Haitian Authors Star at France’s Etonnants Voyageurs Festival

In English Language by Olivia Snaije

Haitian Art

By Olivia Snaije

SAINT-MALO: This past weekend, the 21st edition of the French literary and film festival Etonnants Voyageurs took place in Saint-Malo, Brittany. While Russia, with an impressive line-up of authors and films was the guest of honor, Haitian writers played the starring role.

Last January the second Haitian edition of the festival was just about to begin in Port-au-Prince and nine other locations when the devastating earthquake hit. It was to have been a celebration of Haiti’s literary creativity, whose authors “are capable of speaking to the entire world.”

Haitian writers such as Louis-Philippe Dalembert, Edwige Danticat, Dany Laferrière, Lyonel Trouillot, Yanick Lahens, and Emmelie Prophète have collected no less than 11 international prizes among them over the past few years.

Organizers decided to reschedule the festival in St. Malo, adding the Haitian events to the cast of international writers.

Since the earthquake Haitian writers have frequently published articles in the French press to counter the image of the island as being cursed but also to bring to the fore the country’s social inequalities, the failed role of the government, and the uncomfortable relationship the country has with NGOs.

The particularity of Etonnants Voyageurs (which takes its name from a line in a poem by Charles Baudelaire) is that the festival has morphed into a world literature event culminating in the publication in 2007 of a manifesto in which the president and founder, Michel le Bris and other writers called for a new French-language literature that goes far beyond France’s borders.

Haiti is a perfect example of how writers from this former colony still use the French language but have transformed it into a literature of their own, creating a veritable genre that is even taught in universities.

In St. Malo there were round-table discussions on subjects such as “Writing as a metamorphosis for pain”, “Haiti, an island in poetry”, or “What women tell us”, with participants including Montreal-based Dany Laferriere, Lyonel Trouillot, the award-winning poet Franketienne, Evelyne Trouillot and Emmelie Prophete.

Haitian-Canadian authors spoke about the close link between Haiti and the Quebec region of Canada, which is a second home to many Haitians and another area of the world where the French language is re-interpreted.

After the terrible destruction wrought on the island by the recent earthquake, Haitian authors feel it is their responsibility to show that all is not always doom and gloom on the island.

As the late Haitian writer Jean-Claude Charles wrote:

When I was a child, I used to read the almanac to see when tides would rise and by how much, when the sun would set, when the moon would be high and when it would go down, and how far it was from one port to another, and I was happy. Try it, you’ll see. And listen to some blues.

READ: More about the Haitian program featured at the Festival.

REVISIT: Our earlier story about the release of the charity book 100 Stories for Haiti, which is now available.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.