Mimi Barthélémy (1939-2013)


Our friend and colleague Thomas Spear has informed us (http://www.facebook.com/ile.en.ile.site) of the unexpected death of Mimi Barthélémy. Born on May 3, 1939, the much-admired conteuse, singer, author, and actress passed away yesterday, Saturday, April 27, 2013. According to Haiti’s Le Matin, she died of a heart attack. She would have been 74 on Wednesday. Many in the arts community are in shock and are expressing their deep sadness at the passing of this cherished ambassador of Haitian culture.

Dr. Spear (Île en île) writes: “The storyteller, actress, writer and director leaves grieving friends and a huge audience in Paris, Port-au-Prince, Montreal, and around the world, where she conveyed her charm, intelligence, commitment, heritage and joie de vivre.”

Île en île (http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ile.en.ile/) will soon have links to the various tributes dedicated to Barthélémy from far and wide. In the meantime, our readers may consult her biography on her site (see below) as well as the interview that Île en île filmed with her in Haiti two days before the 2010 earthquake—5 Questions pour Île en île—and the story she tells where a chrysalis mourns the loss of its friend, La chenille, la chrysalide et le papillon.

Here are excerpts from her biography: Born in Haiti (Port-au-Prince, May 3, 1939), Mimi Barthélémy pursued her higher education in France and lived abroad in Latin America, Sri Lanka, and North Africa. Thus began her trajectory towards storytelling, linked to a personal quest of her identity as a Haitian woman living outside of her country. This exploration leads her, firstly, to get to know the Haitian community in France, and secondly, to undertake extensive work on voice, through which she finds access to the expression of her remembrances.

During a one-year stay (1979-80) in Honduras, she worked with the Garifunas to create a show in which they reclaimed their forgotten history after their deportation in the 18th century Caribbean. Returning to France, with a wealth of experience, she returned to seek her own identity and began a doctoral in Theatre Studies in Paris VIII, specifically on the theater of identity among minorities. The path was set: she began to tell the stories by tapping into the Creole oral tradition of Haiti. In her stories, she wove together two languages, French and Creole, in order to convey what she had received, to share and serve as a witness in her own right within the Francophone world. In the late 80s, she wrote and told stories, alone or with musicians, in cultural centers, libraries, apartments, prisons, and hospitals.

With a desire to create a space for storytelling, she hosted “Le Petit Contoire,” where she regaled the Parisian public with the most prestigious storytellers (1987). In 1989 the 3rd Festival of Actors Evry presented her with the Becker d’Or for “La reine des poissons” and in 1992 she was awarded the Arletty de l’Universalité de la Langue Française for “La dernière lettre de l’amiral.”

She also created and presented shows in theaters that reflect the two main axes of her research: The links between theatrical writing and orality, and the connections between personal stories, history, and fiction were explored with works such as La cocarde d’ébène (1989); Soldats-Marrons (1989); La dernière lettre de l’amiral (1992); Caribana (1999); Une très belle mort (2000); and Jeux de cailloux (2003). Her interest in the Haitian tradition of stories through song was reflected in the creation of a new type of musical storytelling with L’oranger magique (1985); La reine des poissons (1987); Tendez chanter l’amour (1995); and Voyage en papillon.

She played in many festivals and book fairs in France, Haiti, and around the world such as the Festival Banlieues Bleues-2001; the Festival Caribbean Identity at the Odeon (2002); the Conciergerie aux Rencontres internationales du Conte (2002). She was also included in several jury panels for short story awards. In 2000, she received the rank of Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite, and in 2001, the rank of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres [Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters].

For her full biography and more information, please visit her site at http://www.mimibarthelemy.com

For full article (in French), see

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