Katarzyna Pieprzak, professor of French and Francophone literature, specializes in contemporary literature and art from North Africa. Born in Poland, Pierprzak also lived in England, France, Morocco, and Canada before coming to the United States for her education. In the 2012-2013 school year, she will teach a class on contemporary North African short stories, a tutorial on fiction about marginalized urban areas in the Francophone world, and a seminar about museums, monuments, and memorialization. She has taught at Williams since 2003.
What is your specialty? How did you become interested in Francophone literature?
I specialize in contemporary literature and visual art in North Africa. My first exposure to Francophone literature was the work of Franco-Algerian writer Leila Sebbar. I loved her novels for their treatment of identity and history, and have been hooked ever since.
Why do you think it’s important for Williams students, and Westerners in general, to study Francophone culture? Why is it important for the French to study Francophone culture?
While France has an amazing history and culture, there is so much more in the world that you can access with French. I love it when students take a chance and read a novel from a part of the Francophone world that they do not know. Sometimes it even inspires them to travel and that is when amazing learning and exchange can take place.
The French do read a substantial amount of Francophone literature. A few years ago nearly all the big French literary prizes were awarded to Francophone writers. Where more steps need to be taken is in the area of colonial history. Universities in France are still not tackling that history head on in a critical fashion.
Why do you think it’s important for Williams students to be aware of of non-American and non-Western cultures?
I was born in Poland, grew up in England and have lived in Morocco, France, and Canada. I can’t imagine not wanting to be aware of the world around you. Every time I travel outside of the U.S., and Williamstown, life is put into an important perspective. You learn that “your” way of thinking is just one way, and it is exciting and liberating to understand different approaches to big and small issues in life.
If you could go any one place in the world, where would you go?
Istanbul or to the islands off the Turkish coast. Such beauty and such amazing food!!
What are you reading at the moment?
Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Par le feu (his semi-fictional account of the start of the Tunisian revolution).