Haitian-Québécois author Marie-Célie Agnant visits Elon during Winter Term

Many student cohorts benefit from the residency of acclaimed author who visited Elon to collaborate with Associate Professor of French Olivia Choplin in her course FRE 349: French Theater in Production. 

Students enrolled in French 349: French Theater in Production with Associate Professor of French Olivia Choplin during Winter Term 2019 had the special privilege of collaborating with critically acclaimed Haitian-Québécois author Marie-Célie Agnant to create an original work of theater in French.

Their play, "Où irons-nous? (Where will we go?)," was staged in French with English subtitles on Jan. 23 and 24 as the culminating experience of their Winter Term course.

Marie-Célie Agnant was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1953 just before François Duvalier came into power. Her childhood was tinged by an awareness of the pervasive fear that haunted the adults around her as the regime eliminated its political opponents. She moved to Montréal, Québec in 1970 where she has lived ever since, working during various periods as a translator, interpreter, social justice activist, teacher, and a writer.

Her 1997 book of short stories, "Silence Like Blood," was a finalist for the Governor General’s award in Canada. Her critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and poems offer poignant refusals of silence—both forced and chosen. In her works, she brings to light stories that have been occulted by official history, fighting to preserve a sense of memory and refusing the temptations of forgetting that lead to impunity.

While her works often treat her native Haiti, they combat the erasures of atrocities all over the world: thus, they sound echoes of Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, and the struggles that the United States has faced regarding our own fraught histories of prejudice and oppression. Agnant is a writer of and from the world: Haitian, Québécoise, Latin American, Canadian, immigrant, North American, Caribbean—and her writings offer a vision of a 21 century world that is interconnected—often by invisible threads—for better or for worse.

She spoke about the interconnectedness of those threads at a public lecture at Elon on Jan. 7 entitled “Writing from the Silence.” While at Elon, in addition to speaking with many groups of students informally over meals, she also discussed Caribbean society with Professor of Performing Arts Kirby Wahl and the cast of the spring musical "Once on this Island," which is set in the French Antilles. She met with students in professors Allison and Ren Bryan's Core Capstone Seminar COR 415: Why Were these Books Banned? to discuss how and why certain books get published and others not; and she engaged with students in Associate Professor of History Amy Johnson's HST 140: Themes in Caribbean History to talk about her experience of the Duvalier dictatorship and its fallout. 

Students enrolled in French 349 grappled with many of the themes that Agnant’s works address during the creation of their original production, and Agnant partnered with Choplin to guide them through the collaborative process of theater creation while encouraging them to bring their entire bodies and full voices to their French learning. Several of the students had read works by Agnant in previous French courses, and they greatly appreciated being able to work closely with a living Francophone author.

During her time in North Carolina, Agnant also gave lectures on campuses in Greensboro, Chapel Hill and Charlotte. Her visit was organized by associate professor of French Olivia Choplin and was graciously sponsored by the Fund for Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, the Government of Quebec, the Association Internationale des Études Québécoises, the Department of World Languages and Cultures, African and African American Studies at Elon, Theater Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, Latin American Studies, and the Elon Core Curriculum.