Jean Michael Dash (1948-2019)
The Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture announces the devastating news that Professor Jean Michael Dash died on June 2, 2019.
Jean Michael Dash, born in 1948 in Trinidad, was a professor in the Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture and in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) at New York University, where he had been on the faculty since 1999. Dash earned bachelor’s (1969) and doctoral degrees (1973) from the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. Prior to coming to NYU, Dash had been a professor at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, where he also chaired its Department of Modern Languages and Literatures as well as its Department of French. He also had stints as a visiting professor at the University of New Mexico and Howard University and as a lecturer at Nigeria’s Ahamadu Bello University and the University of the West Indies in Barbados. A specialist of Haitian literature and French Caribbean writers, he brought a new focus to French-language writers writing outside of France. Dash’s publications include Edouard Glissant (1995), The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context (1998), Haiti and the United States (1988), and Culture and Customs of Haiti (2001).
The department of French Literature, Thought and Culture will organize a celebration of the life and work of Michael Dash during 2019-20 academic year. To receive information about memorial events, please add you email here.
See also: “Mort de Michael Dash, spécialiste d'Édouard Glissant : fonder sur l'absence” (Médiapart)
Thoughts and Testimonies (in the order received)
“Michael was a compelling scholar of Haitian literature and a wise and hugely generous member of NYU's Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture. To his students, and indeed to his colleagues, he was a mentor and a guide. In his writing and teaching, he invited readers and students to live in a bigger world, a world in flux, a world whose boundaries were constantly being re-drawn by travel, errance, and movement. He taught us all how to live with change and how to dwell in multiple places at once. He brought to both his work and to the department more generally a calm and genuine care that are extremely rare, the mark not just of a compelling academic, but of a good soul. He will be missed greatly.” (Phillip John Usher, Chair, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Michael [had an] immense knowledge of Caribbean literatures, but also [played a major] role in showing the relevance of French Caribbean thought to our contemporary postcolonial world. It would be hard to overstate the significance and intellectual impact of his translation of Glissant's Discours antillais (and of his crucial choice to title it Caribbean Discourse, rather than just Antillean Discourse). Michael was more than a brilliant scholar: his knowledge and understanding were informed by his deep friendships with some of the most important writers of his time, and he devoted a lot of his energy to promote contemporary Caribbean literature, including as a jury member for the Prix Carbet. On a more personal level, I'll deeply miss the unique combination of relaxation, ironic distance, and rigour that he brought to any discussion. He wrote about Glissant's capacity to ‘deflate solemnities’ and I've always felt that the phrase applied to him even better.” (Cécile Bishop, Assistant Professor, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU)
“Les mots qui viennent spontanément pour évoquer la mémoire de Michael Dash sont l'élégance, l'indépendance, l'originalité, la rigueur, la modestie, le sourire, l'accueil, le goût de peinture… et tant d'autres qui viendront à tête reposée. Lors du colloque sur les ‘Archipels Glissant’ que nous avions organisé à Paris l'an passé, il délivra une magnifique conférence sur ‘Le frisson du Baroque, Glissant, l'art et la structure granuleuse du monde’. Il était l'un des plus grands spécialistes de l'œuvre du poète philosophe et sa propre pratique de la peinture lui permettait d'analyser au plus juste sa relation avec les artistes et la pensée esthétique. Il a consacré à Glissant une monographie en 1995 (après une première sur Jacques Stephen Alexis, vingt ans plus tôt), il a traduit en anglais son premier roman, La Lézarde, et son fameux Discours antillais, faisant ainsi découvrir l'auteur martiniquais aux États-Unis et dans les Caraïbes anglophones. Michael était un passeur d'îles et de langues, se déplaçant entre Trinidad, Jamaica, Manhattan et Roosevelt Island comme en autant de livres qu'il déchiffrait, faisant des allers-retours entre l'anglais, le français et les créoles. Il forma des générations d'étudiant.es à la littérature et à la culture caribéenne, tout particulièrement Haiti dont il analysa sans relâche les œuvres romanesques, poétiques et artistiques. Son immense culture et son analyse aiguë des formes rayonneront longtemps dans notre mémoire. Sa disparition était "imprédictible", selon un mot cher à Glissant, sa présence est irremplaçable.” (François Noudelmann, Professor Université de Paris-8 and specialist of Édouard Glissant.)
