Franco-American cultural identity is typically expressed in writing, music and oral histories. But next week, Franco-Americans can share their stories and experiences at a new three-day conference on Franco-American culture being held next week at the University of Maine Orono campus. 

“We’re looking for all Franco-Americans, including younger people ages 18-45 to participate in the cultural identity program,” said Susan Pinette, director of the Franco-American Studies program, which is hosting the event. She’s a bilingual native of Fort Kent who grew up speaking French. “Hopefully, we will attract Franco-Americans of all ages, so the program will eventually become an annual gathering.”

“The Living Past: Franco-American Cultural Identity,” from May 20-22, will be held in Soderberg Lecture Hall, in Orono.

The purpose of the seminar is to understand the significance of Franco-American culture today, especially for young people. Contemporary expressions of Franco-American culture will be discussed at roundtable conversations, through storytelling, dramatic performances, music, and art.

Two dozen Franco-Americans will share their writing and creative work, and opportunities for personal networking are an additional bonus for attendees who spend the weekend sharing cultural stories.
Danielle LaLiberte, 26, of Jackman said she is looking forward to discussing her passion for the Franco-American culture. She’s a writer and a member of the University of Maine’s Franco-American Resource and Opportunity Group (FAROG).

“I consider myself a militant Franco. I’m a firm believer in Franco-American traditions and how we speak a special North American French,” says LaLiberte. As a cultural advocate, she attends academic programs in Quebec and participated in a Franco-American theater presentation with the Maine playwright Greg Chabot.

Laliberte says the Franco-American traditions she celebrates must exist within today’s culture. In fact, one session of the colloquium will address “Franco-American Identity in the Modern World.”

Also presenting is Mara Bonsaint, 31, a Franco-American artisan and writer. Bonsaint says it was Pinette who inspired her to learn more about her family’s Franco-American history and heritage. She was born in Lisbon Falls, but later moved to Brunswick with her parents.

“I’m interested in sharing all aspects of my culture. I’m proud of my heritage and want to learn more about why or how my family is here in Maine”, she says.

Bonsaint, who is also a book binder, is writing a book about Franco-American artists: “I have worked every aspect of this book, from interviews to printing and hand binding.”

American writer Ron Currie, a native of Waterville, will present at the colloquium, says Pinette. Although Currie is sometimes compared to the American writers Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver, he seldom shares his Franco-American heritage in his biography.

In 2007, Currie received the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library and the Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his humorous science fiction novel “God is Dead”. In 2009, he published “Everything Matters”, winner of an Alex Award from the American Library Association.

Support for the Franco-American colloquium is provided by a generous contribution from the Centre de la Francophonie des Ameriques in Quebec and the University of Maine. The cost to attend, which includes registration, housing, meals and receptions, is $150, with a student discount rate of $85. Some scholarship assistance is available, and daily conference rates are available. For more information or to register online, go to https://sites.google.com/site/faculturalidentity/