Honouring World Francophone Week


Above, left to right: Hédi Bouraoui, Cécile Cloutier, Aristote Kavungu, Lélia Young, Robert Dickson and Marguerite Andersen (Photo courtesy of Le Métropolitain newspaper)

Do Franco-Ontarian publishers really read the manuscripts that authors send them? Does Franco-Ontarian culture refuse diversity? These are only two of the questions discussed by invited authors for a debate entitled “Being a Francophone Author in North America Today” (“Être écrivain francophone en Amérique aujourd’hui”), in honour of World Francophone Day. The debate occurred within the framework of numerous activities organized by York’s Department of French Studies on Thursday, March 18.

Left: Paul Laurendeau (Photo courtesy of Le Métropolitain newspaper)

The panel included Paul Laurendeau, moderator, and Lélia Young, event organizer, both of whom are professors in York’s Department of French Studies, Faculty of Arts; and Hédi Bouraoui, Cécile Cloutier, Aristote Kavungu, Robert Dickson and Marguerite Andersen.

Kavungu is the author of the novel Un train pour l’est (A Train for the East), which garnered the Grand Prize of the Toronto French Book Fair in 2003. He pointed to the example of a famous work from Anne Hébert which was retyped and sent out as an anonymous manuscript, and was apparently rejected by almost all publishers which received it. According to him, publishers simply don’t read the manuscripts of unknown authors.

Robert Dickson disagreed. Winner of the Governor General’s Award in 2002 for his poetry collection Humains paysages en temps de paix relative (Human landscapes in times of relative peace), he has worked as a volunteer in the publishing field for the last 30 years. “It isn’t true that manuscripts aren’t read,” he insisted.

The question of cultural identity also raised controversy at times. Kavungu was born in the Congo: “I care a lot about my Francophone identity. What I reproach Franco-Ontarian culture for is that it still doesn’t understand it has to be diversified.”

Dickson replied: “I don’t believe French Ontario has ever been closed or preoccupied with being pure…. Different communities are the future of Francophone culture.”

Born in Germany, Andersen shares with Robert Dickson the fact of being Francophone by choice: “I call French my maternal tongue, though I never spoke it with my mother,” she said.

Right: Gina Létourneau (Photo courtesy of Le Métropolitain newspaper) 

Young, writer and organizer of the day’s events, added: “To be Francophone is to speak French. According to me, this has nothing to do with identity.” After the debate, Young gave the Micheline Saint-Cyr Prize to Gina Létourneau, a translation student from Glendon College, for her short story, Fondu au noir (Fade to black).

It was the first time World Francophone Day had been celebrated on York’s main campus. Approximately 50 people attended each activity, according to Young. The day’s events also included a historical-linguistic round table, Acadian songs, an international buffet, a theatrical reading, some films and a cabaret.

Other members of the York community who spoke at the event are Professor C. Ian Greene, master of McLaughlin College, Professor Raymond Mougeon, Chair of York’s Department of French Studies, and Professor Irmgard Steinisch, associate dean, Faculty of Arts.

Dominique Millette, York alumna (BA ’89) and journalist with Le Métropolitain French-language newspaper, sent this article to YFile.