26.9 C
New York
Friday, June 14, 2024

Aimé Césaire, legendary Martinique poet and politician dies at 94

CSMS Magazine Staff WritersAimé Césaire, one of the Caribbean most important poets, died Thursday at a hospital in Fort-De-France. He was 94. His passing sent consternation to many corners of the world.  Césaire gained fame in his early years for his strong anti-colonialist activities. In the 1930s, Cesaire helped found the Black Student journal in Paris. The journal later contributed to the launch of the Négritude movement dedicated to promoting black pride. Famous writers like Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor, French Guyanese Léon Damas, fellow Caribbean writers and thinkers like Frantz Fanon, Paul Niger and Jacques Roumain were among the early proponents of the movement. Roumain’s version of Négritude came to be known as the authentic one, for it centered around a revolutionary pride tied with Marxism, especially in the 1940s and 1950s when many Sub-Saharan African countries as well as the Caribbean embarked on the long and treacherous march toward independence.    If Césaire is revered around the world for what he stood for in his younger years, it is his literary oeuvres that earn him the respect that many believe he so deserves today, noticeably Discourse on Colonialism considered a classic of French political literature. But his most famous works came to be Nègre Je Suis, Nègre Je Le Serai (Negro I Am, Negro I Will Remain) and the famous poem Cahier au Pays Natal (Notes From a Return to the Native Land.)    Born on June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique,  Aimé Césaire attended high school and college in France. In 1937 he married another student from Martinique, Suzanne Roussi, with whom he eventually had four sons and two daughters. Césaire returned to Martinique during World War II and was mayor of Fort-de-France from 1945 to 2001, except for a break from 1983 to 1984.    In 1945, the Martinique poet had a long stay in Haiti, especially in the Haitian second largest city, Cap Haitien where he met a young Francois Duvalier, then a young doctor working in the peasantry. “In my long conversation with him, he never displayed any suspicion that he was going to be the monster that he later turned out to be,” Césaire told Maryse Condé in an interview published in 2005. Also a playwright, Cesaire worte the famous La tragédie du roi Christophe (The tragedy of King Christophe). Christophe, Haitian independence hero, was revered by many in the African Diaspora. That may help to explain why he spent so much time in Cap Haitien, where Christophe presided as Haitian King from 1806 to 1820.    Many young writers who later became famous in the Haitian revolutionary landscape had their first encounter with Césaire during his stay in Haiti in 1945, especially Jacques Stéphen Alexis, René Depestre and Gérald Bloncourt. Haiti was then a Mecca for literary ideas. His visit to Haiti came just before French surrealist André Breton and Cuban poet Alejo Carpentier arrived in the Haitian capital. “I remember him very well as a human being with a great simplicity….The entire young generation admired him,” said Gérald Bloncourt in his homage to Césaire that we also publish in the French section.       But Cesaire’s rift with his revolutionary ideas cost him many friends, especially Frantz Fanon who never forgave him for his moving-away from the fight for independence and his embrace for Martinique integration into the French mold. Those who admire him today, especially the middle class petit bourgeois of Martinique will tell you that Cesaire’s biggest contradiction was his acceptance to Martinique title as a French Overseas Department, an idea he helped to conceive. But his critiques claim that he wanted to intertwine anti-colonialism with French integration. One can understand why his position in the Caribbean Creolophone dilemma had been so criticized—a subject of heated debates in many academic venues led by Haitian thinker, Totongui, Martinique writers like Raphael Confiant and Patrick Chamoiseau.          “[He] was a great figure of 20th-century literature, a poet who had a world stature while remaining deeply attached to the cultural values of the black world,” said Former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf. “I pay tribute to a man who devoted his life to the many struggles being waged on several battlefronts for the cultural and political destiny of his brothers, a noble struggle that was free from hate, which he abhorred,” continued  Diouf.Also see Succès Plus Foule at the Jacques Stephen Alexis commemoration last month!and Novel Injustices: Whither The Contemporary Novel?

Related Articles


Comments are closed.

Latest Articles