Canada Reads·Why I Write

Why Canada Reads author Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette chased her grandmother's ghost, then wrote a novel about it

In this special Canada Reads 2019 edition of the CBC Books' video series, Barbeau-Lavalette talks about why it’s important to make your voice heard.

Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette on being fearless when writing about your past

3 years ago
Duration 3:50
In this special Canada Reads 2019 edition of the CBC Books' video series, Barbeau-Lavalette talks about why it’s important to make your voice heard.

Montreal filmmaker and novelist Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette invites readers to follow her as she pieces together her runaway grandmother's life in Suzanne

La femme qui fuitSuzanne, translated into English by Rhonda Mullins, is a novel that explores the life of her distant grandmother, Quebec painter and poet Suzanne Meloche, who abandoned her family to pursue a dream of being an artist.

It is currently one of the five finalists on Canada Reads 2019. Suzanne will be defended by actor Yanic Truesdale during the debates in March.

CBC Books talked to Barbeau-Lavalette for the latest instalment of the Why I Write series.

Chasing ghosts

"It's interesting because I never really cared about my grandmother. She was just the one who left my mother when she was little. She abandoned her two kids and then she left. So she was kind of a mysterious ghost. But then she died. And I was the one with my mother, I needed to go in her apartment and empty the place. That was the first time I met her — without her, but through her objects, her smells, the clothes and everything. 

"At that time when she died, I was pregnant of my first daughter. I felt for the first time that I needed to complete the necklace of my family. There was one piece missing, and she couldn't stay a ghost. I needed to complete her story."

Always be authentic

"I think it's a big challenge today to have confidence, to believe in our voice, to believe in the fact that, yes, I will add a new discourse, yes I will add a new voice, I will add a new book, I will add a new film. What I would love to say to the people who feel that they need to write is just plug [into] yourself. You just need to be authentic with what you feel, authentic with what you have to say. 

"I define success as a writer when being totally yourself. When writing you are totally authentic to your own voice. This voice will reach people you don't know, people who have totally different lives or different point of view. To write a good book is to be able to reach, with your own voice, different voices all around the world." 

Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

CBC Books' Why I Write series features authors speaking on what literature means to them. 

The Canada Reads 2019 contenders


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