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Quebec author Dany Laferriere given highest honour in the French language

MONTREAL – Author Dany Laferriere has become the first Quebecer and the first Haitian to be elected to the prestigious Academie francaise as an immortal.

Laferriere joins the ranks of such literary legends as Victor Hugo and Eugene Ionesco in receiving what is considered the highest honour in the French language.

“I have to contain my joy because otherwise I’d overflow,” he said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press from Haiti, where he is attending a book fair.

“I guess if I were athletic, I’d like to be in a hall of fame,” Laferriere said with a laugh.

“It’s one of the oldest institutions that there is that brings together writers. To sit in the same chair, in a metaphorical way, as Montesquieu, Dumas, Voltaire, La Fontaine, Racine — it’s not bad.”

The goals of the Academie francaise are to maintain the purity of the French language and promote eloquence in the arts and sciences. Its 40 members are elected for life.

Laferriere says he doesn’t know when he will head to Paris but he is anxious to meet his colleagues and says he takes the post seriously.

“I won’t be the phantom academic, meaning someone you never see after he is elected,” he said. “I’m interested in the meetings, the work and the relationships between the members.”

Born in Haiti in April 1953, Laferriere came to Canada in 1976.

He published his first novel, “Comment faire l’amour avec un negre sans se fatiguer,” in 1985. It was translated in 1987 into an English version — “How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired.”

He won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2006 for his first children’s novel, “Je suis fou de Vava.”

Laferriere has also written a number of novels and essays and he won the Medicis prize in 2009 for “L’enigme du retour.”

He was elected to the Academie francaise in the first round and will assume its second chair.

Laferriere’s election was greeted with much praise in Canada and Haiti.

Pascal Assathiany, director general of Montreal’s Editions Boreal, where Laferriere published some of his work, said he will do well at the famed institution.

“There is a phrase that says that to be in the Academie francaise, you have to have talent, you have to be known, and you have to be nice,” he said.

“Dany has these three qualities. He’s a talented writer, he is known almost around the world and he’s very nice, civilized, kind, generous. I think he’ll be a good addition for the Academie.”

Assathiany added that 2013 is a “special and auspicious” year for the literary world with Laferriere’s election to the Academie as well as the awarding of a Nobel Prize for literature to author Alice Munro, the first Canadian to receive the honour.