This afternoon I witnessed an extraordinary event: the release of a book by David Adams Richards at the gallérie d'art à l'université de Moncton. Besides the author in question, the matriarch of Acadian letters, Antonine Maillet, was there and said kind things about him. She called for the amicable coexistence of the two literary traditions in New Brunswick, one English and the other French, noting that she herself needed the work of someone like David Adams Richards.
Mr. Richards, what one would describe as a poetic realist, gave an interesting account of humanity, of not placing oneself apart from it, and to not become lost in a world of books so much so that you ignore the humanity of others. This, I feel, is indeed a very important point. And the magnanimity of Tante Tonine was astounding, especially for someone so learned and so iconic. May I note here that Richards lives now in Toronto (not in his hometown of Miramichi) and Tonine lives in Montreal (if I am not mistaken).
This brings me to my real point--the role of the writer who leaves and further, the role of the writer in his community after he meets with success.
I personally have left Louisiana in many ways. I don't plan on living there for at least the next four years, and who's to say from there. I'd like to think I'll move back to be close to my families and culture, but for right now, I am content to be away. Furthermore, I will not attempt to fashion my oeuvre as a closed, ethnic work. But does this mean I've betrayed my culture?
I'd hope not, but I am doubtful. I already see the phenomenon of people undercutting the success of their own here in Moncton. It almost seems as if people would rather the artist to never rise to more success than a single community can give. For instance, the musician Zachary Richard is derided a bit (not necessarily vehemently) in Louisiana whereas Acadians here love him. Although people may say it is his arrogance (which I cannot comment on having never met him), I believe that it is more his attitude of I am an artist who will not be bound by even my own culture. I personally think his renditions of the Cajun standards, while not reflective of the folklorist version of our heritage we sell to tourists, are very interesting, as is his ability to produce new music.
There are many parallels here in Moncton: those who have reached fame and validation outside of Acadie who are now considered vendu (a sell-out). This I feel is awful. The success of artists outside of a close-knit community is the sign that the culture is making a lasting hold in the artistic tradition of the world--meaning that it will avoid what all art wants to avoid: being forgotten.
By the way, Happy Valentine's Day!