Born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, she was the youngest of eight children. After having graduated from high school, she was sent to Lycée Fénelon and Sorbonne in Paris, where she majored in English. In 1959, she married Mamadou Condé, a Guinean actor. After graduating, she taught in Guinea, Ghana and Senegal. In 1981, she divorced, but the following year married Richard Philcox, English language translator of most of her novels. In 1985 Condé was awarded the Fulbright scholarship to teach in the US and is now a professor at Columbia University in New York City.
In addition to her writings, Condé had a distinguished academic career. In 2004 she retired from Columbia University as Professor Emerita of French. She had previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre.