Meeting Writer Gerard Robichaud

By Juliana L’Heureux

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There aren't many writers who reach a fresh peak of fame at 94 years of age. Gerard Robichaud is a delightful exception. The spry 94 year old Franco-American writer is gaining rave reviews because he was recently recognized by the Baxter Society of Maine for his 1961 novel "Papa Martel", originally published by Doubleday. Although the book was out of print for many years, it was selected as one of the 100 choice books written during the last millennium that best reveals Maine writers
and the state's people. As a result, there's a renewed flurry of interest in Robicaud and his novel. It was republished recently by the University of Maine Press.

"I was known as the only Franco-American writer in the country when 'Papa Martel' was published. It was before Kerouac was famous," recalls Robichaud.

"Papa Martel" is about a Franco-American family living in a fictional Maine city named Groveton, probably a pseudonym for Lewiston. Moreover, a reception to honor Robichaud was hosted last week in Lewiston . During the program, excerpts from the novel were performed by local actors with music accompaniment.

"Papa Martel" is different from other Franco-American books. Gifted with a writer's wit, Robichaud paints the oral traditions of his heritage with colorful profiles of real people struggling with their culture during the time between the First and Second World War. The plot is a Rosary of charming vignettes woven together by Louis Martel's rustic philosophy about life in general and Franco-American customs. Robichaud beams with gratitude about the novel's rediscovery. "I wanted to write about the best of humanity. I want people to be better than they were after they read the story," he explains. In fact, he says, "Papa Martel" actually brings out, "the priest in me".

"I haven't changed one word of 'Papa Martel' since it was first published," says Robichaud. As a matter of fact, public readings of the book are difficult for him because he's tempted to make changes. "I want to avoid the irresistible urge writers have to re-write their published work, even after these many years" he admits.

Born in 1908 in St. Evariste, Beauce, Quebec Province, Robichaud is the only one of his mother's sons not born in Lewiston. The circumstances of his birth may contribute to his longevity. "My mother was living in Lewiston but the doctor sent her back to St. Evariste when she was expecting me. He said the baby would be healthier if she went back to breath her natal air, in the place where she was born," explains Robichaud with a bright twinkle in his eyes. "Now, my brothers are all dead, but I'm still healthy at 93 or 94 (or is it 95?). Oh yes, by the way, I'm writing another book right now," he says.

During the 1930s, Robichaud worked as a bell hop while living in Greenwich Village in New York City. Living in "The Village" helped him to develop as a writer. Nevertheless, it was his wife Elizabeth who encouraged him to write about what he knew best. He decided to write a novel based loosely on the life of his father. Louis Martel, the book's main character, is a composite of the memories Robichaud has of his father.

Robichaud intends to participate in the Biddeford's La Kermesse festival in June, at the Franco-American Writers and Composers exhibit. "Papa Martel" will be for sale at the tent while Robichaud is attending. He'll sign as many books as he can at that time.

Papa Martel was originally published by Doubleday in 1961 . It has recently been re-issued by the University of Maine Press and the Franco-American Center.

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Copyright 2003, Juliana L'Heureux