Jacques Roumain (June 4, 1907 – August 18, 1944) was a Haitian writer, politician, and advocate of Marxism. He is considered one of the most prominent figures in Haitian literature. Although poorly known in the English-speaking world, Roumain has significant following in Europe, and is renowned in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The great African-American poet, Langston Hughes, translated some of Roumain’s greatest works, including Gouverneurs de la Rosée (Masters of the Dew), a masterpiece of world literature. Although his life was short, Roumain managed to touch many aspects of Haitian life and culture.

Life

Roumain was born on June 4, 1907, in Port-au-Prince to wealthy parents. His grandfather, Tancrède Auguste, served as the President of Haiti from 1912 to 1913. He was educated in Catholic schools in Port-au-Prince, and, later, in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany and Spain. At twenty years old, he returned to Haiti and formed La Revue Indigene: Les Arts et La Vie (The Indigenous Review: Arts and Life), along with Philippe Thoby-Marcelin, Carl Brouard, and Antonio Vieux.

He was active in the struggle against the United States’ occupation of Haiti. In 1934 he founded the Haitian Communist Party. Because of some of his political activities, his participation in the resistance movement against the United States’ occupation, and most notably, his creation of the Haitian Communist Party, he was often arrested and finally exiled by then President Sténio Vincent.

During his years in exile, Roumain worked with and befriended many prominent pan-African writers and poets of the time, including Langston Hughes. During this time he was also affiliated with Columbia University in New York City, where he conducted ethnographical research. With a change in government in Haiti, Roumain was allowed to return to his native country. Upon returning, he founded the Office of Ethnology. In 1943, President Élie Lescot appointed him chargé d’affaires in Mexico, where his newly found creative freedom permitted him to complete two of his most influential books, the poetry collection Bois D’ébène (Ebony Wood) and the novel, Gouverneurs de la Rosée (Masters of the Dew). He also published that year the seminal paper “Lithic Workshop of the Ciboney of Haiti,” and as a result was regarded as the father of Haitian archaeology.

Much of Roumain’s work expresses the frustration and rage of people who have been downtrodden for centuries. He included the mass of the people in his writing and called on the poor union to move against privation.

Death and legacy

On August 18, 1944, Jacques Roumain, one of Haiti’s most respected and complex writers, died of still unknown causes at age 37. Roumain created some of the most colorful, dynamic, and moving poetry of his generation. His writings continue to influence and shape Haitian culture and the pan-African world of today.

By the time of his death, Roumain had become an acclaimed writer in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe. His great novel, Gouverneurs de la Rosée, has achieved a permanent place among great Caribbean and Latin American literature. It is a novel that is still studied at universities, read by new generations, and acted out by theatrical groups.

Selected works

  • “Oeuvres Complètes”, Léon-François Hoffman, Ed. ALLCA XX (Coll. Archivos), Paris, 2003.
  • A propos de la campagne “anti-superstitieuse”.” Port-au-Prince, Impr. de l’État [1944?]
  • Analyse schématique 1932-1934. [Haiti]: Editions idées nouvelles, idées prolétariennes, 1999.
  • Bois-d’ébène. Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Imp. H. Deschamps
  • Les fantoches.
  • Gouverneurs de la rosée, roman. [Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie de l’état, 1944]
  • Masters of the dew. Gouverneurs de la rosée, translated by Langston Hughes and Mercer Cook. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947.
  • La montagne ensorcelée.  1931.
  • Poèmes Port-au-Prince, Haïti: Editions des Antilles, [1993]
  • Poésies; Griefs de l’homme noir; La proie et l’ombre; La montagne ensorcelée (récit paysan) Port-au-Prince, Haïti: Editions fardin, 1998.
  • La proie et l’ombre. Portau-Prince, Haïti: Éditions “La Presse” [1930]

 

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