[Blackstudies-l] Dany Laferrière on The Art of Fiction (Interview, Paris review 222)

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Tue Nov 21 09:00:07 EST 2017

ivetteromero posted: " [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item
to our attention. “Dany Laferrière, The Art of Fiction No. 237” presents an
interview with the Haitian author by Adam Leith Gollner (The Paris Review,
Nr. 222, Fall 2017). Here are excerpts: Dany Laf"
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New post on *Repeating Islands*
<http://repeatingislands.com/author/ivetteromero/> Dany Laferrière, The Art
of Fiction No. 237
ivetteromero <http://repeatingislands.com/author/ivetteromero/>

*[image: Laferriere_Avec_ma_fille_le_jour (1)]*

*[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.
“Dany Laferrière, The Art of Fiction No. 237” presents an i**nterview with
the Haitian author by Adam Leith Gollner (**The Paris Review**, Nr. 222,
Fall 2017). Here are excerpts:*

Dany Laferrière was born in Port-au-Prince in 1953. After his father, a
former mayor of the city, was forced into exile in 1959, Dany was raised by
his grandmother in the coastal village of Petit-Goâve. He returned to
Port-au-Prince five years later and eventually became a culture reporter
for *Le petit samedi soir* and Radio Haiti-Inter. When his colleague and
friend Gasner Raymond was assassinated in 1976, Laferrière fled to
Montreal, where he supported himself with a series of odd jobs. In 1985, he
published his first novel, *How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting
Tired*, which chronicled those first years of his exile. But it wasn’t
until 2009, when he received the Prix Médicis for his nineteenth book, *The
Return*, that Laferrière reached a wide readership in France. Like his
other books, *The Return* is drawn from his real-life experience, in this
case the journey he made to bury his father’s ashes in Haiti.

Laferrière has written in prose and verse (*The Return* contains both);
apart from his novels, he has published books for children and books that
could be described as un-self-help, such as *L’art presque perdu de ne rien
faire* (The Almost Forgotten Art of Doing Nothing, 2011) and* Tout ce qu’on
ne te dira pas, Mongo *(Everything They Won’t Tell You, Mongo, 2015), a
guide for newly arrived immigrants to the First World. All of his books are
interconnected and autobiographical: his oeuvre, approaching thirty
volumes, is one long book about his writing of that book. He lives in
Montreal with Maggie Berrouët, his wife of thirty-eight years, and their
three daughters.

Before this interview began, Laferrière warned me that he is notorious for
speaking at length: “I’m not a reticent Evan S. Connell type—*je me
­raconte*.” Which proved true. He is open, warm, ironic, and quick to
contradict himself as need be. Our interview took place over five sessions
and several phone calls. The first meeting occurred on a lawn at Middlebury
College in Vermont, where he was writer in residence; the second at a
tavern near carré Saint-Louis, in Montreal, the setting of many of his
books; the third in the back room of a Montreal bookstore; the fourth in
his dining room and study. The final meeting took place at a restaurant in
Paris, over a shared order of *cervelle*—that is, we shared a brain, an
experience that will be familiar to many of his readers.

*INTERVIEWER**: In 2013, you were elected to the Académie française, the
first-ever Haitian or Quebecois writer to join their ranks. *

*LAFERRIÈRE**: *Yes, but first they had to sort out whether I was even
admissible. You are supposed to be *French.* It turns out this wasn’t a
written rule. At the time the rules were written, they couldn’t even
imagine including someone not born in France or a French colony or
département, or a naturalized Frenchman. A Haitian in Montreal is none of
the above. To be eligible, you also have to live in France—which I did not.
So the question became, is it the Académie *française* as in the French
*language*? Or as in *France*? The president of the République decided the
question—it’s the Académie of the French language. This decision permitted
my candidacy to proceed. It was what they call “*une belle élection*.” I
was received with enthusiasm, in the first round of voting. It took Victor
Hugo something like four rounds, Voltaire three!

*INTERVIEWER: **What do you actually do there, beneath the dome?  *

*LAFERRIÈRE:* I am part of several commissions, involving the dictionary,
literature, and francophonie. I attend the weekly *grandes séances *on
Thursdays. We discuss académie business, we grant literary awards and
prizes, we revise definitions of words, all sorts of things.

*INTERVIEWER: **How do you discuss a word?*

*LAFERRIÈRE*: If a word that was used by Flaubert or Césaire falls into
desuetude, if it becomes passé, we still keep it in the dictionary because
it was used by an important writer. The dictionary strives to recognize the
creative usage of writers. Our commission not long ago tackled the word
*sexe*. So we looked at how writers use a word like *sexe*—all the
different notions, phrases, and implications that have come up over the
years. The Marquis de Sade doesn’t have the same thoughts on the matter as,
say, the Marquise de Sévigné. An ordinary word can take up half a page in
the dictionary. A word like *sexe* can run to six or seven pages. [. . .]

[Photo above: Laferrière with his eldest daughter, Mellissa.]

For full interview, go to https://www.theparisreview.
no-237-dany-laferriere (Subscription is necessary to read full interview.)
*ivetteromero <http://repeatingislands.com/author/ivetteromero/>* |
November 20, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Tags: Académie Française
<http://repeatingislands.com/tag/academie-francaise/>, Dany Laferriere
<http://repeatingislands.com/tag/dany-laferriere/>, Haiti
<http://repeatingislands.com/tag/haiti/>, Haitian writers
<http://repeatingislands.com/tag/haitian-writers/>, Haitian-Canadian writers
<http://repeatingislands.com/tag/haitian-canadian-writers/>, Quebecois
writers <http://repeatingislands.com/tag/quebecois-writers/>, The Art of
Fiction <http://repeatingislands.com/tag/the-art-of-fiction/> | Categories:
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