A contemporary of renowned Martinique “negritud” thinkers such as Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, Édouard Glissant is considered one of the creators of the concept of “cultural diversity.” He also developed such terms as “criollization” and “relational poetics.” Over the course of his life, he defended the mixture of races as a phenomenon that enriched the Caribbean culture and identities and he contributed theoretical bases to post-colonial and slavery studies.
Glissant was born in the Santa María region of the island of Martinique on September 21, 1928. He grew up in a family of sugar cane workers and in 1939 he began his studies at the Lycée Victor Schoelcher in Fort-de-France. In 1946, he traveled to Paris to complete his studies in history and philosophy at La Sorbonne University and in ethnology at the Musée de l’ Homme. During his time in France, Glissant became involved in leftist political organizations such as the Front Antillo Guyanais, which promoted the independence of the overseas departments France possessed in the Caribbean. Because of his activities, the writer, researcher and university professor was sentenced to house arrest between 1961 and 1965 under the orders of then French President Charles De Gaulle, who also prohibited him from traveling to Martinique.
In 1967, Glissant returned to Martinique and founded the Institut Martiniquais d’études. During the same period he also founded the magazine Acoma and continued his broad literary and intellectual production, which consisted of nearly 20 books in which he combined genres such as poetry, the novel, essays and literary criticism. In the 1980s, he returned to Paris and from 1982 to 1988 he directed the periodical The UNESCO Mail. In 1988, he began teaching courses at Louisiana State University and in 1995 he became a distinguished professor in the graduate studies program at New York University.
As recently as 2006, Glissant and his fellow writer Patrick Chamoiseau were active in the public eye after publishing a letter to then French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac in multiple international newspapers. In the letter, they criticized as inappropriate a law that established that the schools should emphasize the positive role of the French in the development of other countries, including the United States. They also said that the riots occurring at that time in France were the result of the processes of European slavery. In response, the French prime minister put Glissant in charge of creating a center to honor the memory of slaves and celebrate the abolition of slavery.
Among Glissant’s most outstanding works are his novel, La lézard, for which he won the Renaudot Prize in 1958, the epic poem Les Indes from 1956, the 1961 novel Monsieur Toussaint, which was adapted to the theater in 1978 and was inspired by the life of Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture, Tout-Monde from 1990 and Faulkner, Mississippi from 1996.
Édouard Glissant died on February 3, 2011, in Paris at 82 years of age.
Author: Alfredo Nieves Moreno
Published: April 25, 2012.
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