Léopold Sédar Senghor 1906-
（Also has written under pseudonyms Silmang Diamano and Patrice Maguilene Kaymor） Senegalese poet, essayist, nonfiction writer, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Senghor's career through 1996. See also Leopold Sedar Senghor Poetry Criticism.
One of the preeminent African intellectuals of the twentieth century, Senegalese poet and statesman Léopold Sédar Senghor is hailed as a powerful voice of postwar black cultural pride and self-determination. A leading proponent of negritude, a literary movement based on the repudiation of Western imperialism and the reclamation of Pan-African heritage, Senghor was instrumental in the cultivation of postcolonial aesthetics and black racial consciousness. His acclaimed verse in Chants d'ombre （1945）, Hosties noires （1948）, Ethiopiques （1956）, and Nocturnes （1962） celebrates the cultural legacy of Africa while attempting to reconcile his affinity for European civilization with the devastating effects of its colonial policies. The recipient of numerous international honors and the first black person to be elected to the prestigious French Academy, Senghor was the first president of modern Senegal, a political position he served with distinction from 1960 to 1980.
Born in Joal, a predominantly Muslim district near the port city of Dakar in French West Africa, Senghor was one of two dozen children belonging to his father, a wealthy peanut farmer and exporter. Senghor was raised Roman Catholic by his mother, one of his father's several wives, and received his early education at mission schools. In 1922 he began studies at a junior seminary in Dakar where he studied Greek and Latin classics for four years. After his rejection as a candidate for the priesthood, he enrolled at the Lycée of Dakar where he won recognition as a brilliant student and graduated in 1928 with high honors and a scholarship to study in France. Though his traditional French education encouraged him to abandon his native roots, Senghor's exposure to the indigenous culture of his Serer ethnic ancestors exerted a lasting impression upon him during his formative years. While in Paris, Senghor came under the literary influence of the French symbolists, poets Paul Claudel and St. John Perse, and surrealist André Breton. He also encountered West Indian students Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas who introduced him to the works of W. E. B. DuBois and Harlem Renaissance writers Claude McKay, Countee McCullen, and Langston Hughes. In 1933 Senghor became the first African to graduate from the Sorbonne with the agrégé de grammaire, the highest distinction of the French educational system. The next year Senghor, along with Césaire and Damas, co-founded L'étudiant noir, a journal devoted to black francophone literature and the elaboration of negritude, a term coined by Césaire. Upon the outbreak of World War II Senghor was called into service in the French Colonial Infantry. He was captured the next year during the German occupation of France and spent the next two years in a Nazi prison camp; he was subsequently awarded several military honors. After his release in 1942, he returned to teaching at the Lycée Marcelin Berthelot near Paris, participated in the French Resistance, and became increasingly active in politics.
The publication of Chants d'ombre in 1945 established him as a prominent spokesperson of negritude. Two years later he co-founded the literary journal Présence africaine with Alioune Diop. In 1946 Senghor married Ginette Eboue, the daughter of a Guyanese administrator; they divorced in 1956 and Senghor married Colette Hubert the next year. Senghor was elected as a delegate to the French National Assembly in 1946, founded the socialist party Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais in 1948, and held a succession of political posts in the French and Senegalese government until 1958. He presided over the legislative body of the Mali Federation, a Senegal-Sudan alliance that declared independence from France in 1959. When Senegal withdrew from the federation the next year, Senghor was elected as the first president of the newly established Republic of Senegal. Despite several attempted coups and civil unrest in Senegal during the late 1960s, Senghor was reelected in 1968 and 1973. During his two decades as president, he worked to stabilize Senegalese national politics, enact economic reforms, and establish a democratic socialist government. He sponsored the First World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966 and headed the formation of the West African Economic Community in 1974. Senghor resigned from office in 1980, becoming the first postcolonial African head of state to peacefully transfer power to a successor. Senghor has received numerous honorary degrees and in 1983 was named one of the forty “immortals” of the Académie Française.
As the leading theoretician of negritude, Senghor's poetry and prose is in large part an embodiment of the movement's evolving ideology—artistic, political, social, and economic—during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Rejecting the notion of European supremacy and the forced assimilation of Western culture among colonized Africans, Senghor and other negritude writers, mainly French-speaking African and Caribbean writers, sought to inspire renewed pride in the rich history and cultural tradition of Africa. Senghor's first poetry collection, Chants d'ombre （variously translated as “Songs of Shadow,” “Shadow Songs,” or “Songs of Darkness”）, expresses his feelings of exile, cultural estrangement, aversion to the bondage of colonialism, and nostalgia for the African paradise of his childhood and ancestors. Though stylistically influenced by contemporary French poetry and the irrational imagery of surrealism, Senghor's trademark verse merges European forms and allusions with the language and spiritual motifs of African folk song. The controlled, musical rhythms and long, annunciatory lines of his poems, often prefaced with instructions for accompanying instruments, evoke the sounds and atmosphere of his native land and people. Chants d'ombre contains several of his best-known poems, including “Nuit de Sine” （“Night of Sine”）, “Neige sur Paris” （“Snow Upon Paris”）, “Masque négre” （“Black Masks”）, and “Femme noir” （“Black Woman”）, an exuberant paean to the beauty of African womanhood.
