dimanche 29 mai 2011

lundi 23 mai 2011

Summer Reading 2011

The summer after I finished graduate school I sent around a message to my friends and family members about forming a summer reading list.  Throughout graduate school I regularly passed over  reading "leisure" books as my reading became increasingly linked to my research focus.  I am going back to that tradition with a twist this summer, especially because I will be on leave with a fellowship for the entire academic year to focus on my writing and research.  So instead of devoting a good portion of the summer to preparing for my fall classes, I will catch up on books I have been meaning to read over the past several months, completing my book manuscript, and beginning the research for my second project on performance theory and Haitian cultural production.  Below are some of the books on my summer reading list.

1.  The Haitian Creole Language:  History, Structure, Use and Education, eds. Carole Berotte Joseph and Arthur K. Spears (2011)
How I wish this book had been out when I taught my fall classes on Haiti!   It is a multilingual,  thorough, well written and exceedingly useful volume for the history and instruction of Kreyol dealing with issues that range from linguistic to literary and featuring many prominent scholars.

2.  Tout bouge autour de moi by Dany Laferrière (2010)
This book falls into the newly formed category of “post-earthquake writing,"  much like Haiti parmi les vivants and others, the book is primarily Laferrière's testimony from the day of the earthquake and in its aftermath.  

3.  The Loneliness of Angels by Myriam Chancy (2010)
Myriam Chancy is one of my favorite writers living  in the diaspora.  You can always expect complex, multifaceted and complicated characters in her novels and the Loneliness of Angels, which was published last year promises to be no different.  The narrative centers on a Syrian-Haitian woman living in Port-au-Prince but, true to Chancy’s styles it is told in multiple voices in a non-linear fashion.    

4.  Haiti noir,  ed. Edwidge Danticat  (2010)
I snatched up a copy of this wonderful collection when it first came out several months ago but have not gotten to it yet.  Edited by Edwidge Danticat, the collection boasts a number of great authors both known (Evelyne Trouillot, Gary Victor) and relatively new voices as well.  I especially like that it is a part of the Akashic Books' "Noir" series which takes on the genre in different contexts. 

5.   Beyond the Slave Narrative:  Politics, Sex and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution by Deborah Jenson (2011)
A professor of Romance Studies at Duke University, Jenson is one of the foremost US academics working on Haitian history, literature and cultural studies  The breadth of her work goes from the 18th century through the present.  This book on the literary legacies of the Haitian Revolution, will be a great complement to studies that tend to focus on the Revolution from philosophical, political, or historic perspectives.
6.  Le prince noir de Lillian Russell by Kettly Mars and Leslie Péan (2011)
This new novel by Mars goes into the 19th century to explore a forbidden love between a vaudeville queen and a Haitian naval officer.  I am looking forward to seeing Mars apply her writing prowess to another century as well as a different setting!

7.  Haiti After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer (2011)
Farmer, who has been working in Haiti for decades, argues that the earthquake was an “unnatural disaster” because of the pre-existing issues that made it so catastrophic in scope.  Like many of the others that have emerged over the past two years, the book also includes testimonies by people who were there during the earthquake and in its aftermath.

8.  Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora, ed.  Régine Ostine Jackson (2011)
Régine Ostine Jackson is a sociologist from Emory University who has been doing work on the Haitian diaspora in the social sciences.  Her volume offers an interdisciplinary perspective on issues relevant to the formation of Haitian diasporic communities.   The book includes scholars such as anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse and historian Chantalle Verna.

What about you?  What are you looking forward to reading this summer?  What are some new (or old) books by and about Haitians that top your list of favorites?


jeudi 19 mai 2011

De la lecture...

La semaine dernière, à la fin de mon cours sur La Nouvelle haïtienne, un des étudiants m'a confié n'avoir lu son premier livre de fiction qu'après son entrée a la faculté. Un autre a renchéri en disant avoir lu Gouverneurs de la Rosée de Jacques Roumain en classe terminale. Ce qui m'attriste, c'est de savoir que ces deux étudiants sont représentatifs de la majorité en Haïti. Il nous manque des livres – dans les écoles, dans les bibliothèques, dans les maisons.

