[Photo: Allison Shelley via]
Chapo Ba…in which we write about someone who has had great impact on Haitian Culture.
Writing about the writer Frank Etienne in her book Frankétienne and Rewriting: A Work in Progress, Rachel Douglas sums him up rather appropriately, “Franketienne is the Renaissance Man of contemporary Haitian culture. At once, he is recognized as one of Haiti’s leading writers in both French and Creole, and also one of its most prominent visual artists”.
His beginnings weren’t too promising—on the surface at least. Born on April 12, 1936 to a 16-year old mother in the Artibonite region of Haiti, who had been raped by an American railroad executive, Etienne (he adopted the one-name moniker later on in life), was raised by a stepfather in Bel-Air.
After a stint as a diplomat, Etienne founded a school in 1960 and ran it over the course of three decades. His first published work was Au Fil du temps, a collection of poetry. Although he had published several short story collections along with some poems, his 1975 apocalyptic novel Dézafi is considered one of his best works. The book’s cultural significance lies in that it is the first complete work written in modern Haitian Creole.
In 1978, his play Pelin Tèt, about the lives of two restless and belaguered Haitian immigrants in New York was published, and was widely acclaimed by the Haitian exile community.
Now in his late 70s, Franketienne continues to write. And paint. His paintings have been exhibited on practically all the corners of the earth, from Berlin, Tokyo, Los Angeles to Port-au-Prince.
Franketienne has clearly earned the reputation as Haiti’s foremost novelist, and a working advocate of the Creole language. His literary honors include the receipt of the Medalla de Honor Presidencial Centenario Pablo Neruda, among other accolades.