A Budding Voice: M.J.'s 1994 Interview on RFI - Haiti
In this December 1994 interview, M.J. Fievre sat down with Fritz Valesco of the program RFI - Haiti on TeleHaiti to discuss the publication of her first novel, La Feu de la Vengeance, and to discuss her views on art, youth, writing, and culture. TeleHaiti was the first cable television station in Haiti, which opened Haiti to global television programming.
Valesco, who passed away a few years ago, was an advocate for arts and culture in Haiti and is well-known on the island for his radio programs Ayiti Toma and Fèy papye listwa, Pitit Fèy. He is also known for the arts and culture program RFI - Haiti. He was born in Jacmel, Haiti in 1947 and built schools dedicated to the arts in Jacmel and other cities. He also co-created several plays with François Latour and Richard Brisson.
In the interview, M.J. discusses the importance of motivating young people, of not generalizing the youth, creating time for creativity, the importance of encouragement in fostering growth in young artists, and keeping one’s eyes open to new opportunities. M.J. continues to expand on each and every one of these themes in her subsequently published books, on her vlog, on her website, and in her daily career. As coordinator for the Miami Book Fair’s ReadCaribbean Program, M.J. continues to advocate for Caribbean art and culture, and has organized the Little Haiti Book Festival in Miami for several years.
M.J.’s appearance on the program marked the start of a promising career in writing at the age of just 16, and she exhibits an early aptitude for writing and public speaking. M.J. did attend two years of medical school after high school in Haiti, but the call of writing was too strong, and she immigrated to the United States to pursue a career in education and writing. Her books have been well-read throughout the Lesser Antilles, and globally. She continues to write and dedicate her life to motivating young people. Most recently, she is the author of the Badass Black Girl self-empowerment series of books which have won awards and are bestsellers on Amazon. The interview shows an engaged young mind with an entrepreneurial spirit, who took the initiative to bring her book to publication at a very precocious age.
Valesco, TeleHaiti Interviewer: Good evening, RFI - Haiti listeners and viewers. When it comes to cultural movements, December is rich with exhibits and publications, with numerous book signings and art shows. Among Haiti-focused books coming out this month are ones written by Jean-René Jérôme and Bernard Séjourné. There are also many national contests this month, including one organized by Texaco, calling for found art. From a cultural and artistic standpoint, we can say that December has many beautiful events in store for us. Today, we’re going to discuss a new book, Le Feu de la Vengeance (The Fire of Revenge). I haven’t yet peeked inside the novel, but I’ve been intrigued by the author’s youth and freshness. Ms. Jessica Fievre is the author of Le Feu de la Vengeance. Her book signing will take place on Friday at the National Library. Ms. Fievre’s youth is intriguing. That’s why I’m chatting with her today. Ms. Fievre, it’s a pleasure to have you on TeleHaïti.
Jessica Fievre: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Valesco.
VALESCO: Ms. Fievre, in my introduction, I mentioned your freshness, your youth. Can you tell our viewers and listeners your age, if you’re still in school, and what grade you’re in?
JF: Yes, I’m 16 years old now. I’m still in school, I attend Saint Rose of Lima. As far as activities, aside from school, I do what all kids my age do. I have fun; I watch TV; I read. I do lots of other things, too.
VALESCO: That’s great. The first question I want to ask is: Why did you set aside poetry to enter another genre of literature, the novel?
JF: The novel was really where I felt most at ease. I still write poetry, but honestly, I felt that with a novel I could express myself a lot more. I felt very free. I could tackle any subject. It felt good to work on a novel.
VALESCO: So, you stopped writing as much poetry and tried the novel?
JF: Yes, that’s it.
VALESCO: This novel that you wrote, Le Feu de la Vengeance, how did you think it up?
JF: I love anything that is suspenseful, anything that has adventure in it. I often imagine bone-chilling stories. Finally, I said to myself, “I’m going to write a book that has suspense and adventure, and a little romance, too.” So, I wrote Le Feu de la Vengeance, which is aimed at people who like those worlds—young people especially, because the characters are young, but it’s a good idea for adults to also read the book and encourage young people.
VALESCO: Young people who write?
JF: Yes, that’s right. And those interested in other cultural activities, too. When people paint, they need encouragement. All those involved in the arts—painting, singing, writing.
VALESCO: Speaking of young people, you said that buying the book would be an opportunity for adults—fathers and mothers—to support young people. Do you think that young people don’t receive enough support, enough encouragement, enough of a push?
JF: I received a lot of support for my book. My French teacher in school, Madame Yannick Legros, encouraged me a lot; as did my aunt, Marlene Fievre. Because of them, when my parents finally read the book, they also encouraged me. However, in general, I find that adults don’t have faith in the youth. They don’t value what we can do. They think that we’ll cower in the face of difficulty; that we can’t really achieve anything serious. I sense that, in general, youth is misunderstood. That’s all I’m saying, that the older generation should encourage young people more.
