By Asah Whalen
The Farrell room was packed with an even mix of students and faculty awaiting a lecture by Haitian novelist Kettly Mars last week. Fresh from a flight from Haiti, Mars, with her salt and pepper hair in a bun, approached the table smiling. “I’ll read this lecture in English but I will likely use google translate during the question session,” she joked.
Mars was born in Haiti and has written several novels, most of which are in French. Savage Seasons, her most recent book, and her debut in English, is about a newspaper editor who was arrested during Haiti’s dictatorship in the 60s. Although fiction, her books, as well as much of her lecture, focus on life after the Haitian dictatorship and the current problems that plague Haiti and it’s literary culture.
Despite Haiti being the poorest country in the western Hemisphere, the people of Haiti value literature, Mars said. “In a country where only 45 percent of adults are literate, the writing is world renowned.” The audience gasped when they were told about the literacy rate.
Mars’ informed the audience that Haitian writers face struggles that perpetuate societal problems. “As Haitian writers leave, society feels a great pain from their loss,” Mars said.
From 1957-1986 Haiti was run by a dictatorship with François Duvalier “Papa Doc” at the helm. Ruling Haiti with an iron fist, Duvalier and his sons were responsible for the deaths of between 40,000-60,000 Haitians during his reign. The regime eventually was overthrown and the new government created still stands.
According to Mars, Haiti’s interactions with the international community could be characterized as one sided towards the West and to the chagrin of the Haitian people. “We need more serenity, and more respect. There is no respect between west and Haiti.”
“Haiti doesn’t need to have western democracy imposed on it,” said a man in the audience, also from Haiti. He said that the west’s past relationship with Haiti contributed to its current state and the west heavily exploited Haiti for years. Mars responded by saying that Haiti needs to root out the corruption in their government and truly speak for the people.
Haiti is on the list of least developed countries on earth according to the United Nations. Most recently Hurricane Matthew,exacerbated a previously uncontrolled cholera outbreak. Haiti received around $120 million from the UN in 2016.
“It was interesting to see how the history of Haiti impacts the literature and culture,” said Owen Marks ‘19, who attended the event.