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Biography of Léopold SéDAR SENGHOR

Senegal > Literature : Léopold SéDAR SENGHOR

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Born on 09/10/1906 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Léopold Sédar Senghor (October 9,1906 -December 20, 2001), was a  Senegalese statesman and first president  of  Senegal (1960-1980). He became a teacher, writer, and politician, a member of the French Constituent Assembly in 1945, deputy for Senegal in the French National Assembly (1948–58), and president following his country's independence. He also won several literary awards as a poet, and was the first black African to join the French literary institute, the Academie Francaise in 1983.
Leopold Sedar Senghor was not only president of the Republic of Senegal,  he was s also Africa's most famous poet. A cofounder of the Negritude cultural movement, he is recognized as one of the most significant figures in African literature.

Senghor was born in the predominantly Islamic province of Joal (Senegal), was raised as a Roman catholic.
The son of a prosperous landowner, Senghor was extraordinarily gifted in literature and won a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne in Paris (grad. 1935). There he met fellow writers such as Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas, with whom he formulated the concept of négritude, which asserted the importance of their African heritage . He became a French teacher, served in an all-African unit of the French army in World War II, and after the war represented Senegal (1945–58) in the French legislature. He then held a series of offices in Senegal and became one of the founders of the African Regroupement party. Senghor was president of the legislative assembly in the Mali Federation (1959) and, when Senegal withdrew from the federation (1960), he became president of the newly formed Republic of Senegal.

Senghor continued to work for African unity, and, in 1974, Senegal joined six other nations in the West African Economic Community. He was reelected president in 1963, 1968, and 1973, remaining in office until his retirement in 1980. He lived in Normandy (France) for most of the rest of his life. A distinguished intellectual and champion of African culture, he wrote numerous volumes of poetry and essays in French, including Chants d'Ombre (1945), written while he was interned in a Nazi prison camp; Hosties noires (1948); Chants pour Naëtt (1949); and Éthiopiques (1956). At the head of his many poems, Senghor indicates the musical instruments that should accompany them, illustrating his belief that the poems should become songs to be complete.

Achieving major success as a poet, politician, and intellectual, Leopold Senghor has had a truly unique identity among African leaders. His development from tribal member in Senegal, to scholar in France, to head of the government back in Senegal made him a symbol of Africa's shift from colonial domination to self- determination.
Senghor was one of the architects of the philosophy of negritude, a movement established in France to raise black consciousness. He was the first black African to receive the equivalent of the American Ph.D. degree in France, as well as the first black African to be elected to the French Academy. As a poet, he generated a body of work that led to his nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Senghor's poetry often reflected his problems of dual consciousness resulting from his upbringing in Senegal and education in France. In his review of Senghor's The Collected Poetry in the Washington Post, K. Anthony Appiah wrote, "By themselves these poems would justify giving Senghor a place in the history of our times."

Along with maintaining dual identities as an African and Frenchman, Senghor has remained active as both a poet and a politician during his long career. Janet G. Vaillant summed up Senghor's life in Black, French, and African: A Life of Leopold Sedar Senghor: "Just as he [Senghor] refused to choose between his talents as poet and politician, sensing that each added depth to the other, so, too, he refused to choose between his two homelands, France and Africa. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, their darkness and their light, and he loved them both.

Senghor received several international awards as a writer and a major African political opinion leader, among others Dag Hammarskjöld Prize (1965), Peace Prize of German Book Trade, Haile Sellassie African Research Prize (1973, Apollinaire Prize for Poetry (1974). He was appointed in 1969 member of Inst. Français, Acad. des Sciences morales et politiques.

    Femme nue, femme noire
    Vétue de ta couleur qui est vie, de ta forme qui est beauté
    J'ai grandi à ton ombre; la douceur de tes mains bandait mes yeux
    Et voilà qu'au coeur de l'Eté et de Midi,
    Je te découvre, Terre promise, du haut d'un haut col calciné
    Et ta beauté me foudroie en plein coeur, comme l'éclair d'un aigle

    Naked woman, black woman
    Clothed in your colour which is life, and your form which is beauty
    I grew into your shadow; the sweetness of your hands bandaged my eyes
    And there you are in the heart of Summer and Midday,
    I discover you, Promised Land, from the top of a scorched high pass**
    And your beauty strikes me in plain heart, like an eagle's lightning

Last update : 06/23/2008

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