LEWISTON, Me- An oral history in creative writing: One Franco-American’s life transcended into an entertaining cultural essay, by author and Professor Ernest Hebert!
Growing up Franco-American is sometimes referred to as being a “Quiet Presence”. This concept was articulated by writer Dyke Henderson in his books about Franco-Americans.
But, not all Franco-Americans are quiet. Ernest Hebert turned the concept of “quiet” upside down, when he read his personal story to the attendees who participated in September 23, University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College Franco-American Collection, community program.
His English autobiographical essay-story is titled, “Sister George and What’s in a Name”. The story is as a chapter written to publish in a book about Hebert’s Franco-American heritage. The charming life review described in the creative autobiographical essay touched on nearly every familiar cultural concept in the Franco-American experience. The audience was instantly drawn into Hebert’s family portrait when he read the essay’s title. Who was Sister George and what was her real name? It was like unlocking the families’ loot lockers of Franco-American names, whereby he opened every heart in the room.
I particularly appreciated how charmingly Hebert explained the challenges he faced as a Franco-American living in a world of “English people”. He revealed sweet and ordinary experiences where he developmentally learned to overcome the day to day struggles faced by a working class family and where he was told not to speak French in elementary school. There were no distinct moments of crises in his narrative. Like most regular working class people who struggled with social acceptance, and language discrimination, he learned to understand and come to terms with his identity by cherishing the connections he loved, with his mother, his family and the community where he grew up, in Keene, New Hampshire.
Hebert’s Franco-American identity is presented in several cultural themes, including the familiar issue about the pronunciation of his name. Nearly every Franco-American family has a story to tell about their surname. “The Hebert name in my genealogy goes all over the place, because my dad’s mother was also a Hebert.”
Mary Rice-DeFosse, a French professor and department chair at Bates College in Lewiston, said, “The program was moving and resonant. Kudos to the author, Ernest Hebert and to all who organized this excellent program. I am so proud of the Collection’s board and its work to recognize the importance of Franco-American culture. Many thanks!”
The reading by Hebert was the kick-off to five programs with the theme, “Franco-America at the Interstice of Identities”. Doris Bonneau, president of the FAC said “Mr. Hebert’s reading was a terrific first program. We also enjoyed the interpersonal networking during a pre-program reception with the Board and supporters.”
A Wikipedia biography describes Hebert as best known for the Darby Chronicles Series, which is a series of seven novels written between 1979 and 2014, about modern life in a fictional New Hampshire town as it transitions from relative rural poverty to being more upscale, almost suburban. He has also written several stand-alone novels, including Mad Boys, The Old American and The Contrarian Voice: And Other Poems. He is a Professor Emeritus who taught English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire.
Merci Ernest Hebert!
Information about Ernest Hebert is available at the Dartmouth College site here.
Check the website for the Franco-American Collection for information about future programs at this site here. Denis Ledoux is the Board member chair person for the FAC authors program. He is President of The Memoire Network.
On November 25, 2019, the Franco-American writer Susann Pelletier will read from her books Immigrant Dreams and the Unheeded Eden.