"I like to hunt down murderers and put them away." -- Luc Vanier and the Vigilantes, by Pamela Davison
The Prix du Québec have just been announced. These are Quebec’s national prizes, each worth $30,000, and they are awarded annually to honour a lifetime of accomplishment in a dozen different scientific and cultural fields.
Among them is the literary Prix Athanase-David, which this year goes to Joël des Rosiers, a poet born in Haiti in 1951 who came to Montreal as a teenager.
Created in 1977, the prize has honoured many of the great names of Quebec literature, from Jacques Ferron and Anne Hébert to Marie-Claire Blais and Gaston Miron.
Quebec literature, in the early decades of the award, was the literature of the Québécois de souche, the old-stock francophone Quebecers whose families had been here for generations. It is only recently that the award has been opened up to writers working in French but born elsewhere (Austrian-born Monique Bosco, who was raised in France, won in 1996, and Baghdad-born Naïm Kattan in 2004). In 2006, Mavis Gallant became the first Quebec writer working in English to get the nod.
And now, for the first time, one of Quebec’s talented Haïtian writers has finally been recognized. This is the world of the late, lamented Émile Ollivier and the world of Des Rosiers’ contemporary, the novelist Dany Laferrière. It is a milieu celebrated by another Haïtian immigrant to Montreal, Rodney St.-Éloi, in his work both as poet and as publisher of Mémoire d’encrier. These and other writers from Haïti have been contributing greatly to the revitalization of Quebec literature.
Des Rosiers' work has not gone unnoticed, with his collection Vétiver winning both the Prix du Festival international de poésie in Trois-Rivières and the Montreal Grand prix du livre in 1999. The English translation of Vétiver by Hugh Hazelton (Signature Editions, 2005) won the Governor General’s award for Translation. His most récent collection Gaïac (Triptyque 2010) was nominated for the prestigious Prix Alain-Grandbois.
In addition to being a gifted poet and a practicing psychiatrist, Des Rosiers is a courageous and open-minded gentleman for whom I have great respect. This, as we all know, has nothing much to do with literary merit, most of the time. I mention it because it gives me even more reason to rejoice that Quebec has chosen to celebrate Joël des Rosiers and his work with its highest literary honour.
© Linda Leith 2011
[This post appears today, November 1st, 2011, on "In Other Words" on The Globe & Mail's website.)
Linda Leith Publishing has published three of Gazette cartoonist Terry Mosher's books -- Was It Good For You? (2012), Caricature Cartoon Canada (ed. Terry Mosher, 2012), and The Wrecking Ball (2014). His most recent book is From Trudeau to Trudeau: Fifty Years of Aislin Cartoons (2017).
Linda Leith was recently approached for a letter supporting Terry's nomination for a major award; this is that letter.
The assumption in “One Night at the Risiera” that the Risiera killed mainly Jews and the silence about the other victims may just be examples of Morris’s fabled carelessness and the ignorance of her reviewers, in homage to her lyrical cluelessness.
So, do you believe me, or the great Jan Morris? Do you trust me or the woman who says that Toronto is on Lake Superior, that there is a great hatter on a street in Toronto called Spandia, and that Yonge Street runs all the way to the “prairie farmlands”?
It’s not as though we have such precise notions of the length of a novel, which has been described as a narrative fiction of “a certain length.”