The Ethics of Gender, Suppression, and History in the Literature of Dany Laferrière and Marie-Célie Agnant

Holly Collins
Baylor University



Via an examination of Dany Laferrière’s Pays sans chapeau (1996) and Marie-Célie Agnant’s Un alligator nommé Rosa (2007), this article demonstrates the complementarity of Laferrière and Agnant’s works and why they should be read in tandem. The gender-conscious expression of their experiences in Haiti under Duvalier offers a more complete view of the Haitian voice. While Laferrière’s discourse is predominantly male-centered, Agnant offers a women-driven narrative of many of the same events and contexts that populate Laferrière’s texts. Further, Agnant’s protagonists span different classes, ages, nationalities, etc., endowing her works with a much wider. She delivers a thorough treatment of history and trauma, elucidating from a first-person perspective the background that has given rise to many of Laferrière’s protagonists’ struggle in the face of trauma and discrimination. Together, their works illuminate the historical and sociopolitical frameworks of contemporary forms of domination, and in this way, both authors fight against prejudice as well as homogenizing conceptions of majority Black and Brown nations.

Mots clés : Haiti, gender, race, literature, discrimination.


Perhaps the most famous Haitian writer of our time, Dany Laferrière, has made a significant impact on a global scale through a relatively traditional artistic medium—the novel. This winner of numerous prestigious awards and 2013 inductee to the French Academy pulls no punches in his novels when it comes to important social, political, and historical issues such as racism, immigration, dictatorship, and hegemony. Laferrière’s genius, and that which sets him apart, is the scathing, yet at times humorous and at others poetic, manner in which he writes. Laferrière has seduced the public. In so doing, he ensures his voice is heard and puts forth a convincing argument against prejudice and domination/subjugation. Likewise, fellow Haitian-Quebecois writer Marie-Célie Agnant confronts social injustice rooted in the past. Agnant examines the enduring legacy from Haiti’s history of colonization/enslavement as well as the violent and oppressive Duvalier dictatorships that wreaked havoc on the small island nation in the twentieth century. Colette Boucher and Thomas C. Spear call her a novelist who is also a poet of social engagement (7). Social justice is a significant facet of Agnant’s writing. Indeed, Olivia Jones Choplin asserts that Agnant, in her examinations of the past and memory, “invites most profoundly an awakened consciousness in the reader (or society)” (166). Agnant’s novels, poetry, and short stories examine the importance of trauma, memory, and the ways in which the memory of trauma continues to have an effect both on a cultural and individual level. Further, her work serves as a call to action for individuals and societies.

Via an examination of Laferrière’s Pays sans chapeau (1996) and Agnant’s Un alligator nommé Rosa (2007), this article demonstrates the complementarity of Laferrière and Agnant’s works and why they should be read in tandem. Their gendered experiences and the gender-conscious expression of those experiences of Haiti under Duvalier offer a more complete view of what Jean Casimir reminds us is the majority, although historically subjugated, voice (1). Where Laferrière has been accused on multiple occasions of providing a male-centered discourse, rife with sexism even according to some,[i] Agnant offers a women-driven narrative of many of the same historical and contemporary events and contexts that populate Laferrière’s novels. Further, as Renée Larrier remarks, Agnant offers a “variety and range of fully developed characters representing different classes, ages, and political persuasions,” as well as “different races, nationalities, languages, generations, and positionalities,” which provides a much wider perspective in her works (91, 100). Agnant delivers a thorough treatment of history and trauma, elucidating from a first-person perspective the historical background that has given rise to many of Laferrière’s protagonists’ struggle in the face of past trauma and current discrimination. Together, their works illuminate the historical and sociopolitical frameworks of contemporary forms of domination, whether gender-based, racial, culturally hegemonic, or various potential combinations of the three. Shedding light on these contexts accomplishes the goal chez Agnant and Laferrière of rewriting a Western-dominated official History, what Casimir labels a “modern, racist, and Eurocentric project” (19). In this way, both authors fight against subjugation, discrimination, and prejudice faced by people of color—and in Agnant’s case, women of color—in the North American setting as well as in the Western, white homogenizing conceptions of majority Black and Brown nations.[ii]

