Writer, poet, activist – A descendent of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexis was born on 22 April 1922, in Gonaïves. His father was a journalist, historian and diplomat, and Alexis grew up in a family in which literary and political discussions were the norm. At the age of 18, he made what was regarded as remakable literary debut with an essay about the Haitian poet, Hamilton Garoute. He collaborated on a number of literary reviews, before founding La Ruche, a group dedicated to creating a literary and social spring in Haiti in the early 1940s.
In 1955, his novel “Compere General Soleil,” was published by Gallimard in Paris. This superb novel has recently been translated into English – General Sun, My Brother, and is a must-read for all those with an interest in understanding Haiti. He followed up with “Les Arbres Musiciens” (1957), “L’Espace d’un Cillement” (1959), and “Romanceros aux Etoiles” (1960).
More than just a brilliant intellectual, Jacques Stephen Alexis was also an active participant in the social and political debates of his time. In 1959, he formed the People’s Consensus Party (Parti pour l’Entente Nationale-PEP), a left-oriented political party, but he was forced into exile by the Duvalier dictatorship. In August 1960, he attended a Moscow meeting of representatives of 81 communist parties from all over the world, and signed a common accord document called “The Declaration of the 81” in the name of Haitian communists.
In April 1961, he returned to Haiti but soon after landing at Mole St Nicholas he was captured by Tontons Macoutes. He was taken to the town’s main square where he was tortured and then killed.
Further reading: Professor Carrol Coates and the English translation of General Sun, My Brother
See also: Jacques Stephen Alexis Remembered by Jean-Pierre Cloutier, The Haiti Times, May 1987.