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Sudhir Hazareesingh longlist author interview

5 October 2020

Sudhir Hazareesingh, author of Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Lourverture, speaks on the significance of Toussaint Lourverture's legacy. 

What does it feel like to be longlisted?
I am truly over the moon! It is a great privilege to be on the longlist of the most distinguished British non-fiction book award, and I had not even dreamt of this being possible. I am so pleased that Black Spartacus has received this accolade, especially when I see the twelve other wonderful books which have been longlisted. It is an honour to be in such illustrious company.

What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
The Black Jacobins by CLR James: the writing has a searing, mesmerising quality and it marvelously captures the energy and power of the Haitian revolution, and Toussaint Louverture’s remarkable leadership. I first read it in the 1980s and it was a book which decisively shaped my sense of self, and my interest in the study of revolutionary and progressive politics. Since that time I have met so many people, from across at least three generations, who felt the same way about this book.

How did you conduct your research?  
This was a book which took me back to the archives. The bulk of Toussaint Louverture’s papers are in France, so I spent many blissful months at Aix-en-Provence (in the French colonial archives) and Paris (at the Archives Nationales and the Bibliothèque Nationale). There were also important primary sources I found in archives and libraries in the United States, Spain, and Britain (the National Archives at Kew). There were no archives on Toussaint in Haïti but I spent some time there to establish a sense of connection with the places I was writing about, and to appreciate the Haitian people’s ongoing admiration for Toussaint and the other founding fathers of the Haitian state.

For people who are unfamiliar with Toussaint Louverture, if there’s one significant element of his life that they should take away from this book, what would it be? 
He literally forged a nation, building it around his republican army of former slaves, the majority of whom were born in Africa and came from different nations with their own specific languages, customs and traditions. Out of this diverse community, and within a matter of a few years, he created a political ensemble united by a common aspiration for freedom, equality and brotherhood.

What are you working on next?  
Toussaint was a big book so I am still thinking about the next project. But I am very tempted to stay with the history of French colonialism – it is such a fascinating and complex story, and I would like further to explore the ways in which this encounter was experienced by colonised peoples from different parts of the world, and in particular how it inspired creative forms of anti-colonial resistance.