“One of the most wonderful things about Michael was his storytelling. He would illuminate our classes with rich personal anecdotes about his experiences and warm friendships with the authors we were reading. He brought the archipel to our class. Suddenly, stories of zombies, winding island roads, and surrealist depictions of volcanoes did not feel far away at all. We did not simply read the texts, we lived in them thanks to Michael's generous storytelling. He was an extraordinarily kind and thoughtful person who radiated good humor and joy. We will miss him.” (Athena Fokaidis, Graduate Student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Professor Dash had such a kind spirit and heart both inside and outside of the classroom. He inspired many students in the French Department, including myself who was eager to work alongside him in the coming years. His passing is a devastating loss for his close family and friends, as well as for his colleagues and students at NYU.” (Sharif Mosaad, Graduate Student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture and Institute for French Studies, NYU)
“People like Michael are few and far between: both brilliant and unassuming—and a total sweetheart. I still see his warm yet tired smile as he exited 25 West 4th street right before I taught my first class of the day, always pausing to say hello and exchange a few words. Having recommended his courses to many of my students, I had long entertained the idea of asking him for permission to audit. My loss—and an even greater loss to his family and friends, as well as to the world at large: with Michael’s passing we have lost a remarkable scholar and a beautiful human being.” (Jennifer Gordon, Senior Lecturer, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU)
“Professeur Dash m’a initiée à la pensée d’Édouard Glissant. Son séminaire « Abime, Errance, Seisme – Francophone Fictions of (Dis)placement » que j’ai eu la chance de suivre, a influencé la direction que je souhaitais donner à mon projet de recherche et a ouvert des possibilités de réflexion nouvelles sur l’espace, le corps et les différentes façons d’habiter le monde. Son sourire et son rire étaient contagieux. Il était empreint d’humilité et d’une grande humanité. Avec douceur, il suggérait et nous poussait toujours un peu plus à explorer notre rapport aux textes et au sensible. En mars, nous avons discuté de ma bibliographie sur l’écriture de l’errance qu’il dirigeait. Il avait une anecdote sur New York et Manhattan Blues de Jean-Claude Charles. Il m’avait apporté la copie d’un article qu’il avait mise dans une pochette transparente et me conseilla de lire L’entretien du monde de Glissant / Noudelmann, livre qu’il déposa dans mon casier quelques jours plus tard. C’est précieusement que je garde nos lumineuses discussions et ses conseils inspirants. Professeur Dash sera profondément regretté.” (Laëtitia Deleuze, Graduate Student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU)
“I had the privilege of taking Michael’s ‘Surrealism and the Francophone Caribbean’ seminar in 2017. It was a pleasure, if not exactly a surprise, to discover there our shared enthusiasm for the work of André Breton, and to learn from Professor Dash about the various resonances, appropriations and mutations of Surrealist styles and ideas outside of Europe and beyond the heyday of the interwar avant-garde. He was just as informative and interesting when lecturing about painting, sculpture (e.g. Lam, Matta, Cardenas), and the political history of the Caribbean (often digressions on the latter would be peppered with amusing – or at times unnerving – personal anecdotes about things like researching in and traveling through Duvalierist Haiti). After having taken his course, I would occasionally run into Professor Dash in and around the department, and I can recall a number of brief conversations bearing on recent films, live music around the city, and even his favorite dining spots in my former neighborhood. I will remember him above all for the breadth of his knowledge and interests, and for his constant good humor and generosity.” (Jeffrey Fuller, Graduate Student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU)
“[La] chaleur [de Michael], sa simplicité pour engager des conversations franches et sans bavardage, le son de son rire dans ces échanges, mais aussi son impatience ‘fanonienne’ envers toute trace de racisme à la française, ces quelques souvenirs parmi d'autres évoquent pour moi sa présence et la manière dont elle m'a marqué." (Frédéric Viguier, Clinical Associate Professor, Institute for French Studies, NYU).
