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Born in Québec on April 7, 1919, Roger Lemelin tried his hand at several jobs before becoming a writer. A self-taught man, he worked as a greengrocer and later as an accountant. When he was a teenager, a serious leg injury disabled him for several years, and it was during that time that he discovered his "vocation" as a writer.
In 1944, he published his first novel, Au pied de la pente douce [The Town Below], inspired by daily life and the colourful characters in Saint-Sauveur, the neighbourhood where he was born. The novel provoked intense debate in Quebec. For some readers, the urban narrative was a refreshing change for Quebec literature. For others, Lemelin was a blasphemer, an enemy of the religious and social values of Quebec. The novel was an instant success, bringing its author notoriety and earning him the Prix David and a prize from the Académie française.
Lemelin went on to become a journalist and a contributor to several magazines. From 1944 to 1952, he was a Canadian correspondent for the American magazines Time and Life. A Guggenheim Fellowship gave him the opportunity to write his second book, Les Plouffe [The Plouffe Family], which was published in 1948. That novel was a great success as well -- so great, in fact, that the author adapted it for radio, then television. The television series ran from 1953 to 1959 and was immediately popular in both English and French. The novelist's endearing characters were at the fore again in 1981, when filmmaker Gilles Carle produced a movie based on the Plouffe family's adventures.
In 1949, Lemelin published a collection of short stories, Fantaisies sur les péchés capitaux, followed by a third novel, Pierre le magnifique [In Quest of Splendour] (1952). He then stepped back from literature and became a successful businessman, purchasing the Charcuterie Taillefer. From 1972 to 1981, he was chief executive officer and editor of La Presse.
After a twenty-year absence from the literary scene, he published, in quick succession, a collection of essays, Les Voies de l'espérance (1979), and a memoir, La Culotte en or (1980). A fourth novel, Le Crime d'Ovide Plouffe [The Crime of Ovide Plouffe] (1982), soon followed and the book inspired Denys Arcand to make a movie of the same name. One last collection of anecdotes, entitled Autopsie d'un fumeur, was published in 1988.
Throughout his rich career, Roger Lemelin received many awards and prestigious distinctions. Among the most significant: he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; he received an honorary doctorate from Laurentian University in Sudbury for the body of his work; the French government made him a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur; and he became a Canadian corresponding member of the Académie Goncourt and an honorary member of the Union des écrivains québécois.
Roger Lemelin died in 1992.