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Hubert Aquin

Hubert Aquinb. October 24, 1929, Montreal, Quebec; d. March 15, 1977, Montreal, Quebec

“I am the fractured symbol of the revolution of Quebec,” Hubert Aquin once wrote, “but also its disordered reflection and its suicidal incarnation.” One of Quebec's most important public intellectuals and political agitators for independence in the sixties, Aquin lived a short and passionate life dedicated to political and social revolution.

Born in Montreal's Lafontaine Park area to a family or modest means, Aquin was educated by Jesuits before attaining a degree in philosophy from the University of Montreal in 1951. After studying for three years at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, he returned to Montreal and from 1955 to 1959 worked as a radio and television producer at Radio-Canada. From 1959 to 1963, he served as a producer for the National Film Board, where his credits include directing the influential and controversial documentary À Saint-Henri le cinq septembre (1962).

In 1960, while working as a stock broker at the Montreal Stock Exchange, Aquin joined the intensely nationalist Rassemblement pour l'Indépendence Nationale (RIN) and became involved in terrorist activities. He was named vice-president of the organization in 1963. In 1964, after being arrested while in possession of a stolen car and a concealed firearm, he served four months in incarceration at the psychiatric institute Albert-Prévost, shere he wrote his first novel. Published in 1965 at the height of the Quiet Revolution, Prochain Episode–a searing, first-person account of terrorism about to be perpetrated by the novel's young narrator–was regarded as a literary masterpiece and had a profound impact on the Quebec intelligentsia and the nationalist movement. In 1968, Aquin left the RIN in protest over the organization's decision to merge with Rene Lévesque's Mouvement Souveraineté Association to form the Parti Québécois, a move he saw as the death of Quebec independence.

Uncompromising in his ideals, Aquin was the first Quebec writer to refuse a Governor General's Award. He served as director of the significant journal Liberté Review for ten years, from 1961 to 1971, and resigned in protest over the publication's self-censorship following the October Crisis of 1970. He also resigned from editorial boards of various literary magazines and presses when they accepted funding from the Canada Council of the Arts. From 1967 to 1974, while continuing his literary and political activities, Aquin worked as a professor of literature at Montreal's Sainte-Marie College, l’Université du Quebec à Montréal, the State University of New York in Buffalo and Carleton University in Ottawa. During this time he also published the novels Trou du mémoire (1968), L'Antiphonaire (1969) and Neige noire (1974).

Regarded as a classic of Canadian literature, Prochain Episode was the winning entry in the CBC's prestigious “Canada Reads” competition in 2003. The self-destructive thoughts of the novel's narrator foreshadow Aquin's own death: On March 15, 1977 – four months to the day after the Parti Québécois won its first election – Aquin shot himself in the head. He left a suicide note claiming his death was a free and positive choice, stating, I have lived intensely, and now it is over.” A fuller understanding of Aquin’s intense life can be gained from viewing Jacques Godbout’s excellent biographical documentary, Deux épisodes dans la vie d'Hubert Aquin (1979).

By Andrew McIntosh

Film and video work includes

Four Families/Quatre enfants du monde, Comparisons series, 1959 (producer)

L’Exil on banlieue, 1960 (producer)

Four Religions/Les Grands religions, Comparisons series, 1960 (producer)

Four Teachers/Quatre instituteurs, Comparisons series, 1961 (producer)

Le Temps des amours, 1961 (director; writer; producer)

Of Sport and Men/Le Sport et les hommes, Comparisons series, 1961 (director)

À Saint-Henri le cinq septembre, 1962 (director)

Ceux qui parlent français series, 1962 (researcher)

Jour après jour, 1962 (producer)

À l’heure de la décolonisation, 1963 (writer)

Wedding Day/Jour de mariage, Comparisons series, 1963 (producer)

Three Apprentices/Trois pays, trois apprentis, Comparisons series, 1963 (producer)

Three Grandmothers/Trois pays, trois grand-mères, Comparisons series, 1963 (co-producer with Gordon Burwash, Guy Glover)

La Fin des étés, 1964 (writer)

L’Homme vite, 1964 (producer)

Three Fishermen/Trois pêcheurs, Comparisons series, 1964 (producer)

Portrait of the Artist/Trois pays, trois artistes, Comparisons series, 1964 (co-producer with Gordon Burwash, Guy Glover)

Faux-bond, 1966 (writer; actor)

Le Soleil des autres, 1970 (story idea)

Deux épisodes dans la vie d’Hubert Aquin, 1979 (appears as himself)

Note: Updated to Jun 30, 2005

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