VALESCO: It’s a steep road, a necessary one, but some will argue that young people in Haiti don’t seem to aspire to much; they appear not to be worth much. Their behavior often leaves a lot to be desired. Even from an academic standpoint, it’s completely hopeless. That’s why some adults are not compelled to encourage young people. Don’t you share that opinion?
JF: There are times when I can say, yes, I share that opinion, because some adolescents do give off the impression that they don’t know what they want. They want to try new things, good things and bad, like drugs and alcohol. Then they give up on school. They get to a point where they don’t see the importance of school, the importance of education. They don’t value reading. They don’t value educational programming on TV; they prefer watching movies. They’re not interested in anything worthwhile. But only certain teens behave this way. We cannot generalize because there are adolescents who are interested in very serious things, who read books that allow them to think deeper.
VALESCO: To open their minds?
JF: Exactly. They are well informed: they read educational magazines; they’re interested in what an adult would be interested in. So, I don’t think we can generalize.
VALESCO: Let’s go back to Le Feu de la Vengeance. Why this title?
JF: Fire plays an important role in the book, as does revenge. I must tell you, before I even explain the title, that it’s the story of a teenager who left Port-au-Prince to live in Cap Haïtien. Not exactly in the city, but a small village in the outskirts of town. She finds herself facing some malevolent, haunting spirits and discovers her connection to events that took place forty years before. The story is about revenge—the kind that hasn’t been realized yet. The teenager is going to put an end to a story that should have concluded a long time ago, and fire plays a very important role in that story. That’s why I titled the book Le Feu de la Vengeance.
VALESCO: How many characters are in the book?
JF: Well, it has many minor characters but as far as main characters, five or six –
VALESCO: Which ones are central and play an important role in the unfolding of the story?
JF: There’s Stephanie, the main character. There’s another teenager, whose name is Carol Anne. She also plays an important role. And there’s a man whose name is Mr. Leconte. He, too, plays an important part –
VALESCO: Well, Jessica, let’s not summarize your novel. Let’s leave the suspense to your readers. At your age, why didn’t you approach a different subject? Why didn’t you choose love instead, with a young man courting a young woman, young people in love, a breakup…sadness, despair, sorrow, tears—that sort of thing? Revenge, they say, is a bitter fruit. Why revenge?
JF: There’s more than just revenge in the book. There’s more than just suspense. There’s romance in the book, too, because I don’t just write for one category of people. I wanted to touch everyone. There’s in fact some romance, with a young man courting a young girl. I do talk about love in the book. I don’t always dwell on the side of the macabre. Although macabre is a rather strong word. Let’s call it suspense.
VALESCO: Do you think you will continue to write?
JF: Yes. Well, I would really love to write other novels, although I don’t know that they’d fall within the same genre. Right now, I don’t really have time for writing since I’m in high school. I’m stressed out because of exams. Whenever I have time, I study. I don’t really let my mind wander.
VALESCO: But between the two of us, Jessica Fievre, you wrote this while you were already in school. It’s not because you’re in high school now that you can’t continue writing.
JF: Yes, I know. I used to write at home, during my free time. Right now, I don’t really have free time. All my time is for homework and lessons. That’s all.
VALESCO: There’s lots of homework and lessons at the school run by the nuns?
JF: Well, it’s not just because of the school’s curriculum itself. We must prepare for the baccalaureate exams, and there’s an extensive national program to be covered. So, there is a lot of work to do. There are some concepts to review, going back to middle school. From time to time, I must review what I already know so I don’t feel too overwhelmed at the end of the year.
VALESCO: So, after the baccalaureate, after the last years of high school, what are your ambitions?
JF: I’d like to continue writing, but mostly, I’d like to be a doctor. I’d like to perform orthopedic surgeries. I’m going to lean into that when I’m done with school.
VALESCO: So you’re going to medical school?
VALESCO: And you’re going to specialize in orthopedic surgery?
JF: That’s what I’d like to do.
VALESCO: Why are you interested in bones?
JF: Because they fascinate me. Ever since I was very young, I was intrigued by the study of bones, and issues like dislocations. My uncle, who is an orthopedist, took me one day to see an autopsy. That intrigued me even more. So that’s why I think bones are going to be my focus.
VALESCO: Do you think about that a lot?
JF: I’m not obsessed but –
VALESCO: I’m asking because you mentioned studying bones at an early age. In addition, you went to see a cadaver, a skeleton, which means bones must always be on your mind.
JF: I’ll say, it’s not an addiction. But I have a great interest in the study of bones. I just find that branch of medicine very interesting, so I read articles about it, talk to people in the field. About bones, yes, but also about medicine in general.
