Reading time: Less than 6 minutes.
–> Lire la version française de cet article
A few weeks ago, I was in the mood for a little treat, so I found myself in a bookstore looking for a book that I could read with interest.. In particular, I was thinking of acquiring Le Triangle et l’Hexagone: Réflexions sur une identité noire by Maboula Soumahoro, but the bookstore didn’t have it (this sentence is clearly a not-so-subtle suggestion of what was missing from the shelves. It didn’t have, either, Le Dérangeur: petit lexique en voie de décolonisation by Collectif Piment). So I looked for another title in the same section and I found a little gem that I’m talking about today: Des vies de combat – Femmes, noires et libres [Lives of struggle – Women, black and free] by Audrey Célestine, associate professor.
Lives of struggle – Women, black and free
The book is divided into several periods from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day: living free at the end of the nineteenth century-1960, proclaiming « Black is beautiful » 1960-1980, giving voice 1980-2000, assigned… No More 2000s… For each period, it consists of portraits written in a fluid style. The portraits trace some elements of life and particularly the different forms of the fights for freedom, equality, respect and dignity… of black and free women, of various backgrounds and profiles: actresses, singers, writers, political activists, scientists, sportswomen…
I was familiar with some of them, especially the authors who left influential works in my eyes as a historian: Zora Neale Hurston, whose anthropological work led her to write Barracoon, The Story of the Last « Black Cargo », Simone Schwarz-Bart whom I mention on the blog for La mulâtresse Solitude, and whose Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle remains [translated under the English title of The Bridge of Beyond] among my favorite novels, Gisèle Pineau and her half-autobiographical story Mes quatre femmes [My Four Wives], or Toni Morisson for the masterful Beloved.
Among the recent artists, there is the singer Casey, whom I have been very fond of (that’s an understatement) since I first heard Chez moi, and the choreographer Bintou Dembélé, whom I discovered through her great work on Les Indes Galantes. In addition to their artistic productions, I invite you to search and listen to interviews with these two great people.
The book presents relatively well known personalities such as Harriet Tubman with whom it begins, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Christiane Taubira or Assa Traoré with whom it ends. Other personalities are less familiar, such as Claudia Jones, Antonia Pantoja or Darling Légitimus. I discovered names and their struggles that were not well known and, at other times, I discovered elements of a life that I did not know or knew little about. In any case, it was a read that took me through several emotional states, as I believe the writing of this post reflects, including anger for all that these women had to endure in their lives, but also a sense of esteem at their accomplishments. These portraits ultimately left me feeling energized and excited to continue my own struggles.
And you, have you read Des vies de combat by Audrey Celestine? If there was a volume 2, which other black and free women would you have liked to read about?
- Audrey Célestine, Des vies de combat — Femmes, noires et libres, Paris, L’Iconoclaste, 2020, 366 pp.