Interesting sources of information.
It’s the bane of the curious searching for interesting literary pieces of our culture to be stumped by the dearth of readily available copies. The usual sources such as Amazon, offer a limited offering and even then, the prices can be astronomical. The more removed the date of publication, the more difficult the search. The problem rests on the fact that publishing houses in Haiti always make limited printing and unlike other countries’ publishing industry, ours stays away from the digital world by and large. Once an edition is sold out, it becomes simply out of circulation and unless another limited printing takes place, then one is out of luck.
Fortunately, good sleuthing has allowed the discovery of quite a few places where some pearls can be found. Although this will concentrate on Haitian literary works, these sources constitute good go-to places for American or French books, unless indicated otherwise. The assumption is that the bulk of the search will take place from remote. Of course, old-fashioned trip to a local library and asking for help from a librarian is an option never to ignore and discount. Nonetheless the fact remains that after-hours perusal and library schedules don’t always match. Therefore, remote search becomes a more common means of trying to find publications. There are numerous options, some not as reliable as others, the pickings ranging from slim to abundant, the conditions from liberal to restrictive.
All the same, a trip down this lane can be very rewarding, uncorking some nice historical pieces tucked away, waiting to be discovered, the equivalent of a previously tilled land with bursting pent-up desire for good harvesting.
A good starting point is the NY Public Library, nypl.org. Yes indeed, it has a major presence online and lately it has adopted the policy of giving access to books forbidden by other states who object to the idea of critical thinking and equating it with “cancel culture” a code word to banish woke iterations, a nonstarter in our hyperpolarized world. The website holds a trove of books. Of course, any NY City resident is entitled to peruse and or borrow any holding, either online or in person. However, for others, it’s restricted but doable. Their famous collections, Schomburg and County Cullen hold elaborate documents redolent of black culture and can be accessed by visiting digitalcollections.nypl.org. As a matter of fact, “Negro Anthology,” by Nancy Cunard, cited in my analysis of Jacques Roumain’s poetry (Newsletter volume 310, April 25, 2022), a rare book and very expensive one if available, is available for a free download on that site. While perusing it recently, I discovered a very rare book, a true plum of a find. Written by Toussaint’s son, Isaac Louverture, titled, “L’Haïtiade.” It was published in Paris in 1827. Few of us are aware of its existence. Further research led me to discover that it was also published in Haiti later on. There is one edition by L’Imprimerie de l’État in 1945 with a preface by Jean F. Briere. It’s available only at the University of Florida Smathers Collection of Latin America. This brings another matter to the fore. When embarking on a book search, there is no telling where this will lead.
Instead of going to a particular library, an option is to go to the World Catalog, worldcat.org, a database that holds information about any book published and its availability at a library based on one’s location. When I did a search of “L’Haïtiade,” on that site, it became obvious that other editions exist, including the one referred to above with the preface by Briere.
A similar but distinct other site that maintains a robust database on digital publications and their availability is Hathitrust, catalog.hathiturst.org. To further illustrate the benefit of such a query, when I type the title of the book on that site, it opens other possibilities and another pearl was there for the asking, “Dictionnaire de Bibliographie Haïtienne,” by Max Bissainthe, published in 1951. It chronicles every book published in Haiti or abroad by a Haitian author from 1804 to 1951. One can read the book online and download a few pages at a time. Unless a request comes from a librarian at a university (or a public library), only a few pages are allowed for download. A rare but arguably best biography, as per many, written on Toussaint Louverture by Horace Pauléus Sannon, a 3-volume set can be read at its website. Same restriction applies on downloading it.
Google docs, docs.google.com, in a bind can offer some works but the quality of the print is wanting at times and the available book is not necessarily free. A good example is Thomas Madiou’s renowned 8 volume publication on Haitian history. Some of them are available on Goggle docs but the reading is difficult because the print is hard to read. Incidentally, the one place to obtain the 8-volume set is CIDHICA in Montréal, Canada, cidhica.org. It contains a vast array of collectibles on our culture, including of course books, articles, videos, pictures and documents.
