Dany Laferrière is Immortal
Occasionally we'll drop a line on here in support of a writer or work that has particularly inspired us in some way. I wrote about Rosalyn Drexler, who is a striking, witty talent a little while back, particularly her novel, The Cosmopolitan Girl.
Dany Laferrière is a Haitian-Canadian writer who was inducted last year to France's prestigious Académie Française, which is like something out of a superhero movie: a club with only 40 members known as "Immortals," started in the mid-17th century by a Cardinal, seeking to preserve and further the French language. You wear a cape and a sword when inducted, and the other academicians select a word for you. In Laferrière's case, the word chosen was "Valiant."
I first became aware of Laferrière through reading his phenomenal 2010 novel, I Am a Japanese Writer. The story follows a black writer that lives in Canada whose strongsuit is coming up with titles for his books, whose editor agrees to sign on a new book based on the title alone, which also endears the writer to fans and embassies internationally: I Am a Japanese Writer. The writer feels a kinship with the Japanese poet Basho, and uses this affinity along with the title to explore issues of national, cultural, and racial identity.
Laferrière was born in Haiti and worked there as a journalist until the age of 23, during the reign of "Baby Doc" Jean-Claude Duvalier, when the death of a fellow journalist left him fearing for his own life. Fleeing Haiti, Laferrière settled in Montreal, where he worked nights as a janitor and penned his debut novel, How To Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, which was later turned into a feature film and—according to the New York Times—earned him a job as a television weather forecaster (naturally).
So you can see how issues of identity would be important to Laferrière. Apparently, Haiti and Canada both claim paternity, but Laferrière says: “I don’t just come from Haiti or Quebec; I also come from the books in my library.”