Local author releases novel about Haiti

Web Lead

Local author releases novel about growing up in Haiti

It’s probably fair to say that a novel that Richard Heller subtitles A Can-Am Haitian Story has been fermenting for more than a half century.

Heller lived on the poverty-stricken Caribbean island from 1957-1960 as a teen when his father moved there to take a job managing a flourmill.

“Living conditions were deplorable at that time,” he said recently. “Not that they are probably that good now.”

Heller’s time in Haiti provided an education not to be found in schools.

“I was kind of a street urchin,” he recalled. “My best friend was from the Dominican Republic. He spoke Creole, so I learned the language.” Another friend was also black and as they roamed the streets they called themselves the Oreos, after the cookie that has two black outer layers encasing a white filling.

“We were all over the place. But I had lots of American friends, too—military brats. We lived not far from Guantanamo.”

In his novel, Blood in the Emperor’s Inkwell, Heller says a recurring theme is “Life is not fair.”

“Haitian natives were victims of being a black race,” he said. “They suffered from economic disparity even though slavery was abolished 60 years before it was in the US. But some slavery still exists today by way of poverty.”

As a “street urchin” Heller was exposed to experiences he wouldn’t have had as a young man in the US, where he was raised.

He got to ride around in ruler Papa Doc Duvalier’s convertible.

“He would toss coins from the car,” Heller said. “I was exposed to Voodoo. I attended ceremonies and met priests. Religion in general is kind of a mystery to me—a negative one in general. But Voodoo was active in the abolition of slavery.”

If his formal education was generally hit and miss during his years in Haiti, Heller would make up for it later. His family moved back to Utah and he would later attend the University of Colorado and the University of Victoria.

He made his way north in 1967, arriving in Coutts AB in the middle of winter.

“But there was a Chinook—the further north I got the warmer the weather got!”

He carved out a career in academia, teaching French, English and ESL in universities and colleges in Canada and even Nice, France.

“I can’t boast of a great career—I bounced around a lot, just like my father. I sure got laid off from a lot of jobs. Everytime I landed a new one it seemed like it wasn’t long before the layoffs started.”

Heller retired, living in Princeton, Keremeos and Osoyoos before moving to Creston, where he is renting for the moment.

“I sold my place in Osoyoos, and now I am looking forward to buying a house with some property.”

He has written short stories over the years, never really thinking about becoming a novelist until retirement gave him time to think back to his youth, and the imprint that the years in Haiti had left.

Blood in the Emperor’s Inkwell is the result, and Creston Valley readers can find it for sale at TulipLeaves Boutique on Canyon Street.

 

Just Posted

Snow, rain and wind to hit Kootenay Pass over weekend: forecast

Environment Canada is calling for varying weather across the Kootenays this weekend

All three victims identified in Fernie arena ammonia leak

Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith were from Fernie and Jason Podloski from Turner Valley, Alta

UPDATED: Hydro lines down near Moyie

Hydro lines affecting traffic on Highway 3 south of Moyie.

Fire activity waning in the region

Highway 3 has reopened in the Crowsnest Pass as Alberta firefighters are… Continue reading

VIDEO: Sears liquidation sales continue across B.C.

Sales are expected to continue into the New Year

Human remains found at Silver Creek property

RCMP have been searching the property in the 2200 block of Salmon River Road for the past three days

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Search ramps up for B.C. woman after dog, car found near Ashcroft

Jenny Lynn Larocque’s vehicle and dog were found in Venables Valley, but there is no sign of her

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

UBC medical students learn to care for Indigenous people

Students in health-related studies to take course, workshop to help better serve Aboriginal people

Dorsett has 2 goals, assist in Canucks’ 4-2 win over Sabres

‘It was a real good hockey game by our group,’ Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Berry disappointed: Bear tries to eat fake fruit on woman’s door wreath

A Winnipeg woman has taken her berry-embellished wreath down, after a hungry bear visited her porch

Man in custody linked police search near Salmon Arm

Police have not connected arrest to search at Salmon River Road property

Most Read