As a scholar of Haitian studies, I try to stay abreast of the growing and interesting literary production and expression about Haiti and its place in world history in Western scholarship, both in the Anglophone and Francophone world. Frankly, it is impossible to keep track of the various ways writers and artists have imagined and reimagined Haiti through literature, books, and the arts. (But, I do try to keep an eye on books that are published primarily in the English and French languages. ) As a writer, I too have imagined and continue to imagine Haitian history, culture, and literature through the technology of books and the craft of writing. In this brief post, my goal is to share with you some of the best books that have been published on Haiti in 2014. Each title is followed by a brief description. I close the post by highlighting some of the most exciting anticipating works in 2015 about Haiti.These titles are both in English and French. These texts represent different literary genres; they imagine Haiti from different perspectives, worldviews, and disciplines–including religion, history, literature, the arts, economics, political philosophy, etc. 2014 was a great year of literary production about Haiti.
Bonne lecture and Happy New Year, 2015!
A. Best Books Published on Haiti in 2014
1. The Memoir of General Toussaint Louverture (Oxford University Press, 2014) Translated and Edited by Philippe R. Girard
“Here is an annotated, scholarly, multilingual edition of the only lengthy text personally written by Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture: the memoirs he wrote shortly before his death in the French prison of Fort de Joux. The translation is based on an original copy in Louverture’s hand never before published.
Historian Philippe Girard begins with an introductory essay that retraces Louverture’s career as a slave, rebel, and governor. Girard provides a detailed narrative of the last year of Louverture’s life, and analyzes the significance of the memoirs and letters from a historical and linguistic perspective. The book includes a full transcript, in the original French, of Louverture’s handwritten memoirs. The English translation appears side by side with the original. The memoirs contain idiosyncrasies and stylistic variations of interest to linguists.
Scholarly interest in the Haitian Revolution and the life of Toussaint Louverture has increased over the past decade. Louverture is arguably the most notable man of African descent in history, and the Haitian Revolution was the most radical of the three great revolutions of its time. Haiti’s proud revolutionary past and its more recent upheavals indicate that interest in Haiti’s history goes far beyond academia; many regard Louverture as a personal hero. Despite this interest, there is a lack of accessible primary sources on Toussaint Louverture. An edited translation of Louverture’s memoirs makes his writings accessible to a larger public. Louverture’s memoirs provide a vivid alternative perspective to anonymous plantation records, quantitative analyses of slave trading ventures, or slave narratives mediated by white authors. Louverture kept a stoic façade and rarely expressed his innermost thoughts and fears in writing, but his memoirs are unusually emotional. Louverture questioned whether he was targeted due to the color of his skin, bringing racism an issue that Louverture rarely addressed head on with his white interlocutors, to the fore.”
2. Haiti: From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens: Essays on the Politics and Economics of Underdevelopment, 1804-2013 ( Routledge, 2014) by Alex Dupuy
“This title focuses on Haiti from an international perspective. Haiti has endured undue influence from successive French and US governments; its fragile ‘democracy’ has been founded on subordination to and dominance of foreign powers. This book examines Haiti’s position within the global economic and political order, and how the more dominant members of the international community have, in varying ways, exploited the country over the last 200 years.”
3. Haiti: Trapped in the Outer Periphery (Lynne Rienner Publishers , 2014) by Robert Fatton Jr.
“The inability of the Haitian state to deal with the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake brought into sharp focus Haiti s desperate social and economic conditions and raised perplexing questions. What accounts for the country s continuing predicament? Why have repeated attempts at democratic governance failed so abysmally? And what role has the international community played?
Addressing these questions, Robert Fatton focuses on Haiti s long history of predatory rule and also introduces the concept of the outer periphery to explore the impact of a world economy shaped by neoliberal policies. The result is an insightful analysis of contemporary Haitian politics and society with significant implications for the broader study of comparative politics.”
