Who was Jacques Roumain, and what did he contribute to world literature?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jacques Roumain was a Haitian writer who frequently challenged the existing social order in offering a vision of what could be as opposed to what was. Roumain was born to wealthy parents in Haiti and received a well- rounded education only to stand against the United States' occupation of Haiti in 1915. His resistance to American military and economic interests in Haiti helped him establish the Haitian Communist Party in  1934.  Always challenging pro- American governments in Haiti, Roumain developed a style of writing that emphasized unity and power arising from "the bottom up."  His writing featured a sensitivity to the struggles of the poor and the dispossessed.  Lines such as, "'Misfortune is never invited. And it comes and sits at the table without permission and it eats, leaving nothing but bones," and "He touched the soil, caressing its grains between his fingers: "I am this: this earth here, and I have it in my blood. Look at my color; it seems as though the earth faded onto me and onto you too," emphasized the condition of those who toil.  At the same time, Roumain articulated a Pan- African identity whereby unity and convergence were defining elements in his writing.

One of Roumain's greatest contributions to world literature was his advocacy of Pan- Africanism from an economic point of view.  An unabashed Communist, Roumain used his work to articulate unity amongst those who faced economic and social struggle. He had a great fan in Langston Hughes, who worked on translating some of Roumain's works and was inspired with the idea that there could be unity amongst those who were seen amongst the lowest in a particular social order.  Roumain's contribution to world literature could be seen in this idea of "the other" being able to find a point of convergent unity.  For Roumain, those who struggled did not have to remain alone and isolated.  Nowhere can this be seen more than in his poem, "Masters of the Dew."

What are we? Since that's your question, I'm going to answer you. We're this country, and it wouldn't be a thing without us, nothing at all. Who does the planting? Who does the watering? Who does the harvesting? Coffee, cotton, rice, sugar cane, caco, corn, bananas, vegetables, and all the fruits, who's going to grow them if we don't? Yet with all that, we're poor, that's true. We're out of luck, that's true. We're miserable, that's true. But do you know why, brother? Because of our ignorance. We don't know yet what a force we are, what a single force - all the peasants, all the Negroes of the plain and hill, all united.

Roumain's work spoke toward the need for those who experienced the greatest struggle in life to unify and to find a voice within solidarity and community.  In advocating the ability to come together in the harshest of conditions, Roumain speaks to how individuals can be agents of transformation.  This becomes one of his greatest contributions to world literature.

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eli468 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Jacques Roumain was a writer and politician. "He is considered one of the most prominent figures in Haitian literature." He was one of the founders of the Ingenious Journal. He published pieces such as Prey and Shadow, The Witch Mountain and The Fantoches. He also published many social and political essays such as Schematic analysis 32-34, which he wrote while he was in prison. He worked for many different journals while he was living in Paris. He also published a book relating to ethnobotany. Jacques Roumain is very well known around Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. 

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