In a previous article on Laferrière and Agnant I discuss how the history of slavery and racism—told from a first-person perspective in Le livre d’Emma (2001)—continues to affect contemporary society in North America—illustrated by Laferrière in Comment faire l’amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer (1985).[iii] North America’s present cannot be separated from its past, and not merely the recent past, but several centuries of inter-ethnic, cultural, and racial conflict that continue to influence today’s society. The contemporary situation outlined by Laferrière in Comment faire l’amour results directly from the history reexamined by Agnant in Le livre d’Emma.

This present study further examines memory, trauma, and prejudice in Laferrière and Agnant, but also takes into consideration the effect violent dictatorship had on the Haitian people. Many who have left Haiti, including Laferrière and Agnant, left to escape the horrors of the Duvalier regimes. The parallels in Agnant and Laferrière’s life story further underscore the complementarity of their works. Both were born in Haiti in 1953. Agnant moved to Montreal in 1970 as a teenager, and Laferrière landed there as a young man in 1976.[iv] Mary Jean Green affirms that both authors “play an important role in defining a bipolar diasporic identity oscillating between Haiti and Montreal” (327). This identity allows for a perspective that can simultaneously embrace and point a critical eye at both cultures. In Pays sans chapeau Laferrière challenges several cultural myths by addressing the discrepancies that lie between what he calls the pays réel and pays rêvé. This novel is a story of the impossible retour: the narrator has returned to Haiti after twenty years of exile in the North American metropolis of Montreal, yet he never quite feels like he has made it home. Laferrière uses alternance between a dream-land and a real-world to introduce an aesthetics of decay that is critical of the Duvalier regimes and current-day American occupation/interference. Agnant’s Un alligator nommé Rosa similarly uses Haitians in exile to draw critical attention to the violence and trauma of Haiti’s past. However, like in Le livre d’Emma, Agnant employs first-person narrative to give a personalized alternative to official history, rather than employing the sort of magical realism we see in Laferrière. In Agnant’s novel, as a boy, protagonist Antoine watched his family murdered by the eponymous character. After meeting, Antoine and Laura, Rosa’s adopted daughter, trade stories of their past. The lacuna in the historical record, written and proliferated by the Duvaliers and accomplices like Rosa, lead Antoine and Laura to undertake a new writing of history, though far removed geographically and temporally from the horrors of their childhoods. Like Le livre d’Emma, which provides an unofficial, personal history for the context of racism present in Comment faire l’amour, Agnant’s Un alligator nommé Rosa provides the context for the degradation and decay we see in Laferrière’s Pays sans chapeau.

In a 1994 essay, Agnant outlines the egregious injustices toward Haitian women that in many ways were solidified by the Duvalier regimes and their violence. Casimir argues that “women played a fundamental role in the foundation of this new community,” that is, “the creation of a national community” as part of the Haitian Revolution (4). Yet, through the early centuries of Haitian independence, women remained confined to the domestic space, the “new community” being based on “a family structure embedded within a broader social environment created precisely to ensure this structure could flourish” (Casimir 4). Whatever progress was made on behalf of the gender over the next century and decades would be erased under the Duvaliers. Indeed, Larrier points out that “violence against citizens took a new and more sinister turn [under the Duvaliers] as women, who used to be spared the brutality of repression, were deemed potential enemies of the state and thus targeted as individuals as well as groups” (86). Agnant affirms that the marginalization of women has long been a problem in her country and was worsened by what she calls an “état prédateur,” “tout puissant et criminel” (“Femmes haïtiennes”). Historically, the lack of an institutional feminine presence has been evident, most notably in the facts that women were not granted suffrage until the eve of the 1957 election; further, only 2 of the 1987 constitutional committee of nearly 60 members were women, and this for a constitution that claimed its goal was to help Haitians overcome injustice. Finally, it was not until President Aristide was elected that Haiti was able to count four women among the ministerial cabinet members. Even then, however, Agnant laments that there remain very few, if any, women in positions of power.