“This book recuperates the important history that Haitian thought around Vodou possession has had in French critical theory. The author takes the period of the 1930s and ‘40s, as the centerfold of a more complex network of relations that places Haiti as one of the pivots of a more expanded intellectual conversation around “possession,” which links anthropology, literature, psychoanalysis, human rights, and visual arts in France, Haiti, and the United States. Benedicty argues that Haiti as the anthropological other serves as a kick-starter to an entire French-based theoretical apparatus (Breton, Leiris, Bataille, de Certeau, Foucault, and Butler), but once up and running, its role as catalyst is forgotten and the multiple iterations of the anthropological other are cast back into the net of Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “Savage slot.”
The book offers the reader unfamiliar with Haiti a comprehensive interdisciplinary study of twentieth and early twenty-first century Haitian thought, including a detailed timeline of important moments in the intellectual history that connects Haiti to France and the United States.
The first part of the book is about global dispossessions in the first decades of the twentieth century; the second part points to how the narratives of ‘Haiti’ are intimately linked to a Franco-U.S.-American discursive space, constructed over the course of the twentieth century, a discursive order that has conflated the representation of ‘Haiti’ with an understanding of Vodou primarily as an occult religion, and not as a philosophical system. The third and fourth parts of the book examine how the novels of René Depestre, Jean-Claude Fignolé, and Kettly Mars have revisited the notion of possession since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorships.”
“In the Haitian diaspora, as in Haiti itself, the majority of Haitians have long practiced Catholicism or Vodou. However, Protestant forms of Christianity now flourish both in Haiti and beyond. In the Bahamas, where approximately one in five people are now Haitian-born or Haitian-descended, Protestantism has become the majority religion for immigrant Haitians.
6. Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution ( Cambridge University Press, 2014) by Ada Ferrer
7. Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation ( The University of North Carolina Press, 2014)
“In this moving microhistory of nineteenth-century Haiti and Jamaica, Matthew J. Smith details the intimate connections that illuminate the conjoined histories of both places after slavery. The frequent movement of people between Haiti and Jamaica in the decades following emancipation in the British Caribbean brought the countries into closer contact and influenced discourse about the postemancipation future of the region. In the stories and genealogies of exiles and politicians, abolitionists and diplomats, laborers and merchants–and mothers, fathers, and children–Smith recognizes the significance of nineteenth-century Haiti to regional development.
On a broader level, Smith argues that the history of the Caribbean is bound up in the shared experiences of those who crossed the straits and borders between the islands just as much as in the actions of colonial powers. Whereas Caribbean historiography has generally treated linguistic areas separately and emphasized relationships with empires, Smith concludes that such approaches have obscured the equally important interactions among peoples of the Caribbean.”
“From the introduction by Edwidge Danticat:
“How often are you asked to put together an amazing literary party? In my case, a mind-blowing two times. The lit party of my dreams has been Haiti Noir, and lo and behold, I get asked to do it again…After the first Haiti Noir was published, people kept asking if I wasn’t contributing to a negative image of the country by editing a book filled with so many ‘dark’ stories about Haiti. My answer was, and remains, that showing the brilliance of our writers and their ability to address Haiti’s difficulties through their art can only contribute to a more nuanced and complex presentation of Haitian lives. After all, the writers here are not Haiti virgins, to paraphrase from ‘Heading South,’ Dany Laferrière’s story, included here, of sex tourism gone wrong. They are all old hats, either by blood or their deep love for Haiti…This is not just a party, folks, but also a costume party, a noir party. The author of each story, poem, or novel excerpt has shed his or her skin and has sunk into the deepest and most revealing places of the human heart.”
“The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) reshaped the debates about slavery and freedom throughout the Atlantic world, accelerated the abolitionist movement, precipitated rebellions in neighboring territories, and intensified both repression and antislavery sentiment. The story of the birth of the world’s first independent black republic has since held an iconic fascination for a diverse array of writers, artists, and intellectuals throughout the Atlantic diaspora. Examining twentieth-century responses to the Haitian Revolution, Philip Kaisary offers a profound new reading of the representation of the Revolution by radicals and conservatives alike in primary texts that span English, French, and Spanish languages and that include poetry, drama, history, biography, fiction, and opera.In a complementary focus on canonical works by Aimé Césaire, C. L. R. James, Edouard Glissant, and Alejo Carpentier in addition to the work of René Depestre, Langston Hughes, and Madison Smartt Bell, Kaisary argues that the Haitian Revolution generated an enduring cultural and ideological inheritance. He addresses critical understandings and fictional reinventions of the Revolution and thinks through how, and to what effect, authors of major diasporic texts have metamorphosed and appropriated this spectacular corner of black revolutionary history.”
