Antonine Maillet, a renowned novelist and playwright, is the leading literary figure from the French-speaking Acadian community of New Brunswick’s East Coast.
Hailing from Bouctouche, Maillet’s award-winning work “La Sagouine” (1971) inspired the creation of the tourist theme park “Le Pays de La Sagouine.” The park celebrates Acadian dialect, culture, and history, attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year to the small town of fewer than 3,000 residents.
“La Sagouine” is a groundbreaking series of dramatic monologues in Canadian theatre that gained international acclaim. The title character, an elderly Acadian washerwoman, epitomizes the Acadian language and culture. Since its publication, Maillet has authored over thirty titles, primarily focusing on contemporary and historical Acadian experiences. Her work is written in the Acadian dialect, which is largely incomprehensible to most Francophones due to its roots in ancient French language patterns.
Le Grand Dérangement, a historic event, plays a significant role in Maillet’s work. In 1755, power struggles among colonial powers resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of French-speaking Acadians from Nova Scotia. Many faced death during the journey, and the survivors often experienced permanent separation from their families. This had a profound impact on Acadian society and culture.
Upon receiving the prestigious Prix Goncourt for her book “Pélagie-la-Charette” (1979), Maillet stated, “I have avenged my ancestors.” The novel narrates the expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia. Maillet became the first North American to win this esteemed French literary award.
Maillet obtained her B.A. and M.A. from the Université de Moncton, followed by a Ph.D. in literature from the Université Laval in 1970. Her dissertation, “Rabelais et les traditions populaires en Acadie,” was published by Presses de l’Université Laval and documents more than 500 archaic phrases and expressions from 16th-century French still in use in Acadian communities. She has since received over twenty honorary doctorates.
Her 1972 book, “Don L’Orignal,” which tells a magical realist fable about love and war in Acadia, won the Governor General’s Award. Maillet has been honored as a Companion of the Order of Canada, an Officier des Arts et des Lettres de France, a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and a 2005 inductee into the Order of New Brunswick.
A spirited storyteller and passionate advocate for the Acadian people, Antonine Maillet currently resides in Montreal.
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