Literature in Haiti: When Haiti became independent on January 1 , 1804, after years of liberation war ( 1791-1803 ) , France, colonial power, defeated on military land and expelled from the territory left behind a poisoned gift : his tongue . While the Haitian government emerges with its military and land structures , the ruling classes and the intellectual elite, fed French values , are incapable of creating a specifically Haitian culture.
Haitian literature has been closely intertwined with the political life of Haiti. Haitian intellectuals turned successively or simultaneously to France, the UK, the United States, and African traditions. At the same time, Haitian history has always been a rich source of inspiration for literature, with its heroes, its upheavals, its cruelties and its rites.
For more than a century (1804-1915) , Haitian poetry merely gravitate French cultural centers : pseudo- classicism , romanticism, Parnassus , symbolism, surrealism. Independence of the post- war poets are the actors involved a literature pioneers and combat. Versifiers subject to forms of pseudo- classical art triumph in France since the late eighteenth century , they appear as courtiers anxious to serve the powerful of the moment ( or Christophe/Boyer ) .
In truth, the poets too – as historians and dramatists – are mobilizing to build the nation and encourage resistance , in case the French enemy would return. They sing the deeds of the War of Independence , develop , by the fables , moral people , evoke the great Indian ancestors ( Caonabo , Cacique Enriquillo ) who fought against Spanish tyranny and compose patriotic hymns .
The nineteenth century
In the eighteenth century, settlers published descriptive and political works in France. Haitian literature has its origins in the country’s independence.
In 1804, Fligneau’s play The Haitian expatriate made its debut. But the ruling classes and the intellectual elites in the emerging Haitian state remain imbued with French culture. There was a patriotic vein that recounted the deeds of convulsive independence. It adopted, over the 19th century, the successive literary currents coming from France: classicism, romanticism, Parnassianism, and symbolism. These early bards who adopted the ode , the epistle, the epic poem , the cantata and the epigram, major authors of this period include Emeric Bergeaud (1818–1858), Antoine Dupré (1782–1816), Juste Chanlatte (1766–1828), François Romain Lhérisson (1798–1859) and Jules Solime Milscent (1778–1842), who founded the journal L’Abeille haïtienne in 1829.
In this period of intense literary turmoils, newspapers like Le Républicain and later L’Union opened their pages to the first romantics. L’Observateur, created in 1819, published romantic poetry. In 1836 the group of the Cénacle was formed, with the romantic poets Ignace Nau (1808–1845) and Coriolan Ardouin (1812–1838). Later Oswald Durand (1840–1906) and Massillon Coicou (1867–1908) represented this movement.
Theatrical production was equally rich and important, parallel to the emergence of melodrama in France. All genres were represented: prose drama, tragedy, comedy, and works reflecting current and changing mores.
At the end of the 19th century, Haitian literature was imbued with the prestige of the French language and almost exclusively oriented towards Paris. Touching only the literate francophone minority, it ignored Haitians’ daily lives, despite a strong patriotic dimension.
The twentieth century
The twentieth century opened with the creation of the magazine La Ronde by Pétion Jérôme in 1895. The poets in this intimate and delicate school (Etzer Vilaire, Georges Sylvain) continued to use France as a point of reference. This vein continued during the first part of the 20th century with poets such as Dantès Bellegarde and Ida Faubert.
The American occupation, starting 1915, was a shock. The génération de la gifle (slap generation) created successive militant literary magazines: La Revue de la ligue de la jeunesse haïtienne (1916), La Nouvelle Ronde (1925), and above all La Revue indigène (1927). The Indigeniste movement, through its founder Jean Price-Mars invited writers to start creating rather than imitating, that is to draw from the African roots of the Haitian people. The resistance was also expressed in the oral culture, stories, traditions and legends.
At the same time, social realism in literature was advanced by Jacques Roumain (Gouverneurs de la rosée, 1944) and René Depestre. The novel depicted the darkness of peasant life in the country. Stephen Alexis, René Depestre, and Gérald Bloncourt founded the magazine La Ruche in 1945.
In 1946, André Breton was appointed by the Director of Cultural Affairs in Paris to establish relations with Haitian intellectuals.
In the midst of a student strike opposing the Lescot government, their speeches resonated with the insurgents, led in particular by René Depestre. However, the surrealist influence on Haitian literature remained small, though real. It is, for example, openly claimed by Clément Magloire-Saint-Aude, collaborator of Griots.
The réalisme merveilleux of René Depestre and Jacques Stephen Alexis in the 1950s would be much more fruitful. Contemporary Haitian literature is part of the Francophone literature as well as the Latin American culture.
Maurice Sixto was recognized as an advocate of the Kreyòl language, and an ardent opponent of Haiti’s child slave system. He will be remembered in Haitian culture for his contributions to oral literature. His ability to use rich, descriptive, and iconic Haitian Creole create a narrative that displays the true face of Haitian culture.
The Duvalier regime saw the exodus of many Haitian intellectuals. The so-called writers of the diaspora engaged in a militant literature, treating Haiti in terms of memory, suffering, and guilt of being far from one’s land. Books such as Jean Métellus‘s Louis Vortex (1992, réédition 2005) depict the daily life of Haitian exiles in their host countries.
From the Duvalier dictatorship to beginning of the third millennium, titles from that time period were parading themes of madness or possession, misery, violence, culminating into feelings of helplessness, bitterness, and dispersal. Haitian writers forced into exile during the second half of the twentieth century included Renè Depestre, Dany Laferrière, Jacques-Stephen Alexis, Marie Vieux-Chauvet, and others. They are part of indigenism movement that advocated re-appropriating the culture from the changes that the American occupation and Duvalier’s dictatorship had brought about.
By that time, the dictatorship had passed from Papa Doc to his son, Baby Doc. An exploitative sweatshop system had been established and the Haitian government had started sending its own citizens like slaves to work in sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. Edwidge Danticat explains this in her introduction to Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness. Writers and intellectuals had began leaving the country in throngs.
Frankétienne is one of the most famous of Haitian contemporary literature. His famous works are: Au Fil du Temps – compilation of poems, Ultravocal – novel, Pèlin Tèt, Dézafi, Mûr à Crever.
The Créolité movement, which succeeded indianists and the Négritude movement, rehabilitated the Creole, which no longer was only the language of slavery, but “that which we made together to survive”. A shift was brought about in Haitian literature, from French to Creole, or du français vers le créole, or rather a dialogue between the two languages.
Creole is used frequently in poetry and drama. Frankétienne, for example, writes his plays only in Creole. An oral language, Creole is particularly suited in these genres elevating the voice. (Even if many Haitians speak and understand Creole, not all can read it.) In novels, the two languages are sometimes used together, creating a new and original way of writing.
The choice of language for writing is an important issue in contemporary creative writing, especially for writers residing in Haiti.
Some contemporary authors:
Living in Haiti:
Frankétienne (1936 -)
Lyonel Trouillot (1956 -)
Gary Victor (1958 -)
Living in the US or Canada:
Anthony Phelps (1928 -)
Émile Ollivier (1940–2002)
Gary Klang (1940 -)
Josaphat-Robert Large (1942 -)
Joel Des Rosiers (1951 -)
Dany Laferrière (1953 -)
Stanley Péan (1966 -)
Edwidge Danticat (1969 -)
Fred Edson Lafortune (1982 – )
Living in France:
René Depestre (1926 -)
Jean Métellus (1937 -)
Jean-Claude Charles (1949 – 2008)
Louis-Philippe Dalembert (1962-)
Dimitry Elias Léger (1971 – )