“Long neglected in mainstream history books, the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) is now being claimed across a range of academic disciplines as an event of world-historical importance. The former slaves’ victory over their French masters and the creation of the independent nation of Haiti in 1804 is being newly heralded not only as a seminal moment in the transnational formation of the ‘black Atlantic’ but as the most far-reaching manifestation of ‘Radical Enlightenment’.
The best known Haitian writer to emerge in the years after the revolution is Baron de Vastey (1781-1820), who authored over ten books and pamphlets between 1814 and his murder in 1820. His first and most incendiary work, Le système colonial dévoilé (1814), provides a moving invocation of the horrors of slavery in pre-revolutionary Saint-Domingue. Its trailblazing critique of colonialism anticipates by over a hundred years the anticolonial politics (and poetics) of Césaire, Fanon, and Sartre.
Translated here for the first time, Vastey’s forceful unveiling of the colonial system will be compulsory reading for scholars across the humanities.”
12. Haïti après le tremblement de terre: La forme, le rôle et le pouvoir de l’écriture (Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2014) by Emmanuelle Anne Vanborre (Editor)
“En parallèle à la construction historique d’Haïti en tant que pays indépendant, la littérature haïtienne s’est montrée dynamique depuis plus de deux siècles. Les écrivains, poètes, artistes, créent et notent la vivacité culturelle d’Haïti. Le 12 janvier 2010, le séisme fait trembler la terre d’Haïti, fait trembler les corps et les âmes des personnes d’Haïti et d’ailleurs. Immédiatement après la catastrophe, les écrivains continuent à écrire, reprennent l’écriture, commencent à créer de nouvelles œuvres sur le tremblement de terre et ses conséquences. Plusieurs articles, récits, fictions, volumes collectifs sont publiés. La force et la vie de la littérature haïtienne continuent à impliquer les lecteurs, en éveillent de nouveaux. La misère, la douleur, la tristesse et la mort peuplent les lignes, mais la beauté, le courage, la vision et l’espoir sont également présents. Les mots essaient de contenir la complexité de la nouvelle face d’Haïti. Les mots essaient de capturer l’absence. Mais comment le témoignage est-il possible quand l’événement est une catastrophe, quand l’événement a pris la vie de tant de personnes, quand l’événement touche à la destruction et à la mort ? Ce volume s’attache à analyser les écrits qui ont trait au séisme, au rôle et au pouvoir de la littérature, à la nécessité d’écrire qui suit un tel événement traumatique. Le but est d’offrir une réflexion sur ce que peut la littérature, la fiction, ce que peuvent les mots devant le drame qui est survenu à Haïti.”
13.Visualizing Haiti in U.S. Culture, 1910-1950 (Ashgate Pub Co., 2014) by Lindsay J. Twa (Author)
“From the late 1910s through the 1950s, particularly, the Caribbean nation of Haiti drew the attention and imaginations of many key U.S. artists, yet curiously, while significant studies have been published on Haiti’s history and inter-American exchanges, none analyze visual representations with any depth.The author calls not only on the methodologies of art history, but also on the interdisciplinary eye of visual culture studies, anthropology, literary theory, and tourism studies to examine the fine arts in relation to popular arts, media, social beliefs, and institutional structures. Twa emphasizes close visual readings of photographs, illustrations, paintings, and theatre. Extensive textual and archival research also supports her visual analysis, such as scrutinizing the personal papers of this study’s artists, writers, and intellectuals.Among the literary and artistic luminaries of the twentieth century that Twa includes in her discussion are Richmond Barthe, Eldzier Cortor, Aaron Douglas, Katherine Dunham, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alexander King, Jacob Lawrence, James Weldon Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, Eugene O’Neill, and William Edouard Scott. Twa argues that their choice of Haiti as subject matter was a highly charged decision by these American artists to use their artwork to engage racial, social, and political issues.”
