Depestre, René (1926–)

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Depestre, René (1926–)

René Depestre (b. August 29, 1926) is a Haitian poet, essayist, and novelist. After his self-published first volume of poetry, Étincelles (Sparks, 1945), Depestre participated in the movement to overthrow the Haitian president, Élie Lescot, in 1946. As a student in Paris (1946–1950), he collaborated with the Caribbean and African intellectuals Aimé Césaire, Léopold Senghor, and Léon Damas to found the Négritude movement. Expelled from France in 1950 for political activism, Depestre found asylum in Czechoslovakia as secretary to the Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado. Years of wandering through South America finally brought Depestre to a long stay in Cuba (1959–1978). He now lives in Lézignan-Corbières, France.

Depestre's poetry includes humanist, Marxist, and erotic elements. Since the 1980s he has written increasingly in prose, and in his early fictional works (for example, Alléluia pour une femme-jardin, 1981; Alleluia for a garden woman), he created a unique blend of humor and eroticism, a Haitian marvelous realism. His first novel, Le mât de cocagne (1979; translated by Carrol F. Coates as The Festival of the Greasy Pole, 1990), deftly applied similar narrative elements to political satire directed at the François Duvalier dictatorship (1957–1971). With his second novel, Hadriana dans tous mes rêves (1988; Hadriana in All My Dreams), Depestre continued to exploit his Haitian heritage by focusing on the tale of a young woman turned into a zombie on her wedding night in the lush tropical setting of Jacmel, where Depestre grew up. He returned to the erotic vein in the stories of Éros dans un train chinois (1990; Eros on a Chinese Train). Depestre's essays have also been influential in shaping Caribbean thought, especially his Bonjour et adieu à la négritude (1980; Hello and Farewell to Negritude). His collected poetry, titled Rage de Vivre (Lust for Life), was published in 2007.

See alsoCésaire, Aimé; Damas, Léon-Gontran; Duvalier, François; Literature: Spanish America.


Couffon, Claude. René Depestre. Paris: Seghers, 1986.

Munro, Martin. Shaping and Reshaping the Caribbean: The Work of Aimé Césaire and René Depestre. Leeds, U.K.: MHRA, 2000.

Munro, Martin. Exile and Post-1946 Haitian Literature: Alexis, Depestre, Ollivier, Laferrière, Danticat. Liverpool, U.K.: Liverpool University Press, 2007.

                                        Carrol F. Coates

                                          Martin Munro

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Depestre, René (1926–)

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