Léon Damas

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Léon Damas

Léon-Gontran Damas (March 28, 1912 – January 22, 1978) was a French poet and politician. He was one of the founders of the Négritude movement. He also used the pseudonym Lionel Georges André Cabassou.[1]


Léon Damas was born in Cayenne, French Guiana, to Ernest Damas, a mulatto of European and African descent, and Bathilde Damas, a Métisse of Native American and African ancestry. In 1924, Damas was sent to Martinique to attend the Lycée Victor Schoelcher (a secondary school), where he would meet his lifelong friend and collaborator Aimé Césaire.

In 1929, Damas moved to Paris to continue his studies. There, he reunited with Césaire and was introduced to Leopold Senghor. In 1935, the three young men published the first issue of the literary review L'Étudiant Noir (The Black Student), which provided the foundation for what is now known as the Négritude Movement, a literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals that rejects the political, social and moral domination of the West.

In 1937, Damas published his first volume of poetry, Pigments.[2] He enlisted in the French Army during World War II, and later was elected to the French National Assembly (1948–51) as a deputy from Guiana. In the following years, Damas traveled and lectured widely in Africa, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. He also served as the contributing editor of Présence Africaine, one of the most respected journals of Black studies, and as senior adviser and UNESCO delegate for the Society of African Culture.

In 1970, Damas moved to Washington, D.C., where he taught at Georgetown University and later became a professor at Howard University, where he wrote his last collection of poems, Mine de Rien. Damas remained at Howard University until his death in January 1978. He was buried in French Guiana.



  • Pigments. Paris: Guy Lévis Mano (1937). Paris: Présence Africaine (1962).
  • Poèmes nègres sur des airs Africains. Paris: Guy Lévis Mano (1948).
  • Graffiti. Paris: Seghers (1952).
  • Black-Label. Paris: Gallimard (1956).
  • Névralgies. Paris: Présence Africaine (1966).
  • Mine de Rien. Collection of 36 poems. Washington, DC (1977), quoted in Christian Filostrat, Negritude Agonistes, Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9818939-2-1
  • La Poésie de Léon G. Damas.


  • Retour de Guyane. Paris: José Corti (1938).
  • Poètes d’expression française. Paris: Seuil (1947).
  • Poèmes Nègres sur des airs africains. Paris: G.L.M. Éditeurs (1948).


  • Veillées noires, Contes Nègres de Guyane. Paris: Stock, 1943. Montréal: Leméac (1972).


  • Poésie de la Negritude: Léon Damas Reads Selected Poems from Pigments, Graffiti, Black Label, and Nevralgies (Folkways Records, 1967)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Damas, Léon Gontran", in Donald E. Herdeck (ed), Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia, Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1979, p. 349.
  2. ^ Keith Q. Warner (1988). Critical Perspectives on Léon-Gontran Damas. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-0-914478-58-4. Retrieved 26 October 2012.

3.^Miller, E. Ethelbert. “In Memoriam: Dr. Leon Gontran Damas (1912-1978).” Callaloo, no. 2, 1978, pp. 61–61. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2930776.

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