Jason Herbeck, professor of French and chair of the Department of World Languages, recently presented at the 39th annual 20th and 21st-Century French & Francophone Studies International Colloquium. Herbeck presented on the first-ever panel devoted exclusively to the works of Haitian writer Emmelie Prophète. His talk, “À la recherche d’une nouvelle Cité des Dames? Port-au-Prince au féminin dans Les Villages de Dieu d’Emmelie Prophète (In Search of a New Book of the City of Ladies? A Female Port-au-Prince in God’s Villages by Emmelie Prophète),” examined the portrayal of the Haitian capital as described by the novel’s female protagonist who, amidst the city’s harsh living conditions and rising gang violence, begins to make a name for herself by way of her presence on social media.
According to Herbeck, in contrast to the well-known medieval text from 1405, “The Book of the City of Ladies” by Christine de Pizan, Prophète’s protagonist, Cécé, does not attempt to escape the misogynist conditions of her surroundings by building an allegorical space reserved for women. Refusing to leave her rundown, dangerous neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Cécé creates a virtual testament to her “cité” by posting pictures of everyday life there, as well as the stories and voices of those she knows, in particular women. While Prophèt’s novel does in some ways mirror Pizan’s, it goes a step further by insisting on the physical, as well as allegorical and virtual space, that women occupy—and will continue to occupy—in contemporary Haitian society, Herbeck said.