Senghor, Léopold Sédar

Senghor, Léopold Sédar lāôpôldˈ sādärˈ säNgôrˈ [key], 1906–2001, African statesman and poet; president (1960–80) of the Republic of Senegal, b. Joal. The son of a prosperous landowner, Senghor was extraordinarily gifted in literature and won a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne in Paris (grad. 1935). There he met fellow writers such as Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas, with whom he formulated the concept of négritude, which asserted the importance of their African heritage (see also African literature). He became a French teacher, served in an all-African unit of the French army in World War II, and after the war represented Senegal (1945–58) in the French legislature. He then held a series of offices in Senegal and became one of the founders of the African Regroupement party. Senghor was president of the legislative assembly in the Mali Federation (1959) and, when Senegal withdrew from the federation (1960), he became president of the newly formed Republic of Senegal.

Senghor continued to work for African unity, and, in 1974, Senegal joined six other nations in the West African Economic Community. He was reelected president in 1963, 1968, and 1973, remaining in office until his retirement in 1980. He lived in Normandy for most of the rest of his life. A distinguished intellectual and champion of African culture, he wrote numerous volumes of poetry and essays in French, including Chants d'Ombre (1945), written while he was interned in a Nazi prison camp; Hosties noires (1948); Chants pour Naëtt (1949); and Éthiopiques (1956). At the head of his many poems, Senghor indicates the musical instruments that should accompany them, illustrating his belief that the poems should become songs to be complete. Among his works in English translation are On African Socialism (1964) and Selected Poems (1964). In 1984 he became the first black member of the French Academy.

See biographies by I. L. Markovitz (1969), J. L. Hymans (1972), J. S. Spleth (1985), and J. G. Vaillant (1990); studies by M. B. Melady (1971), S. W. Bâ (1973), S. O. Mezu (1973), J. S. Spleth, ed. (1993), and W. Kluback (1997).

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