, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2000.
Bintou's Braids (picture book), illustrated by Shane W. Evans, Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
Growing up in Slavery, Millbrook (Brookfield, CT), 2001.
Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor) Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2003.
(Editor, with Howard Dodson) In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2005.
Content manager of InMotionAAME.org) (companion Web site to In Motion.org), beginning 2005. Contributor to books, including Sciences économiques et sociales, edited by Jean-Claude Benvenuti, Nathan, 1996; Muslim Minorities in the West, edited by Yvonne Haddad and Jane Smith, Altamira, 2002; Trans-Atlantic Dimensions of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora, edited by Paul E. Lovejoy and David Trotman, Continuum, 2004; Muslims' Place in the American Public Square: Hopes, Fears, and Aspirations, Altamira Press, 2004; and Monuments of the Black Atlantic: History, Memory, and Politics, Lit Verlag, 2004.
Sylviane A. Diouf has lived in France, Senegal, Gabon, Italy, and the United States, and she has worked as a journalist and as a writer throughout her adult life. While she writes scholarly articles and books for adults, Diouf is also concerned about making history relevant to young readers. To further that goal, she has written several nonfiction history titles about Africa and the African Diaspora for young readers.
Diouf's first title, Growing up in Crawfish Country: A Cajun Childhood, was the result of her collaboration with author Karen Gravelle for the "Growing up in America" series. Diouf and Gravelle describe what life is like for children living in the Bayou, particularly for those trying to keep traditional Cajun culture alive. "Readers will get a feel for Cajun culture," assured Ilene Cooper in her Booklist review.
For Franklin Watts, Diouf produced a quartet of books describing the royalty of different regions of Africa: Kings and Queens of West Africa, Kings and Queens of Southern Africa, Kings and Queens of East Africa, and Kings and Queens of Central Africa. The books describe different eras to show the region's social growth and change. The historical figures featured are a mixture of the well known and the less famous, and include social, cultural, and political innovators as well as royalty. Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg described the series as "a brief introduction to a few of the major figures in the continent's royal history."
Following her work on African royalty, Diouf described what life was like for children enslaved in the United States in Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. Accompanied by archival illustrations, the book's text is aimed at a middle-to high-school audience. "Diouf destroys the stereotype of the happy, ignorant slave child," wrote Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman. Jennifer Ralston, writing for School Library Journal, considered the title "a clear, readable, and well-documented study," and noted that there are only a few other titles on this topic for a young audience.
Along with her works of nonfiction, Diouf penned the picture book Bintou's Braids. In the story, young Bintou wants braids, decorated with coins and seashells, like the older girls in her village, but is only allowed to wear her hair in cornrows or tufts until she gets older. When she saves the lives of two young boys, she is offered the chance to choose her reward; when Bintou
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asks for braids, her grandmother finds a way to give her that reward without breaking the traditions of their village. Diouf "creates strong female characters and evokes the feeling of a small village as extended family," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. School Library Journal reviewer Marian Drabkin found Bintou to be "a very believable child" and noted that Diouf's "simple narrative language … will read aloud well."
Diouf told SATA: "I have been writing creatively, and always loved to do so since I was in grade school. A good thing because when I was in college in Paris, my work as a freelancer journalist paid my way up to the doctorate. As a university professor, I continued to freelance, then went back to journalism full time, before changing careers again. A new job in the diplomatic service sent me to Italy, and later to New York; and throughout the years, I continued to publish scholarly, and general-public articles in several countries. This experience with various languages, writing styles and levels, turned out to be quite useful for what I set out to do next.
"Even though I had worked mostly on contemporary issues for quite a while, a few years ago I decided to go back to my first love: history. Within seven years, I published two academic books, five books for children, one fiction for children, and co-edited one trade book. I also published several essays in scholarly books and journals. Being used to work in a foreign language and with tight deadlines came in handy. All my books and articles deal with African and African Diaspora history and culture. What interests me is to bring forth unknown stories, and there is an abundance of those in these fields. Whether it is about the hundreds of thousands of enslaved West African Muslims who arrived in the Americas as early as 1502 and left extraordinary marks throughout the continents; the brave lives of the millions of children who were enslaved in the United States; or the multifaceted resistance put up by Africans who resisted the slave trade; my objective is to find buried information, bring to life forgotten people, reconstruct history, and present it in a way that appeals to readers.
"As a scholar who worked as a journalist, I try to write for a larger audience than strictly the academic community. I love the rigueur of scholarly research and writing, and I also want the stories to go beyond campuses, to reach as many people as possible. I believe that scholarship needs to be more widely disseminated, but it is especially true when it comes to African and African Diaspora history because of the ignorance and distortions that are still so prevalent. This is one of the main reasons why I wrote children's books. I wanted to bring young readers some of the knowledge that my college students did not possess—and should have—when they took my classes. And to connect with really young children and pique their interest in other cultures, I wrote fiction. Bintou's Braids, the story of a little Senegalese girl who wants a new hairdo, has been translated into French, and Portuguese for the Brazilian market."
Biographical and Critical Sources
American Historical Review, December, 2000, review of Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, p. 1704.
Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2004, Suzanne Rust, "Kinks and All: Books on the Pleasures and Challenges of Black Hair Mix Practical Tips and Humor," p. 44.
Black Scholar, spring, 2000, Rhett Jones, review of Servants of Allah, p. 131.
Booklist, December 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Growing up in Crawfish Country: A Cajun Childhood, p. 663; February 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Kings and Queens of East Africa and Kings and Queens of Southern Africa, p. 1148; March 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Growing up in Slavery, p. 1235.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 2001, review of Bintou's Braids, p. 99.
Canadian Journal of History, December, 2004, Olatunja Ojo, review of Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, p. 637.
Choice, July-August, 2004, J. Rosenthal, review of Fighting the Slave Trade, p. 2099.
Horn Book, January, 2002, review of Bintou's Braids, p. 67.
Journal of African History, October, 2000, Timothy Cleveland, "African Muslim Diasporas," p. 497.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, December, 2000, Aminah McCloud, review of Servants of Allah, pp. 879-884.
Journal of American Ethnic History, spring, 2000, Allan D. Austin, review of Servants of Allah, p. 131.
Journal of Law and Religion, winter-summer, 2000, Amina Wadud, review of Servants of Allah, pp. 541-546.
Journal of Southern History, Michael A. Gomez, review of Servants of Allah, p. 407.
Middle East Quarterly, December, 2000, Daniel Pipes, review of Servants of Allah, p. 69.
Publishers Weekly, October 29, 2001, review of Bintou's Braids, p. 63.
School Library Journal, January, 1999, Judith Constantinides, review of Growing up in Crawfish Country, p. 115; June, 2001, Jennifer Ralston, review of Growing up in Slavery, p. 168; January, 2002, Marian Drabkin, review of Bintou's Braids, p. 97.
Sylviane Diouf Home Page, http://www.sylvianediouf.com (February 16, 2006).