In Their Own Words: Haiti’s Rich Culture through 8 Haitian Novels


James Ellsmoor (Forbes) has put together an excellent list of books that provide insight to the Haitian experience, through “historical, cultural and literary landscapes of the island nation and its diaspora.” He assures the readers that this is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the most significant works produced by Haitian authors, but rather a diverse sampling. Ellsmoor provides descriptions of each novel, interesting details about their corresponding historic framework, and information about the authors. Read the original for full descriptions of each novel. All of the titles on the list are books that are available in their English translations. He includes:

  • Savage Seasons, Kettly Mars (2010)
  • Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy, Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1968)
  • Masters of the Dew, Jacques Roumain (1941)
  • Create Dangerously, The Immigrant Artist at Work, Edwidge Danticat (2010)
  • Nan Dòmi: An Initiate’s Journey into Haitian Vodou, Mimerose Beaubrun (2013)
  • General Sun, My Brother, Jacques Stephen Alexis (1999)
  • American Street, Ibi Zoboi (2017)
  • Massacre River, René Philoctète (1989)

As an introduction to the texts, Ellsmoor writes:

Haiti is the birthplace of a rich literary heritage that deserves more attention. Often painted in mainstream media as a country plagued by difficulties, Haitian entrepreneurs, artists and innovators are rewriting that narrative. The struggles that Haiti has faced do not overshadow its rich culture and history or the vibrant spirit of its people. Haitian literature reveals a more complete story of a nation, one that focuses on the beauty and resiliency of the island’s landscape and citizens. Reading the works of Haitian authors opens a window into this Caribbean nation’s vibrant culture and tumultuous history.

I asked a range of experts for their recommendations and selected some of the most powerful and important works by Haitian authors. There are many fantastic novels written about Haiti by non-Haitians, such as Allende’s Island beneath the Sea and Greene’s The Comedians. The classic book on Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian revolution, Trinidadian C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins, is also recognized as a must-read for anyone interested in Haitian history. However, the focus here is not on works written about the country from an outsider’s perspective. Instead, it is on books that reveal the nuances of Haitian culture and history through the stories of those shaped by it.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the most significant works produced by Haitian authors. This list represents a diverse sample of the Haitian experience, providing readers with insights into the historical, cultural and literary landscapes of the island nation and its diaspora. Exploring the themes, contexts and perspectives offered in these works gives a glimpse into Haitian culture from the inside, through the eyes and words of those who are an integral part of both experiencing and reshaping Haiti’s prevailing narrative.  [. . .]

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