14. L’armée indigène : La défaite de Napoléon en Haïti (Presses de l’Université Laval, 2014) by Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec prefaced by Lyonel Trouillot
“Valmy, Austerlitz, Ulm, Waterloo… Autant de batailles dont les noms nous sont familiers. Mais qui, en dehors Haïti, a déjà entendu parler de la bataille de Vertières, point d’aboutissement spectaculaire et sanglant de la guerre d’indépendance haïtienne ? Qui sait que cet affrontement s’est soldé, en 1803, par l’une des pires défaites napoléoniennes ? Que les Noirs s’y réclamaient des idéaux de la Révolution ? Ceux qui connaissent cette histoire sont peu nombreux, car la France vaincue s’est employée à effacer les traces de sa déconfiture. Pourtant, cette bataille aurait dû faire date : son issue, désastreuse pour la puissance coloniale française, allait fissurer de manière irrémédiable les assises de l’esclavage. Dans cet ouvrage, Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec décrit la violence inouïe de cette guerre entre maîtres et anciens esclaves, entre les forces des généraux Leclerc et Rochambeau et l’armée, dite “indigène”, de Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Il interroge le sens de son occultation par l’historiographie française, mais aussi le rapport trouble que l’élite du pouvoir haïtien entretient avec sa mémoire, symbole d’émancipation parfois encombrant pour qui désire maintenir les populations asservies.”
15. Production du Savoir et Construction Sociale: L’ethnologie en Haiti (Editions de l’Universite d’Etat d’Haiti, 2014) by Jhon Picard Byron (ed)
” Ce collectif résulte de l’une des premières rencontres instauratrices du laboratoire LADIREP (langues-discours-représentations), centre de recherche de l’Université d’État d’Haïti (UEH) implanté à la Faculté d’ethnologie (FE). Il ouvre le chantier de l’histoire de l’ethnologie en et sur Haïti en examinant la nature du savoir ethnologique et ses relations avec la construction sociale. Le tournant ethnologique est analysé avec la mise au jour de nouvelles données factuelles, une remise en perspective des généalogies intellectuelles et de l’interprétation de certaines œuvres. Les répercussions du basculement survenu sont ensuite réévaluées à travers l’étude de formes d’appropriation sociale et esthétique, de postérité politique et institutionnelle. Puis, des comparaisons donnent à apprécier des convergences dans la démarche d’auteurs haïtiens et brésiliens de la première moitié du xxe siècle, dans les préoccupations actuelles relatives au positionnement du chercheur face à des revendications mémorielles. Enfin, une synthèse des principales orientations théoriques des études des ” Amériques noires “, qui élargit l’horizon de l’évaluation comparative, est confrontée aux nouvelles voies envisagées.”
16. L’actualite d’Antenor Firmin: Hier, Aujourd’hui et Demain (Editions de l’Universite d’Etat d’Haiti, 2014) by Cary Hector (ed)
17.Panorama Du Folklore Haitien: Presence africaine en Haiti ( Panorama Du Folklore Haitien, 2014) by Emmanuel C. Paul
“Comme l’indique le titre, il s’agit d’une revue assez large des pratiques culturelles haïtiennes. Ainsi, plusieurs éléments fondamentaux du patrimoine immatériel sont scientifiquement décrits et commentes. Bien que datant de 1963, cette recherche, alors qu’elle couvre un très large éventail de pratique,demeure l’une des plus rigoureuses scientifiquement. Ainsi l’auteur établit-il sans équivoque la source africaine de la culture haïtienne dans ses multiples aspects. C’est ce qui fait de Panorama du folklore haïtien, présence africaine en Haiti, un livre de référence pour tous ceux qui s’intéressent a Haiti d’une manière général et en particulier a la mentalité et a la culture de son peuple.”
