The Canadian press seems to be echoing this headline ad infinitum, “Dany Laferrière’s Election to the French Academy Sparks Controversy.” Is anyone surprised that the controversy is still alive and kicking? In France, Hélène Carrère d’Encausse had even consulted the current President of the French Republic François Hollande (protector of the Academy), in the case of Laferrière, who was born in Haiti and moved to Montreal; she verified that the French Academy does not hold any requirements as to the nationality of the Academy members. As Carrère d’Encausse succintly put it, “the nationality is the language” (as Radio Canada reported on 12 December 2013). But it is precisely the issue of “language” that has sparked the most controversy, or what has been perceived as a reluctance to defend Haitian Creole in the eyes of the (literary) world.
It seems that in Haiti, not everyone is celebrating. The controversy was by initiated by writer Lyonel Trouillot on Haitian radio (Magik 9), when the author commented on the new immortality of the Haitian-Canadian “homme de lettres” with little tact (according to Le Journal de Québec and others). This triggered an argument on the pages of Le Nouvelliste, where Trouillot and journalist Martine Fidèle volleyed comments back and forth on Laferrière’s recent achievement and related literary topics.
In her article “Petits meurtres entre gens de lettres” [which may be translated as small murders (shallow graves, or perhaps even, ‘small’ character assassinations) among literary people], Martine Fidèle focused on the condescending and reproachful tone adopted by writers Claude C. Pierre, Lyonel Trouillot, and Bonel Auguste on the radio show “Les carnets d’Emmelie,” led by Emmelie Prophète-Milcé. Fidèle writes, “’When one sees a Haitian abroad in a situation considered prestigious, one applauds,’ mentioned Mr. Trouillot. ‘There is that, but on the other hand, it is not a major event in the history of Haitian letters. Moreover, being a member of the French Academy is not even a major event in the history of French letters.’ He added that he reproached the fact that Mr. Laferrière did not speak on behalf of the Creole language.”
However, Trouillot made it a point to publish some clarifications in Le Nouvelliste, writing two successive articles, in which he stated that some of the quotes were taken out of context. In the first article, he underlines that, “The French Academy remains a French national institution . . . It is not seen by all in France as an instance of legitimation. It is positive that it is opening up to the non-French. But Dany Laferrière but did not become a great writer . . . because he is now the French Academy.”
Literary Pettiness [?]
Meanwhile, Haitian writer and editor at Mémoire d’encrier Editions Rodney Saint-Éloi (in an interview with Journal de Québec) posits, “Who could be disturbed by a brilliant event like this? This should not happen.” He described the controversy that took place as an example of literary tyranny and megalomania. “It’s like the political space,” he added. “It’s a declared war. We are on an island, and it is ruthless [devouring]. It is [simply] rivalry and literary jealousy.”
Saint-Éloi was in Haiti with Laferrière at his election on December 12, and he recalls, “I observed an unparalleled enthusiasm. There were many young people in a packed room, standing up to cheer Dany and to welcome the news.” Laferrière’s election and new status are, according to Mr. Saint-Éloi, extraordinary in the eyes of almost all Haitians, with the exception of Trouillot: “Lyonel Trouillot is always in an oppositional stance towards Dany and it’s not worth discussing. [. . .] For young people, it was like a football final! Overall euphoria.”
Saint-Éloi adds that “Trouillot’s words are those of a wounded man. It is bitterness; it is resentment. But he is still the figure of the Haitian intellectual who speaks about everything, who knows everything. These are people who are actually politicians. Lyonel Trouillot was chief of staff and he still remains in [the world of] politics.”
This post was based on my translations of original article (and references to articles below), see http://www.journaldequebec.com/2014/01/23/lelection-de-dany-laferriere-a-lacademie-francaise-suscite-la-controverse
Also see http://lenouvelliste.com/lenouvelliste/article/126432/Petits-meurtres-entre-gens-de-lettres.html, http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/12/12/dany-laferriere-entree-academie-francaise_n_4432734.html and a compelling argument about “language” in http://www.caribbeannewsnow.com/headline-Commentary%3A-Dany-Laferriere-and-the-French-Academy-19159.html