PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – In Haiti, where progress often appears intolerably slow, where buildings lay in ruin and the economy falters under reckless governmental prodigality, maintaining optimism is an interminable struggle. For most citizens, positive improvements have been seldom since the devastating January 2010 earthquake. Staggeringly, the majority of Haiti still lacks access to basic necessities, facing the quotidian struggles of abject poverty.
The Haitian literary community encountered no less calamitous circumstances in the wake of the earthquake’s aftermath. Having lost its literary center, the PEN Haiti center in Port-Au-Prince, amongst the physical rubble, optimism for the future of Haitian literature dwindled. Having lost the center’s founder and accomplished writer and scholar Georges Anglade, Haiti’s literary scene appeared to be in ruins.
However, the international PEN community, an organization that promotes freedom of expression in over 100 countries, quickly deterred PEN Haiti’s seemingly inevitable atrophy into dissolution. With an outpour of donations, the PEN community rallied to rebuild a new PEN Haiti, which opened in January 2012. The Center, now named the House of Literature, Maison Georges Anglades, in honor of its original founder, is flourishing, as Haitian literature experiences a concurrent Renaissance.
Proof of the community’s renewed vitality can be seen in the compelling works of many young Haitian writers, including this excerpt from the poem “Boat People” by Felix Morisseau-Leroy, which was translated from the Haitian Creole:
One day we’ll stand up, put down our feet
As we did at St. Domingue
They’ll know who these boat people really are
That day, be it Christopher Columbus
Or Henry Kissinger—
They will know us
We who simply call ourselves
Tellingly, the success of the contemporary Haitian literature community—under the support of the PEN International community—portends an auspicious future for the autonomy of the nation as a whole. One day, as Morisseau-Leroy writes, the cloud of poverty will recede, unveiling a spirited and compelling culture, one prolifically represented through a variety of artistic mediums.
– Anna Purcell