Such institutional prejudice precipitates and permits a continued violence against women. Tania Vachon asserts that women are the prime victims of institutionalized violence, a fact that is manifest in many unfair Haitian laws. In addition to internal discrimination and denigration, Agnant also points out that multinational corporations often exploit women to assure for themselves a cheap labor force. Thinking of women as “affamée, donc soumise,” the corporations employ a large number of women, a labor force that they consider of “premier choix” because they cannot afford not to work (“Femmes haïtiennes”). This international interference, largely a product of Americanization and capitalism, also figures prominently in Laferrière’s novel, as I discuss below. Agnant sees the end of the Duvalier tyranny as being a beginning of women’s involvement in political and societal change. She cites the women’s demonstration, 20,000 strong, that took place shortly after Jean-Claude Duvalier fled in 1986. Since the government has been such a strong force in subjugating women, “ceux qui depuis des lustres accaparent toutes les ressources et tous les biens,” according to Agnant, it is no wonder, then, that she seeks to rewrite or overwrite the institutionally perpetuated biases and lies with a text that simultaneously highlights personal history as well as institutional failure and criminality (“Femmes haïtiennes”).

Leaning on Myriam J. A. Chancy’s seminal work Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (1997), Robert Sapp suggests that Agnant “offer[s] a feminized version of Haitian history” in the face of a historical discourse that has both silenced and disregarded their story (“Writing against” 240). To this end, Agnant’s novel Un alligator nommé Rosa closely, and originally, examines women’s roles in the dictatorship as well as the dynamics between women, whether they were willingly involved in committing violent and torturous acts, complicit through their silence, or victims at the hands of other women. The title character, Rosa, is based on the real-life Rosalie Adolphe, a high-ranking official under François Duvalier known for her gruesome methods of interrogation, torture, and murder. Although the novel details the life and career of Rosa, demonstrating her power and dominance, I contend that it is not a move on Agnant’s part to show a woman in a position of power. Instead, as Roseanna Dufault argues, Agnant shows that the fillettes-lalos (female arm of the tonton macoutes) were neither feminists (seeking to have equal power as men) nor autonomous (53). They were simply instruments of the dictatorship. Like in various different contexts locally, globally, and throughout time, “preservation of patriarchy characterize[s] the behavior of” the alligator named Rosa as well as many women given power by the institution (Larrier 93).

Dufault further points out that, while history and historians often minimize the role of women in the regime, Agnant shows the opposite in Un alligator nommé Rosa (52). Indeed, Agnant focuses on a number of aspects of history that were not or are not well-known and/or recorded accurately. The themes of memory, history, and silence are prevalent throughout the novel. As Antoine’s female complement and Rosa’s adopted daughter, Laura also witnessed Rosa’s numerous great atrocities as a child.[v] However, unlike Antoine who seeks justice and revenge through making the truth known, Laura has spent her life in silence and has tried hard to forget.[vi] She remains, nonetheless, a prisoner of her memories and in a way, she continues to be a prisoner of Rosa, now elderly, weak, and in Laura’s care. Colette Boucher posits that the silence Rosa has imposed on Laura throughout her life leaves her (Rosa) in control, both of Laura and of history (16). Similarly, Choplin argues that such experiences show that memories can be “as oppressive as the dictators themselves” (167). Laura knows the truth, but in her silence does not pass it on, nor does she attempt to.

