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Suzanne Césaire

Suzanne Césaire [Roussi] (11 August 1915 to 16 May 1966) was born in Martinique, and was a French-speaking writer, poet, scholar, post-colonialist, and Surrealist.

In 1936 she married Aimė Cėsaire, with whom she had six children.

Raised and educated in an assimilationist French culture - she met her husband while finishing her education in Paris - Suzanne was a pioneer in the search for an alternative cultural framework to that provided for Martinique by colonial discourse. With her husband, she set up the magazine Tropiques, in an early edition of which she attcked both the aping of traditional French styles of poetry by West Indian writers, and 'The Happy Antilles' view of the island promoted by official French culture. Her poem of 1941, Misère d'une poésie, condemned what she termed "Littérature de hamac. Littérature de sucre et de vanille. Tourisme littéeraire" [Literaure of the hammock, of sugar and vanilla. Literary tourism].

Her encounter with André Breton opened the way for her development of Afro-Surrealism - her use of surrealist concepts to illuminate the colonial dilemma. Her dictum - "La poésie martinique sera cannibale ou ne sera pas" [Cannibal poetry or nothing] - pointed the way to a re-capture of the Caribbean roots of her culture, as opposed to a force-fed Europeanism.

While largely overshadowed in her lifetime by her husband and his clear-cut, if theoretical doctrine of Nėgritude, Suzanne's repudiation of simple idealised answers - whether assimilationist, Africanist, or creole - to the ambiguities of the West Indian situation has proved increasingly influential in later postcolonial studies.

  • L. Kesteloot, Black Writers in French (1974)
  • Maryse Condé, 'Unheard Voice: Suzanne Cėsaire and the Construct of a Caribbean Identity' in A. Newson ed., The Transforming Voices of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (1998)


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