Jacques Stephen Alexis
Jacques Stephen Alexis (Gonaïves, Haiti, 22 April 1922–Môle-Saint-Nicolas, Haiti, c. 22 April 1961) was a Haitian communist novelist, poet, and activist. He is best known for his novels Compère Général Soleil (1955), Les Arbres Musiciens (1957), and L'Espace d'un Cillement (1959), and for his collection of short stories, Romancero aux Etoiles (1960).
Alexis was born in Gonaïves, the son of journalist, historian and diplomat Stephen Alexis and descendant of one of Haiti's founding fathers, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. 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 remarkable 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. After completing medical school in Paris, he traveled throughout Europe and lived for a few years in Cuba.
In 1955, his novel Compère Général Soleil, was published by Gallimard in Paris. The novel has been translated into English as 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 an 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-wing 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 Môle-Saint-Nicolas he was captured by a Tonton Macoute paramilitary force. He was taken to the town's main square where he was tortured and then put on a boat to Port-au-Prince; he was never seen again. Later his death in confinement was confirmed by an obscure notice in the government newspaper buried on page 14.
He is survived by his wife Andree Roumer, niece of eminent Haitian poet Émile Roumer, his daughter Florence and his son, modern Afro-Caribbean artist Jean-Jacques Stephen Alexis (AKA: JanJak II).