Books – Jacques Stephen Alexis, or “beautiful human love”

“I amHe wrote me postcards from everywhere he went. Beijing, Havana, Prague, Le Havre, or Mexico… He is in a hurry to live,” confessed Florence Alexis, daughter of the writer Jacques Stephen Alexis, who was born in Gonaives, in the north of Haiti, on April 22, 1922 and died at the age of 39. Killed on a beach of his island, when he landed there secretly from Cuba, to fight François Duvalier. “Death without a funeral”, recalling the title of a documentary by his compatriot Arnold Antonin that retraces the tragedy that befell this brilliant intellectual, founder of the Parti d’Accord Populaire in Haiti, a neurologist by profession. “Man at all risks” for Lyonel Trouillot, who titled one of his novels The Beautiful Love of Man,
title taken from a message of wishes addressed to the people of Jacques Stephen Alexis.

And that the biography of Michel Séonnet (1) took again the drawings of Ernest Pignon-Ernest, which was also inspired by the one depicted by Dany Laferrière in “Young Wonder”. The first Jean d’Ormesson literary prize was awarded in 2018 (posthumously) to Alexis for The space of a blink.
This noble novel makes a Cuban prostitute from the Sensation Bar, a house in Port-au-Prince, a legendary literary figure. We found this survivor of the hot nights in the Haitian capital and his great love of El Caucho in The Absinthe Star, unfinished novel edited by Zulma, followed by “La Ballade du Léopard”, poem in the form of a self-portrait: “The leopard never stopped. God, the boredom never stops! Then came the rains, the droughts, the suns, the storms, the flood rivers, the earthquakes…”

He will approach the Goncourt prize. What a career… Son of the historian Stephen Alexis, he was educated in Paris for a while (where Foujita painted his portrait) before returning to Haiti, where he immersed himself in the world of literature and fight with the regime in the area inside the magazine. The Beehive, whose editor-in-chief is the poet René Depestre. Their uprising will overthrow the dictatorial regime of President Lescot in 1946. Literature and politics cannot be separated. Alexis learned this from his older brother Jacques Roumain, founder of the Haitian novel (Governors of Dew) and the Haitian Communist Party. Exiled, the doctor specializes in neurology in Paris, meets in Aragon, travels. But, above all, he invested himself body and soul in writing his first novel, Brother General Sun, Greeted with enthusiasm at Gallimard in 1955 by Queneau. He will approach the Goncourt prize. Following his hero in the city of Port-au-Prince, between the misfortune and the hope of political commitment, is the measurement of the melancholy beginning of a work that will include four books, which is different from being beautiful. And always available! (2) In 1956, Alexis defined the “amazing realism of the Haitians” on the podium of the first Congress of Black Writers and Artists at La Sorbonne. In 1959, the convinced Marxist was invited to Moscow (by the Union of Soviet Writers), then accepted by Mao Tse-tung.

In 1961, he returned to Haiti to fight against Duvalier. His death is unclear. Florence Alexis, at the risk of spoiling the myth, relies on a delinquent crime. However, his father gave everything for Haiti. Where, one hundred years after his birth, he still shines in space. In the current turmoil, Emmelie Prophet, Minister of Culture, announced in 2022 “year of beautiful human love”. Tributes and reissues are on the agenda. So are the songs: on a CD made by the son of Jacques Stephen Alexis, Wooly Saint Louis Jean, the amazing Haitian Brassens, sings “Jack Soley” which has not changed since when he left or rather the country sank.

1. Jacques Stephen Alexis or The Journey to the Moon of Beautiful Human Love, by Michel Séonnet (L’Armourier, 238 p., €22). Many events are dedicated to him until April 2023.

2. “The Imaginary” collection, Gallimard.

Estate of Gerald Bloncourt/Bridgeman Images

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