18. Histoire du style musical en Haiti BMémoire d’Encrier (22 avril 2014) de Claude Dauphin
” Histoire du style musical d’Haïti est une référence en musicologie. L’ouvrage offre au lecteur des itinéraires fascinants – textes, images, partitions musicales, photos d’archives -, construits à partir de témoignages ethnographiques et de la vaste expérience musicologique de l’auteur. Point de vue de l’auteur. Ce livre se veut un ouvrage de musicologie. Qu’est-ce à dire ? Non pas que la musique soit une science en soi, mais qu’il existe des règles précises pour l’aborder, pour l’analyser et pour la présenter de manière rationnelle. Ainsi, une histoire de la musique commande une objectivité, s’appuie sur des observations vérifiables, répertorie et analyse les éléments du langage musical, classifie les instruments et, en dernier ressort, définit les genres et les styles. Histoire du style musical d’Haïti a un caractère mixte qui le situe entre l’essai, c’est-à-dire l’ouvrage de réflexion, et l’usuel, l’ouvrage de référence. Selon son intérêt, le lecteur naviguera d’une perspective à l’autre : prendre part à la cogitation, se situer par rapport aux arguments sociohistoriques amenés et discutés par l’auteur ou, à l’inverse, compulser les répertoires qui se veulent plus objectifs, plus descriptifs.”
19. Bain de lune (Sabine Wespiese, 2014) de Yanick Lahens
Les Lafleur ont toujours vécu à Anse Bleue, un village d’Haïti où la terre et les eaux se confondent. Entre eux et les Mésidor, devenus les seigneurs des lieux, les liens sont anciens, et le ressentiment aussi. Il date du temps où les Mésidor ont fait main basse sur toutes les bonnes terres de la région.
Quand, au marché, Tertulien Mésidor s’arrête comme foudroyé devant l’étal d’Olmène (une Lafleur), l’attirance est réciproque. L’histoire de ces deux-là va s’écrire à rebours des idées reçues sur les femmes soumises et les hommes prédateurs.
Mais, dans cette île également balayée par les ouragans politiques, des rumeurs de terreur et de mort ne tardent pas à s’élever. Un voile sombre s’abat pour longtemps sur Anse Bleue.
Pour dire le monde nouveau, celui des fratries déchirées, des déprédations, de l’opportunisme politique, Yanick Lahens s’en remet au choeur immémorial des paysans : eux ne sont pas dupes, qui se fient aux seules puissances souterraines.
Leurs mots puissants, magiques, donnent à ce roman magistral une violente beauté.”
The only way to transform Haiti’s dismal human rights legacy is through a bottom-up social movement, supported by local and international challenges to the status quo. That recipe for reform mirrors the strategy followed by Mario Joseph, Brian Concannon, and their clients and colleagues profiled in this book. Together, Joseph, Concannon, and their allies represent Haiti’s best hope to escape the cycle of disaster, corruption, and violence that has characterized the country’s two-hundred-year history. At the same time, their efforts are creating a template for a new and more effective human rights-focused strategy to turn around failed states and end global poverty.”
B. Some Anticipating Works in 2015
1. For Whom the Dogs Spy: Haiti: From the Duvalier Dictatorships to the Earthquake, Four Presidents, and Beyond ( Arcade Publishing , 2015 ) by Raymond A. Joseph
“When the 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, Raymond Joseph, the former Haitian ambassador to the United States, found himself rushing back to his beloved country. The earthquake ignited a passion in Joseph, inspiring him to run for president against great competition, including two well-known Haitian pop stars, his nephew Wyclef Jean and Michel Martelly. But he couldn’t compete in a democratic system corrupt to the core.
Joseph’s insider’s account—having served four presidents—explores the country’s unfolding democracy. He unearths the hidden stories of Haiti’s cruel dictators, focusing on the tyranny of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who used the legend of voodoo to bewitch the country into fearing him.
Joseph’s terrifying experiences while infiltrating the father-son regime are chilling. Threatened by Duvalier’s budding gestapo-like police, Joseph sought sanctuary in America. His grueling experience in Haitian politics gave him a unique outlook on international affairs, and he excelled in his ambassadorial career in the United States.
