b. 1916, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Bernard Dadié's literary production occupies an important place in African letters in general, but especially in the literature of the Côte d'Ivoire. Though his main work comes soon after that of the negritude movement, it nonetheless distinguishes itself from the literature of negritude by its confident rootedness in the author's African (Agni) heritage and its lack of nostalgia for a precolonial past. Like the negritude authors, Dadié is committed to the cultural rehabilitation of Africa; yet he writes not to retrieve a lost culture but to preserve one from which he has never been separated, having never-unlike a Camara Laye or a Senghor-been torn away from his country or made a French citizen. According to some critics, this explains the lack of nostalgia in his writing. However, even at a very young age as a student in French schools, Dadié possessed a mind that defied assimilation. His refusal to accept the inferior status to which Europeans insisted on relegating Africans and their cultures underlies Dadié's whole oeuvre. All of his writing in its vast diversity of genres (journals, newspaper articles, prison diary, poetry, folk tales, novels, plays, travel chronicles) grows out of and reflects his cultural and political commitment.
The years 1934-8 were a formative period for Dadié. During this time he kept a personal journal that contains many of the themes that were to dominate his later works. It was also during this period that he started writing plays. His unpublished play "Les Villes" (Cities), staged by students at Bingerville in 1934, was the first written play in Francophone sub-Saharan Africa. His second play, Assémien Déhylé, roi du Sanwi (Assemien Dehyle, King of Sanwi), was performed at the Ecole William Ponty, one of the elite centers of education (see education and schools) in Senegal, in 1936 and at the Paris Exhibition of 1937. It was then published in a special issue of Education Africaine. In this play, based on a Baoule/Agni legend of beginnings dating back to the end of the eighteenth century, Dadié sought to provide a positive portrayal of African history to counter its distortions by colonial institutions, and to appeal to the Ivorians' sense of patriotism. To accompany the publication of Assémien Déhylé, Dadié wrote the article "Mon pays et son théâtre" (My Country and Its Theater), in which he highlighted differences between French and African theater, arguing that because storytelling in Africa was based on oral performance it was inherently theatrical in nature (see oral literature and performance). With these two pieces Dadié became the first African writer to propose a reformulation of the concept of theater in Francophone Africa. During the World War II years, Dadié, who was still based in Senegal, published several pieces in Dakar-Jeunes (Dakar-Youth) and, more importantly, he participated (with Alioune Diop, Guy Tyrolien, and Paul Niger) in the founding of Présence Africaine. It was during this period that he discovered, through a reading of a poem by Senegalese Issa Diop, a poetic form that would satisfy his search for a more