February 14, 2021

Legendary poet and politician, Aimé Césaire, was born on July 26, 1913 in the small town of Basse-Pointe on the island of Martinique. His father was a tax inspector and his mother a dressmaker. Unlike the majority of lower-class Martinicans, Césaire was taught to read and write in French at an early age. His family moved to Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, in order for Césaire to go to school at Lycée Schoelcher, the only secondary school for Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana until after WWII. Eugène Revert, Césaire’s geography teacher, identified the young student as a candidate for France’s highest liberal arts institution, Ecole Normale Supérieure. In 1931 Césaire went to Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris to prepare for entrance to Ecole Normale Supérieure.

In Paris, Césaire met Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor and French Guiana’s Léon Damas. Together they started the journal L’Etudiant Noir (The Black Student) in 1934 to bring together students from Africa and the West Indies. The journal explored the expression of a Pan-African worldview under colonization. The concept of Negritude, a word coined by Césaire, would be founded on these ideas. Through the journal, Césaire met his wife, Suzanne Roussy, also from Martinique, and they married in 1937. They had six children. In 1935 he began what would be his most renowned poem, “Cahier d’un Retour au pays natal” (“Notebook of a Return to the native Land”). Cahier focuses on alienation in the African Diaspora.

By 1939, Aimé and Suzanne Césaire returned to Martinique. With others, they launched the journal Tropiques, which emulated Surrealism, drew upon Marxism, and responded to the racist Vichy rule of Martinique. From this journal, Césaire received praise from André Breton, the leader of the French surrealist group.

Prominent in both the literary and political world, Césaire ran on the Communist party ticket and was elected mayor of Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, in 1945. A fervent anti-colonialist, he published Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism) in 1950. The 1956 Letter to Maurice Thorez signaled Césaire’s official break from the Communist party, arguing that the race struggle should not be silenced by the class struggle. Césaire then founded the Martinican Socialist party, Partie Progressiste Martiniquais (PPM) in 1958. Césaire also served as a deputy in France’s National Assembly from 1946 to1956 and again from 1958 to 1993.

Forty-eight years after first being elected mayor, Césaire retired from politics in 1993. His last book of poetry, La Poesie, was published in 1994.

On April 17, 2008, Aimé Césaire transitioned to join the ancestors.


Childhood and Education

Aimé Césaire is certainly the best known Martinican personality in the world. The many battles led by The Cantor of negritude (nickname given to Aimé Césaire) throughout his life had made him the voice of the lower ones against injustice and racism. Today, his writings are international in scopeand are taught in all the continents of the world.

Aimé Césaire was born June 26, 1913 in Basse-Pointe, town in northern Martinique. His father Fernand Césaire was then tax controller.

In 1919, he joined the primary school of Basse-Pointe before continuing his studies at Lycee Schoelcher in Fort-de-France where he met Léon-Gontran Damas.

Graduate and early writings in Paris

In 1932, he flew to Paris where he was a student at Lycée Louis-le-Grand. There he met his future comrade Leopold Sedar Senghor. The two men joined by Léon-Gontran Damas participated in the creation of the journal Légitime défense (Self Defense) with Caribbean students. The writings of Aime Cesaire were then published.

In 1934, he founded L’Étudiant Noir (The Black Student) with his cronies and Suzanne Roussi, a Martinican writer, who became his wife . The word “blackness” (négritude in french) is used for the first time.

In 1935 after passing the entrance examination for the École Normale Supérieure, he went on summer vacation in Yugoslavia with his friend Petar Guberina and began writing Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land).

In 1936, he read History of African civilization written by Frobenius , which reveals the historical past of Africa and the Black world.

The following year, he married Suzanne Roussi who gave birth in 1938 to Jacques Cesaire, their first child. He also currently finalized Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land). Then he left the École Normale Supérieure with a thesis on the Negro-African Writers : South theme in Black-African literature of USA . 

Come back in Martinique and debut as politician

In 1939, he returned to Martinique and became a professor of French and classical literature at the Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France with one of his students Édouard Glissant and Frantz Fanon.

His wife, Suzanne Cesaire taught at Lycee Technique of Bellevue in Schoelcher and give birth to John Paul, their second son.

In 1940, Admiral Robert became governor of Martinique. This is the beginning of the Vichy repressionin Martinique. The following year, Césaire founded the magazine Tropiques with Suzanne Césaire, René Ménil, Georges Aristide Maugée and Georges Gratiant. He met André Breton (1896-1966) writer, poet, essayist, theorist of surrealism.

1941 will also be the year of birth of his third son, Francis. In 1942, he welcomes his fourth child, a girl named Ina.

In June 1943, the Martinique rallied the France Libre (opponents to Vichy).