The poems of Hosties noires （“Black Sacrifice”）, many of which were composed during his wartime captivity, signal Senghor's growing sense of purpose and racial identity. Several of these, such as “Aux soldats Negro-Americains” （“To the American Negro Soldiers”） and “Désespoir d'un volontaire libre” （“Despair of a Free Volunteer”） extol the dignity of the African-American, West Indian, and Senegalese soldiers he befriended during the war. These poems also display Senghor's increasingly strident attacks on French colonialism and racial exploitation. In “Prière de paix” （“Prayer for Peace”）, for example, he presents a litany of African degradation at the hands of unscrupulous and hypocritical Europeans, thinly tempered with a plea for divine forgiveness. Senghor also served as editor of Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malagache de langue française （1948）, a highly influential anthology of black francophone writers from Africa and the Caribbean. This volume, with its now famous introductory essay “Orphée noir” （“Black Orpheus”） by existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, became a defining work of the negritude movement. Senghor's third volume of poetry, Chants pour Naëtt （1949）, contains a series of love lyrics dedicated to his first wife. Here, as in other poems by Senghor, the female subject of the poet's affection serves as a metaphor for Mother Africa.
The poems of Ethiopiques, written during his early political involvement, evince Senghor's abiding desire to bridge opposing aspects of European and African culture. In the long poem “Chaka,” an adaptation of Thomas Mofolo's 1926 historical novel about a ruthless nineteenth-century Zulu chieftain, Senghor reflects upon the burdens of leadership, the necessity of sacrifice in the name of African unity, and his own persona as a “poet-politician.” In “New York” Senghor calls for an end to the city's racial division and acceptance of African-American culture as a regenerative force. Senghor's conciliatory sentiments are also evident in “Epîtres à la Princesse” （“Letters to a Princess”）, a sequence of poems describing an African man's romantic attachment to a European princess, representing an allegorical union between North and South that mirrors Senghor's marriage to second wife Colette, a white Frenchwoman. Nocturnes, published a year after Senghor was elected president of Senegal, contains a revision of Chants pour Naëtt, retitled Chants pour Signare, and a series of elegies that explore the nature of poetry and the creative process. Senghor's subsequent volumes of poetry include: Lettres d'hivernage （1973）; Elégies majeures （1979）, which contains “Elégie des Alizés” （“Elegy of the Trade Winds”） and personal tributes to George Pompidou and Martin Luther King; and Oeuvres poétique （1991; The Collected Poetry）, the definitive edition of Senghor's poetry. Senghor has also produced a large body of commentary on literary, political, and social subjects, including the essay collection Ce que je crois （1988） and three volumes under the heading Liberté—Nation et voie africaine du socialisme （1961; On African Socialism）, Negritude et humanisme （1964; Negritude and Humanism）, and Négritude et civilisation de l'universel （1977）.
Senghor is widely acclaimed as a poet of remarkable intelligence, versatility, and compassion. Critics consistently praise his ability to synthesize elements of Western and African experience and to evoke universality in the archetypal imagery of his verse, exemplified by “Black Woman,” considered one of his finest early poems. His several major works from the 1940s and 1950s—Chants d'ombre, Hosties noires, Chants pour Naëtt, and Ethiopiques—are generally regarded as his most significant. He is also highly esteemed for his important work as editor of Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malagache de langue française, which, as K. Anthony Appiah notes, “remains one of the models of African and Afro-Caribbean literary achievement.” Critical evaluation of Senghor's poetry is inextricably linked to its basis in negritude, an ideology whose wide-reaching influence waned during the early 1960s, though reemerged in America as a progenitor of the Black Pride movement. While many commentators approve of Senghor's effort to relocate black self-identity and solidarity in traditional African culture, some regard the concept of negritude as a Western intellectual construct that misrepresents black experience and engenders its own harmful racism. In addition, Senghor's assimilation of French language and literature, as well as his Christian piety and remarriage to a white woman, have lead a minority of detractors to view his devotion to Africa with skepticism. However, as Ulli Beier asserts, “Senghor … is not merely a Frenchified African who tries to give exotic interest to his French poems; he is an African who uses the French language to express his African soul.” Viewed as a prophet of reconciliation—racial, cultural, and political—Senghor is internationally respected for his overriding humanism and important contributions to the literature and politics of modern Africa.