Black Writers in French: A Literary History of Negritude- Lilyan Kesteloot

“All black intellectuals are fully aware to what extent the foundations of history can help their cultural movement, and that is the reason for their passionate interest in ethnology.” — Lilyan Kesteloot
This is THE book for anyone interested in the négritude movement. According to Kesteloot, the three fathers of négritude were Léon Damas (French Guiana), Léopold Senghor (Senegal) and Aimé Césaire (Martinique), who met in Paris in the 1930s and started the movement. Senghor defined negritude as: “the cultural patrimony, the values, and above all the spirit of Negro African civilization.”

Leon Damas
Leon Damas
Leopold Senghor
Leopold Senghor
Aime Cesaire
Aime Cesaire

A major component of negritude is the black protest literature, protesting the struggle of black francophone writers to develop their own art forms, and to get away from the kitschy platitudes that had been written about the “tropical paradises” in which they lived. Suzanne Cesaire voices the frustration the best: “Swoonings, blues, golds, pinks. How nice! How overdone! Literature? Yes. Literature from the hammock, made of sugar and vanilla. Tourist literature…Come on now! Real poetry is somewhere else. Far from shyness, laments, soft breezes, parrotings. We decree the death of frou frou literature. And to hell with hibiscus, the scent of jasmine, and bougainvillea. ”
Lots of literature excerpts are included, not only by black francophones, but also by some of the players of the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes, for example). The poetry featured was mainly by the Big Three (Senghor, Cesaire and Damas), and was written in both French and English. I quickly became a fan of both Senghor and Cesaire:

“Fire men see only in the night, on the darkest nights,

Fire that burns without consuming, that sparkles without burning,

Fire that flies without body, without wings, knowing neither hearth nor hut,

Fire, transparent palm-tree fire, a fearless man invokes thee.

— Leopold Senghor, Chant du feu follet

“I bathe in ever-changing images

of neritic memories, suspended

possibles, larval tendencies,

obsure becomings

habits form trailing in algae in the

liquid slime- evilly,

flowers burst.

Plop

One sinks, sinks as if

into music.”

— Aime Cesaire

I learned so much from this book. A great analysis of literary history.

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