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Léon Damas lectures at the University of Connecticut

 Digital Record


  • 1972 April 11


Poet Léon Damas delivered a lecture on 4/11/1972 (2015-0002/RR135).

Biographical / Historical

Léon Damas was born in Cayenne, French Guiana. In 1924, Damas was sent to Martinique to attend the Lycée Victor Schoelcher (a secondary school), where he would meet his lifelong friend and collaborator Aimé Césaire.

In 1929, Damas moved to Paris to continue his studies. While he studied law, his diverse array of courses in other topics like anthropology, history, and literature sparked his interest in radical politics. There, he reunited with Césaire and was introduced to Leopold Senghor. In 1935, the three young men published the first issue of the literary review L'Étudiant Noir (The Black Student), which provided the foundation for what is now known as the Négritude Movement, a literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals that rejects the political, social and moral domination of the West.

In 1937, Damas published his first volume of poetry, Pigments. Pigments reflected Damas' unique literary style, using the French colonial language to break boundaries of verse, meter, and metaphor. The collection touches on topics of racism, broader issues in the Western colonial culture, and more. Through Pigments, Damas explored the internalized racism and oppression that occurred within the diaspora. Though Pigments was eventually banned by the French government as a “threat to the security of the state,” before its removal, it was translated and distributed across several countries and continents. He enlisted in the French Army during World War II, and later was elected to the French National Assembly (1948–1951) as a deputy from Guiana. In the following years, Damas traveled and lectured widely in Africa, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. He also served as the contributing editor of Présence Africaine, one of the most respected journals of Black studies, and as senior adviser and UNESCO delegate for the Society of African Culture.

In 1970 Damas and his Brazilian-born wife Marietta, moved to Washington, D.C., to take a summer teaching job at Georgetown University. During the last years of his life, he taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and served as acting director of the school’s African Studies program. He died on January 22, 1978, in Washington and was buried in Guyana.

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1 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recordings) : 1 reel, 0:49:21; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

Existence and Location of Originals

Original audio recordings reside in the University of Connecticut, Black Experience in the Arts Collection, Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US