At 93, Antonine Maillet wanted to decide between her origins in writing my will, a work that pays homage to all the characters who told their homeland Acadia and made it a monument of Acadian literature. We met her at her home in Montreal.
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She greets us with a smile on her face and sparkling eyes. “Step in with your left foot and make a wish,” she tells us as we step through the front door frame. An ancient Acadian belief that she revives with apparent delight each time she receives someone for the first time.
She may not be very tall, as she fondly recalls, but the writer exudes an irresistible allure. In her subdued living room, with the traffic of the city center as a distant background noise, she looks out from her armchair at a magnificent grand piano. “I love the piano. The whole family played it, but the others were better than me. I told stories,” she recalls, a slight tremor in her voice.
Even today, Antonine Maillet never tires of telling stories. And we never tire of listening to him recount the fate of this acadie that still inhabits it with so much intensity despite his last 50 years in Montreal. “I’m more Acadian than ever. All my books are about Acadia,” she says.
A tribute to his characters
in the my will, Antonine Maillet sets about dividing up her estate, she who has no “legitimate descendants”. Who will she leave her legacy to? The answer is obvious. “The writer’s mission is the same as that of a mother who brings children into the world. I gave birth to a few hundred children: my characters. I owe them everything. And they are stronger than me. »
In her book, for example, she converses with them in French interspersed with Acadian. There’s Jeanne de Valois, Mariaagélas, Pierre Bleu, Don l’Orignal… “All these people who influenced me and, in a way, forced me to keep Acadia,” she says. Pélagie-la-Charrette, especially the one that brought her the Goncourt in 1979 and to which she leaves a progressive people. “I gave it to him, in my will, this country she did not know. We now have a university; she would be amazed to know that. »
But the first to whom she owes everything is La Sagouine.
With La Sagouine I became a well-known writer. It was she who made me known. And I’m so proud of it [ce livre] because that’s the unique work in a way. Anyone could write Pelagia. But not this one. You have to have experienced it, seen it, known its language.
“If La Sagouine was important, it was because she said things. I’m not important, they are. I recreated from things I had heard. She had heard these things while associating with these people “from below the hunt” in her hometown of Bouctouche, New Brunswick, when she lived “halfway” between Canada’s richest man – oil giant Kenneth Colin Irving – and Canada’s poorest Woman — La Sagouine.
“The others looked down on them, but I didn’t like it when people looked down on them because there were people in the school who were at the end of the chase. There was one called Katchou. She was the most interesting in the class. She answered the mistress crookedly just to make her laugh. And I found it amusing that a girl downstairs answered. »
” But The sagouine, she said, I’m sure I couldn’t have written it in Acadia. i was too close I needed perspective, but most of all I needed to feel free. Because writing was a big risk: “One of two things: either we laughed or we revealed ourselves. The rest is history.
At the end of July, she gives a speech in Bouctouche on the occasion of the 30the Anniversary of the Pays de la Sagouine – the village that pays tribute to its famous heroine. “The big thing,” she murmurs, anticipating the chance to speak, she who never prepares her speeches and will use this moment to promote Acadia.
to take risks
Even today, the writer takes risks when writing. “I am 93 years old; If I can’t take risks at this age, at what age will I take risks? she asks amused. “An author has rules. But the main rule is freedom within the rules. Risk what others have not done. To dare. And if the writer isn’t free and adventurous, he won’t do anything new. »
outraged my will, we expect a story next fall or winter in which his characters Radi, Nounours and Scapin attack the giant Ovid-19. And since she cannot do without writing, she has now started a third book — floating thoughts — written in free verse. Singing, rhythmic and rhyming prose, from which she proudly reads excerpts to us.
I let my thoughts float. When I finish a chapter, the last word of the chapter inspires me for the next. Time, words, Francophonie… It ends in Acadia. I enjoy it.
And without this six-week arm cast – the law at that – she would never have allowed herself this forced break from writing.
“Writing is so fundamental to me. When I broke my arm, I said to myself: what do I do? So I’m resting… a little bit because my mind is still turbulent. But maybe it will give me new inspiration,” says Antonine Maillet.