Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 16:27 UK

Caribbean poet Cesaire dies at 94

Aime Cesaire
Cesaire served as mayor of Fort-de-France from 1945-2001

Poet and political activist Aime Cesaire has died in Martinique aged 94.

Born on the French Caribbean island in 1913, he became famous for promoting black consciousness and challenging the political establishment.

Cesaire was partly responsible for coining the word "negritude", a term affirming pride in black identity.

His poetry and plays, including a black adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, are regularly performed and studied in France.

Cesaire was educated in Paris, where he co-founded a literary review called The Black Student, along with Leopold Senghor, who went on to become Senegal's first president.


His early poetry included Return To My Native Land, a work about the ambiguities of Caribbean life and culture, and often verged on the surreal.

He embodied the fight for the recognition of his identity and the richness of his African roots
Nicolas Sarkozy

When asked to define the meaning of negritude, Cesaire said it was "the affirmation that one is black and proud of it".

He described himself as "negro, negro from the bottom of the sky immemorial".

He returned to Martinique at the end of World War II where he continued to write, and embarked upon a political career.

Cesaire became a member of the French National Assembly and served as mayor of Martinique's main town, Fort-de-France, from 1945 until his retirement in 2001.

In 2006, he initially refused to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was the interior minister at the time, until a law to emphasise the positive nature of French colonialism was repealed.

Paying tribute to him today, Mr Sarkozy described the writer as a great humanist.

"As a free and independent spirit, throughout his whole life he embodied the fight for the recognition of his identity and the richness of his African roots," he said.

His best-known works include "Discourse on Colonialism" published in 1950, and an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

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