“Michael was a kind, brilliant, yet humble and soft-spoken man whose work has helped define multiple fields. His translation of Glissant enabled the English-speaking world access to one of the most enduringly important Caribbean writers. Michael’s writings on Haitian literature serve as essential texts for any of its scholars. His work on Caribbean literature more broadly, influenced by a Glissantian worldview, operated on a deeply humanist notion that the world is made up of ongoing, infinite human and cultural connection. He was able to see how the smallest details in texts by writers from Laferrière to Césaire to Chamoiseau to Danticat related to this bigger, generous picture. His absence in the fields of francophone and Caribbean studies will be deeply felt. He is leaving behind both a great legacy and a void. As an advisor, Michael was generous and open with his ideas, and my own work on Laferrière is deeply indebted to Michael’s insights and direction. I had not considered being a Caribbeanist until I took one of Michael’s seminars in my first year as a PhD student, and was inspired by his take on the texts and his way of presenting Francophone literature to the class. Seeing my early interest in Laferrière, he encouraged me to work on him in a focused way and guided me ever since. He was my greatest interlocutor, and it will be challenging to move forward in my own scholarship without his guidance and our conversations. I always left our meetings feeling that he cared about me as a student and my promise as a future scholar. I remember fondly how each session ended with Michael’s personal anecdotes or gossip about writers he knew, or an article he was writing or a speaking engagement he was preparing for. I greatly enjoyed working with him and am now grateful he was able to follow my project through to its completion last fall. He will be deeply missed in the Department and beyond.” (Downing Bray Kress, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU)
“I knew Professor Dash first as a witty, benevolent department presence, then as professor in the wonderful seminar on Caribbean Surrealism I audited in Spring 2017, and finally as a member of my comprehensive exams committee. I'm so glad I was able to audit his seminar - we read so many fun books, from Breton to Laferrière to Depestre to Glissant (I remember finishing La Lézarde moments before class began and having to revise my whole understanding of it as a result of the terrifying violent ending), and Professor Dash was so skilled and effective at putting them all in context on their own terms and then in beautifully charting all the connections between them. For my two presentations on texts by Leiris, Professor Dash took the time to photocopy materials to help me. Over the following semester, we met regularly to put together my teaching list. He helped me narrow down the broad field of littérature québécoise to a more realistic and fruitful thematic list playing on the contrast between earnestness and satire in Quebec writing ("a list like this can't just be the greatest hits"...). Throughout, he helped add texts I hadn't considered to the list (for instance, suggesting that I add an Anglo-Québécois novel or two, which was key in making the list representative, and gave me the unexpected pleasure of getting to read Mordecai Richler as part of my comprehensive exams preparation in a French department). I invariably left his office after meetings with him informed and reassured, often having had the pleasure of sharing laughs or smiles (I remember him commenting on the concept of melancholy nationalism, as applied to the Quebec independence movement, as a refreshing contrast from normal nationalist temperaments, which tend toward the distressingly upbeat). His death is an immeasurable loss for the department, the field, and everyone who knew him.” (Emelyn Lih, Graduate Student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“I was fortunate to have Michael’s guidance over the past few years, as he opened the door to fascinating new people, places, and ideas. As a teacher, he could generate hours of discussion from just a few lines of a text, and as an advisor, he could distill pages of my writing and observations into an overarching vision and narrative. Most of all, I will miss Michael’s compassion