Dany Laferrière, né Windson Kléber, novelist, essayist, poet and journalist (born 13 April 1953 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti). Winner of the prestigious Prix Medicis and the first Haitian, Canadian and Québécois to be elected to the Académie française, Laferrière has established himself as one of the premiere chroniclers of the immigrant experience and one of the finest novelists of his generation.
Early Life and Career
When his father, mayor of Port-au-Prince and then under-secretary of state for trade, went into exile, his mother, fearing reprisals, entrusted her four-year-old son to his grandmother in the seaside town of Petit-Goave. Laferrière, who grew up during the Duvalier regime, became a journalist and radio broadcaster and later immigrated to Canada in 1978 after a colleague, with whom he was working on a story, was murdered. His 2000 novel, Le Cri des oiseaux fous, was inspired by the crazy night he left his country without telling his loved ones.
Laferrière established a home in Montréal, where he worked in low-paid factory jobs while writing his first novel, Comment faire l'amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer (1985; tr. How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, 1987), which was a surprise commercial success. The semi-autobiographical work, later used as the basis for a feature film, tells the story of a Black immigrant with little money and an attraction to white women. Laferrière immigrated to the United States in 1990 and now divides his time between Montréal and Miami.
Other novels, in a series he has called his “American autobiography" quickly followed: Éroshima (1987; tr. Eroshima, 1991), L'odeur du café (Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe, 1991; tr. An Aroma of Coffee, 1993), Le Goût des jeunes filles (1992; tr. Dining with the Dictator, 1995), Pays sans chapeau (1996, tr. Down Among the Dead Men, 1997), La chair du Maître (1997), Dans l'oeil du cyclone (1999), Le Cri des oiseaux fous (2000) and Vers le sud (2006). He also wrote a collection of poetry, Chronique de la dérive douce (1994; tr. A Drifting Year, 1997) and a memoir titled Le Charme des après-midi sans fin (1997).
The 21st century has brought Dany Laferrière continued productivity and success. His works have included Je suis fatigué(2000), Je suis un écrivain japonais (2009; tr. I am a Japanese Writer, 2010) (winner of the Grand Prix littéraire international Metropolis bleu, 2009), La fête des morts (2009), L’Énigme du retour (2009; tr. The Return, 2010) (winner of the Prix Médicis, 2009), Tout bouge autour de moi (2010; tr. The World Is Moving Around Me), L’Art Presque perdu de ne rien faire (2011), and Journal d’un écrivain en pyjama (2013).
Laferrière is also the author of two children’s books. Based on his 1993 book An Aroma of Coffee and illustrated by Fréderic Normandin, Je suis fou de Vava (2006) won the 2006 Governor General’s Award. La fête des morts, also illustrated by Normandin, was published in 2009.
Laferrière wrote the screenplays Le Goût des jeunes filles (2004) and soon afterward Comment conquérir l'Amérique en une nuit (2004). Vers le sud (2005) was adapted by Laurent Cantet from three of Laferrière’s short stories; Laferrière received credit as co-writer along with Cantet and Robert Campillo.
In general, critics praise Laferrière's work, but they are less enthusiastic about the way he describes interracial relations, Black people and women. He defended his work in Cette grenade dans la main du jeune Nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit? (1993; tr. Why Must a Black Writer Write about Sex?, 1995), J'écris comme je vis (2000) and Je suis fatigué (2000; rev. 2005). Laferrière has also published conversations about his life and work, including J’écris comme je vis (2010) with Bernard Magnier, and Conversations avec Dany Laferrière (2010) with Ghila Sroka.
Laferrière was in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake and recounted his experiences in The World is Moving Around Me. He has subsequently been committed to correcting misconceptions about Haiti and its history. He remains active on the Montréal cultural scene, often being invited to share his perspective in discussions on literature and immigration. On 12 December 2013, Dany Laferrière was elected in one ballot to chair number two at the Académie française, both the first Haitian and the first Canadian (and more specifically, Québécois) to be given that honor.