Oral literature vs. History

Clashes of Cultures and Counter-Narratives in Le Livre d’Emma by Marie-Célie Agnant


This research examines oral literature as a weapon to question historical biases in postcolonial Haiti surrounding the figure of the black woman. In Le livre d’Emma (The Book of Emma), a novel published in 2004, Haitian author Marie-Célie Agnant speaks on behalf of the oppressed black women throughout colonial and contemporary times and constructs counter-narratives that reestablish their truth. This essay proposes a change of paradigm in how we consider oral traditions—from an act of remembering and filling in the gaps of written history, to an attempt at dismembering and dismantling established social structures by comparing them to colonial times and exposing how little actually changed. The protagonist in the novel is Emma, an educated Afro-Caribbean woman whose PhD theses were rejected in both Bordeaux and Montreal, and her discourse clashes against a phallocratic Eurocentric hegemony that keeps on ostracizing black women long after Haiti’s independence from France in 1804.

Corpus: Agnant, Marie-Célie. The Book of Emma. Translated by Zilpha Ellis. London, Canada: Insomniac Press, 2009.


Presented at the Rethinking Movements conference on March 24, 2017, at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs (Syracuse, NY).

PowerPoint presentation – download here

Conference program – view here