Kaiama L. Glover
Kaiama L. Glover is Ann Whitney Olin Professor of French and Africana Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has written extensively about Caribbean literature in such works as A Regarded Self: Caribbean Womanhood and the Ethics of Disorderly Being and Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon, and she is the prize-winning translator of several works of Haitian prose fiction, including Frankétienne’s Ready to Burst, Marie Chauvet’s Dance on the Volcano, René Depestre’s Hadriana in All My Dreams, and Yanick Lahens’s Douces déroutes. She is currently writing an intellectual biography titled For the Love of Revolution: René Depestre and the Poetics of a Radical Life. Her work has been supported by fellowships at the New York Public Library Cullman Center, the PEN/Heim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Mellon Foundation.
To support the translation from the French of the novel Popa Singer by Haitian author René Depestre. Depestre (b. 1926) is a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, criticism, and philosophy, and a collaborator with some of the most important political and intellectual figures of the 20th century. Written in 2001 but only published in 2016, Popa Singer is set in Haiti in 1958 and delves into the uncertainty and horror at the beginning of the François Duvalier dictatorship. Fantastical and satirical in equal measure, it is also a tribute to the author's mother, who, in the world Depestre has created, enjoys the remarkable gift of becoming possessed by the spirit of an exiled Austrian poet-aristocrat who lives in her Singer sewing machine.
As the subject of my manuscript-in-progress, an intellectual biography titled For the Love of Revolution: René Depestre and the Poetics of a Radical Life, René Depestre has been at the very heart of my research and writing. I translated his prize-winning novel Hadriana dans tous mes rêves into English in 2017 and I wrote about his work in my most recent monograph A Regarded Self: Caribbean Womanhood and the Ethics of Disorderly Being. I have had the opportunity to interview Depestre on several occasions in the course of developing these projects.
It was during a visit during the summer of 2019 that Depestre (then age 92) told me about the year he spent in François Duvalier’s Haiti in 1958 and 1959—the period that is so richly evoked in Popa Singer. And it was during this conversation that it became clear to me how crucial it would be to bring this resonant moment from Depestre’s fascinating trajectory to the attention of the English-reading world. I hope especially that my translation will make this incredible work accessible to Anglophone Haitians, for whom the vicissitudes of diaspora may have meant being linguistically alienated from their cultural patrimony. I also view this translation project as contributing to the development of new narratives of Haiti that push back against the flattening and often irresponsible representations that have long dominated the global media context.
Being awarded the National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship is welcome encouragement as I work to shepherd Depestre’s historically rich and stylistically idiosyncratic novel-memoir into the Anglosphere. I look forward to devoting sustained time and attention to this project in 2023!
About René Depestre
Haitian writer René Depestre (b.1926) is one of the most significant voices of 20th century world literature. His vast corpus includes poetry, prose fiction, literary criticism, and philosophical essays. A collaborator with some of the most important political and intellectual figures of the 20th century, Depestre engaged with the politics and aesthetics of Negritude, social realism, and Surrealism, among other cultural phenomena, over the course of a career that spans well over half a century. His writings offer at once intimate and broadly humanist reflections on the experience of exile and on his lifelong efforts to reconcile poetry and revolution.