Antoine, on the other hand, has spent his life tracking down his family’s assassin and has finally found her in the mountains of southern France. He presents himself to Laura as a nurse aid seeking to work for Rosa, who will also help her write her memoirs. Rosa, in choosing to write her history, ostensibly in her own favor, falls into the long line of historical writing, done by the victors and biased in their favor. Antoine seeks to undo such writing by forcing Rosa to break her silence and sign a full confession that he has detailed, rather than allowing her to write her own version of history. Although Antoine and Laura both continue to struggle with the trauma of their past, their actions in the novel allow them to draw attention and give a voice to many who were silenced by the Duvaliers’ tyranny. Boucher asserts that Antoine and Laura shed light on the true history of Haiti, break the impunity of the torturers, denounce them, give reparation to victims, repossess their past, and live their present (25). I propose that these goals are not merely achieved in the fictional realm, but that Agnant also aids in providing some justice and in uncovering the hidden or repressed past by writing alternate versions of history to the official record.

Antoine’s quest for justice via text mirrors what Agnant accomplishes through writing. The importance of textuality cannot be overlooked. In her work on Laferrière, Susan Ireland suggests that the depiction of writing within Comment faire l’amour… underscores the constructed nature of certain aspects of history. “By highlighting the act of storytelling and drawing attention to itself as an artefact,” the author, in this case Laferrière, but I maintain we can also apply the same logic to Agnant, can therefore use metawriting as an ideal vehicle with which to demonstrate “that text can be fought with text” (Ireland 67). One’s perception of the past is unavoidably mediated by text. Ireland observes that Laferrière’s focus on writing constantly draws attention to the past “texts” that have constructed identity based on colonial discourse. There exists, therefore, both the possibility of rewriting these texts about the past and of reminding the reader “that these ‘texts’ could have been written differently” in the first place (Ireland 71). In this way, Ireland gives the author the role of creator and suggests that he or she thus takes “control of the discourses that seek to constrain” him or her (Ireland 73).

Agnant goes further in her project than just resisting the constraints of what Sapp calls “a narrative whose parameters have been set by the colonizers, and the one-sided story that it tells” (“Writing against” 240). Her project, along with many other local Haitian groups, seeks to create a new archive that is outside the colonizer’s ledger (Sapp, “Writing against” 239, 255). Agnant recreates and enters into the archive an “elaboration of lost histories” such as “the lost screams of the Middle Passage and the plantation, as well as the alienation of an exiled Haitian woman in contemporary Montreal” (Sapp, “Transmitting” 31). Larrier argues that women have been written out of history and have not yet been documented accurately, which makes Agnant’s archive all the more important (104). Alongside Agnant advocating for more inclusive documentation are groups such as Kay Fanm, Mouvement des Femmes Haïtiennes pour l’Éducation et le Développement, and Haïti Lutte contre l’Impunité, who has created a repository collecting “witness testimonials, historical documents, lists of victims, and general information” in several languages (Larrier 106, 90). Agnant is thus not alone in this project, and I suggest that with a “blend of fiction and nonfiction [that is] not dependent on one voice […] but rather allows for a multiplicity of perspectives” per Larrier, Laferrière also contributes to the archive (Larrier 88). While his contributions are male-centric, Laferrière certainly gives a voice to many silenced victims of the Duvalier era.


From Agnant to Laferrière

Laferrière has always been both a loyal son of Haiti and a fierce and outspoken critic of the ills of his native land. After twenty years of exile he finally began to write about his first return to Haiti in Pays sans chapeau in 1996. Laferrière scaffolds the novel on a dualist structure, which, in the beginning, alternates between the pays réel and the pays rêvé. Although there is the dream land and the real world, the content of these chapters goes against logical expectations of what one might encounter in their dreams and in their reality. Laferrière’s pays réel feels more like a dream. In these chapters the narrator appears to have returned to the old Haiti where very little has changed. He reenters the role of son, acting like a young boy doted on by his mother. Upon seeing her for the first time, he is surprised to find that “Elle doit penser que je n’ai pas changé” (Laferrière, Pays 16). For his part as well, though, the narrator explains that under the Haitian sky, it was all “Exactement comme dans ma mémoire” (17). The narrator’s “reality” at this point remains simple, an outlook mirrored by the author’s “primitive” or “naïve” style of writing.[vii] He does not yet see the reality of what his native land has become. The écrivain primitif that begins the novel, despite conceiving of this as the pays réel, at this point still lives in a dream, a mythical existence of his childhood imaginary.