and approachability, as he critiqued his students and helped us grow as writers and thinkers, while encouraging us to enjoy the progression of our intellectual journeys.” (Claire Reising, Graduate Student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“One of the leading voices of the Caribbean, Michael Dash was an esteemed scholar and dedicated teacher who saw the world through poetry and literature. I will sorely miss his unwavering and true presence, the wit and the easiness he brought to all conversations. His eyes always sparkled whether he talked about a poem, his new interest in the visual arts, or his cultivation of scotch bonnet peppers. An inspiration to his colleagues, his students and his friends, he also was an active member of department committees, a keen and independent observer of university politics, unafraid to speak his mind and to uphold academic and professional standards.” (Benoît Bolduc, Professor, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Michael was an incredibly generous advisor -- always ready with an incisive comment, an insightful suggestion, a helpful introduction or a humorous anecdote that demonstrated just how many people he knew and how much knowledge he had in the field of Caribbean literature! The world has lost not just an amazing keeper of knowledge and phenomenally talented scholar, but also a truly kind human being.” (Suzy Cater, former graduate student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“I will always remember Michael as a colleague who was humble, kind, warm, modest, with a big smile. He will often stop by my office just to say hi, or to say "J'ai un petit cadeau pour toi !", while pulling out a stash of receipts to be processed! But sometimes, "ce petit cadeau" was lovely delicacies he had brought back for me from his numerous trips to the Caribbeans, and the discussion would then linger on life on the Islands, the political state of the countries he had visited, or just cooking with hot peppers ("Fais attention !"). He was a beautiful human being, and he will be sorely missed.” (Emmanuelle Hernandez, Department Administrator, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Michael Dash was a brilliant teacher. His incredibly kind, warm and generous demeanor in the classroom made a major impression on me, as did the time he devoted to students in his office hours. He made challenging material feel accessible, relevant, and important beyond the walls of academia. I will remember him very fondly.” (Anne Brancky, former graduate student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Michael Dash was one of my PhD co-advisors. As a scholar, he was sharp, lucid, direct. He pulled no punches, and spoke clearly and decisively. At the same time, he was truly open to learning from others, which made him an especially engaging teacher. He was generous: he spoke highly of others without seeming threatened, and was quick to acknowledge his ignorance on a topic. As a person, he was an incredibly gentle soul: he smiled and laughed easily, never mockingly or haughtily, but to project genuine curiosity, wonder, and joy in the sharing of knowledge and ideas.” (John Nimis, former graduate student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Michael was a mentor and a friend. I will miss him deeply, as will the world. He was kind, brilliant, and one of the most generous spirits I have known. Because of Michael, "Ce que j'aime , c'est écrire. Rendre une ambiance avec des mots", but also, ce que j'aime c'est sourire.” (Rachel Corkle, former graduate student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Michael Dash had a significant influence in my academic life. I lived in New York, Guadeloupe and Martinique between 2005 and 2007 to do research for my PhD and he acted as a kind and generous mentor. Not only was I impressed with his work, in particular The Other America and Literature and Ideology in Haiti, but he introduced me to Edouard Glissant so I could attend his seminar at CUNY, he put me in touch with useful contacts in the Caribbean and helped me participate in various events, including the Prix Carbet. Over the years, we had many fruitful discussions on shared interests, French-speaking Caribbean writers of course, but also Michel Leiris.” (Anna Lesne, Professor, NYU Paris).
