Photo of the Week: Smiling Children

by    /  June 4, 2010  / No comments

Photo: © UNESCO/ Claude Michel

This photo captures a few Haitian school children smiling and laughing outside of their school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Shot 30 years ago, this photo helps illustrate the lives of the Haitian people before the devastating earthquake that rocked the nation. Life in Haiti has never been easy, but with the addition of this catastrophe the already fragile nation has a lot of work to do.

Read this excerpt from: Between Squalor and Splendor: Haitian Literature and National Crisis

On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake rocked the nation of Haiti. The country’s writers—both at home and abroad—responded with poems, articles, and interviews. However for more than a hundred years, Haitian writers have been writing from and for a nation marked by both natural and manmade catastrophe. During the country’s history, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have fled or been exiled, creating a sizable and culturally productive diaspora.

In Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s 1968 novella Madness, three poets crouch in a barricaded shack as what they call “devils” crawl through the streets of Port-au-Prince shooting everything that moves. On the verge of starvation, one poet calls out in agony, “Do you remember…they amused themselves by slapping us and making us crawl naked on all fours like dogs. No doubt about it, they persecute poets here.”

During the brutal dictatorship of François Duvalier and subsequently his son Jean-Claude (1957–1986) the government not only persecuted poets; they armed a militia of the desperate poor and set them loose on the country to reduce the population and paralyze opposition through fear of torture. Government persecution
of artists and intellectuals for subversion led to their mass exodus.

Writers of the Haitian diaspora have produced a rich body of literature. These writers include Edwidge Danticat, Stanley Péan, and René Depestre, who, in addition to producing their own work, promote and nurture other Haitian writers. There is also a vibrant literary community within Haiti that has survived occupation and dictatorship. Writers such as Frankétienne, Lyonel Trouillot, and Gary Victor have produced a body of work marked by artistic daring.

Read Brian’s bio.

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