The counterpart to the pays réel is the pays rêvé, which to the reader feels more like a nightmare. Nothing in the dreamland is as pleasant as the narrator’s initial impressions upon arriving in Port-au-Prince. The dualistic structure of the novel is highlighted by the opposites, or perversions, of each of the items the narrator encounters: the sun that had at first been exactly as he remembered and that he describes warmly and nostalgically as being in “Le ciel bleu clair de Port-au-Prince” becomes in the first sentence of the pays rêvé the source of “Cette chaleur [qui] finira par m’avoir” (17, 36). After having spent 20 years in the “froid du nord,” the narrator’s return to Haiti now seems like a “plongée aux enfers. Les feux de l’enfer” (36). As he sits in the shade of the mango tree, a place that in the first two chapters was full of the familiar tastes and smells of his youth, in addition to being confronted with the hellish heat of the island, the narrator also is disturbed by the “odeur d’une mangue trop mûre qui vient d’exploser près de ma chaise [qui] m’étourdit presque” (36). Also nearby are the rotting leaves of the tree and the dead, decomposing carcass of a dog covered in flies, their buzzing incessant. The putrid death and decay that surround him now monopolize all his senses. Not surprising, then, is the presence of zombies in the pays rêvé. The narrator’s return trip home may be more than he expected or can internalize. The proverb at the beginning of the first pays rêvé chapter reads “Avant de grimper à un arbre, assure-toi de pouvoir en descendre,” indicating that upon his return, the narrator will soon be entwined in much more than he ever anticipated (35). I offer that what Choplin terms Laferrière’s warning against the “dangers of nostalgia” is on full display in the pays-rêvé (Choplin 167).

The death and decay that surround the narrator will eventually play an important role in the symbolism of the novel. Many things have changed since he left twenty years ago, and he has returned to become a witness and even a victim himself of the death of the old Haiti, the old ways, and the end of the Haitians and values he once knew. Although the narrator looks upon his past with a happy nostalgia, the current degradation that he sees is not so new. This island nation that is known as the “First Black Republic” has a long history of violence, uprisings, powerful tyrants, and occupations. I argue that Laferrière exploits this history, especially the American interference and Duvalier violence and corruption: from its title to its content and narrator’s reflections, in Pays sans chapeau Laferrière uses the traditional symbolism and values of Haiti, notably the Vodou religion and symbolism of death, to speak out against the destruction, degradation, and disappearance of his native land’s founding values. Additionally, the presence of the zombies, at first only in the pays rêvé but later throughout the novel, is a further reference to death and decay. Doris Garraway explains that in the context of the seventeenth-century slave trade, “In Haiti, the zombi is a body without soul made to work for the sorcerer, or houngan, who induces a deathlike state and later raises the body from the grave” (178-179). This zombie then “becomes a body devoid of life, moving mechanically, without emotion or individual will” (179). Often the image of the zombie served as a reference to the dispossession of the enslaved body in service to the slave master. In this novel, Laferrière redeploys the image of the zombie in a contemporary context as a metaphor for the dispossession of Haiti in service or servitude to the corrupt dictators and American influence.

