Center of Excellence

Designated a Center of Excellence by the French government in 2018, Yale’s Department of French has the vocation to promote the literatures and the cultures of the Francophone world. To that end, and in partnership with the Services Culturels of the French Embassy in Washington, DC, the Department organizes yearly events in the form of lectures, colloquia, and workshops by writers and scholars of theFrench-speaking world.The events and special projects listed below reflecting this mission were funded in part through annual grants and project-based support from the French Embassy.

Recent Events

The Third Annual US Goncourt Prize Selection Ceremony
April 21, 2024, Villa Albertine, NYC

In honor of France’s prominent literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France and Villa Albertine have partnered with the Académie Goncourt and the French Embassy’s Centers of Excellence to present the US Goncourt Prize Selection.

Four books were in the running for this year’ s prize, chaired by David Diop — Triste Tigre (Neige Sinno), Sarah, Susanne et l’écrivain (Éric Reinhard), Humus (Gaspard Kœnig), and Veiller sur elle (Jean-Baptiste Andrea — and Triste Tigre ultimately won.

The ten participating universities included Columbia University, Duke University, Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Virginia, University of Florida, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The students in this year’s Prix Goncourt reading group, led by Professor Morgane Cadieu, were: Rébecca Benkimoun, Walid Bouchakour, Jade Bouffard, Kieron Cindric, Pierre Forfert, Léa Jouannais-Weiler, Ethan Levinbook, Louise Moulin, Brennen Neeley, and Jeanne Sauvage. 

Ethan Levinbook represented Yale on the jury, and both ENS Exchange Scholar Rébecca Benkimoun and he participated in roundtables during the ceremony at the Villa Albertine


(photos: Jasmina Tomic)

Marie NDiaye en conversation avec Morgane Cadieu et Jill Jarvis
October 17, 2023

Romancière, dramaturge, scénariste, Marie NDiaye est l’une des voix les importantes aujourd’hui. Elle nous a fait le plaisir de sa visite à l’occasion de la parution de son dernier roman La Vengeance m’appartient, traduit en anglais sous le titre Vengeance is Mine par Jordan Stump et publié par Penguin Random House. Elle a publié son premier roman en 1985, Quant au riche avenir ; elle a reçu le prix Femina en 2001 pour Rosie Carpe (Minuit), le Goncourt en 2009 pour Trois Femmes puissantes (Gallimard), et le Prix Marguerite Yourcenar pour l’ensemble de son œuvre en 2020. En 2003, sa pièce Papa doit manger rentre au répertoire de la Comédie française. Elle a également participé à l’écriture du scénario du film White Material de Claire Denis et à celui de Saint-Omer, réalisé par Alice Diop. Les romans de Marie NDiaye sont peuplés de personnages inimitables, implacables, énigmatiques dans leur éloquence, fantastiques dans tous les sens du terme. Des personnages dont l’appartenance ne va pas de soi, qui se demandent quel tort ils ont causé et qui ont développé un rapport « prudent » avec la réalité. Ses romans sont faits de rêves, de métamorphoses, de blessures inexpliquées, de paysages étranges, d’émotions fortes mais ambigües et de phrases-paragraphes ciselées, labyrinthiques.

En plus d’un déjeuner avec un groupe de doctorants du département de français, Marie NDiaye est intervenue dans le séminaire de première année « World Literature After Empire » et a répondu en français aux questions de Morgane Cadieu et de Jill Jarvis, parlant tour à tour de la traduction, de la longueur de ses phrases en forme de « boas constrictors », de la place accordée aux éléments naturels, aux lieux et aux questions sociales dans ses romans, de l’influence du genre (roman, théâtre, cinéma) sur l’intrigue et le style, ainsi que de la singularité de ses personnages, certains d’entre eux ayant un rapport radical à leur art, telle le personnage de « la cheffe ». 

