Post Your Opinion
Dany Laferriere
by David Homel

"I'm interested in resistance between cultures and in border crossings between them. It's the minority question seen in a new light."

Haitian-born novelist Dany Laferriere's How to Make Love to a Negro was published in Quebec in 1985 (the English translation, published this month by Coach House Press, will be reviewed in our next issue.) That novel was followed by Eroshima in 1987, "tales of sex, memory and the bomb," in the author's own description. The title of his first book may have excited readers' prurient interests, but beyond the sex and satire of How to Make Love. . . is the classic immigrant story of a young man absorbing a culture that was never meant to be his. Laferriere's first career was journalism; his engage brand of reporting led to his exile in Quebec in 1978. He spoke with David HomeI in Montreal:
Books in Canada: You've just came back from coverhig the elections in Haill. What was that like?
Deny Laferriere: I was down there for the Quatre Saisons television network. We didn't think anything much was going to happen; it turned out to be a pretty turbulent assignment. l was the only Haitian journalist out of the entire pool of some 300 foreign newspeople. Let me tell you, a black man with a camera is looked upon with even mare distrust by the authorities than a white man. It was a real eye-opener to see the way Western journalists treated a Third-World country. I was an both sides of the fence: during the day with my Haitian friends and family, in the evening back at the hotel with the press corps.
BIC: What was the journalists' attitude?
DL: When things started going bad, when journalists became the target of the attacks, they couldn't wait to get out. They totally abdicated their role as information-givers. The journalists were concerned only with their safety; "We don't want to die in this lousy country," they said. They forgot all about the place they were supposed to be reporting on. The news was reduced to one line: "Our journalists are in danger." Of course, there were a few exceptions: a guy from the New York Times and a woman photographer from Newsweek. They made me feel better about being a journalist.
BIC: The relations between your home country and what you write is more immediate in How to Make Love to a Negro than in Eroshima.
DL: How to Make Love is a book of instinct, the story of a young black starving and striving in America. In Eroshima, his appetites are more refined. One can't live off the same primal nourishment all one's life.
BIC: You've become very well known very quickly. What kind of pressures does that put on your work?
DL: None at all. I feel no pressure. My books follow a continuity that I had in mind a long time ago. I had the project for Eroshima in mind even before I started How to Make Love. The same goes for my third book, the one I'm going to write next.
BIC: What's that one going to be about?
DL: It reaches back to my childhood in Haiti early childhood, before I was 10.
BIC: People were less fond of your second book than your first. A case of readers' expectations, perhaps?
DL: The fact that I was known didn't help Ehoshima. The book was too refined for my public image, that of an impetuous young man, something of a jester too, perhaps. People wanted a good romp; they didn't get it in Eroshima.
BIC: Tell rice something about the Journalist writer relation.
DL: My books aren't particularly journalistic; they're not based on information. They're more concerned with style.
BIC: How to Make Love to a Negro is an immigrant's book, a book about gelttng a foothold. But now that you've been here for a while, and have developed a sense of belonging...
DL: I don't have a sense of belonging to Canada. I don't have a sense of belonging to Quebec either. I belong to Montreal - that's the extent of it. Montreal fascinates me. It's the first big North American city I ever lived in. I've shied away from writing about Portau-Prince, where I'm from. I didn't want to lapse into nostalgia. Also, Port-au-Prince has no literary value as a city. There are no public fantasies attached to it. I work a lot with public images of places and things cliches, really. Once I've mastered the cliche I perfect the style. I stayed away from Port-auPrince because I wanted nothing to do with the ethnographic novel. Montreal is a new, almost girlish city, full of nuances.
BIC: And Port-au-Prince is The. Comedians. What's your relation to other Haitian writers in Montreal, like Emile Ollivier, Anthony Phelps, etc?
DL: There's no relation beyond our place of birth. I'm a writer of European sensibilities interested in things American. I know Ollivier, but that's about it.
BIC: What do you think of federal government initiatives to encourage "ethnic" writers?
DL: I'm too proud to accept any appellation given to me by any government. I came here, I wanted America, the whole cake, not a few crumbs. Even when I was starving I wouldn't sign up for welfare. Not that I'm against welfare; I didn't want to have anything to do with the state.
BIC: How would you characterize Montreal as a literary territory?
DL: There's the confrontation between Europe and America here, of course. And it's brand new; as a literary territory it hasn't been exploited to the hilt like Manhattan. And Montreal means something in Europe. People overseas prick up their ears when Montreal is mentioned.
BIC. How do you drink English Canadians will respond to How to Make Love to a Negro?
DL: I don't know English Canada very well. But I think there are enough cultural signposts to keep English readers from getting lost. I talk about McGill University, places like that. It's set in an English milieu. That's because, for a Frenchspeaking black, Anglo-Saxon Montreal is a more impenetrable fortress. And in this book I'm interested in resistance between cultures, and in border crossings between them. It's the minority question seen in a new light.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us