Haitian-born writer Stanley Pean was heading back to Port au Prince for a literary festival when the earthquake hit. He speaks with anchor Jeb Sharp.
Read the Transcript
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
JEB SHARP: Stanley Pean was supposed to be in Haiti this week. Pean is a Haitian-born writer who lives in Montreal. He was getting ready to fly to Port-au-Prince to attend a literature festival when the earthquake happened. Pean stayed home. We asked him about the other writers who were planning to attend the festival.
STANLEY PEAN: Well some of them never left France or Canada because of the events with the earthquake. But we have had real bad news yesterday when we learned that one of our colleagues died crushed by his own house with his wife. I’m talking about George Onglad who used to be a teacher of geography who wrote a couple of short story collections, was an essayist. Very highly respected member of our community who died yesterday.
SHARP: Tell us a little bit more about what this festival is and why it was in Haiti.
PEAN: Well it’s basically a festival about books, literature, about films. So a lot of readings, a lot of lectures, a lot of panels with guests from all over the world, from all over la francophone, and there were people coming in from France, from Mauritius Island and people from the States and Canada of course. And we were all gathering there to celebrate Haitian culture and Haitian writing.
SHARP: The fact that Haiti was chosen as the place to locate the festival this year, did that say something about where Haiti was at before the earthquake? I mean there seems to have been quite a lot of optimism about where Haiti was going before this happened.
PEAN: Yeah that’s one of the paradox of what happened because there’s this journalist from Montreal who was saying, for once we are going to be talking about Haiti for something else than disasters or political crisis. Haitian writers are living elsewhere triumphing on the literary scene abroad. Even the Haitian writers from the homeland. So that makes it even more painful to see we were going to be celebrating.
SHARP: Stanley Pean I’d love it if you would read something that conveys something of Haiti and the essence of Haitian literature. Do you have something?
PEAN: Yeah we’ll read you a paragraph from Emile Elive. He was one of the great writers. He died a few years ago. He lived in Montreal like 30 years. And Emile was a novelist and an essayist and he was the giant of our letters. And he wrote that in a novel called [INDISCERNIBLE] which would be Mother Solitude.
[READING IN FRENCH]
I’m going to try to translate that for you and keep the flavor of his writing.
Stuck in this closed space the sweatiness of [INDISCERNIBLE] it would be necessary to go away but how to flee. There are blood stains on the Caribbean Sea. We need to go away but there is neither boat or bowing who can take us somewhere else. When the wild pigeons borrow the long road of migration the sea too often spits back their corpses.
SHARP: And tell us why you chose that particular passage?
PEAN: Well I think the idea of fleeing this devastated island, this devastated city of Port-au-Prince has been on the mind of everybody who’s suffered from the last few hours of catastrophe. You look at it as our [INDISCERNIBLE] and I know that people want out. And I think a lot of the start of the history of modern Haiti has been getting out of there because it was too difficult to live there. Getting out of course and going back because that’s the whole dynamic of Haitian life is that you want out but deep inside I know that for a fact because that’s what my father went through when he was living here in Canada. You want to go back because this is home.
SHARP: What is it like to be away from Haiti at a time like this?
PEAN: There’s a lot of bitterness and frustration and at the same time if I had been there I could not have helped much. Maybe I would have died like George did. But you see that and I was a couple of hours before my trip when we learned about the earthquake and there’s this helplessness that one feels when you look at the pictures that the television is broadcasting and it’s real bitter to feel those emotions.
SHARP: Do you feel the Haiti you knew is gone?
PEAN: Of course it’s gone because everything has fallen down and it’s very powerful images that we saw when we saw the palace and the cathedral. Two of the … . It’s like the state and the church are down. And those are the most powerful symbols from downtown Port-au-Prince you see down. The entire society is collapsing. That’s what comes to mind when you see that.
SHARP: Stanley Pean thank you very much for speaking with us.
PEAN: Thank you.
SHARP: Stanley Pean is a Haitian-born writer living in Montreal.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.