V is for Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916–1973)

Marie Vieux-Chauvet was a Haitian playwright, poet and novelist, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1916. Vieux-Chauvet started to write plays at the early age of twelve and would convince friends to play the different parts, as her sister Lilian explains in the short documentary “Marie Vieux Chauvet, The Person and the Writer” (2001), produced by the Haitian Cultural Institute in New York (link below). She received a teaching certificate from the Annexe de l’Ecole normale d’institutrices, which trained elementary school teachers, when she was sixteen years old. After completing her studies, Chauvet married a doctor in Haiti and they had three children. She’d marry again before her exile to New York City. The three decades in Haiti, before her departure, were very prolific. Her first play, ‘La Légende des Fleurs’ was published in 1946, and was followed by ‘Samba’ (1948). 

She was actively involved in Haiti’s literary circles, as a member of the literary group ‘Haïti Littéraire’ and later with the collective ‘les araignées du soir’ (The Spiders of the Night). She wrote fiercely against the oppression that marked the Duvalier regime, during the regime of dictator Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier (1957-1971).

Vieux-Chauvet is probably best known, particularly in the Anglophone context, for her trilogy of novellas ‘Amour, colère et folie’, which were originally published in 1968 by the French publisher Gallimard with the support of Simone de Beauvoir with whom she kept a friendship and correspondence for years. However, Vieux-Chauvet asked Gallimard to withdraw the novel, fearing the uproar and consequences it would likely cause in Haiti where various family members had already died, victims of Duvalier’s dictatorship. The fear of persecution in Haiti led Vieux-Chauvet to emigrate to New York City in 

She was the daughter of Vincent Vieux, a Haitian senator, and Delia Nones, a Jewish emigrée from the Virgin Islands.

In her introduction to the English translation of the trilogy LoveAngerMadness, Edwidge Danticat highlights the significant critical acclaim and discussion generated on Vieux-Chauvet’s work and legacy. Recent scholarship has aimed to foreground the vital role that Marie Vieux-Chauvet played in the development of Haitian literature. One of these efforts is embodied in a special issue on the author published in Yale French Studies and edited by Kaiama Glover and Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken. In the issue’s preface, Glover and Benedicty-Kokken point to a critical flourishing in Haitian studies on the work of Vieux-Chauvet in the last twenty years, largely due to the work of feminist scholars who “have taken up the task of establishing Chauvet’s importance, offering sophisticated articulations of the challenges Chauvet’s writings present to Haiti’s profoundly masculinist national narrative.” (1-2). Vieux-Chauvet has been awarded the 1954 Prix de l’Alliance Française for her novel ‘Fille d’Haïti’; the 1960 Prix France-Antilles for ‘Fonds des Nègres’ and posthumously, the 1986 Prix Deschamps for Amour, Colère et Folie. 

Marie Vieux-Chauvet died in New York in 1973. 

Marta Fernández Campa

More about the author

Vieux-Chauvet’s Wikipedia biography highlights her literary awards.

Vieux- Chauvet’s sister and niece reflect on her life and career in this video.

Victoria Zhuang’s review of Kaiama L. Glover’s translation of Vieux-Chauvet’s Dance on the Volcano by Marie.

A reference list of articles about Vieux-Chauvet on the Mixed Race Studies website.

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