Rafaël Lucas explains how the secretive nature and total domination of the Duvalier dictatorship strongly and negatively affected both the Haitian environment and Haitian imaginary because of its “spiral of underdevelopment and its destructive and destructuring tendencies” (54). Thus, the symbolism of Ruin became prominent in Haitian literature leading to the emergence of an Aesthetics of Decay, which we clearly see in Pays sans chapeau from early on with the various images of rotting fruits and animal carcasses. Further, the theme of zombification also takes a prominent place in the Aesthetics of Decay and seeks to “denounce social ills in the strongest possible terms and [place] a quasi-mystical value on change” (Lucas 54). Lucas’s study on degradation in Haitian literature points out that Haitian novels from the Duvalier dictatorship through the early 2000’s often contain themes of madness, possession, misery, violence, helplessness, bitterness, dispersal, interrogation of memory through dream exploration and witness of tragic years (55-56). Many of these themes reach back to the terror caused by the Duvalier regime. In the minds and memory of the Haitians, the Duvalier regime was a monstrous force, ruling by corruption and terror, who employed “terrifying and totalizing repression” to frighten the human being so much so that all ability to revolt disappeared, thus “zombifying” the people (Lucas 56-57). Lucas explains further that “[the theme of zombification], which is rooted in cultural history and in the Haitian imaginary, represents an enormous potential for the production of meaning. It permits the display of evidence of mental degradation, physical decline, and ontological collapse” (63). This serious detriment is illustrated by Choplin’s assertion that those who carry either too much or too little memory from the Duvalier era become vulnerable to an encounter with psychological dangers and a “psychic instability in relation to the past” (164-167).

In addition to totalitarian leadership within the country, Haitians are also subject to intense domination culturally and militarily by the continued American and United Nations presence in the country. Although a certain necessity for international aid has at times arisen, the shock of the American troops’ invasion, their disruption of the natural scene in the streets of Port-au-Prince, incites in Pays sans chapeau’s narrator a physical sense of shock and unease. In his mind, the soldier belongs in Beirut, Berlin, or Panama, but not in Port-au-Prince; the intimacy of the American soldier shopping in the market in his fatigues seems too much for him (Laferrière, Pays 186). I point here to Casimir’s sentiment that the Haitians have all too often been displaced from the center of their own story (1). He suggests that “The actions of colonial empires were an accident of history” (Casimir 2). Laferrière’s narrator’s experience of unease in the face of this displacement reflects the fact that colonization is not and was not a teleological necessity.

The overwhelming physical and cultural American presence in Haiti brings along with it the evils of an American culture and hegemony that are suffocating the traditional ways of the narrator’s homeland. The Duvalier regime, which, while as a whole left a detrimental mark in the Haitian imaginary, still held to a Haiti for Haitians, full of tradition and honor for the native sons and religion. In its place, a newer system of degradation in the form of globalization, capitalism, and Americanization is taking hold. The zombification that is a representative of the death of what the narrator sees as his homeland is hinted at early in the novel. His mother tells him that his country has changed, and he acquiesces, but she further insists that he does not yet grasp the severity of the change: “Pas comme tu crois. Ce pays a vraiment changé. Nous avons atteint le fond. Ce ne sont plus des humains. Ils en ont peut-être l’apparence, et là encore…” (Laferrière, Pays 47). The walking dead, insists the mother, move about during the day and during the night, and eventually, she explains to her son, they will be surrounded by an army of zombies. One character finally explains to the narrator that the majority of all those he sees walking and talking in the street have been dead for a long time and that Haiti “est devenu le plus grand cimetière du monde” (56).

Although Pays sans chapeau is admittedly a work of fiction, I dare to conflate the narrator with Laferrière to draw some important conclusions from this work.[viii] The narrator’s sentiments reflect the plight of many immigrants to North American cities, such as Montreal, in that the situation in their homeland may be untenable. For both Agnant and Laferrière, leaving Haiti was a matter of life and death. Yet, their life as members of the diaspora in often majority white, Western culture dominated cities can be one of marginalization and discrimination. I would argue that the theme of zombification is relevant in this sense as well and is demonstrated by Agnant’s texts, particularly in the character of Emma. However, Laferrière does not intend for the outlook to be all bleak.

