West Indian writer, poet and politician (1913-2008) / Visit to Aimé Césaire’s sister and homage during the visit of the Head of State and his wife to Martinique (7 January 2011)
At Aimé Césaire’s death in April 2008, the entire French political community made the journey to Fort-de-France to pay their last respects. Was it the poet or the politician who was being thus honoured? Probably both, in the sense that the two sides of the man are inextricably linked. Nicknamed “The Bard of Black Consciousness” (‘négritude’), he was one of those artists seeking to articulate a world view based on proud and self-confident liberation from the colonialist yoke. Aimé Césaire, who used the term négritude’ for the first time in 1934 in the journal L’Étudiant noir (‘The Black Student’), was a fellow traveller of Senegal’s Léopold Sédar Senghor and French Guyana’s Léon-Gontran Damas. At 94, he was the triumvirate’s only survivor. Aimé Césaire, a graduate of the École normale supérieure, soon established himself as a writer with his Notebook of a Return to my Native Land (1938), a later edition of which was prefaced by André Breton. The only step remaining in this engagement with real life was to enter politics. For fully 56 years between 1945 and 2001, Aimé Césaire was mayor of Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, where veneration for his achievements remains absolute. He met Nicolas Sarkozy in 2006.
Two years later, when the poet passed away, President Sarkozy called for a state funeral, seeing in Aimé Césaire a “symbol of hope for oppressed peoples”. And on 7 January 2011, during a visit to the French West Indies, Carla and Nicolas Sarkozy met Mireille Millou, the poet’s sister, and announced the tribute to be paid to Césaire in April 2011: a plaque affixed to the Panthéon at a ceremony to mark “the gratitude of the entire French nation.” Aimé Césaire never made it into the ranks of the Académie française, but the poet, whose name means ‘beloved’, will certainly be long cherished by the people of Paris…
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