Un grand écrivain

by Nicholas Laughlin on August 9, 2010

Dany Laferrière

Dany Laferrière

Still life bathed in warm light: a porcelain bathtub with claw feet, sumptuous white towels draped over the edge, a table set with a stack of books and a glass of red wine. A Monday night in May, and 400 people fill the darkness of Montreal’s Place des Arts’ Cinquième Salle, waiting for Dany Laferrière. He seems to glide onstage, slim, tall, impeccably dressed in a dark suit and a white shirt open at the neck — a gentleman writer or, as the French are saying, un grand écrivain.

Instant applause. They know him well, maybe too well. How as a penniless refugee from Haiti, he chucked his menial job to write a novel about a penniless Haitian refugee writing a novel about himself. A mythical summer in a sweltering apartment on rue St-Denis, drinking, womanizing, reading, writing about the meaning of it all, sure it would lift him out of poverty and obscurity.

Marianne Ackerman profiles the Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferrière in the September issue of The Walrus. A new edition of his How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired appeared a few months ago; the English translation of his latest novel, I Am a Japanese Writer, will be published later this year:

Badgered by his publisher for a new book, a writer (who lives in a tiny room on rue St-Denis) is blocked, and to stall him blurts out a provocative title: Je suis un écrivain japonais. Since he’s black, some people don’t believe him; others are furious. During the months that follow, while he seduces Japanese women, reads Basho, and hangs out in cafés, rumours of the book’s existence create a literary storm.

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