Michele Jessica Fievre: INNERview

VoicesfromHaiti celebrates the Creative Spirit of Michele Jessica Fievre, a beloved author who published her first book when she was barely a teenager. Since then, Fievre has contributed many more works to the canon of Haitian and Caribbean Literature. Her work can be found in magazines and anthologies. One of her darkest tales was featured in the Danticat-edited Haiti Noir–part of Akashic Book’s wildly popular Noir series. If you have not read Fievre’s story in Haiti Noir, find yourself a copy. If you were hoping it would come out in French, your wish may come true sooner rather than later. In the meantime, have a glimpse into the life of this amazing artist. Get to know the woman behind the words.

VoicesfromHaiti:  Where were you born?
Michele Jessica Fievre: I was born in Port-au-Prince. At the time, my family lived in the mountains of Fermathe. Think gigantic trees with dangling vines and ridged roots intersecting in haphazard connections. Think waterfalls, horseback riding, griyo and bannan peze.
We later moved to Christ-Roi. This is where I learned to ride my first bike. So many hours spent sailing down the street in careless whooshing speed, my legs speckled with nuggets of red mud.

VoicesfromHaiti: What is your earliest memory?
Michele Jessica Fievre: My earliest memory is not really a “memory” but the story behind my name, which has been narrated to me so many times that I can “see” it as if I’d been there.

I’m told that when my great uncle, Michel Fievre, prestigious attorney-at-law in Port-au-Prince, died in 1981, my mother awoke to the sound of water hitting my father’s back in the shower and his voice, sad and haunting, floating out of the heat and the steam. “Michel is dead,” Papa said. He stepped out of the shower and put his hand on Mother’s belly. “How are you feeling?”
“Hanging in there,” she said, slapping a mosquito off her ankle. “I’m sorry about your uncle.”

Weeks after the funeral, Michel’s daughter, Aunt Nellie, called. I imagine the sun beating down on the kitchen table through the back window. Nelly said my parents should name me after her father. “We can’t call the baby Michele,” my father said. “They’ll think I’m naming her after la première dame.”

Michele Bennet was the wife of then president Baby Doc Duvalier. She had married him the year before and their wedding, Haiti’s social event of the decade, had cost an unprecedented $3 million. Michele was famous for her cruelty and enthusiastic shopping.
“We’ll need a middle name,” Mother said. “It’ll balance things out.”

“What about Jessica?” my father asked.

Mother agreed.

VoicesfromHaiti: Share one story from your childhood that you cannot forget.
Michele Jessica Fievre: During my childhood, my mother’s exhuberant cousin Freda told me the most amazing stories about people’s names, including that my first name should always remain secret. “The devil should never know your full name,” she said. “Otherwise, it will call you at night and make you his.” I wondered if the devil knew my name. I made strange shadows on the wall, and practiced a devilish laugh. “Don’t play with your shadow,” Freda said. “It will come and kidnap you while you’re sleeping.”

I remember all of Freda’s warnings: Don’t walk around with a single shoe, otherwise you’ll be the cause of your mother’s death. Don’t comb anybody’s hair after the sun’s gone down; otherwise their memory won’t be as sharp. At dusk, if you see a huge black moth, run away from it because it brings bad news. If you’re sweeping, don’t sweep people’s feet (ask them to move) because it’s believed they won’t get married. When a child is a baby or a toddler, don’t go around constantly saying that it’s pretty because too many compliments will turn the child ugly. They call that “giving jok.”

VoicesfromHaiti:  Did you always want to be a writer?
Michele Jessica Fievre: Always.

VoicesfromHaiti: Who inspired you to do what you do?
Michele Jessica Fievre: My sister Patricia encouraged me to become a reader at a very young age. I started with the French Oui-Oui series, then switched to Fantômette, Le Club des Cinq and Le Clan des Sept. With the love of reading came the desire to write, so I’ll credit Pat for my writing career.

VoicesfromHaiti: Was there ever a time when you wished you had chosen a different career?
Michele Jessica Fievre: Happens every day. Writing is hard, particularly when you’re writing nonfiction, which I’ve been doing mostly for the past few months. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to relive your past. Also, writing turns you into a recluse. I have a limited number of friends because not everyone understands the writing life. People get offended when I turn down invitations, don’t return phone calls or leave emails unanswered. The truth is—you won’t get anything accomplished as a writer if you follow everyone else’s etiquette.

VoicesfromHaiti: If you were not a writer, what else would you do?
Michele Jessica Fievre: I wish I’d become a veterinarian. I love animals.

VoicesfromHaiti: Speaking of love: share one key moment from your love life that has had the most impact.

Michele Jessica Fievre: My husband Hector sees me for who I really am—and yet he keeps on loving me. A few months after we met, he gave me “the look.” The one that says, “You’re the one.” And he’s been looking at me that way ever since. It’s been 10 years! Now it’s going to sound like a cliché—but it’s true: his love does make me a stronger person.

VoicesfromHaiti: Has your heart even been broken?
Michele Jessica Fievre: Of course. But it’s all in the past. My heart has been effectively mended.

VoicesfromHaiti: If you could have a ‘do-over’ in a relationship, what would that be?
Michele Jessica Fievre: I’ve learned not to spend too much time thinking about what could have been. There’s only one way to move, and it’s forward.

VoicesfromHaiti: What could you share about Hector, if you would?
Michele Jessica Fievre: Ah! He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, and I love him for it.

VoicesfromHaiti: Do you have children? If so, how many?
Michele Jessica Fievre: Nope. But I do have a dog.

VoicesfromHaiti: What is one life lesson you’d like to share with the kids you know.
Michele Jessica Fievre: Never take yourself too seriously.

VoicesfromHaiti: I agree wholeheartedly, but I know there are some issues you take very seriously. Haiti, for example, is one. What does Haiti mean to you?
Michele Jessica Fievre: Haiti remains my primary source of inspiration.

VoicesfromHaiti: What role do you see Artists playing in Haiti’s Reconstruction?

Michele Jessica Fievre: Create awareness. Bring hope.

VoicesfromHaiti: Tell me something/someone you are most grateful for.
Michele Jessica Fievre: My family.

VoicesfromHaiti: What word of wisdom would you like to share with new writers and artists?

Michele Jessica Fievre: Keep your intentions pure.

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Meet author Michele Jessica Fievre, Gary Victor, Josaphar R. Large,  and other celebrated Haitian authors this Saturday (6/2/21) in Washington, DC.

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