- Enduring Encounters: Reflections on the Literary Works of Évelyne Trouillot
Évelyne Trouillot undoubtedly occupies a prominent place in the landscape of Haitian letters. As a novelist, playwright, essayist, author of short stories and children’s books, and a meticulous researcher of Haitian history, her broad range of texts in French and Creole have resonated with readers across the Caribbean and Europe. Her work has been recognized by a slew of prestigious literary awards including the 2004 Prix Soroptimist de la romancière francophone awarded in Grenoble for her novel Rosalie L’infâme, the 2005 Prix Beaumarchais for her play Le Bleu de l’île, and the 2010 Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe et du Tout-Monde for her novel La Mémoire aux abois.1 For North American readers, access to Trouillot’s work has been a more recent phenomenon with the translated novels The Infamous Rosalie and Memory at Bay in 2013 and 2015, respectively.2 It is through translation that Anglophone audiences come to Trouillot’s work and decipher her texts’ dramatization of encounters between past and present, and across racial and class divides in Haiti.
But why a special issue on Évelyne Trouillot? And why now? The forthcoming publication of Trouillot’s newest novel, Desirée Congo, presents a unique opportunity to look back at her monumental contribution to Caribbean and African diaspora literature, and to look forward to a new addition to her already expansive body of work.3 There is value in this simultaneous casting back and gazing ahead, perhaps best articulated by the fictional character Charlotte as she confides in her granddaughter Lisette in Rosalie l’infâme: “Un jour, je te le promets, je te parlerai de ces barracoons, un jour où tu auras besoin d’ailes pour te porter au-delà du moment présent. Un jour, où ton besoin sera plus fort que [End Page v] ma peur de retourner là-bas, dans ma mémoire. Pas aujourd’hui.” (“One day, I promise you, I’ll tell you about the barracoons; one day, when you’ll need wings to carry yourself beyond the present moment. One day, when your need will be greater than my fear of going back there in my memory. But not today.”)4 In these image-rich sentences that are characteristic of Trouillot’s literary prowess, Charlotte simultaneously weaves between the past, present, and future tenses as she evokes her painful memories of the barracoon and imagines a day to come when her granddaughter’s marronage will be fueled by a more complete understanding of her past. Charlotte’s reflections on intertwined pasts and presents that lead to revolutionary futures resonate throughout the novel and across Trouillot’s writings. They also resonate beyond Trouillot’s oeuvre and find echoes in the recent posthumous publication of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” in which Cudjo Lewis, a survivor of the last-known slave ship to transport Africans to the Americas, recounts his memories of the barracoons, the Middle Passage, and his life in slavery.5 Where Trouillot’s character Lisette is the eager listener prodding grandmother Charlotte for the story of their collective origins, Hurston is the anthropologist and folklorist crafting an origin narrative of her own through her interviews with Lewis.
This simultaneous casting back and looking forward is the first kind of encounter that the contributions to this issue explore. These abridged engagements ask, What does it mean to write the past, to render it legible in the present? Renée Larrier and Marjorie Salvodon explore this question through their recollections of two key moments in the recent past. For Larrier, it is her first encounter with Trouillot’s work. Using the knotted cord that appears as a central symbol in Rosalie l’infâme—that first novel that Larrier held in her hands in a Parisian bookstore years ago—this essay examines ties between past and present with a focus on Haitian women’s history. It also translates Rosalie l’infâme from Saint-Domingue to the United States South. Salvodon’s reflections take us away from the history of slavery to...