The acclaimed Haitian writer Marie-Célie Agnant is the topic of a recently published essay by Scott Lyngaas, associate professor of modern languages and literatures and associate dean of the college.
His essay titled “Les lieux de mémoire de Marie-Célie Agnant” (or “The Places of Memory of Marie-Célie Agnant”) is one of 12 included in the book, Paroles et silences chez Marie-Célie Agnant (or Voices and Silences in the Works of Marie-Célie Agnant). Published in October by the major Paris publishing house Karthala, the book is the first set of essays devoted to Agnant.
Agnant is the author of three novels, children’s books, poetry, and short stories. Though she has lived in Québec since her teenage years, she is known for her work confronting the brutality of Haitian history, which included slavery and the father-son dictatorships of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Slavery is rarely a theme in Haitian literature, according to Lyngaas, a specialist in Caribbean literature, because Haitian writers often look at the Haitian Revolution and the independence of the country in 1804 as providing a clean break from the past.
“Yet, it’s a country of 10 million people that was, in a sense, founded on slavery, and (Agnant’s) argument is that we can’t just forget about that whole period of time,” says Lyngaas, who also published an essay on Agnant in 2011 in The French Review.
In his most recent essay, Lyngaas writes about how Agnant confronts and explores the meaning of traumatic events in Haiti’s history in a time and place far removed from them. In other words, her characters may live outside of Haiti and may not have experienced any of the events first-hand, but they nevertheless feel the effects of them very deeply.
“She’s able to articulate the past and change our way of thinking about it,” Lyngaas says. “She changes our way of thinking about the importance of slavery to history and changes the way we think about how individuals can achieve justice in the face of dictatorship. It’s really powerful.”