Meet Dany Laferrière, American
Dany Laferrière: A Special Section
Dany Laferrière has already surpassed the initial scandalous success accorded by the international media following the publication of Comment faire l’amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer and its appearance, only three years later, in a film version. The preparation of the bibliography published here has revealed a number of substantial articles in books and scholarly journals in addition to the numerous reviews and interviews that have abounded since 1985. Laferrière’s notoriety on the Canadian and on the international scene may have leveled off somewhat, but he continues to be invited for interviews, appearances at book fairs, and international gatherings of Haitian and Caribbean writers.
The moment is ripe for recognizing Laferrière in the United States as an important and productive Haitian writer whose vision encompasses the Americas, a vast region of the Western Hemisphere of which Haiti is only one important country. Although Laferrière has given a number of interviews and made other appearances in the United States, his novels are not yet known to the general reading public since none have been published on this side of the Canadian border. To date, the excerpt from L’odeur du café published by Callaloo (Summer 1992) is the only text of Laferrière to have been published in the United States.
At age forty-five, Laferrière fits chronologically between a generation that fled Haiti in the mid-1960s (Franck Fouché, Paul Laraque, Roger Dorsinville, Roland Morisseau, Anthony Phelps, and many others) and a number of younger writers, most without direct experience of the twenty years of unrelieved violence and tension of the two Duvalier regimes (Joël Des Rosiers, Stanley Péan, Edwidge Danticat). Unlike this latter group, Laferrière was impelled by his journalism and association with individuals working to oust Baby Doc to flee precipitously after having spent most of his childhood and his adolescence in Papa Doc’s Haiti.
Laferrière arrived in Montréal with his health and his Remington 22. Within some five to six years, after surviving as best he could at odd jobs, he found himself with a manuscript, a new wife, and a baby, whom he transported from New York to Montréal in 1982. Working outside the literary establishment (of either Canadian or Haitian writers in Québec), Laferrière found himself with a succès de scandal. It may be that serious critics tended to look down on Laferrière’s “scandalous” novel, dismissing his success as the result of an attention-getting title (Dany still believes in the power of a catchy title). By persistence, a fertile imagination, an unrepressed comic vision of adversity and poverty, and a driving ambition to gain power (economic) in his own manner, Laferrière has produced a diverse and significant body of fiction. [End Page 922]
It is high time that a U.S. public attracted by a comic view of life and the serious pursuit of fiction writing made their acquaintance with a writer who takes his craft and his readers seriously.
Carrol F. Coates, an associate editor of Callaloo, is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the State University of New York in Binghamton. He has translated a number of Haitian works from French to English: Rene Depestre’s The Festival of the Greasy Pole, Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Dignity, and Jacques Stephen Alexis’ General Sun, My Brother.