Toujours la semaine dernière, le Centre Culturel Anne-Marie Morisset a organisé deux jours d’activités autour de Jacques Stephen Alexis -- des conférences (y compris deux par Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi), des lectures, un après-midi culturel. Le public était composé majoritairement d'élèves d’établissements secondaires, privés et publiques. La vaste majorité n'avait jamais lu un seul livre de Jacques Stephen Alexis. Certains ne savaient même pas qui il était. Emmelie Prophète de la Direction Nationale du Livre a évoqué la démocratisation du livre. Selon elle, il faut rendre le livre moins cher sur le marché haïtien, et donc plus accessible à la population. Pour Evelyne Trouillot, c'est le Ministère de l'Education Nationale qui est le principal concerné. C'est à lui de renouveler le curriculum des cours de littérature, faire que les élèves lisent de textes plus récents que ceux d'Etzer Vilaire a l'école. Parce que la passion pour les livres et la lecture est bien vivante, même quand les livres font défaut.

Deux inaugurations d'écoles figurent dans Le Nouvelliste cette semaine. Une première a Zoranje, école de l’ONG Happy Hearts. Une deuxième a St. Marc, un effort conjoint des haïtiens, des américains et des français réunis au sein de Hand in Hand for Haiti. Cette école « va réunir les meilleurs des systèmes éducatifs français et américains. » Personne ne peut nier le fait qu'il existe une carence d'écoles en Haïti. Mais, est-ce pour cette raison que n'importe qui est libre d'ouvrir une école dans le pays? Quel programme sera suivi dans ces écoles? Elles seront sous la supervision de qui? Leurs élèves, seront-ils intégrés dans le système national ou orienté vers l'ailleurs? Etant donné que le nouveau lycée de St. Marc est modelé sur le lycée français en Haïti, on est en droit de se poser ces questions.

Les élèves de ces écoles, liront-ils Jacques Stephen Alexis? 


mercredi 4 mai 2011

Écrits d'Haïti: 5 years in the making!

Last month, after five years of hard work, international collaboration, countless revisions and the use of postal services in three different countries, my first book, Écrits d'Haïti, Perspectives sur la littérature haïtienne contemporaine (1986-2006) was finally released. It contains 24 articles on contemporary Haitian literature by critics such as Marie-José N'Zengou-TayoJoëlle Vitiello, Martin Munro, Kaiama Glover, Yves Chemla and of course, Régine Michelle Jean-Charles. There are also interviews with 11 of today's important Haitian writers, including Georges Castera, Yanick Lahens, Louis-Philippe Dalembert, Jean Métellus and Gary Victor. The book does not have an overarching theme. That was a very deliberate choice. Rather than insist upon a supposed violent or nostalgic essence to Haitian writing, I wanted to just let the works breathe a little. Just let them be. I wanted to see what fun and new ideas that scholars would come up with. I think it paid off with articles like Jason Herbeck's "Le polar aux Antilles et le cas de Rosalie l’infâme d'Evelyne Trouillot" and Michel Magniez's "Le héros homosexuel dans les récits en Haïti" or Jean-Marie Théodat's "Autogéographie du Faubourg".

Another goal was to gather in one conversation literary critics based in the US and Europe, in Canada and the Caribbean. So that they could talk with and against each other. However, as I mention in the introduction, that objective was only partly attained. I invited several local colleagues to participate in the project, but for various reasons, they were mostly unable to. Only one of the many literary critics involved in the project, Pierre Maxwell Bellefleur, is based in Haiti. This speaks volumes to the difficulties of scholarship here. This morning, I went to ENS after being in France for two months. Our librarian is just now reshelving a portion of our collection. We've received metal bookcases, but still don't have a secure space in which to shelve the entirety of the library's holdings. Imagine finding research material in such a situation. Then, there is of course the basic issue of salary. Professors in the Haitian higher education system do not earn enough to be able to devote themselves full time to an academic career. We also teach high school, work as journalists, administrators, and consultants. Or teach so many hours that there's little time left for course prep and grading, let alone for writing.

It was important to me that Ecrits d'Haïti be published in one of Haiti's official languages. It is incredibly frustrating as a professor to be unable to assign pertinent articles on works we study in class because they're not written in a language my students can understand. Without trying to dictate the linguistic choices of fellow scholars, I wanted to ensure that my students would be able to participate in the discussion generated by this book. Of course, its cost makes it highly unlikely that my students will purchase their own copies, but I'll be donating a copy to our library and Karthala is selling the book at a lesser price in Haiti and Africa. (20 euros instead of 29. Still a lot, I know, but it's something).

All things considered, I am hopeful that Ecrits d'Haiti will be an important contribution to the field of Haitian literary studies. Once you get a chance to look at it, please come back and let us know what you think!