Sunday, May 31, 2015

An historic first for Académie Française

As I reported in my International New York Times op-ed a couple of months ago, France seems to be loosening up when it comes to defending its language. The latest historic moment is the naming of the first foreigner to l'Académie Française, that august defender of the French language since 1635.

In recent years a few Frenchmen born outside of France have been named to the this very private club, including perhaps most shockingly, an English-born poet, but Dany Laferrière, born in Haiti, and a Canadian citizen, is the first non-citizen of France awarded the post.

France's minister of culture, Fleur Pellerin, signaled this openness in March 2015 speech in which she pointed out the there are more French speakers outside of France than in it, so it nice to see to substance put behind the talk.

Some interesting details about M. Laferrière's induction and life:
  • His traditional a black tailcoat embroidered with green olive branches took a Montreal embroiderer 500 hours to make
  • His sword, handmade by a Haitian sculptor, had references to Legba, the Voodoo deity of crossroads
  • Among his 20 novels are the autobiographical "How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired,"  which became a 1990 film
We wish M. Laferrière bonne chance in his new post. We don't have to wish him  bonne santé, because the 40 members of the academy as call les immortels.  Time will tell.

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