Deep personal knowledge of politics allows Joseph to speak candidly about Haitian history. Readers will be surprised at how important the country of Haiti has been in global (and especially American) history. In this decades-spanning work, he challenges common misconceptions about Haiti. The country is rarely referenced without a mention of it being the “poorest in the Western Hemisphere,” a reductive label unfit for summarizing its rich history. There is no discussion around Haitian history beyond the war of independence. In For Whom the Dogs Spy, Raymond Joseph provides a compelling, modern-day look at Haiti like no other.
With this book, Ambassador Raymond Joseph warns readers about Haiti’s current political leaders’ attempts to impose a new dictatorship. His hope is that Haiti can right itself despite the destruction it has suffered at the hands of man and nature.”
2.Contrary Destinies: A Century of America’s Occupation, Deoccupation, and Reoccupation of Haiti (University Press of Florida, August 25, 2015) by Leon D. Pamphile
“Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of January 12, 2010, reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. Cognizant that this Haiti, as it exists in the public sphere, is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one, the feminist anthropologist and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that lasted over two years. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivers critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in a series of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti. Her complex yet singular aim is to make sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and being in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (All people are human, but all humans are not the same). This collection contains thirty pieces, most of which were previously published in and on Haitian Times, Huffington Post, Ms Magazine, Ms Blog, NACLA, and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl, and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley.”
“The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was an event of monumental world-historical significance, and here, in the first systematic literary history of those events, Haiti’s war of independence is examined through the eyes of its actual and imagined participants, observers, survivors, and cultural descendants. The ‘transatlantic print culture of the Haitian Revolution’ that this literary history shows was created by novelists, poets, dramatists, memoirists, biographers, historians, journalists, and eye-witness observers, revealing enlightenment racial ‘science’ as the primary vehicle through which the Haitian Revolution was interpreted, historicized, memorialized, and fictionalized by nineteenth-century Haitians, Europeans, and U.S. Americans alike.
Through its author’s contention that the Haitian revolutionary wars were incessantly racialized by four constantly recurring racial tropes—the ‘monstrous hybrid’, the ‘tropical temptress’, the ‘tragic mulatto/a’, and the ‘mulatto legend of history’, Tropics of Haiti shows the ways in which the nineteenth-century tendency to understand Haiti’s revolution in primarily racial terms has affected present day demonizations of Haiti and Haitians. In the end, this new archive of Haitian revolutionary writing, much of which has until now remained unknown to the contemporary reading public, invites us to examine how nineteenth-century attempts to paint Haitian independence as the result of a racial revolution coincides with present-day desires to render insignificant and ‘unthinkable’ the second independent republic of the New World.”
5. Writing on the Fault Line: Haitian Literature and the Earthquake of 2010 (Liverpool University Press, June 1, 2015) by Martin Munro
“What are the effects of a catastrophic earthquake on a society, its culture and politics? Which of these effects are temporary, and which endure? Are the various effects immediately discernible, or do they manifest themselves over time? What roles do artists, and writers in particular have in witnessing, bearing testimony to, and gauging the effects of natural disasters? What is the worth of literature in a time of disaster? These are the fundamental questions addressed in this book, which examines the case of the Haitian earthquake of 12 January 2010, a uniquely destructive event in the recent history of cataclysmic disasters, in Haiti and the broader world. The book argues that Haitian literature since 2010 has played a primary role in recording, bearing testimony to, and engaging with the social and psychological effects of the disaster. It further shows that daring literary invention – what Edwidge Danticat calls “dangerous creation” – constitutes one of the most striking and important means of communicating the effects of such a disaster, and that close engagement with the creative imagination is one of the most privileged ways for the outsider in particular to begin to comprehend the experience of living in and through a time of catastrophe.”
6. Thinking in Public: Faith, Secular Humanism, and Development in Jacques Roumain (Wipf and Stock, 2015) by Celucien Joseph
*Description is forthcoming
7. Vodou in Haitian Memory: The Idea and Representation of Vodou in Haitian Imagination (Collection 1) (Lexington Books, 2015) edited by Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon Cleophat
*Description is forthcoming
*Description is forthcoming