It is difficult to imagine the extinguished voice of the woman who taught long before nourishing her work with the emotion she borrowed from childhood, her own as well as that of her students. “A clear and clear voice, the voice of someone who speaks face to face, who has convictions, consistency and frankness. A voice never embarred to tell you the truth. » Thus evokes the author Sophie Cherer in the presentation that she made of her friend, when appeared Save Said (L’Ecole des loisirs, New collection) in the fall of 2003. One of her hardest novels in which, as always, placing herself in the place of the child she imagines, the author gives the floor to a city kid, thirsty for knowledge, whose entering sixth grade turns into a nightmare. Crowned with a Sorcières prize (2004), this plea for the social mobility that the school represented before its slow bankruptcy is like a confession, as Brigitte Smadja claims what she owes to the school institution.
Born in Tunis on the threshold of independence, May 12, 1955, little Brigitte had a dream childhood. As her father runs the restaurant at the casino in La Goulette, a blue palace with neo-Moorish architecture, she lives there with her mother and her two brothers, four months a year. In total freedom, with disarming carelessness, a radiant princess with contagious laughter.
Although Jewish, her parents enroll her in an excellent Catholic school, where the child is so happy that she will later toy with the idea of being a mother superior – or an airplane pilot. Everything suddenly collapses when the father dies in August 1963. Devastated, the family returns to France where nothing awaits them except an aunt in Sarcelles (Val-d’Oise). The mother cures her depression in sleep and Brigitte learns to manage everything, her little brothers like the maternal vacation.
Established in a two-room apartment in the Goutte-d’Or district of Paris, dressed thanks to the istance of the services of the town hall, the siblings quickly found their bearings. The only antidote to grief: school. “An extraordinary escape from the cramped world in which I lived. The school was texts, books (there was not a single one at home)”, confides Brigitte.
She will be a teacher. At night, so as not to disturb anyone, she sits in the bathroom tub and reads, studies, learns. Entering the sixth form at Lycée Jules-Ferry, she won the baccalaureate at the age of 17, prepared for Normale sup Fontenay, was accepted there (1974) as later at the aggregation of letters (1978). Here she is a teacher. Seven years in college in Montigny-lès-Cormeilles (Val-d’Oise), then, by choice, militant for this general culture that is offered little, in technical high school. One year at Edgar-Quinet (Paris 9e), later at the Duperré School of Applied Arts (Paris 3e). Dynamism, energy, charisma: she embodies what she teaches, believes without nuance in her mission, always remaining attentive to her students.
An authentic vocation that does not compete with any desire to write in one who has never kept a diary or committed poetry. It’s at 30 that Brigitte wonders, but she only writes to offer a story, to address it to someone she knows or imagines, without ever thinking of “book”. She thinks “in place” of her character, as accurately as possible where he is, where he experiences his emotions.
The first novels Cheating (Syros youth, 1987) and when dad was dead (Syros, 1988) appear under a transparent pseudonym: Emilie Smadja. Addressing an “adult” or “young” readership, she will write to console, compensate, repair damaged or fragile lives. From volume to volume, she composes a kind of “human comedy” where the characters meet, meet, grow, where the unexpected competes with emotion.
Same priority given to the literary genre when Brigitte took up the challenge of inventing a theater collection for young people in 1995 at the Ecole des loisirs. It is not a question of material for the show but of writing. Before Nathalie Papin or Eric Pessan, among the first titles, The girl, the devil and the windmill by Olivier Py (School of Recreation, 1995). And the overwhelming task is too exhilarating for the novelist to give up. Text and voice: the legacy of Brigitte Smadja is not about to leave the literary scene.