The year 2024 kicks off with a momentous announcement: the mythical collection Pigments, followed by Névralgies by Léon-Gontran Damas, finds a new life in Brazil through its publication in Portuguese by Papéis Selvagens Edições, thanks to the tireless commitment of Présence Africaine Editions. Translated by Lilian Pestre de Almeida in collaboration with Antonella Emina, this edition opens a continental window into the unique universe of the poet, born in Guyana.
In poetry, much like the tapestry of life, L.-G. Damas bears witness to an exposed, intense humanity, burned by existence, amid the colonial world and its multiple oppressions. Pigments is more than a collection of poems: in 1937, when Damas first published the collection, he presented to the world a timeless work, followed in 1966 by Névralgies. Now, in this Brazilian edition, readers have the unique opportunity to delve into both books in an edition enriched by a critical afterword.
Daniel Maximin, a leading poet from Guadeloupe and a disciple of Damas, describes the unique trajectory of his mentor: “Thus, his action will continue until his death through many disparate activities that he will carry out with a mixture of ardor, dilettantism, distance, and passion, always animated by the zeal to tirelessly gather the words of beauty and revolt from the entire Black world, from the cultures of Africa and America, aspiring to embrace them all, defend them, and disseminate them, from Paris to Dakar, from Harlem to Rio, from Fort-de-France to Cayenne.” Excerpt from “Léon-Gontran Damas, eternal dark fire…”
As for the term “Negritude” itself, Senghor explicitly attributes its invention to Césaire, while the latter claims that the concept was the result of a collective creation. However, both acknowledge its first and complete realization in Damas’s collection Pigments, published in 1937. It is an invitation to a poetic journey rich in color, emotion, and reflection through the immortal pages of two literary works that continue to inspire and captivate.
In Damas’s work, poetry is akin to the free breath of jazz and literature escaping calculations and complacency in a time of multiple oppression, which notably led to its censorship in 1939 for “endangering the internal security of the [French] state.”
Bio: Léon-Gontran Damas, born in 1912 in Guyana, left an indelible mark on generations with his poetic and political commitment. In 1924, he arrived in Martinique, where he became a fellow student of Aimé Césaire, a founding partnership of the Negritude movement. Damas, though less of a theorist than his peers, lived “more Black than them,” in the words of Senghor. His poetry embodies Negritude in action, in sentiment, making the Black soul sing to the rhythm of jazz and dazzling images.
Retour de Guyane, published in 1938, was Damas’s first notable work, resulting from an investigation into his native country. However, the vehement denunciation of Guyanese elites and assimilation and colonization processes led to censorship in 1939 (the colonial administration repurchased stocks and burned them in a bonfire). Influenced by surrealism and Negro-African culture, Damas became a central figure in the Negritude movement. He joined the Resistance during World War II and later became a deputy for Guyana from 1948 to 1951.
His other major work, Black-Label, published in 1956, attests to his creative force. Damas became a consultant to UNESCO from 1964 to 1970, extending his influence as a lecturer in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. In 1970, he received the Caribbean Literary Prize for his entire body of work.
The Portuguese publication of Pigments, previously acclaimed by Robert Desnos, marks a major artistic event.
Papéis Selvagens Editora breathes new life into contemporary literary works, especially those of Hispanic-American authors. Their diverse collections, ranging from essays to theater to anthropological studies, offer a rich and varied perspective on the world of contemporary literature.
Link to the book on the Publisher’s Website: here
This post celebrates not only the universal poetry of Léon-Gontran Damas but also the lasting impact of his commitment, resonating more than ever in the realms of literature and culture. A literary exploration inviting readers to dive into the vibrant pages of Pigments and Névralgies and discover the richness of an untamed poetic voice.