However, no place rivals the site at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi that has a special section, “Études haïtiennes,” that holds a lot of books that we all ought to have (livres de chevet) for a free download. For example, most of the works of Price-Mars, including his famous masterpiece, “Ainsi parla l’oncle,” are there for free download. “Compère général Soleil,” “Gouverneurs de la Rosée,” and so on are all available. The way to reach the section is to type under “Les auteurs classiques,” the name of a famous Haitian author, like Firmin, and in alphabetical order, a whole list opens up. His magnum opus, “De l’Égalité des Races,” is there for the taking, free of charge. This is a remarkable project where Haitian students do the digitization. We should support this effort by giving a donation. The site, classiques.uqac.ca, is well filled with some interesting findings. “Le Code Noir,” promulgated under Louis XIV is available. Knowledge of its existence is a must for the learned and its possession a necessity for the intellectually curious, lest we accept at face value the denial by a nincompoop, arrogant, revisionist, like Marine Le Pen that France was never involved in such heinous practice in history. The system of a “pass” under apartheid South Africa pales in comparison to the clearly delineated and extensive prohibitions advocated by such a policy, under “Le Code Noir.” I very strongly recommend this site because it offers a very large choice of works.
We may be familiar with the Gutenberg project, gutenberg.org that makes a number of books available online for downloading, in several languages, but few Haitian authors (if any) would be found there. It’s a good site to find free books of famous Caucasian authors primarily.
Disparate libraries in a worldwide nexus participate under the umbrella of archive.org, to share an extensive collection of books, music, software, movies. A search there for Sannon comes up dry while it does have some of Madiou’s books.
Amazon does have an extensive collection of free books, but not many from our side of the globe.
An eclectic site is île-en-île.org. It works primarily to give bio information about authors and some excerpts of their works. Although it follows the format of Wikipedia, the writing is more academic and culled from writers. Sometimes, it’s the only place where that kind of information on a given author can be found online, especially from our background. It provides extensive data about French-speaking authors from the third world in the geographic distribution of the Caribbean, Indian and Pacific Ocean islands where French is spoken. Not to be outdone, the Digital Library of the Caribbean, dloc.com, maintained by the University of Florida at Gainesville Smathers Latin America Collections offers quite a bit of works by Caribbean authors.
To make one’s search more comprehensive, the world’s premier public library, The Library of Congress, loc.gov, sits atop a perch of resources. It holds literary works of all kinds, visual, written, aural forms spanning centuries. Its counterpart in France, French National Library, gallica.bnf.fr holds its own and retains tons of important documents about the colonial era, some of them unearthed yet waiting for discovery and or dissemination.
What is obvious is that no one site provides everything. One good example is that gallica offers two books by Sannon not found at any of the other sites and vice versa. A search is as exhaustive as the number of hits one is willing and able to make; it’s always a work in progress.
If one wants to be more academically inclined and pursue matters further, JSTOR, jstor.org, offers a combination of “scholarship and primary sources” as it describes on the website. As a segue, if one were to search Horace Pauléus Sannon on this site, a bevy of articles come up including some by him and many others by authors who leaned on his work. This helps to expand one’s scope in doing research.
Proquest, proquest.com, is more of a specialized service to schools and libraries that serve as repository of millions of and articles and can be of use to students in helping in acquisition of books at reduced cost. One can access it to find material and obtain it via a librarian.
On the audio side, there is a little-known but remarkable site that offers 40+ years of recording of Radio Haïti shows, at Duke University Library, repository.duke.edu. Once one opens the site, type Radio Haiti and a whole list of listings appear. The prize collection is a series of audiotapes from the station from 1957 to 2003, an amazing collection. Interviews with renowned authors, artists, commentaries, documentaries are available. It’s interesting to note that a young Jean Dominique in 1957 was involved in making political ads for then candidate Déjoie and several debates around that time are part of the collection. Strange enough, then candidate Duvalier was usually silent during debates, not committing himself to saying much. An interesting part of our recent history is recorded, and one will be surprised to discover who said what and when. “Entre Nous,” a cultural show is worth browsing through. Listening to Émile Roumer decanting his verses, Émile Olivier, Roger Dorsinville expounding on the allegories of his book, “Les vèvès du créateur” and so many other cultural icons serves as an antidote to the daily litany of horror stories or gory details of harrowing acts of wanton violence of our modern days. We do have creative minds, a glorious past and we can change the paradigm and make a better tomorrow, we need to remind ourselves.
Reynald Altéma, MD.