Haiti’s Laferriere named to Order of Canada

Canadian writer Dany Laferriere
Canadian writer Dany Laferriere

When The Camera reached Dr. Eric Pierre, consul general of Haiti, with the news that his fellow countryman and iconoclastic writer Dany Laferriere is an Order of Canada honouree, he was overjoyed.
A longtime admirer of Laferriere’s work, Pierre asked, “Do you know that Dany Laferriere was chosen to take seat No. 2 at the Academie Francaise, becoming the first Quebecer to be admitted to this prestigious French institution?”
As a journalist in the early 1970s Laferriere focused on culture.
“When you talk politics, the dictator’s central: you’re for him or against him. But I fought against the dictatorship by trying to prevent it from being the centre of my life. The most subversive thing is to be happy in spite of the dictator,” he once said.
Admittance to the Academie Francaise is considered the Holy Grail for many French intellectuals. The Academie has 40 seats.
When his colleague Gasner Raymond was murdered on a beach by the Tonton Macoutes in 1976, Laferriere fled. He went to Montreal at age 23 because a benefactor had read of his story in a newspaper and was “touched by it.
“She sent a letter of invitation and a plane ticket. I left without thinking I was leaving,” he recalled.
Out of dictatorship Haiti, Laferriere worked as a cleaner, while attending courses at the University of Quebec at Montreal. How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, published in French in Quebec in 1985 and was adapted into a Genie-award nominated film in 1989, was a slyly incendiary provocation on interracial relations that became a success de scandale – and a best-seller.
The Enigma of the Return – a sequence of fictive memoirs – is the penultimate volume, a meditation on exile, loss and “navigating through two worlds” that won the 2009 Prix Medicis in France and the Grand Prix du Livre in Montreal.
“A writer’s country is their first library,” Laferriere said but moving to Quebec made him realize the value of Haiti’s independence. “Haiti has nothing but its independence, whereas Quebec has everything but its independence.
“Imagine the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, repeatedly hit by catastrophes, whose people think it’s the centre of the universe. Nothing can replace that psychological liberty. It’s no small thing, this freedom of the mind.”
After his accomplishment as a recognized author in Canada, Lafferiere returned to Haiti for a literary festival in the capital Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010. “It’s not often you see your city falling down in front of your eyes,” he said.
“People are screaming in pain all around you. Children are running in the streets.”
From that experience came The World Is Moving Around Me (2011) which bore testament to that memorable experience. His subsequent book signing in Port-au-Prince lasted for 12 hours.
Also named to the Order of Canada is author Lawrence Hill, best known for writing The Book of Negroes.