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Dany Laferrière has been admitted to the Académie française.

Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

Dany Laferrière, a sharp-witted novelist who settled in Montreal to escape violence in his native Haiti, has become the first Canadian to earn one of the French-speaking world's most prestigious honours, membership in the Académie française.

Mr. Laferrière was admitted Thursday to the Académie, the institution whose members are known as the Immortals. He will take chair No. 2 in the 40-seat body.

The academy's official role is to update a dictionary of the French language, which is now in its ninth edition, but admission is mostly seen as a recognition of one's lifetime achievements.

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The 60-year-old Mr. Laferrière received 13 ballots, ahead of the writer Jean-Claude Perrier (four votes) and the philosopher and author Catherine Clément (three votes).

One vote was cast for Arthur Pauly, who had made headlines because he applied despite being a 15-year-old high school student.

The academy was established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu. At his induction ceremony, Mr. Laferrière will be expected to wear a gold-threaded tailcoat, bicorn hat and sword. Past members include Voltaire and Victor Hugo. Émile Zola never managed to be selected despite applying many times.

Membership in the academy is not restricted to French citizens. Foreign members have included the late Senegal president Léopold Senghor. Others were born in Algeria, Lebanon and Belgium. Earlier this year, the academy admitted its first British member, the Cambridge-educated poet Michael Edwards.

Mr. Laferrière was born in Port-au-Prince and worked as a newspaper and radio journalist when he fled his native country after a co-worker was murdered in 1978. After holding odd jobs, he published his first novel, How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, in 1985. He now splits his time between Montreal, New York and Miami.

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