Haitian Author Louis-Philippe Dalembert Speaks on Writing Since Childhood

The renowned Haitian poet Louis-Philippe Dalembert does not have social media—no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook. He does not even own a cell phone. Instead, Dalembert writes many of his works “through the eyes of a child.”

“I know things a child does not,” Dalembert said in an interview conducted in French with TSL. “There are things I can’t put in the mouth of a child in my works. However, I can show a child growing up, and show the things they learn in my writing. This is what interests me. By writing through the eyes of a child, we can manipulate time in a way.”

Scripps College welcomed Dalembert to the Humanities Auditorium on March 6 to give his lecture
“Writing Since Childhood.” Dalembert is a recipient of the Scripps’ 2014 Erma Taylor O’Brien Distinguished
Visiting Professorship, which allows Scripps to host scholars-in-residence to
share their expertise and thoughts with the community.

Dalembert’s upbringing and early experiences in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, shaped his ideas and future works. His novels,
poems, essays, and other works have been translated into many languages. 

The poet said that he began writing at a young
age as a joke, and it was not until he was a teenager that he began to
write more seriously. His earliest works were written to combat the
dictatorship he lived under in Haiti.

“I thought, naively, that my poetry could
stop dictatorship,” Dalembert said. “In reality, this is generally impossible. Even more
impossible in a country like Haiti where lots of people are illiterate.” 

He said that he does not like to look back on his earliest writings. 

embarrassed of them,” Dalembert said. “As I grew up, I learned we must not write against. We must write for. We must write even simply for the pleasure of writing. We forget
about the crux, or the heart, of writing—that writing is art.

Dalembert believes that art has significant staying power compared to other writing.

“If you write something today that’s only message is against something—the government, for example—in 20 or 30 years, when someone reads
it, it will say nothing,” he said. “However, if the writing is beautiful, we can read it for years to come to just
appreciate the work as art.”

Dalembert grew as a writer, he also established his own voix, French for “voice,” but also his own voie, which is French for “path.” He
realized that he could imitate the authors he loved to read, and create his own
works of art.

“There is a French expression that says on raisons comme [French for ‘we do like or as’],” he said. “That
is to say, if I like a writer, I want to write in the same way as that writer.
Through this, we can find our own voices and paths.” 

Last year, Dalembert worked as a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he taught writing and Caribbean literature, as well as French film.

During his boyhood, Dalembert would watch films screened at the drive-in movie
theater in Port-au-Prince. However, he would watch them from a distance for
free, meaning he could not hear the sound. Dalembert would try to read the
lips of the actors or rely on others around him who had seen the film in full to understand the film’s dialogue. 

When asked about what he thinks of film
today, Dalembert stressed how people today are too focused on instant

“Today, when you see a film, everything happens extremely rapidly, and then you forget it,” he said. “I prefer
older films, which move more slowly. They give you time to think about them,
and to appreciate them as art. When the film is over, you still think about
everything you just heard and saw.”

Dalembert believes that this fast-paced lifestyle is
typical of society today, and he hopes to avoid it by keeping away from social media and electronics. 

However, Dalembert said that while he attempts to write through the eyes of a child, he also writes with the knowledge he has today.

“This is what interests me,” Dalembert said. “I can show a child who
doesn’t know something that I do—but I can’t forget what I’ve already

Dalembert has won numerous awards for his work, including the Prix spécial “Ville de
Limoges” for his novel Noires Blessures in 2011 and
the Casa de las Américas Prize for his novel Les dieux voyagent la nuit
in 2008. He has
previously lived in Haiti, Germany, and Israel, and currently resides in Paris.

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