‘On January 12, 2010,’ wrote the Haitian novelist, poet, and essayist Kettly Mars, in an opinion piece for The New York Times, ‘a high-magnitude telluric wave twisted the ground under our feet. In just thirty five seconds about 300,000 people lost their lives and more than one million souls in three cities became homeless. How eerie the huge cloud of dust rising in the dying day over Port-au-Prince, and spreading up to this suburb of the capital. How unreal the sound of car alarms blasting under the building debris.’
This was not the first time that this vibrant and prolific writer managed to capture the detailed essence of her country and its people. For the past twenty years, through her extraordinary poems, short stories, novels, and essays, Kettly Mars has managed to put into words the deepest and most profound aspects of Haiti’s joys and suffering, its lyricism, and eroticism, narrating the daily lives and history of her country women and men in a language that is as lush as it is precise and as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking.
Ms Mars is a singularly gifted writer, who with each new work delves more profoundly into themes that are both timely and essential. Her work displays remarkable craft and attention to detail and is a hybrid of styles (to borrow from the title of one of her books) as well as highly original. Whether in a popular series in the most read section of the local newspaper or in a historical novel that depicts one of the most horrifying moments of Haiti’s decades-long dictatorship, Ms Mars always writes as though she is writing for her life, and ours too. Her work is also full of the kind of humour that has allowed Haitians to survive and thrive in the face of unspeakable tragedies and horrors, each word carefully rendered with a poet’s eye, an observer’s skill, and a witness’ burden.
In a country that is better known for its miseries than its triumphs, Ms Mars is one of the shining stars in a generation of authors who have dodged predictability and exceeded boundaries, deftly chronicling Haiti’s beauty and struggles while creating one of the world’s most exciting and engaging literatures inside the country’s borders and beyond.
Photograph by Georges Seguin