I met Haitian writer Georges Anglade, a bear of a man with a curly gray beard, in the Arctic Circle, in Tromso, Norway in 2004. He spilled a glass of red wine on me. We were at the opening reception of International PEN’s Congress, and whether we were moving in the same or opposite directions around the hors d’oeuvres table or he was gesturing with enthusiasm with his wine glass in his hand, I no longer remember; but the flow of wine down my black suit we both remembered every time we saw each other in the years that followed. It bound us in a moment of surprise and laughter and a kind of instant friendship as if I had been christened by him.

It was easy to be friends with Georges. He was warm, thoughtful and passionate about literature and language and about Haiti.  He had come to the PEN Congress in Tromso to petition International PEN to establish a Haitian Center, which it did in 2008. Georges was the founding President.

Born in Haiti, Georges lived in Montreal, where for years he was a professor of social geography at the University of Quebec. He was also a vigorous defender of freedom of expression for writers, especially in Haiti, where he had been a political prisoner under the Duvalier regime.  He visited Haiti as often as possible and was in Port-au-Prince when the massive earthquake struck on January 12. He was at a friend’s house, along with his wife of 43 years, Mireille Neptune. Neither Georges nor Mirelle survived. It is with deep sadness that I, along with colleagues around the world, bid Georges Anglade farewell.

Georges has been described by many friends as “a force of nature,” perhaps because of his grand size, his hearty laugh and his embrace of life. The force of nature which confronted him cannot really extinguish him.  In his book Haitian Laughter, Georges wrote, “A people of laughter, they often say, justifiably astonished to see Haitians laugh in spite of their three hundred years of desperate situations; but do they know that it is precisely those three hundred years’ -wars that made them a people of lodyanseurs* [storytellers]….?”

Georges himself told these stories. The force of his life remains in his writing, in memory, and in the stories.

In an odd coincidence, the day of the earthquake, I was re-reading (as I do every decade or so) Graham Greene’s masterpiece, The Comedians, set in Haiti during the dictatorship of Popa Doc Duvalier. The novel embodies the nightmare, the passion and the love of the place. Speaking of his hotel Trianon, the narrator notes:
“I had grown to love the place, and I was glad in a way that I had found no purchaser. I believe that if I could own it for a few more years I would feel I had a home. Time was needed for a home as time was needed to turn a mistress into a wife. Even the violent death of my partner had not seriously disturbed my possessive love. I would have remarked with Frère Laurent, in the French version of Romeo and Juliet, a sentence that I had reason to remember:

Le remède au chaos
N’est pas dans ce chaos.

The remedy had been in the success…”

The world is now mobilizing to bring aid to Haiti. One can only hope that the attention and outpouring can restore and revitalize not only Haiti but the world that is for this moment at least coming together to assist.

[*lodyans are “brief, humorous stories, designates short, amusing tales at which Haitians are past masters and which are told at particular occasions (parties, evening gatherings, after a good meal…). The person who tells these lodyans is known by title of lodyanseur…”]

25 Comments

  1. Julia Malone on January 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    What a sweet appreciation for a lost friend and helpful insight into the tragedy and the possibilities of this moment for Haiti. Thanks, Julia

  2. -Susan Jones on January 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Many thanks for sharing this powerful portrait of this victim of the Haitian tragedy who also was such a champion of the country. It is encouraging to read of the level of commitment and passion this pained country has generated…. I see it in the medical staff that are based there as well. Their pain and struggles have obviously tugged on many heartstrings and hopefully this will bring this long history of suffering into the limelight for those who have been oblivious. I feel hopeful that some good will come out of this.
    -Susan Jones

  3. Moris on January 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Lovely piece on so obviously a lovely man. As the Turks say, may he
    rest in divine light.
    -Moris

  4. Gail O on January 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Beautiful but sad.  Thanks for sharing this.  I’ve passed it along.
    Gail O

  5. mkz on January 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    What a lovely and sad remembrance. Thank you for posting that.
    mkz

  6. Anne on January 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    You have our deepest sympathy on the loss of your friend and colleague, Georges Anglade.  He was, indeed, an extraordinary individual.  
    Anne

  7. Maryann on January 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    A lovely tribute, Joanne.  Haitians are, I think, close to God. 
    Maryann

  8. MBF on January 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Joanne, your memory of Georges made me laugh…what I remember most about Georges is his huge, warm voice, like that of an opera singer. He exemplified, to Canadians, a very special kind of Canadian, one who was able to live a life, like a Colossus, with his feet planted firmly in both his native and his adopted country. And one who, also like a Colossus, sang his songs of praise or outrage, to the heavens. –MBF

