Suzanne Roussi (aka Suzanne Césaire): Centennial of a Pioneer

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Today (August 11, 2015) marks the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Suzanne Roussi [better-known as Suzanne Césaire; also see previous post Suzanne Césaire (1915-1966)]. In “Suzanne Roussi: centenaire d’une pionnière,” France Antilles renders tribute to the leading Martinican intellectual and feminist with a biography and quotes by people close to her. The article quotes her daughter, playwright Ina Césaire, who says, “My mother was an active, avant-la-lettre feminist, attentive to every step of women’s liberation. One day, she told me, ‘Your generation will be a generation of women who choose.’” Here are excerpts:

100 years ago, Suzanne Roussi—known as wife of poet Aimé Césaire but probably not known enough as an independent intellectual woman—was born in Trois-Ilets.  Let’s take advantage of this anniversary to get to know her better.

Her childhood: Jeanne Anna Marie Suzanne Roussi was born on August 11, 1915 at La Poterie in Trois-Ilets. [. . .]  In 1933, she leaves Martinique to pursue her literary studies in France, first in Toulouse, and then, in 1934, in Paris.

Student years – Meeting [Aimé] Césaire: In Paris, she frequents a group of friends, including actress Jenny Alpha; Gerty Archimède, lawyer [. . .]; some of the members of the group Légitime Défense and the future trio of Negritude thought: Guyanese writer Léon-Gontran Damas, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire. The latter was introduced to her by Mireille, her friend and fellow student at the Colonial Boarding House (Pensionnat Colonial), Aimé’s sister. All of them worked together on the journal edited by Césaire, L’Étudiant Noir. They got together to share their readings (Frobénius, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance …), to write poems and essays, for discussions, to go to the theater, the opera, concerts, and dances. [. . .] Suzanne Roussi and Aimé Césaire get married on July 10, 1937 in Paris.

Return to Martinique – Tropiques:  1938 marks Suzanne’s graduation, her first job in France, and the birth of the first child … [. . .] In September 1939, the Césaires return to Martinique; Suzanne teaches at the technical college at Bassin de Radoub. [. . .] Suzanne Roussi Césaire then founded—with Aimé Césaire, René Ménil, Aristide Maugée (Mireille Césaire’s husband), Lucie Thésée, Georges Gratiant, and a few others—the cultural journal Tropiques. Its goal? “To affirm the uniqueness of the culture of the Caribbean and its African roots” and “to say no to the shadows” [dire non à l’ombre].

Suzanne Roussi Césaire ensures the “material life” of the journal and “she invigorates the journal with faith and exceptional talent,” reflects René Ménil in 1978. More importantly, she contributes by writing seven essays in which the vivacity of her style, the passion of her convictions, and the brilliance of her insights are striking.

Return to Paris: After the war, Césaire was elected to the National Assembly. Suzanne Césaire moved to Paris with her husband. Ardent activist, she maintains a sustained correspondence with the Communists of Martinique while continuing her activism in the French Communist Party.

Tropiques ended with Césaire’s and many of their friends’ entry into politics. In 1952, Suzanne writes Aurore de la liberté [Dawn of Freedom], a play about the abolition of slavery, which was a great success when it was performed on April 27 and May 1 at the Municipal Theatre of Fort-de-France. Unfortunately, this unpublished work is now considered lost.

[. . .]  She continues working on all fronts. An avant-garde professor, she writes or adapts plays for her students and publishes on the methodology of French language study in number 15 of the journal Les cahiers d’Estienne (1949). At the same time, she cares for their six children and she tries to transmit [. . .] an education that was simultaneously internationalists and Caribbean. [. . .] In 1963, the couple divorced on Suzanne’s initiative. It is known that she met a new partner, but about this, her relatives maintain a discreet silence. She died after a long illness in April 1966 at 51 years old.

Suzanne’s Legacy:  Suzanne Roussi Césaire left, with all those who knew her, the memory of a remarkable woman. Her beauty was much praised, but all especially remember her intelligence, her cultured demeanor, the boldness of her forward thinking views, her undeniable empathy with her people, and her indomitable energy. Her ideas and personality, which have greatly influenced her contemporaries (René Ménil…) have left a lasting mark on Caribbean literature and are at the origin of schools of thought such as Antillanité and Créolité… Writer Maximin, who has worked hard to bring her out of the shadows, does not hide his admiration for Suzanne and admits that she inspired a character in his novels. [Daniel Maximin was responsible for the compilation, edition and publication of her works–shown above.]

Even if we do not know her for taking on an explicit and public feminist position, young Martinican women today can find in her an example of an economically empowered (she always worked) and intellectually free woman. [. . .]

For full article (in French), see http://www.martinique.franceantilles.fr/actualite/culture/suzanne-roussi-centenaire-d-une-pionniere-318610.php

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