Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Aimé Césaire Poet and Politician Dies at 94

Photo by Chester Higgins Jr.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/books/18cesaire.html?ref=arts

April 18, 2008

Aimé Césaire, Martinique Poet and Politician, Dies at 94

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique (AP) — Aimé Césaire, an anticolonialist poet and politician who was honored throughout the French-speaking world and who was an early proponent of black pride, died here on Thursday. He was 94.

A government spokeswoman, Marie Michèle Darsières, said he died at a hospital where he was being treated for heart problems and other ailments.

Mr. Césaire was one of the Caribbean’s most celebrated cultural figures. He was especially revered in his native Martinique, which sent him to the French parliament for nearly half a century and where he was repeatedly elected mayor of Fort-de-France, the capital city.

In Paris in the 1930s he helped found the journal Black Student, which gave birth to the idea of “negritude,” a call to blacks to cultivate pride in their heritage. His 1950 book “Discourse on Colonialism” was considered a classic of French political literature.

Mr. Césaire’s ideas were honored and his death mourned in Africa and France as well as the Caribbean. The office of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Mr. Sarkozy would attend Mr. Césaire’s funeral, scheduled for Sunday in Fort-de-France. Students at Lycée Scoelcher, a Martinique high school where Mr. Césaire once taught, honored him in a spontaneous ceremony Thursday.

Mr. Césaire’s best-known works included the essay “Negro I Am, Negro I Will Remain” and the poem “Notes From a Return to the Native Land.”

Born on June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, Mr. Césaire attended high school and college in France. In 1937 he married another student from Martinique, Suzanne Roussi, with whom he eventually had four sons and two daughters.

He returned to Martinique during World War II and was mayor of Fort-de-France from 1945 to 2001, except for a break from 1983 to 1984.

Mr. Césaire helped Martinique shed its colonial status in 1946 to become an overseas department of France.

He was affiliated with the French Communist Party early in his career but became disillusioned in the 1950s and founded the Martinique Progressive Party in 1958. He later allied with the Socialist Party in France’s National Assembly, where he served from 1946 to 1956 and from 1958 to 1993.

As the years passed, he remained firm in his views. In 2005 he refused to meet with Mr. Sarkozy, who was then minister of the interior, because of Mr. Sarkozy’s endorsement of a bill citing the “positive role” of colonialism.

“I remain faithful to my beliefs and remain inflexibly anticolonialist,” Mr. Césaire said at the time. The offending language was struck from the bill.

Despite the snub, Mr. Sarkozy last year successfully led a campaign to rename Martinique’s airport in honor of Mr. Césaire. Mr. Césaire eventually met with Mr. Sarkozy in March 2006 but endorsed his Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal, in the 2007 French elections.

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