  9. Lucina on January 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you so much. I really will miss Georges. I also got to know Mireille in Linz and will miss her.
    – Lucina

  10. Judith T on January 20, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I’m so sorry about your friend.   It is very sad. The re are so many large and small tragedies in the world, and when one really strikes close, it reminds one how fragile are our lives.
    -Judith T

  11. Amy T. on January 20, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I just read your lovely tribute to Georges and it made me miss him too, as well as his wife with the wonderful name — as if I actually knew them. What a sad sad time it is for Haiti and how helpless I feel up here busy in our new home, as if whatever we do could not possibly be enough. 
    I’ve been enjoying your blog and I particularly admire your compassion AND passion for writers and artists worldwide. Wonderful! Keep up the good work.  
    Amy T. 

  12. Susan M on January 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss, Joanne.  This is beautiful; thanks for reminding me about The Comedians, which I will order on Kindle and reread, myself. 
    -Susan M

  13. Willee on January 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Joanne… many thanks for this…what a monumental tragedy…. so very sad.
    -Willee

  14. Med on January 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    We will miss Geoges and the energy of his thought and I am deeply saddened by the tragedy affecting the Haitian people.
    Med

  15. Ronny Stoddart on January 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

    What a touching story and how sad that Georges Anglade didn’t survive the earthquake. But something surprising did: the Hotel Oloffson, where The Comedians was set.  Just today I read a piece that said it remained intact despite the earthquake, and was being used by journalists covering the story.  It’s a grand old place, full of history and reminders of the writers who used to frequent it.  –Ronny Stoddart

  16. Eugene on January 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Sad way of feeling closer, but in a strange way I think the tragic loss of lives in Haiti, and in such a dramatic way exemplified by the death of George and his wife has resulted in just such a feeling, the feeling of belonging perhaps in a splited world. Belonging to the PEN family. The family has lost a great personality among its members!
    Thank you for your beautiful article on your blog, Joanne! The funny thing is that the episode you describe with the wine glass in Tromsø, I immediately remembered! I stood just beside you two and saw what happened.
    -Eugene Schoulgin

  17. Isobel on January 21, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Thanks for your reflections about Georges — so very sad to think that one will not see or hear him again… I have his book Haitian Laughter , and fond memories of time spent in Haiti at the book fair, and at his home enjoying the most convivial company of the PEN members hosted by Georges and Mireille. I’ve been in touch with one of those members, who seems to have escaped the worst… and I hope the PEN centre will find as passionate and able a president as Georges.
    -Isobel

  18. Esther on January 21, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Thank you for evoking Georges so beautifully. I don’t believe I met him more than twice in my life, but he made a huge impression, as I’m sure he did on everyone. 
    It brings an entirely different dimension to this disaster in Haiti. I realize that I didn’t know personally any of the victims of recent tsunamis, floods, terrorist attacks — which makes me very lucky. At the same time, having known Georges makes what’s going on in Haiti very personal. How could any of us ever have imagined that this was where his life and the country he cared about so much were heading? It is so unfathomably cruel. All we can do now is remember him — I’m  very grateful that you do and that you’re sharing the memory.
    -Esther

  19. Mary L on January 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I was so sorry to hear about your friend, Georges Anglade.  He was clearly the kind of person we need to brighten our world.  I will look up his work next time I’m at Politics and Prose and will look forward to getting to know him myself.    –Mary L

  20. Krishen Mehta on January 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I was very touched by your note  regarding your friend in Haiti. What a loss not only for his family but for all of us. By writing this beautiful note, you have brought us into his family in some respects. We can just picture Georges, and the happiness he brought to everyone.  –Krishen Mehta

  21. Elliot Figman on January 23, 2010 at 10:58 am

    So sorry to read about your loss, Joanne. And yes, if only the world could come together like this more often. It seems to take a tragedy.

  22. Richard Bray on January 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks, Joanne, for this beautiful story.
    I must now read ‘The Comedians’. – Richard

  23. C.M. Mayo on February 7, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for this lovely post. Many condolences.

  24. Augenoperation on July 4, 2010 at 9:23 pm

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  25. Audrey Dahl on January 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Even though dictators do deliver balance in many instances, it comes at a heavy cost. Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes ruled by fear. Duvalier has stolen from the Haitians, lived the high life in the south of France. At present he returns to help Haiti? I do not think so. He is in Haiti to seize the opportuntity to regain control.

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