In May 1944, he published an open letter from Césaire to Mgr Varin La Brunelière then bishop of Saint Pierre and Fort-de-France. Césaire stay in Haiti, where he lectures. “The Magic Island” will exert a strong influence on his work (The Tragedy of King Christophe and Toussaint Louverture). His Cahier d’un retour au pays natal released in English in a bilingual edition by the Fountain magazine in New York, and is prefaced by André Breton.

In March 1945, Aimé Césaire was elected mayor of Fort-de-France, under the banner of the French Communist Party and a few months later, general counsel (he will keep this mandate until 1949).

In November of the same year, Césaire was elected Deputy of Martinique. He moved to Paris in the Latin Quarter.

In 1946, Césaire’s rapporteur for the law of 19 March 1946, called “departmentalization” to transform the colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana and Reunion in French departments. He published the miraculous Weapons Gallimard, some poems were already published in various issues of Tropiques.

In 1947, he participated in the creation of the journal Presence Africaine with Alioune Diop.

In 1948, he published “Soleil cou coupé” published by K. Leopold Sedar Senghor published his Anthology of New Poetry negro and Malagasy with Presses Universitaires de France. The same year, Marc, fifth son of Aimé Césaire and Suzanne born.

He went to Poland for the World Conference of Intellectuals for Peace.

In 1949, he published “Corps perdu“, Editions du Seuil, resumed later and partly in “Cadastre“. He travels to Romania to give lectures.

1950 is marked by the publication of “Discourse on Colonialism“.

In 1951Michele, sixth and last child of Aimé Césaire and Suzanne was born in Paris.

In 1953, Césaire goes to Moscow on the occasion of Stalin’s death. Two years later, he participated inDebates on national poetry as part of the journal “Presence Africaine“.

In 1956 he participated in the first Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris, where there is a “culture and colonization” communication. The same year, the publication of the Letter to Maurice Thorez, letter in which Césaire resigned from the Communist Party. He wrote the foreword of the book “The West Indies decolonized” by Daniel Guerin.

In 1957, Césaire founded the Parti Progressite Martiniquais. Two years later, he participated in the 2nd Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome and met Pope John XXIII.

In 1960, he published “Ferrements” (Ironworks) and traveled for the first time in Africa, where he met Sekou Toure, President of the Republic of Guinea.

In 1963, Aimé Césaire and Suzanne Roussy divorced. He testified at the trial of members of the Organisation de la jeunesse anticolonialiste Martiniquaise (Martinican Anticolonial Youth Organization).

In 1964, The Tragedy of King Christophe is played in different cities of France and Europe successfully. The staging is signed Jean-Marie Serreau with Douta Seck in the role of King Christophe.

A year later, he published “Une saison au Congo” Editions du Seuil, which will be played in Brussels and Paris in 1967 with again a staging of Jean-Marie Serreau.

In 1966, Césaire participates in the First Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar. Suzanne Roussi, his ex-wife and mother of his children died.

Three years later, he published “Une tempête” (A Storm) by Seuil. The play will be performed in Tunisia and Martinique.

In 1976Leopold Sedar Senghor, then president of the Republic of Senegal visits him in Martinique. Following the election of François Mitterrand as President of the French Republic in 1981, Césairemutes its autonomist claims to not hinder politically the new president. 

End of political career

In 1982, he published “Publication de Moi, laminaire” (Publishing of Me, laminar) Editions du Seuil, which will be his last book of poems. Five years later, Césaire participated in the First Hemispheric Conference of black people in the diaspora, in February in Miami, where he delivered his Discours sur la négritude (Sermon on the blackness).

In 1990, the Festival of Avignon pays tribute to him. The following year, The Tragédie du Roi Christophe (Tragedy of King Christophe) is played at the Comedie-French.

In 1993, Césaire waives his deputy. The following year he published “Poetry“, which covers its major poems.

In 2001, Césaire waives his term as mayor of Fort-de-France after 56 years in the same job.

In 2003, on the occasion of his 90th birthday Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic sends a message.

In 2005, he participated in a parliamentary and public debate on the recognition of “positive aspects” of colonialism. He published a long interview with Françoise Vergès, entitled “Negro I am, I will remain negro” by Albin Michel. This interview is highly successful in bookstores.

In 2007, he argues Segolene Royal in the presidential election.

On 10 March 2008, Aimé Césaire was admitted to the emergency of C.H.U. Meynard at the Fort-de-France for heart failure.

A week later, on 17 April 2008, Aimé Césaire 93 years old dies in Martinique and will be buried according to his wish with the presence of the President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozyseveral heads of state or foreign heads of state representatives.


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