VALESCO: I thought you were only focusing on bones. In that case, it could really be called an obsession.
JF: I’m interested in medicine in general.
VALESCO: Listeners and viewers of RFI - Haiti, our guest today is Ms. Jessica Fievre, the author of a newly published book. The book signing will take place this Friday at the National Library. The book is titled Le Feu de la Vengeance. Miss Fievre’s youth piqued our interest. She started publishing at the age of sixteen. Is that right?
JF: Yes, sixteen.
VALESCO: How long have you been writing? When did you first develop a desire to write?
JF: Since I was very little. My teachers encouraged my writing, and that motivated me to continue. Back then, I wrote short stories and fairy tales for children. Later, I wrote some novellas, and these stories covered an array of topics. More recently, in December 1994, I wrote Le Feu de la Vengeance.
VALESCO: Then you decided to publish it now?
JF: Yes, now.
VALESCO: From time to time, there are contests for novellas. Have you ever participated in literary contests?
JF: No. It never occurred to me to do so.
VALESCO: Why not?
JF: Well, I don’t know. Sometimes I hear about them and then I forget. Sometimes, I don’t have a suitable story that I want to send. In any case, I haven’t participated yet.
VALESCO: If writing interests you this much, you should have tried going that path. You could have already made a name for yourself.
JF: Well, I did recently send a novella to the Jacques Stephen Alexis contest. But I don’t know yet how it’s going to go, because I won’t get the results until May. I would really like to win.
VALESCO: I want to believe that you’ll come out a winner!
JF: Thank you.
VALESCO: Well, Le Feu de la Vengeance is aimed at teenagers? Does that mean that adults won’t be interested in it?
JF: I think adults will find it interesting too, and as I mentioned before, it would be a good idea for them to support the arts. I think the story could appeal to an adult.
VALESCO: Does your mother superior know you’re publishing?
JF: Yes, I did tell the nuns.
VALESCO: What did the mother superior say at Lalue?
JF: Oh, the nuns have encouraged me a lot. As I mentioned earlier, I found support in many places—from teachers, students, friends, parents. Everyone has had my back.
VALESCO: I’m listening.
JF: I didn’t feel alone as I got ready to publish this book. Some of my friends said, “Yes, you have to publish this! This book should not be stuck in a drawer.” Some of my teachers were proud that a student from the school, a kid my age was writing…
VALESCO: What if you hadn’t found that kind of encouragement?
JF: Well, I think that would sadden me a little. But I would continue to write. And I hope my parents would still help me publish it, even if they weren’t too enthusiastic.
VALESCO: Would it sadden you not to get the compliments?
JF: It’s not about getting compliments. It’s about getting acknowledged for the efforts I put into something worthwhile. I don’t really need anyone to tell me, “Oh, this is a good book, blah blah blah, the book is great.” I do want to be acknowledged for at least trying to do something great.
VALESCO: Let’s say people chose not to encourage you, but you were sure of yourself. You’d charge ahead, persevere, stay the course, wouldn’t you?
JF: Yes. It would sadden me, but it wouldn’t discourage me. I would feel a little…weird.
VALESCO: Do you get sad over the slightest little thing?
JF: No, not really.
VALESCO: Do you get sad sometimes, though?
JF: Yes, everyone experiences sadness.
VALESCO: I know it happens to everyone. It’s human. But some people get sad over something frivolous, over something stupid, something dumb. And then they get swallowed up in it, they sink into it, they’re in the dumps. But some others, when they get shoved around, they charge ahead, like brave soldiers, weapon in hand.
JF: Well, I suppose it depends on my mood. Sometimes, I get frazzled or sad over any little thing; some other times, even if you give me the biggest blow, I’m not sad over it. It depends on my mood, whether I get up on the right or left foot.
VALESCO: Oh, there are days you get up on your left foot or your right foot?
VALESCO: You have a little mystical side to you. In fact, in your book, you write about mystical things. Do you believe in those things?
JF: Not necessarily.
VALESCO: Do you believe in horoscopes?
JF: Well, I listen to them, but I don’t completely believe in them.
VALESCO: I don’t want to ask you whether you believe in loas (spirits), in hougans (Voodoo priests), in dyab (devils). But in horoscopes?
JF: I don’t believe in those things.
VALESCO: But in horoscopes?
JF: Well, more or less.
VALESCO: More or less?
JF: I don’t really believe in horoscopes per se, but I do believe in characteristics they assign to Leos, or Aries, for example. I don’t believe in predictions, however.
VALESCO: What’s your sign?
JF: Me? I’m a Taurus. To be honest, I don’t know much about the Taurus. I just know things about other signs. Call it strange, but I haven’t really investigated my own sign. I’ve mostly looked into other people’s signs.
VALESCO: Do you read a lot?
JF: Yes, I read a lot. I read all kinds of books. As soon as a book captures my attention, I’ll read it all the way through.
