- Last Sunday was the 11th Annual Haitian Book Fair, held at York College in Queens, NY. Several Haitian book fairs are springing up in Haitian diaspora bastions including one in Montreal, a soon to happen one in DC. And of course there's Livres en Folie, a humongous well-attended one in Haiti every year. The fair featured a panel that was held entirely in French, a choice which probably explains the audience's advanced age. (Who is going to translate all this culture for American-born Haitian-Americans most of whom don't speak let alone read French or Creole?)
- This was my first time attending and I quite enjoyed the keynote speaker, Louis-Philippe Dalembert, a Haitian from France. He read excerpts from his last novel, Rue du Faubourg St-Denis. It's basically the story of an adolescent of Haitian descent living in France with his Haitian-born illiterate mother. In a now familiar narrative of the immigrant experience, he serves as her eyes, ears and crutch. He reads her letters sent by relatives in Haiti that inevitably end with requests for money. In his french urban slang, he expresses awe at this far-away place with bizarre customs that he barely understands but to which he is his mother's only link. After all, only he can read or write her letters. Tired of handling her money transfers, he ends up teaching her how to sign her name. An old French lady asks him if he is French and he says "Sometimes." He tries to make sense of his mother's religious customs by measuring them against the ambiant islam of those other immigrants who live in his neighborhood.
- Dalembert hopes that the novel will hopefully get readers thinking about issues dear to immigrants raising children in host countries, whether France, America or wherever. "How do you deal with identity problems?" he asks.
- Other panelists included the editor of the Presses Nationales d'Haiti whose goal is to republish old out-of-print Haitian classics. He mentioned that books published by Haitians abroad are exceedingly hard to find in Haiti and that his press plans to republish those books for Haitian audiences.
- Other speakers included Frantz Voltaire, an editor and filmmaker from Montreal and Jean-Robert Leonidas, author of Les Campeches de Versailles.
- The conference was organized and the panel chaired by Jasmine Narcisse, French Professor and online haitian book store owner.
Haiti - literature - haitian-american - caribbean
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