“Michael Dash enriched my life as a scholar and a person. I've learned immense amounts about Caribbean literature from him and several good lessons about how to live in this profession: with wit and a good dose of humility; and with unassailable passion for the writers and works in which one believes. We have worked together with many students as they began to build their careers as specialists in French-language literature. (Michael was not a fan of the term "francophone.") He has brought to our lives remarkable thinkers and writers; and I shall always be grateful for the time spent with him and Edouard Glissant. To say he will be missed is the kind of understatement that would make him smile.” (Judith Miller, Professor, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“J. Michael Dash has been and will remain an inspiration for generations of scholars of Glissant, Haiti, and the Caribbean. He was a flagship for poetic, aesthetic, and biographical scholarship on Edouard Glissant. I always return to his reflections on the Rocher du Diamant/Diamond Rock in Martinique as one of the most crucial reflections on place and the universal, on the ici/là-bas, in the works of Glissant. My students in awe of his reflections on the beach, on aesthetics, on surrealist echoes in the Caribbean, and on Caribbean influences on surrealism. His open smile, for those of us who knew him (and even for those of us who didn't), was evidence of his kindness and generosity. He was a fierce and constant advocate for artists, students and junior colleagues. He served as an unofficial mentor and enthusiast, from my early tenure-track years until only a few months ago. He gave without telling he gave, in an unassuming, discreet, and self-decentered way. Michael was someone I aspired to be. Only a few months ago, he recommended me to give the opening speech at the Tout-Monde Festival in Miami. Perhaps because, I now seem to understand, he himself had to forego the invitation. Only a few weeks ago, Michael emailed me to say how happy he was that my book, Water Graves, was forthcoming with his "New World Studies" series with the University of Virginia Press. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling to know that my book will be one of the last to be published under his name with the New World Studies series, which bloomed under his editorship. En mémoire. En affection. En admiration." (Valérie Loichot, Professor of French and English; Chair, Department of French and Italian, Emory University, Atlanta).
“The sudden, drastic way with which life has ended the brilliant and much appreciated career of our distinguished colleague, Michael Dash, leaves our department deeply saddened and sadly diminished. Professor Michael Dash was our first full-time scholar specializing in Caribbean literature. He trained countless graduate students in his fields of study. Given the suddenness of Michael’s loss, we will need a period for mourning and for regrouping. We welcome everyone's participation as we move forward again.” (Tom Bishop, Florence Gould Professor of French Literature, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“Laferrière once told Franketienne after the Haiti earthquake that when monuments crumble, human beings are each other’s point de repères. I have been hearing from former classmates all week following the loss of Prof. J. Michael Dash. It is clear that he was loved, admired and respected for his wit, sheer brilliance and, of course, that infectious smile. Dash was a monument in his own way having worked tirelessly with such scholars as David Nicholls to bring the French Caribbean to the Anglophone world... Opening up the Global South to itself. Indeed, his contributions to the Caribbean are unmatched and I still hold reading “Literature and Ideology in Haiti” as a Harvard undergrad responsible for taking me out of medicine and into NYU’s French department. I have grown so much as a scholar thanks to Michael. He always challenged me even as I did not always meet his rigorous standards. I take comfort in knowing that even though we had not spoken in a while, he did see what had become of the dissertation he directed many years ago. What would I give now to have one more conversation about Haiti, Marie Chauvet and our shared love for the archives. Rest in power, Michael! You have earned it.” (Regine Joseph, former graduate student, Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
“On behalf of the department of Comparative Literature: It is with a heavy heart that we note the passing on June 2, 2019 of our esteemed and gracious colleague Michael Dash. Michael worked with many students and colleagues in Comparative Literature and his contributions to comparative fields including our new Certificate curriculum CALAMEGS (Comparative Approaches to Literatures of Africa, the Middle East and the Global South) were immeasurable. Those who worked with Michael as a specialist of Francophone literatures and major contributor to the translation and critical reception of Edouard Glissant will especially mourn his loss. Michael Dash became a personal friend shortly after I came to teach at NYU. He was an anchor in the French department and a voice for its diversity and extra-hexagonal remit. We served on many Ph.D. committees together. A fantastic colleague, he engaged with humor and grace in everyday professional tasks and activities. I will always treasure his work on Glissant and invite all to reread his remarkable field-building books, translations and essays on Caribbean discourses.” (Emily Apter, Chair, Department of Comparative Literature, NYU).
