An n’ Pale | Café Conversation with Frankétienne

10612558_10152672471916830_8084676283551669964_nThe high hum of voices in the room gave away the excitement of the crowd. Everywhere you looked, people were deeply engrossed in conversation, having some heated debate, or laughing over a glass of wine. A quick scan of the room revealed that all available seats were full and any remaining wall space, or other standing room, was taken. It was clear that everyone gathered at FiveMyles gallery on the evening of September 19, 2014 for Haiti Cultural Exchange’s (HCX) An n Pale Conversation Series was eagerly awaiting the guest of honor that night: Franketienne. Haiti’s literary powerhouse was in town to promote the release of the English language version of his first full-length novel, “Ready to Burst”. On this night, Franketienne was to be accompanied by Kaiama Glover, the Associate Professor at Barnard who translated “Ready to Burst” from the French, and author Madison Smartt Bell. Following an introduction by HCX Executive Director Régine M. Roumain, Bell, who was to interpret from the Haitian Creole, and Glover, who was to interpret from the French, dived right in to a conversation with Franketienne.

As Franketienne began to answer questions (“Tell us more about the novel”, “How did you come to invent the literary genre of spiralism”, “What was it like to live through the Duvalier dictatorships and to protest through your literature?) one thing was immediately clear: there is deliberateness to his character that resonates strongly with people. Each word spoken, just as in his literature, is carefully chosen and hand-picked to provide the strongest impact possible. The respect and reverence that hung in the air was palpable as Franketienne described his work, as he related his thoughts on the matters of the world, as he reminded us that there is no one solution to Haiti’s problems, and as he shared his desire to engage as much as possible with the Haitian people as he could. As Franck seamlessly wove in and out of French and Haitian Creole, Bell and Glover interpreted accordingly. “True wealth is in spirituality,” he stated. The crowd murmured in agreement. “Without chaos there is death,” he insisted. “The world belongs to us all,” he boldly exclaimed. Applause often ensued as each statement proved to be even more daring than the last.

As the evening wore on, the energy of the crowd became increasingly more heightened. Being a man of the people, an artist for the people, Franketienne insisted on including the people in the conversation. In his eyes, his existence now is focused entirely in pawòl, or Kreyòl for “speech”. His goal is to engage with the people, to speak with the people, to share with the people. In this spirit, audience members began not just to ask questions but also to offer their opinions and commentary on everything from the current state of affairs in Haiti to the importance of protesting the injustices that are happening on a global scale to imparting their own wisdom regarding the role of the Haitian diaspora in Haiti’s future. Some people spoke from their seats and still others made their way to the front of the room, as if their mere proximity to Franketienne would imbue them with the very spirit of his genius. Franketienne welcomed them all. He openly acknowledged every speaker. Be they critic or fan, long-winded questions or not, Franketienne interacted with them all in such an intimately genuine way that it was obvious why he continues to be held in such great regard by so many, both in the world of literature but also in the everyday, commonplace life of all Haitians.

The evening ended with Franck reading an excerpt from Mûr a Crever and Glover reading the corresponding English passage from Ready to Burst. Franketienne reminded the crowd why he is considered one of the founding fathers of contemporary Haitian literature. Drawing from his background in theater, Franck’s reading was poignant, jarring and impactful. For those who could understand the French, he drew them in with the words, and even those who could not understand could feel the weight of the sounds of the words leaving his mouth. Glover’s English translation of the French left many wanting to hear more, wanting to immerse themselves more completely in the work of a man who has, for decades, lived and loved Haiti and its people so much that he has built an entire life of art around it. The readings were followed by a book signing, that went well beyond the intended end time of 9:00 but this was of no consequence, both to those who waited patiently for their moment with Franketienne but also to Franck himself, who lives for these personal interactions. As it tends to happen at HCX events, people continued to linger, not quite ready for the night to end. As people slowly trickled out of the gallery, the energy was still one of excitement. In the course of just a short evening, with just his words and his very presence, Franketienne had managed to ignite a powerful fire in many.

Click here for pictures of Frankétienne’s conversation.
Click here to watch Frankétienne read from his book.

By Wynnie Lamour, Founder of the Haitian Creole Language Institute

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 at 6:28 pm and is filed under An n' Pale, Archive, Events, HCX Collaborations, HCX Programs, Poetry, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.