CanCulture: What was your first reaction upon hearing that your latest novel, The Return, made it onto the Giller Prize longlist? 

Dany Laferrière: Very happy. It is important for a book in its time to get any kind of exposure.

CC: What do you consider to be the strengths of your book?

DL: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think about that like that. I just write books with my vision to draw a picture. I write books on maybe the same area, the same field, from my childhood to now. I have written 21 books and they are on the same level for me and they all talk about the same thing. My journey is something like that: my childhood in Petit Goâve to Port-au-Prince, in Montreal and Miami and other towns in America. I want to follow the places of my life. You know there was a big event in Haiti, the coming of the dictatorship of [Jean-Claude] Duvalier. After that, so many people were in exile. All of my books relate [to] the story of this exile, this voyage. It is my story but it is the story of so many people who had to leave their country and to go outside, and to women who have to live with their memories. And that is why I am talking about my childhood, or my adolescence under the dictator, or the death of my father and the return to Haiti in The Return.

CC: Do you just write the story as you experience it?

DL: Oh yes, I always write from my personal life with the desire of writing for everybody but also I begin with me. It is always personal. Writing is never, for me, something public. I have to go deep inside to the bottom. It is only when I am really honest with myself that I can reach the audience.

CC: Do you ever struggle with nostalgia and identity?

DL: No, I never talk about identity, I know my identity exactly. I just want to show my identity with all of my books. I know where I am from, I know what my childhood is, and what I am doing here. This is an occidental problem, the problem of identity. I don’t have any problem like that. I am not nostalgic, [which] is why all of my books are written in the present tense.

A long time ago I came to Montreal. I left Haiti 35 years ago, and you live with so many people. After 35 years, you know your neighbors and you know the people of this country. You would like sometimes to show yourself to these people because there are so many people who say anything about Haiti and they don’t even know Haiti, they don’t even see Haiti. They only talk about the numbers, the famine, about the poverty, about the dictatorship. I would like to show to them that there are very sophisticated feelings in Haiti. I would like to show them that [Canadians] are the same people as we in [Haiti].

CC: Has the search for simplicity been greatest lesson you have learned about writing?

DL: Yes, inside that simplicity is that whole complexity. Simplicity is a piece of art that the artist uses to escape all of the difficulties; I do not put the difficulties or the anguishes inside the work. You did not see what happened to [me when I] was writing the book: you did not see all of the nightmares, all of the anguishes when you are reading the conclusion, the sunny part of the work. This is the lesson that I have learned from the primitive painters who are living in Haiti. There are very poor people in Haiti who are painting pictures that are so elegant, that do not show you what is their daily life, what kind of problems they confront when they are making these paintings. There is always the problem of daily life when children can’t go to school, can’t eat. Painters don’t have the money to pay the rent. You never see that in their painting. For me, I put some information of the daily life and I talk about famine, I talk about some kind of problem inside, even [when] I am talking about the death of my father [and] the terrible situation in Haiti.

I hope that you can see the sun in the middle of the book. It is a sunny book; it is not a very morbid or very dark book. For me, the dark or the morbid is always from people who have a very easy life and strive to change and to talk about something else in their art. It is like that for every one when you are in your imagination: you don’t want to find exactly what happened in your daily life. And when people have an easy life, they want to be dark in their imagination, or when they have difficulties in their daily life they can’t see how to go outside of these difficulties. And sometimes they escape by the art. They put the sun that they cannot have in their daily life in their art.

CC: Do you think that the “sun” in the book will stand out during the consideration for the Giller Prize?

DL: I don’t write for the Giller Prize, I write for the reader. I don’t know what happened to the reader. The reader is someone with his own life. Every reader has his own reading: you are not only reading the book, you are reading with your feelings with what happened to you this day. Even the weather has more of an influence, sometimes more important than the writer, on what you are reading. I don’t write for any kind of specific reader. I write and the reader, if you want, reads.

– Photo courtesy of Alex Paillon