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Thursday, June 13, 2024

One year after the grand tribute for Jacques Stephen Alexis

By Ardain IsmaCSMS Magazine Staff writerIt is hard to imagine that a year has already gone by since we grandiosely celebrated the 45th anniversary of the disappearance of Jacques Stephen Alexis, martyred Haitian thinker. It was an unforgettable moment for many who attended the emotional event, especially the Friday night cultural event at the auditorium of Florida Atlantic University (FAU).            Apart from an enthusiastic crowd coming from several localities of South Florida, hundreds of university students and several important personalities from the academic and literary world filled the room. Among them were Dr. Dolores Smiley, dean of School of Diversity Affairs at Nova Southeastern University, Bernard Diederich, renowned writer and his wife Ginette Dreyfus, Alexis’s widow  Andrée Roumer and her son Jacques Alexis Junior. Coming down from Paris were JSA’s famed daughter Florence Alexis accompanied by Gerald Bloncourt, JSA’s best friend, and Medhi Lalalloui, renowned French filmmaker.            Carrol Coates, who translated into English Alexis’s most famous novel, Compère Gènèral Soleil (General Sun, My Brother), also came down from New York for the event. Jean Mapou and his folk group Sosyete Koukouy along with the university dancers rocked the house. In all, 300-strong showed up to resurrect Jacques Soleil from his still unknown gravesite.            A lot has happened since then. Social justice, which Jacques Stephen Alexis preached and used as the cornerstone of his writings and also for which his voice was stilled, continue to be the subject of all authentically engaged writers. Haiti, his homeland, continues to be a deprived nation. Above all is the death of Haitian poet Paul Laraque, who himself was a good friend of JSA and who engineered in 1982 the first grand remembrance for Jacques Stephen Alexis on the 20th anniversary of his disappearance.

Humanism of JSA

 In his book titled Jacques Stephen Alexis: Combattant et Romancier d’Avant Garde (Combatant and Novelist from the Frontline), historian Georges Jean-Charles, reflecting upon Alexis’ death, tells us that “ once again, the people of Haiti have fallen victims of papadocism…. With blood, they have paid dearly…..And it is with no surprise that Alexis is being counted as one of the Papa Doc’s victims—he who professed that one has to love his country as he loves the flesh of his body, and he must not be cowed by any obstacles that might hinder the evolution of his country, whatever the obstacles may be.”            Alexis was indeed a visionary and a profound patriot, who strongly believed that “a nation without tradition is a nation without face and without future.” In 1946, at the age of 23, Jacques Alexis, was already a matured young man, who understood that he was “just a young man who suffers from the oldness of the world and [he was] agitated by its future developments.” He was then using the sobriquet Jacques La Colère to write these famous words in his also famous Lettres Aux Hommes Vieux (Letters to the old men), a series of letters that he published in his clandestine newspaper La Ruche (The Hive) that later became the main voice of opposition against Haitian dictator, Elie Lescot.            Like Pablo Neruda or Alejo Carpentier, JSA’s marvelous realism beautifully detailed in his Prolegomena to a Haitian Marvelous Realism that he introduced in 1956 during the first congress of black writers and artists in Paris’ prestigious Sorbonne University was the document that confirmed the writer as a serious humanist, a nature lover, beautifier and, above all, a marvelous thinker. E.W. Dubois, who was prevented to travel abroad to participate at the event, later admitted that his absence did not matter much, for more younger and more energized thinkers were “already taking up position to hole the torch.” Dr. Jean Price Mars, then internationally renowned Haitian writer, assumed Du Bois’ role as the Chairman.            French’s famous poet, Louis Aragon, agreed that with Alexis, not only Haiti but “oppressed people around the world have a voice through this young writer’s writings and his beautiful and sophisticated way of describing the world and its complex realities.”            If Alexis’ novelistic prose conquered the heart of many in academia and in the literature world, he was by no means an intellectualist. As a thinker with an impeccable brilliance, he, since early on, had made a choice to put his intellect at the service of the oppressed. He held that principle to the very end of his short existence. His text La Belle Amour Humaine republished in 1970 in French literary review Revue Europe, is perhaps the quintessential document that ultimately crafted JSA as an international humanist. In this text addressed in large part to European intellectuals, Alexis was asking them to take a closer look at their social status and how they could use their social influence to help in the struggle to change the course of history. “All we must opt for is a global village with a society more just and more humane,” he says.            Alexis was no egocentric, an attribute accorded to René Depestre, his former friend and close associate who later turned out to be his biggest rival. He wanted to see that every son of Haiti is empowered with knowledge, for he believed that human intelligence is a country most precious natural resource.            However, being a humanist should not be enough to rid someone of his existence. Besides being a thinker, JSA was an active revolutionary and, according to late historian Gerard Pierre-Charles, “Politic was always at the center of everything Alexis was undertaking.”            Alexis knew his life could be in danger as he began to organize the masses to take a stand against injustice. He vehemently despised the caducity of those in power, la decrepitude of the power of money of which he believed was being used to fabricate everywhere “colonial expeditions, monopolies, racial hatred, indigenous elites and all forms of miseries plaguing the world.”            Finally, Jacques Stephen Alexis lived his life to the fullest without any fear of facing the ultimate consequence. He has left us a patrimony rich of all sort of literary genres: novels, novellas, and even plays. As Georges Jean-Charles puts it, “[Alexis] was not only committed to justifying his raison d’être and to giving a sense to his life, he has also given a sense to his death, like the heroes and the prophets of past generations. [Even in death,] he remains at the head of the band and continues to show the way, the road to revolutionary humanism in art as well as in real life.”Also see Succès Plus Foule at the Jacques Stephen Alexis commemoration last month!and Novel Injustices: Whither The Contemporary Novel?        Note: Dr. Ardain Isma is also a novelist and chief editor of CSMS Magazine. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova southeastern University. You can read a synopsis of his latest novel “Alicia.” Click here: http://www.themulticulturalgroup.com/books.html

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