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Conversation With Dany Laferriere

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Books by Dany Laf errière: " How to Make Love to a Negro" "Eroshima" "An Aroma of Coffee" "Dining Wrth The Dictator" "Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex?" "Chronique De La Derive Douce" "Pays Sans Chapeaux" Introduction As a form of human expression, sex has proven one of the most fascinating. Here in North America it has been a subject ridden with an astonishing dose of suspicion. Consequently , it is constrained, hidden, repressed and worst of it all, itis highly misunderstood. Any mere mention of sex, any slight suggestion of it, however vague or out-right straight, ends up drawing a beguiling stare, both of despair and outrage. This pathetic uni verse is the landscape in which Dany Laferrière dared, in 1985, release what can now be termed a social "grenade." It was titled "How to Make Love to a Negro," and as expected from that one sentence, it combusted all the fuses that plagued the culture. The blast was phenomenal. "How to Make Love to a Negro" is the story of twoyoungblackmen'sday-to-daydrudgery.Their experience takes place in a small, hot apartment in the Carré St.-Denis, a Montreal district, and outside it, at the bis tro and in the street amidst the daily humdrum. It is interspersed, however, with abundant and seething love-making scènes and a vast panorama of cultural symbols of varied genre. Laferrière for sure is not shy about x-rating the bedroom's deeds and other such matters, but he is always on to something more. With a little patience, one discovers before long what it is. Behind the salacious description of copulation or masturbation lies a type of reflection - a reflection that is dealing with an enduring state of some mythology and dea'ing with the persistence of some of the fanciest assumptions in the white world. What folio ws are excerpts from a much longer conversation I recently had with Laferrière at his home in Miami. MotaMadola: Before you started writing books, youpracticedjournalisminHaitiunderDuvalier's regime. And in fact, you were forced to leave the country after one of your colleagues was found murdered. Could you give us a brief overview of the circumstances that surrounded this dramatic event? Laferrière: 111 start from the beginning for you. I was born in Port-au-Prince in 1953, but I spent my childhood at Petit-Goave. My books, in general, teil part of my lif e. I think that after secondary education I started trilling with joumalism and in 1976, with a friend, I published a weekly magazine called "Le Petit Samedi Soir." The magazine was apublicationthatopposed Duvalier' sgovemment. It wasn't, however, an underground paper and so we could not speak as strongly as we would have wished to, but nonetheless it was the first one of this genre. We were young. We were 18,19 years of age but our writings were quite known throughout the country. Certainly we did question not only Duvalier, the regime, but beyond that we questioned the manner of living chosen by Haitian people, namely, relationships between adults, between youngsters, life styles - in brief the culture itself. This was our opinión, our view, our perception of life. Still it so happened that we made reports in the joumalistic fashion if you like, about the state of misery, the condition in the provinces and their cities, and as a matter of fact we made a critical report on the first strike under Duvalier. It was a strike by the 'ciment d'Haiti'. It is precisely after that strike that my friend, the colleague who had covered the event, was killed. Then someone read about the story in The New York Times and saw that I was implicated and he sent me a plañe ticket for Montreal. So I left Haiti. MotaMadola: How did the transition go, from a situation soprecarious as the one in Haiti to a mode of life that was totally different in Montreal? I am presuming that Petit-Goave and Montreal are not like sister cities. Laferrière: You are right they are not. But I was 23. 1 was young and in that respect I was able to confront something different even when that thing wassomethingofaconsiderablechange.Ofcourse that thing was the heat, the winter, it was whites against blacks. It was, all the same, a very difficult experience. The conception of life; thecultures are so much different. In my casel had landed in a society of consumerism. And coming from Haiti wbere we had no thing to consume this was quite amazing. People I saw spent entire days buying things, buying some more, buying, buying. When I saw for instance at Chrisünas, which is a rather calm pleasant holiday in Haiti, the mad rush that animated people e very where in the s tores, I was taken aback. There was a back and forth movement that made no sense to me. I wondered why people bought a thousand dollars of gifts here in order to receive a thousand dollars of gifts there when they could have avoided spending and making others spend that much money in the first place. But that was their way. Elsewhere there was that mad speed in the subway. People ran everywhere they went. There was no speed fast enough for them. They wanted to go faster and faster. It frightened me a bit but I recovered and found my rhythm therein. MotaMadola: Let me now turn your attention if I may to what I consider your favorite space of imagination: sex. A black writer who preoccupies himself with sex must draw considerable interest. I have no doubt that the publication of "How to Make Love to a Negro," because of this highly inflammable title, brought on intense curiosity . A few years later, you wrote another book. It was published under the title: "Cette Grenade dans la Main d'un Negre est elle une Arme ou un Fruit?" - which literally reads: "That Grenade in the Hand of a Negro is it a Weapon or a Fruit?" It was translated as "Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex?" And as you stated in the opening of the book - as Marcel Duchamp said of his drawing, that it was not a pipe - you say too that it was "not a novel" but rather a collection of field notes. I thought indeed while reading them, that they were an attempt to deal with the enormous and, as implied, surprising interest that came with your arrival to fame. Has your life been that fascinating since? Laferrière: No. I wrote a book on what happened to me. Actually, what happened to me is not enough to warrant a book. Also I think that in spite of the incredible things, the grave suffering or amazing events that could occur to somebody, personal events do not always carry meaning or importance to others. So they do not necessarily lend themselves to a book. What happened to me was a point of view. It wasn't just the idea of writing things on what has occurred around me but rather a mild revolution. I wanted to undo the reserved attitude that characterizes Haitian ture. It is virtually taboo to speak about oneself in Haitian literature. The subject of importance is always farmers and farming, bourgeoisie and class struggle ... so it is never the individual that is speaking nor is he speaking about himself . So here what interested me was the idea of an individual speaking, on his own name, about an event related tohim. MotaMadola: You are aware, I presume, that here in North America, civilization, with its big heart and concern for human senses and their sensitivities, has made much fuss over what can, must, and should be said, just as much as it has over everything else that can, must, and should not be said. Thus it has considerably reduced the field of subject matter, ideas and thoughts that one can verbally express. What was the reproach most made to you concerning your first book? Laferrière: Not to be speaking as people would like me to. That complaint started right off at home. My mother wamed me that people would not understand, that this and that about it will hurt. On the wider scale, the American society sick with political corree tness, naturally, brought in its grain of salt. MotaMadola: You must have anticipated this? Laferrière: Yeah! But I have also always believed that an artist is the one person that deconstructs the comedy, the one that uncovers things and brings them to light and to the truth; the artist is the one that dares say the king is naked when that is the case. Also I don ' t like the game that a faked virtuous attitude implies. People become a facsimile of an idea and therefore impossible to decipher. I would much prefer to know people as they are rather than evolve in an artifïcially cleansed environment where one cannot distinguish anything from everything else. One may meet a fascist nowadays and not know that because everyone is busy complying with the prescribed and sanctioned version of behavior or speech. Furthermore imagine the loss that such prescriptions constitute. Consider that when we read old au thors we know who they are becauseof their candor, and we know ho w people then thought and saw the world. They said things just as they saw them. Among them you could distinguish racist authors from non-racists. But now the language is so purified you would no longer be able to know who is and who isn't. frIEf 'Ifrfrfr MEI gftY tcf )W ea


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