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Leon Damas Biography | Poet

Leon Damas Biography. Read biographical information including facts, poetic works, awards, and the life story and history of Leon Damas. This short biogrpahy feature on Leon Damas will help you learn about one of the best famous poet poets of all-time.

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Léon-Gontran Damas was born in Cayenne, French Guiana in 1912 to a middle-class family. His father was of European and African descent and there was Amerindian and African ancestry on his mother’s side of the family. Young Damas received his primary education in Cayenne, but he later moved to Martinique and attended Lycée Schoelcher there. At Lycée (French secondary school financed by the government) he shared philosophy classes with young Aimé Césaire and the two started what would become a lifelong friendship.

From Martinque, Damas moved on to France where he sought higher education. As a young college student he pursued studies in law to please his parents, but he also satisfied his own interests by taking courses in anthropology and developing a keen fascination in radical politics. Once his parents heard of his new interests and activities, they cut him off financially and Damas was forced to take on a variety of odd jobs in order to support himself. He eventually acquired a scholarship to finance his studies.

While a student in Paris he teamed up with Cesaire and Sengalese Leopold Senghor to create the foundations for what is now known as the Negritude Movement. The trio created the literary review L’etudiant noir (The Black Student), which was the forerunner of the movement, and Damas was the first of the triumvirate to publish a volume of poetry, Pigments.

Damas served briefly in the French Army in the Second World War, and like his comrades Cesaire and Senghor, he also held political office. He served in the French assembly (1945-1951) as deputy from Guiana, but was not elected for a second term. After his stint in politics he joined the French Overseas Radio Service. Damas also worked for UNESCO, traveling and lecturing widely in Africa, the USA, Haiti and Brazil. Additionally, he served as contributing editor of Prèsence Africaine, one of the most respected journals of Black studies, and as senior adviser to the Society of African Culture.

In 1970 Damas and his wife Mrs. Marietta Campos Damas, a Brazilian, moved to Washington DC. He accepted a summer teaching position at Georgetown University and also taught at Federal City College. Damas later became a professor at Howard University and was named the Acting Director of the university’s African Studies and Research Program. Damas remained at that prestigious institution and was Professor of African Literature at Howard University at the time of his death. He died in January of 1978 and was interred in his home country, French Guiana.