10 Translated Books from Haiti to Read Now By Nathan H. DIZE
For many English-speaking readers of Haitian literature, one author usually comes to mind: Edwidge Danticat. Though there are many more Haitian and Haitian diasporic writers working in English—including Roxane Gay, Dimitry Elias Léger, Francesca Momplaisir, Ibi Zoboi, and sister coauthors Maika and Maritza Moulite—Danticat's gorgeous, evocative prose is ubiquitous. There is little doubt that her writing has shaped and expanded the scope of what Haitian stories and narratives look and sound like to English readers.
As a reader, translator, and editor, however, Danticat would be the first to admit that there is much more to Haitian literature in English translation. Literary translation is an integral part of Haiti’s literary ecosystem with its own unique history. In the 1920s and ‘30s, translators like Jessie Redmon Fauset, Langston Hughes, and Mercer Cook translated works by the likes of Massillon Coicou and Jacques Roumain. During that same time, Edna Worthley Underwood compiled the first anthology of Haitian poetry in English translation, called The Poets of Haiti, 1782–1934, published by the Mosher Press with woodcuts by the Haitian artist Pétion Savain. Though Underwood's anthology has since gone out of print, the Cook and Hughes translation of Roumain’s Masters of the Dew has been reissued numerous times after first appearing in 1947, and Fauset's translation of "Oblivion" by Massillon Coicou has been reprinted in anthologies of African American literature edited by James Weldon Johnson, by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, and just last year by Kevin Young in African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song.
Haitian literature in English translation has not only a storied past but a flourishing present sustained by a cadre of translators and translator-scholars who have managed to curate a panorama of texts from various genres—fiction, poetry, and memoir—as well as different historical eras. In the following list, I endeavored to select texts that complicate Anglophone readers’ understanding of Haitian literature; books that challenge the idea of the novel as the predominant literary genre; and books that demonstrate the linguistic and cultural diversity of those who have translated Haitian letters.
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