“Two weeks have passed since Michael suddenly left us. It’s hard to imagine the world without his sharp mind, contagious smile, and intellectual generosity. Some know him as the “eye on Haiti,” others as Édouard Glissant’s English translator and interpreter, and some turn to the ways in which he put Glissant’s ideas of a Caribbean discourse into scholarly practice in The Other America. As for me, I want to remember him as the teacher who influenced me the most, both personally and professionally. When I came to NYU he had been in New York a year and had not gotten used to the winters (and I don’t think he ever did). I took all his classes at the French Department and at Africana Studies even when I no longer needed the credits. He was just incredibly inspiring. No one knew Caribbean literature the way he did. He would move brilliantly from the broadest historical context to the most fine tuned attention to textual details, and link literature to art, music, and carnival. He was funny too, with his stories and biting irony. Throughout the years he became my mentor and friend and after I defended my thesis, our exchanges continued. We’ve met in Stockholm, Aarhus, Paris, but little did I know that our long lunch at Knickerbockers in October would be the last one. Yet, silently, I’ll keep asking for his advice; Michael Dash will always be incontournable.” (Christina Kullberg, Associate professor of French literature at Uppsala University, Sweden, and former graduate student at the Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture, NYU).
"Michael Dash was a boldface name in the world of Caribbean studies. His definitive books on Haiti and Edouard Glissant helped shape contemporary scholarly discourses on these subjects. Even 15 years later I still remember the excellent talk he gave to our students here at Rutgers-Newark on the 200th anniversary of the Haitian revolution. (I also remember him throwing off his scholarly reserve and dancing to soca music from his native Trinidad at the Caribbean Studies Association end-of-conference party!). Walk good Michael." (Belinda Edmondson, Professor, English and African American & African Studies, Rutgers University-Newark)
"The faculty and students of the Institute of French Studies were shocked and saddened to learn about Michael Dash's sudden death. For close to twenty years, Michael has been a close colleague to many of us and a strong proponent of closer interpenetration between literature, history, and social sciences. As director of several dissertations in French and French Studies, Michael guided joint IFS/French in their research and writing with kindness, generosity, and unassuming intelligence. Without seeking the limelight, Michael was a constant source of judicious advice and always eager to learn something new, whether it involved Haiti or other questions and parts of the world. We will miss Michael as a scholar and a friend." (Stéphane Gerson, Director of the Institute of French Studies, Professor of French and French Studies, NYU).
"From the earliest days of my graduate studies I felt mentored by the work of J. Michael Dash. His books were touchstones for me — intellectually grounding and inspiring in their interdisciplinarity. By the time I summoned the courage to ask Michael if he would serve as an outside reader on my dissertation committee in anthropology, his scholarship had already deeply informed my project. I will always be grateful for his incisive feedback as I finished the dissertation, his encouragement and support as I worked on the manuscript, and his great generosity as an interlocutor for over two decades. I was shocked and terribly saddened to learn of his passing. The outpouring of testimonies from colleagues across fields and institutions underscores that beyond the students Michael advised at UWI Mona and NYU, he actively supported many younger scholars based elsewhere as well. This is part of his intellectual legacy, transcending the disciplines with which he is most identified. I am indebted to him and will miss him greatly." (Kate Ramsey, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Miami).
"I had the honour of working with Michael Dash for seven years. From my very first semester at NYU, he was welcoming and generous, and that only intensified when he became the co-advisor for my PhD dissertation. His sheer presence transformed NYU into a major center for Francophone Caribbean Studies, and his pathbreaking work speaks for itself. What people may not know is the degree to which he also opened up new paths for his students. Our conversations would save me months in the archives, and he connected me constantly with scholars and writers everywhere my research took me. I would leave his office with stacks of books and even more new ideas. His passion for Haitian literature was infectious, his knowledge was encyclopaedic, and despite his towering place in Caribbean studies, he was eminently approachable. I can think of no greater demonstration of his commitment to others than the fact that, in April 2019, he found a way to skype in for my defense from his hospital bed. He went far beyond and above the call of duty, and I will be grateful to him for that, and for so much else, for the rest of my life." (Amanda Perry, former NYU graduate student, Comparative Literature).
Please send thoughts and testimonies for publication on this page to Guillaume Parodi (firstname.lastname@example.org), Assistant to the Chair of the Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture.