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Nobel laureate Le Clezio gives book reading and signing at UNC

From France to Nigeria to Mexico to Panama, author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio has lived around the world exploring different cultures through art and literature.

His latest stop: North Carolina.

As part of a series of events entitled “Interculturality and the Arts,” Le Clezio, a Nobel laureate, and Mauritian scholar Issa Asgarally are visiting UNC and Duke University to discuss cultural interaction through the humanities.

The first of these visits, Wednesday at UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center, began with book readings and signings by both men, who were accompanied by their wives Jemia Le Clezio and Sarojini Bisseussur-Asgarally.

Le Clezio read excerpts from two of his books in French, while audience members followed along with the English translation printed in the program.

UNC Ph.D. candidate Martha van der Drift, who is writing her dissertation on the writings of Le Clezio, has been facilitating his visit to UNC since November 2011.

“We’ve talked a lot about the idea of interculturality, which is an underlying theme in his works,” van der Drift said, adding that Le Clezio’s desire for all cultures to gain a better understanding of each other inspired her to ask him to visit UNC.

“His style is a storyteller’s style that crosses all cultures in the world and also crosses all social strata,” van der Drift said.

“He lives within these cultures that he writes about, so he’s not necessarily giving us a perspective of a Westerner who goes on vacation somewhere and sees something.

“He’s really giving us the perspective of being inside the culture.”

Van der Drift collaborated with Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute to bring Le Clezio to Duke, which will host him in the institute’s Haiti Lab today.

Christina Chia, associate director for programs and communications at the institute, said the event is a series of conversations mixed with musical performances and readings to create a multi-genre experience centered on the topic of revolution.

“(Le Clezio) has a novel called ‘Revolutions,’ which spans the globe and moves from different geographic national locations,” Chia said.

“So the event is supposed to take that as inspiration. It’s less of a talking event and more of an attempt to bring the arts and history and that concept of interculturality together.”

Le Clezio co-founded the Foundation for Interculturality and Peace with Asgarally, and the two held a panel Wednesday on promoting interculturality in the humanities and the arts in front of about 50 people.

Le Clezio also delivered a keynote address with Asgarally on interculturality to close the day’s events and his visit to UNC.

The events drew audience members of all ages and from all over UNC and the greater Chapel Hill community.

UNC professor Henry Veggian is a self-proclaimed admirer of Le Clezio’s works.

“Speaking as a humanist, the most important thing is that people recognize that writers like Le Clezio are more than national figures; they’re global figures and figures of world literature.” Veggian said.

“This type of writing is not just an intercultural exchange — it’s a living tradition in world literature, and he’s one of its great contemporary ambassadors.”

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