Poetry & Theatre: A Day with Aimé Césaire (In-Person)

Join us as we illuminate Aimé Césaire’s poetry, plays, and impact through a robust discussion on Césaire’s play, The Tragedy of King Christophe, translated from the French by Paul Breslin and Rachel Ney, and directed by Lanise Antoine Shelley.

The panel includes leading Haitian artists and Aimé Césaire scholars, translators, and a cultural anthropologist with rare perspectives on the depth and complexity of Aimé Césaire.

Set in a period of uncertainty after the Haitian Revolution of 1804, the play follows the true story of Henri Christophe, a general in Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ army who declared himself King in 1811. This poetic recounting of the first King of Haiti, The House Theatre of Chicago’s North American premiere of the work, breathes new understanding into Haitian history with music and dance.

Jean Appolon (he/him) ​is the co-founder and artistic director of Jean Appolon Expressions. Appolon is a successful Haitian choreographer and master teacher based in Boston and Port-au-Prince. He received his earliest training and performance opportunities in Port-au-Prince with the Viviane Gauthier Dance Company and the Folkloric Ballet of Haiti. Appolon continued his dance education in the US at the Harvard and Radcliffe Dance Program, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Joffrey American Ballet School, where he graduated with a B.A. from a joint degree program offered by The New School. Appolon has also performed with Elma Lewis Productions (Black Nativity), Marlene Silva, North Star Ballet Company, Black Door Dance Company, and the Atlantic City Ballet Company. https://jeanappolonexpressions.org/

James Arnold (he/him) was professor of French at the University of Virginia from 1966–2007. While at the university, he launched a new book series on Caribbean and African Literature translated from French (CARAF), as well as the New World Studies series. One of two works he published in 2020, La littérature antillaise entre histoire et mémoire, 1935-1995 received a prize from the French Academy of Overseas Science. Arnold co-translated The Complete Poetry of Aimé Césaire with Clayton Eshleman; he also coordinated with the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes at the École Normale Supérieure on a genetic edition of Césaire’s literary work, published by Éditions du CNRS in Paris. He is currently translating Aimé CésaireGenèse et transformations d’une poétique (K&N, Würzburg) into English.

Paul Breslin (he/him) is Professor of English, Emeritus at Northwestern University. In addition to the critical studies The Psycho-Political Muse: American Poetry Since the 1950s and Nobody’s Nation: Reading Derek Walcott, he has published two collections of poetry: You Are Here and Between My Eye and the Light. With Rachel Ney, he has co-authored an annotated translation of Aimé Césaire’s La Tragédie du roi Christophe, and is now working on two projects: The Third Poison: A Meditation on Anger, and Fire Tree, a nearly completed third volume of poems. He lives with his wife, Jeanne Breslin, in Evanston, Illinois.

Rachel Ney (she/her) is a senior lecturer of French at Southern Methodist University, where she teaches French cinema, literature, and civilization. Her research explores the relations between history, memory, and the image to identify potential relations between France, Mexico, and the US. Her interest in intercultural matters can be found in her research on the processes of translation of Cormac McCarthy’s border novels from English into French. With Professor Breslin, they published a revised translation of Aime Césaire’s The Tragedy of King Christophe in 2015.

Dr. Reginald Dewight Patterson (he/him) is a scholar, performing artist, and cartographer, born in Frankfurt, Germany. Patterson received his Ph.D. from the Romance Studies Department at Duke; he teaches French and Haitian Creole, and speaks Italian and Spanish. With a B.M. in viola from Oberlin Conservatory, Patterson has toured and performed internationally, including in the US, Guadeloupe, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba, Italy, and Germany. Patterson completed residencies at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum and the Cité Internationale des Artistes; the Mississippi Senate, House of Representatives, and Governor have recognized Patterson for his ‘international writing and musical residency in Paris.’

Lanise Antoine Shelley (she/her) is the producing artistic director of The House, as well as a Haitian actress, director, and playwright. Shelley hosts the podcast When They Were Young: Amplifying Voices of Adoptees available on all major platforms including her website. Her acting credits include Chicago FireEmpireChicago Med, Discovery World, Macbeth HD, and Goodman Theatre’s School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play. Selected directing credits include Redbull, Paramount Theater, Rising Sun Company, 16th St, Lookingglass Theatre, Akvavit Theatre, Voices & Faces Project, DePaul University, and Stratford Shakespeare Festival. She holds an MFA from ART/MXAT at Harvard University and certificates in Classical Theatre from both BADA. Her honors included fellowships from Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Victory Gardens Theater, and the Drama League.

The Poetry Foundation’s events are completely free of charge and open to the public. This event will include live captioning and ASL interpretation. If you need any other accessibility measures, please contact us by emailing [email protected].

All guests over the age of two must wear a mask inside the Poetry Foundation building. Guests over the age of five must show proof of vaccination and booster up to the level to which they are eligible for their age group. Guests over the age of 18 must show ID alongside their proof of vaccination. If you cannot meet these requirements, you will not be granted entry to the event. All in-person events will be made available online for free at poetryfoundation.org/video. Please note that some performers may choose to perform without a mask.

These guidelines are up to date as of March 7, 2022.