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Voices of the Francophone World: Dany Laferrière

March has finally arrived, and with it, the promise of spring. Outside, the wind is less frigid, and birds chirp from treetops. March is also Francophone Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the diversity of the Francophone world. In honor of this special month, I’ll be spotlighting the dynamic Haitian-Canadian author Dany Laferrière, member of l'Académie Française and recipient of the prestigious Prix Médecis.

From Haiti to Montréal 

Dany Laferrière was born on April 13th, 1953, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His father, a prominent mayor and trade minister, was an outspoken critic of dictator François Duvalier, who subjected the country to a repressive, military regime. When Laferrière was four years old, his father was forced into exile; Laferrière was subsequently sent to live with his grandmother in the village of Petit-Goâve. In 1964, he returned to Port-au-Prince to study at the Collège Canado-Haïtien. Upon completing his studies, he began a career in journalism and radio broadcasting, reporting for the newspapers Le Nouvelliste and Le Petit Samedi and the station Radio Haïti-Inter. During this time, Laferrière began to acquaint himself with artists and writers associated with the Spiralist movement, an emerging literary tradition centered on Haitian identity. After the assassination of a fellow journalist in 1976, however, Laferrière fled Haiti for Montréal, where he found tremendous success as a writer. In 1990, he immigrated to the United States and now divides his time between Montréal, Haiti, and the United States.

Works and Accolades

Laferrière’s works are often semi-autobiographical and inspired by his Haitian background. Through provocative storytelling, Laferrière seeks to answer questions of identity, immigration, displacement, and culture. He has published over fifteen French-language books, including L’odeur du café (An Aroma of Coffee), Pays sans chapeau (known in English as 'Down Among the Dead Men'), and Le cri des oiseaux fous. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Prix Médecis and International Literature Award for his novel L’enigme du retour, the Governor General’s Award, the Grand Prix Ludger-Duvernay, and the Blue Metropolis International Grand Literary Prize. The Prix Médecis is one of the foremost prizes awarded to a work of fiction in the French language. 

Laferrière has been awarded several honorary doctorates in the United States, France, and Canada, and has also been named an Officer of the National Order of Quebec, Officer of the Order of Canada, and Commander of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, among many other achievements. In 2013, Laferrière made history as the first Haitian, first Canadian, and second Black author to be elected into l'Académie Française, succeeding the Argentinian-French author Hector Bianciotti. L'Académie Française is a prestigious and highly exclusive council of scholars and experts on the French language. Laferrière remains at the forefront of Montreal’s literary scene and continues to build an illustrious legacy while challenging his readers’ conceptions of literature.

Written by Pranavi Veldula, High School Intern

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