While being painfully candid about Haiti’s struggles, Laferrière also insists that the world, in particular the Western media, not reduce Haiti and Haitians to this one aspect of their history and present-day situation. In his chronicle of his experience of the 2010 earthquake, Laferrière takes issue with the idea that Haiti is “cursed” or maudit.[ix] In a story on the devastating earthquake titled “Haïti, pays maudit,” France 24: International News 24/7 reported that “Le violent tremblement de terre qui vient de détruire une partie de Port-au-Prince est un nouveau coup dur pour Haïti. Instabilité politique, misère, révoltes sociales, succession de cyclones… Le pays n’en est pas à sa première épreuve” (“Haiti, pays maudit”). To this list we can add a number of trials the country has endured since 2010, including continued battles with cholera, tropical weather, another earthquake, and the assassination of their president in 2021. Despite all this, Laferrière insists that Haitians and Haiti are strong, beautiful, and he defends their great sense of humanity, brotherhood, and art. Likewise, Casimir insists that the Haitians’ “misery is only the most superficial aspect of their reality;” he avers that he is the descendant of “a collective of fighters, not the vanquished” (3). Larrier points out that, like Laferrière, Agnant also “refuses victimist discourse” (103). Instead, Laferrière declares that in the face of a Western imposed identity – “a cursed land” – the Haitians have remained a dignified people, an “Etonnant pays d’artistes,” with a culture that is the only thing that could possibly stand up to the earthquake, or any tragedy (Tout bouge 15, 8). And, although a financially poor nation, they are rich in creativity—“La créativité leur seule richesse” (Tout bouge 119).[x]

This article has only just been able to scratch the surface of Laferrière’s novel, the implications of zombification, and the dualistic structure of the work. Likewise, Agnant’s Un alligator nommé Rosa touches on many more themes than the length of this essay can accommodate. Agnant places great importance on animality, writing and words, emptiness, chasm and silence, and one could even make an argument for the presence of zombification in her novel. Nonetheless, the issues brought to the fore here underscore the important work both Agnant and Laferrière continue to do in serving to give a primary voice to Haitians, both in Haiti and in the diaspora. Significantly, they remind us that Haitians are and have always been at the center of their own history, per Casimir. Those that have been silenced find a voice through their texts, and in particular, Agnant foregrounds the “specificity and legacy of women’s experiences,” experiences that were actively subjugated by the Duvalier regimes in addition to the general disregard of women’s history in the official Histories of so-called Western civilization (Larrier 87). The simultaneous social engagement and literary contribution of Agnant and Laferrière thus provide fertile grounds for continued studies in the global ethics of Haitian literature.


