Roumain, Jacques (1907–1944)
Roumain, Jacques (1907–1944)
Jacques Jean-Baptiste Roumain, the Haitian poet, novelist, essayist, ethnographer, political activist, and diplomat, was one of the major literary and political figures of his generation and arguably the most lastingly influential of Haiti's early twentieth-century writers and intellectuals. Roumain early emerged as a powerful voice of the local indigenous cultural movement and of the négritude and nationalist populism for which La Revue Indigène (1927) and La Trouée (1927), both of which he helped to found, and Le Petit Impartial: Journal de la Masse (1928), of which he was editor-in-chief, spoke during the American occupation of Haiti (1915–1934). Educated in Switzerland and Spain, he had traveled in Belgium, France, and Germany, and brought a broadly cosmopolitan perspective and a radically revisionist sweep to his understanding of the national crisis precipitated by the U.S. occupation and its revelation of the Haitian elite's political insolvency. His rejection of the values and politics of the mulatto aristocracy into which he had been born eventually led him to the founding, in 1934, of the Haitian Communist Party. In his L'Analysis schématique, 1932–1934, the Party's inaugural document, and in his equally significant meditation on "Le Grief de l'homme noir" (1939), Roumain analyzes colonialism, racism, class conflict, intraracial contradiction, and the looming political dangers of a too narrowly noiriste cultural nationalism, effectively anticipating elements of later, better known critiques of these phenomena by his compatriot René Depestre, by the Martinican Frantz Fanon, and the Guyanese Walter Rodney, among others.
Joining with Jean Price-Mars to create a national Bureau d'Ethnologie in 1941, Roumain became its first director. His signature collection of poetry, Bois d'ébène (1939) and his much-acclaimed posthumous novel Gouverneurs de la rosée (1944) epitomize the synthesis of négritude, Marxist internationalism, lyrical realism, and the figurative evocation of voodoo ritual, popular belief, vernacular inflection, and a general human solidarity typical of his most accomplished verse and fiction. Revealing their unexplored narrative, thematic, and formal possibilities, Roumain's crafting and cultivation of the peasant or proletarian novel proved at once precursory and a provocative stimulus to the "marvelous realism" (Alexis 1956) of later generations of Haitian writers, including Jacques Stéphen Alexis, Pierre Clitandre, and, more recently, Edwidge Denticat. Lesser known works include the short stories of La Proie et l'ombre (1930) and Les Fantoches (1931), and the novels La Montagne ensorcelée (1931) and the as yet unpublished Le Champ de Potier. During World War II, Roumain served as the Haitian embassy's chargé d'affaires in Mexico. Suffering a fatal heart attack in 1944, he died at the height of his powers, while still only in his thirties.
Alexis, Jacques Stephan. "Of the Marvelous Realism of the Haitians." Presence Africaine (June-November 1956): 249-275.
Fowler, Carolyn. A Knot in the Thread: The Life of Jacques Roumain. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1980.
Roumain, Jacques. When the Tom-Tom Beats. Translated by Joanne Fungaroli and Ronald Sauer. Washington, DC: Azul Editions, 1995.
Roumain, Jacques. Oeuvres complètes. Edition critique coordonnée par León-François Hoffmann. Madrid et Nanterre: Allca XX, 2003.