March 30, 2010 When Madison Smartt Bell was researching his trilogy of novels about the struggle for Haitian independence, it took him ten years to find the materials he needed—and not because Google didn’t yet exist. “At the time that I got my first glimpse of it, the Haitian Library of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit had recently been unearthed from the hiding place it had occupied during the Duvalier regime,” he writes in an article in The Huffington Post. “The Spiritain fathers were prominent in the liberation theology movement, whose democratic activism made them enemies of the dictatorial state. Duvalier expelled them from Haiti in the sixties; the library was boxed, and effectively buried.”
Finding the long-hidden library was such an emotional experience, he writes, “Getting into it was like entering the presence of the Holy Grail for me; in fact I had to sit down a few minutes so I wouldn’t faint.”
Today, the Haitian Library of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit is again in peril, this time from the predations of the rainy season. Read why books don’t do well in boxes in Haiti, and how you can help preserve it, here. And be sure to come back to Chapter 16 on April 15 to read Maria Browning’s interview with Madison Smartt Bell, who will be in Nashville that day to speak about Haitian art at the LeQuire Gallery. Details in events.