Jacob Siefring at The Quarterly Conversation:
As a writer-statesman, Aimé Césaire belongs in a small category of twentieth-century writers that includes Léopold Sedhar Senghor, Václav Havel, Winston Churchill, and probably a dozen others. This remarkable man from Martinique, who died in 2008 at age ninety-five and was the author of a score of plays, essays, and volumes of poetry, served for an astonishing fifty-six consecutive years as mayor of Fort-de-France and deputy to the French National Assembly. Perhaps because his contribution bridged literary and political domains, Césaire’s mark on the ideological climate of France’s former colonial empire remains quite palpable today. Students coming of age across the francophone world learn his name and read his oft-anthologized verses.
It was in the years immediately following the Second World War that Césaire began to emerge as a major voice in French poetry. When his “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” (“Notebook of a Return to the Native Land”) was published in France in 1939, it brought no great acclaim to the author; but in 1947 Bretano’s and Bordas reprinted it in New York and Paris, fronted by a new introduction from André Breton. The previous year, France’s premier literary publisher, Gallimard, had published the poetry collection Les Armes miraculeuses (The Miraculous Weapons). The year 1948 saw Solar Throat Slashed (Soleil cou coupé) brought out in a limited press run by a small avant-garde publisher.