Chapo Ba: Félix Morisseau-Leroy, Playwright, Poet and Novelist (1912-1998) – Kreyolicious.com

Chapo Ba: Félix Morisseau-Leroy, Playwright, Poet and Novelist (1912-1998) Written by  Kat with  5 Comments As reported in the Miami Herald archives, on May 26, 1985, a group of theater actors based in Miami, calling themselves Twoup Teyat Dayiti performed Wa Creon, Félix Morisseau-Leroy’s Creole adaptation of the legendary story of King Creon. The adapted play had been written 14 years […]

Chapo Ba: Félix Morisseau-Leroy, Playwright, Poet and Novelist (1912-1998)

Written by  Kat with  5 Comments


As reported in the Miami Herald archives, on May 26, 1985, a group of theater actors based in Miami, calling themselves Twoup Teyat Dayiti performed Wa Creon, Félix Morisseau-Leroy’s Creole adaptation of the legendary story of King Creon. The adapted play had been written 14 years before, while Morisseau-Leroy was an exile and Senegal and it was the first time it was being performed anywhere in the world. But it wasn’t just a language adaptation. It was a cultural adaptation, as the poet-playwright sprinkled cultural Haitian norms throughout the play, and customized it to reflect Haitian history, changing the setting from ancient Greece to modern Haiti.

According to Ile-en-Ile, Morisseau-Leroy was born in the little town of Grand-Gosier, Haiti on March 13, 1912, and spent the majority of his early years in Jacmel. Like Frank Etienne, Félix Morisseau-Leroy emphasized the importance of writing in Creole (although he did publish a great of his literary works in French, staring with his first book Plénitudes in 1939). In 1946, Morisseau-Leroy became part of an elite intellectual group called Les Cinques 5 Glorieuses de 1946 (Five Glorious Ones of 1946)—along with Carl Brouard, <a href=”http://kreyolicious.com/chapo-ba-jacques-roumain-writer/1326/”>Jacques Roumain, Gérard Bloncourt, Jean-François Brière, and Pierre-Thoby Marcelin—called such because of their nationalistic stance. The year 1953 marked his first major triumph, the release of Antigone en Creole, the Creole version of the Sophocles play. The play’s acclaim went beyond the shores of Haiti, so much so that Morisseau-Leroy was invited to stage it in Paris.

One of his most famous poems was “Boat People”, treated the stigma of Haitians being viewed as a people of flight; another poem “Tourist” chided poverty porn lovers. Here is the poem, as translated by Jack Hirshman from Haitian Creole:

Tourist, don’t take my picture
Don’t take my picture, tourist
I’m too ugly
Too dirty
Too skinny
Don’t take my picture, white man
Mr. Eastman won’t be happy
I’m too ugly
Your camera will break
I’m too dirty
Too black
Whites like you won’t be content
I’m too ugly
I’m gonna crack your Kodak
Don’t take my picture, tourist
Leave me be, white man
Don’t take a picture of my burro
My burro’s load’s too heavy
And he’s too small
And he has no food here
Don’t take a picture of my animal
Tourist, don’t take a picture of the house
My house is of straw
Don’t take a picture of my hut
My hut’s made of earth
The house already smashed up
Go shoot a picture of the Palace
Or the Bicentennial grounds
Don’t take a picture of my garden
I have no plow
No truck
No tractor
Don’t take a picture of my tree
Tourist, I’m barefoot
My clothes are torn as well
Poor people don’t look at whites
But look at my hair, tourist
Your Kodak’s not used to my color
Your barber’s not used to my hair
Tourist, don’t take my picture
You don’t understand my position
You don’t understand anything
About my business, tourist
“Gimme fie cents”
And then, be on your way, tourist.

Another work highly praised and recognized by critics was the poetry anthology Diacoute/Djakout, which he would later publish several volumes of. Although known primarily for his poetry, the literary great published several novels, among them Les Djons d’Haiti Tom, published in 1991.

In the 60s, he was escorted to the airport to exile in Africa, at the behest of his former classmate and then-current president François Duvalier. After teaching drama and literature in Nigeria, and at the National School of the Ans in Accra Ghana, and teaching in Senegal, Morisseau-Leroy moved to Miami. In the mid-1980s, he was among the throngs of former exiles who returned to Haiti after the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Years later, the authors Gordon Collier and Ulrich Fleischmann would sum up his career as a writer, this way: “The literary contribution of Felix Morisseau-Leroy served to symbolize, defend and illustrate the range and flexibility of Haitian Creole.”

On September 5, 1998, the poet-playwright not to mention lawyer-dramatist breathed his last breath. Today a street in Little Haiti in Miami is named after him, and he is widely recognized as one of Haiti’s biggest champions of the Creole language in and outside of Haiti. You can forever refer to him as Félix Morisseau-Leroy, but he would have preferred Feliks Moriso-Lewa.

Sepia photo: CIDHICA

Source: Chapo Ba: Félix Morisseau-Leroy, Playwright, Poet and Novelist (1912-1998) – Kreyolicious.com

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