Works Cited

  • Agnant, Marie-Célie. Le livre d’Emma. Montréal, Éditions du remue-ménage, 2001.
  • —. Un alligator nommé Rosa. Montréal, Éditions du remue-ménage, 2007.
  • —. “Femmes haïtiennes : pour en finir avec l’esclavage, des luttes multiples à mener.” L’Agenda des femmes 1995, Montréal, Éditions du remue-ménage, 1994, Juillet-août, 21-27 août.
  • Boucher, Colette. “L’effet parole chez Marie-Célie Agnant.” Paroles et silences chez Marie-Célie Agnant : L’oublieuse mémoire d’Haïti, edited by Colette Boucher and Thomas C. Spear, Paris, Karthala, 2013, pp. 13-25.
  • Boucher, Colette and Thomas C. Spear, editors. Paroles et silences chez Marie-Célie Agnant : L’oublieuse mémoire d’Haïti, Paris, Karthala, 2013.
  • Casimir, Jean. The Haitians: A Decolonial History. UNC Press, 2020.
  • Choplin, Olivia Jones. “Remembering and Forgetting the Duvaliers: Grappling with Haitian Memory in the Works of Marie-Celie Agnant and Dany Laferrière.” Journal of Haitian Studies, 25, 1, Spring 2019, pp. 154-177.
  • Collins, Holly. “Race Roulette: Hierarchy, Hypersexuality, and Hyperbole in Marie-Célie Agnant’s The Book of Emma [2001] and Dany Laferrière’s How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired [1985].” Critical Insights: Contemporary Canadian Fiction, edited by Carol L. Beran, Ipswich, Salem Press, 2014, pp. 88-104.
  • —. “The Semantic War: The Pen as Sword in Rewriting Western Representations of Haiti in the Media.” International Journal of Francophone Studies, 16, 1&2, 2013, pp. 191-207.
  • Dufault, Roseanna. “La poursuite de la justice dans Un alligator nommé Rosa.” Paroles et silences chez Marie-Célie Agnant: L’oublieuse mémoire d’Haïti, edited by Colette Boucher and Thomas C. Spear, Paris, Karthala, 2013, pp. 49-60.
  • Garraway, Dorris. The Libertine Colony: Creolization in the Early French Caribbean. Duke UP, 2005.
  • Green, Mary Jean. “Accenting the French in Comparative American Studies.” Comparative Literature, 61, 3, 2009, pp. 327-334.
  • “Haïti, pays maudit.” France 24, 13 January 2010, Accessed 13 March 2023.
  • Ireland, Susan. “Declining the Stereotype in the Work of Stanley Lloyd Norris, Max Dorsinville, and Dany Laferrière.” Quebec Studies, 39, 2005, pp. 55-77.
  • Johnson, Paul Christopher. “Secretism and the Apotheosis of Duvalier.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 74, June 2006, pp. 420-45.
  • Laferrière, Dany. Comment faire l’amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer. Montréal, TYPO, 2002.
  • —. Pays sans chapeau, Paris, Le Serpent à plumes, 2001. [1996]
  • —. Tout bouge autour de moi, Montréal, Mémoires d’encrier, 2010.
  • Larrier, Renee. “Femmes au temps des carnassiers: Dictatorship and Gender in Two Novels by Marie-Célie Agnant.” Journal of Haitian Studies, 24, 2, Fall 2018, pp. 86-113.
  • Lucas, Rafaël. “The Aesthetics of Degradation in Haitian Literature.” Research in African Literatures, 35, 2, Summer 2004, pp. 54-74.
  • Saint-Martin, Lori. “Une oppression peut en cacher une autre.” Voix et Images, 36, 2, hiver 2011, pp. 53-67.
  • Sapp, Robert. “Transmitting the Legacy of Créolité in Marie-Célie Agnant’s Le livre d’Emma.” The French Review, 92, 4, May 2019, pp. 28-39.
  • —. “Writing against the Record: Emma’s Corporeal Archive.” Journal of Haitian Studies, 25, 2, Fall 2019, pp. 239-258.
  • Vachon, Tania. “Le mouvement des femmes en Haïti, un parcours d’espoir.” L’Agenda des femmes 2004, Montréal, Éditions du remue-ménage, 2003, septembre.


[i] On Laferrière’s sexism, see for example Saint-Martin, “Une oppression peut en cacher une autre.”

[ii] Casimir details the historical homogenization of a Haitian population two-thirds of whom, at the time of independence, had been born in Africa. He argues that the colonists and planter classes attempted to replace the ethnic dimension with a racial one and to reduce racial diversity to an opposition between Black and white (15, 18).

[iii] See Collins 2014.

[iv] For a detailed overview of the biographical and thematic overlap in the life and works of the two authors, see Choplin 160-161.

[v] Child and organ trafficking are other topics that Agnant addresses in the novel.

[vi] Antoine and Laura are close examples of the two approaches to dealing with memory—remembering and forgetting—examined by Choplin in her aforementioned article. Antoine and his quest for justice/the end of impunity reflects what Choplin argues is Agnant’s stance, while Laura in seeking to forget mirrors those like Laferrière and Lyonel Trouillot who asserts, “laissons-le reposer dans son insignifiance” (Choplin 166).

[vii] Laferrière’s style here recalls the so-called primitive or naïve style of painting, which is characterized by a one-to-one representation of surroundings as they are observed, simplicity, and at times a skewed sense of perspective. The text, likewise, is constructed via an almost monotonous series of named objects followed by descriptions.

[viii] This is not an unprecedented nor unwarranted move as Laferrière himself has on many occasions referred to his own work as his “autobiographie américaine.”

[ix] “Haiti, pays maudit”: the headline on 13 January 2010 in French news publication France 24: International News 24/7 reflects the often repeated sentiment about the island nation.

[x] On Laferrière’s “semantic war,” see Collins 2013.