VALESCO: But you say young people don’t read these days.
JF: Yes, I have the impression that they don’t read.
VALESCO: Are your friends and acquaintances interested in reading?
JF: Well, some people I know read a lot, including some of my friends who will read three books in a single day; they’ll stay at home and read three books cover to cover. If they had more time, they’d read a fourth. Some other friends would need an entire year to read one book.
VALESCO: Did you know, Ms. Jessica, that there are two forms of reading?
JF: What forms of reading?
VALESCO: There’s reading with the eyes and reading with the soul. Your friend who goes through three books a day, do they read with their eyes or with their soul?
JF: Well, they read all kinds of books. Some of those books are not as deep.
VALESCO: When they read a book, is it penetrating and absorbing?
JF: I’ve seen them read books that are educational, and they’ve sometimes discussed these titles with me. So I suppose they read both with the eyes and with the soul.
VALESCO: And what about yourself? How do you read?
JF: Well, there are times when I read just as a pastime, if I have nothing else to do; I read to kill time, and two days later, I forget the story. But sometimes I read a book with attention to detail; I think on it. So it depends.
VALESCO: Well, Ms. Jessica, we hope that your first publication really turns into a success. At what time will the book signing take place?
JF: I’ve planned three book signings. Tomorrow, the event will take place at the National Library from 10am to 5pm. On Saturday, I’ll be signing at Perfection in Pétion-Ville, from 5pm to 9pm. And then Sunday, the 21st, at the Sun Auto fair.
VALESCO: This means you’re dedicating three days to promoting the book?
JF: Yes, three days. I wanted to find three locations that were accessible to everyone. The National Library is a convenient place for people who live in the city. Perfection in Pétion-Ville is accessible to all those in Thomassin, in Pétion-Ville, and in the surrounding areas. And then finally, the Sun Auto fair will welcome those who live nearby.
VALESCO: Can you repeat for the viewers the days, times and venues?
JF: Yes. Friday, December 19th, from 10am till 5pm at the National Library. Saturday the 20th at Perfection in Pétion-Ville, from 5pm to 9pm. And at Sun Auto, Sunday, December 21st, from 5pm to 9pm in the evening.
VALESCO: Well, Ms. Jessica Fievre, we thank you. A new year is starting, another is ending. What are your last words to your generation, regarding the future, the year to come?
JF: To those who haven’t yet taken their future in their own hands, to those who haven’t thought yet about what they’re going to do tomorrow: Start thinking about that seriously. Also, develop an interest in culture, because culture is very important in everybody’s lives.
VALESCO: Well, Ms. Jessica Fievre, I thank you, and I thank our listeners and viewers for their attention. I wish everyone good reading, until next time!
A creator of safe spaces, and an initiator of difficult conversations, M.J. Fievre, B.S. Ed, spent much time building up her Black students, helping them feel comfortable in their skin, and affirming their identities. Her close relationships with parents and students led her to look more closely at how we can balance protecting our child’s innocence with preparing them for the realities of Black life. When―and how―do you approach racism with your children? How do you protect their physical and mental health while also preparing them for a country full of systemic racism? She began to research the issue and speak to school counselors and psychologists to find (and apply!) strategies parents and teachers can use with their children to broach uncomfortable but necessary topics.
M.J. is the author of Badass Black Girl, a daily dose of affirmations for Black Girls
“You'll come away from Badass Black Girl feeling as if you've known the author your entire life, and it's a rare feat for any writer.” ―“Mike, the Poet,” author of Dear Woman and The Boyfriend Book
#1 Gift Idea in Teen & Young Adult Cultural Heritage Biographies, Publishers Weekly Select Title for Young Readers
Affirmations for strong, fearless Black girls. Wisdom from Badass Black female trailblazers who accomplished remarkable things in literature, entertainment, education, STEM, business, military and government services, politics and law, activism, sports, spirituality, and more.
Explore the many facets of your identity through hundreds of big and small questions. In this journal designed for teenage Black girls, MJ Fievre tackles topics such as family and friends, school and careers, body image, and stereotypes. By reflecting on these topics, you will confront the issues that can hold you back from living your best life and discovering your Black girl bliss.
Embrace authenticity and celebrate who you are. Finding the courage to live as you are is not easy, so here’s a journal designed to help you nurture creativity, positive self-awareness and Black girl bliss. This journal honors the strength and spirit of Black girls.
Change the way you view the world. This journal provides words of encouragement that seek to inspire and ignite discussion. You are growing up in a world that tries to tell you how to look and act. MJ Fievre encourages you to fight the flow and determine for yourself who you want to be.
Badass Black Girl helps you to:
Build and boost your self-esteem with powerful affirmations
Learn more about yourself through insightful journaling
Become comfortable and confident in your authentic self