- Gary VictorProfile of a Writer for the People
Born in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince in 1958, Gary Victor is undoubtedly one of the most widely read writers in his country today. Outside of Haiti, his notoriety is slowly but surely growing, although he remains relatively unknown to an international audience, with the exception of Germany where his detective novels have been very successful. In this interview with the author, we are primarily concerned with the central character of his detective novel series, Inspector Dieuswalwe Azémar—a local police officer conducting an investigation in the very heart of Haitian Society—and with the author’s personal journey. The notes that accompany this interview are an attempt to contextualize Victor’s works within Haitian literature and to better understand the writer’s position in the literary landscape.
“Gary Victor, King Créole”: It is in this manner that in 2006 journalist Thierry Leclère hailed the relatively unknown Haitian writer and introduced him to French readers in Télérama.1 By then, Gary Victor had already published five novels with Vents d’Ailleurs Publishers, although only two of them were entirely original editions, as the other texts had previously been published in Haiti.2
In fact, Gary Victor was already an inescapable figure of the Haitian literary landscape. He was a prolific established writer by the late 1980s, producing narratives in various genres. His works trace the contours of a world in which unbridled imagination becomes one with reality and where foundation myths, collective illusions, and vodou traditions combine and are recounted like so many other possible mysteries that [End Page 55] serve the power of the most vile and reinforce social violence. These all-powerful myths, which maintain social order, deeply penetrate Haitian mentalities and control individual as well as collective ideologies. The power of myths, which governs Haitians’ identity and their historical destiny—both individual and interlocking, is undeniably one of the most striking features of Victor’s fictional universe. Moreover, the author’s overflowing imagination and his often-biting humor, combined with his tendency to thumb his nose at conventions of all kinds, classify him as an iconoclast. His tales are populated with shattered idealists and immoral characters driven by their compulsions, their thirst for power and money. Directly inspired by current social and political events in his country, Victor’s characters reflect a devastating level of social and moral degradation.
Victor’s rejection of static representations also provides us with a promising basis for exploring his position in the literary world. Presenting himself at the very beginning of Symphonie pour demain, his first self-published book, as one “who is self-taught by choice, educated far from the ideas which typify Haitian literature,”3 Victor has shown himself from the start to be a recalcitrant author who continuously pro-claims himself to be outside established intellectual circles and distant from literary convention. He openly declares his noncompliance in an often-provocative tone.4
Even as he writes from his island, and his fiction is permeated by Haitian myth and reality, the literary universe reflected in his works is vast. To begin with, his connection with the la Ronde group through common themes and literary genres is undeniable.5 Moreover, his fertile imagination; his taste for social commentary, allegories, and marvelous realism;6 as well as his disillusioned but affectionate portrayal of his own society place him firmly within the context of Latin American and Caribbean literature. Finally, his affinity for certain genres, such as science fiction or fantasy, align some of his works more with Anglo Saxon literature.
Living and publishing in Haiti, Victor works within a literary setting that is more than 200 years old, but still under the influence of the French literary establishment—whose canons and hierarchies he mutilates even as he subtly manipulates certain accepted traditions. Thus, though he [End Page 56] seeks to reject any attempt at restrictive writing through stories that defy classification; celebrate a plurality of genres, tones, and forms; and decompartmentalize cultures,7 he also revisits abandoned esthetic traditions and makes them palatable to modern readers.8 His...