Baudelaire’s Worlds
September 28, 2023
This one-day conference celebrated, belatedly, the bicentenary of Charles Baudelaire’s birth (2021). The focus was less the poetics or the esthetics of the famous poet but taking the poetry “outside” of the familiar formal or romantic themes. Topics  considered: the different worlds traversed by the poet, their figures (exoticism, voyages); are they compatible with the claims of modernity made by the poet (multitude, photography, and other media)? Is there a rewriting or translation of Baudelaire in other Francophone poetic traditions (the Caribbean and the Maghreb, the Indian Ocean)? A panel of international experts convened for these discussions.
INTERSECTIONS, a Yale Law School conference on art, justice, and the law
March 3, 2023

Given notable discourse amongst governments, art institutions, and cultural heritage and human rights advocates in recent years, the 2023 conference theme was “Dialogues on Restitution, Memory, and Justice.” This special event put lawyers, artists, and activists in conversation to ask the question: How do we rectify loss and injustice through the tools offered in art and law?

The conference featured two expert panels, Emmanuelle Polack, Musée du Louvre’s “art sleuth,” and Mme. Laurel Zuckerman, the leading French plaintiff in Zuckerman v. Met, who lost her restitution claim to a Nazi-era Picasso against the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was co-moderated by a legal scholar and a student. The first panel was on restitution and repatriation of art, and the second focused on memory and transitional justice. There was also a thematic gallery tour and a keynote address, both experientially connecting the issues of memory, justice, and repatriation to art. 

“decentering molière”
april 14-16, 2022

 The Decentering Molière Conference organized under the leadership of Christophe Schuwey, and in collaboration with Sylvaine Guyot (Harvard/NYU) and Benoît Bolduc (NYU) celebrated Molière 400th birthday by bringing together leading specialists and practitioners from Europe and the United States to challenge our assumptions and our understanding of the most iconic French playwright.

north african poetry in french
november 5, 2021

This event marked marked the  publication of Yale French Studies 137-138 (2020), “North African Poetry in French.”  

In recent years Maghrebi literature written in French has enjoyed increased critical attention, but less attention has been paid specifically to the genre of poetry. In an attempt to address this neglect, the editorial board of Yale French Studies decided to compile a double issue devoted to modern Francophone poetry in the Maghreb, called seventeen leading scholars, poets, and translators from the Maghreb, Europe, andNorth America, as well as the work of dozen visual artists from across North Africa, appeared in February 2021.

“arterialize nature, naturalize art” 
april 30, 2021

This international and interdisciplinary colloquium, convened under the paradigm of the environmental humanities, was organized by Yale Department of French Visiting Professor Dominique Brancher.  The event concentrated on the early modern period (16th to 18th century) and gathered historians of medicine, of literature, and historians of art. It examined the artificial re-composition and stylization of nature via herbaria, botanical illustrations, and anatomical tableaus.

“drafting monique wittig”
october 2019

Morgane Cadieu (Yale) and Annabel Kim (Harvard) co-organized “Drafting Monique Wittig”, a 2-day international symposium on the feminist writer and theorist Monique Wittig (1935-2003). The goal was to celebrate the 50th anniversary or her landmark novel Les Guérillères, to showcase her Papers (recently acquired by the Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library), and to define the legacy of Wittig’s experimental writing style and radical feminism. Twenty scholars from Canada, France, and the United States were invited.

“french renaissance literary and scholarly legacies: a conference in honor of ned duval”
december 7, 2018

The conference was meant as a send-off to retiring Professor Edwin (Ned) Duval who devoted so many years of service to the Yale French Department. It celebrated his outstanding contributions to the field of poetry and prose of the French Renaissance and featured many of his former students and illustrious colleagues from the US, Canada, and France. 

Yale French Studies 134  was published to go along with the conference.

Special Projects

“Mapping Post-War Networks”, a French and Digital Humanities project to build a digital map of intellectual networks in post-war France,  based on the daily newspaper Combat.

A team, lead by Alice Kaplan,  is constructing a network map based on an index of signed and unsigned articles published in Combat from 1944-1947. They are working with a searchable .pdf of a full collection of the newspaper, obtained from the French National Library with the support of Yale’s Digital Humanities Lab.  They are tracking variables such as author, title of article,  political affinity of the author, author’s nationality, and the number of articles translated from other languages.   The French Embassy grant is used for data entry (machine driven complemented by research assistance for tagging and interpretation), on the one hand, and for rapid prototyping of a web design to make the results useful for students and researchers.


Director of the Center of Excellence: Maurice Samuels

Assistant to the Director: Agnès Bolton