Edwidge Danticat moved from Haiti to the United States when she was 12 and draws on that immigrant experience, filled with history, suffering, and love to portray the complex realities of past and present Haiti. At 41 she has written more than ten books and dabbled in several different genres, including novels, memoirs, social criticisms, young adult novels, edited anthologies, and even travel books. She has won numerous awards and received critical praise for novels like Breath, Eyes, Memory, Krik? Krak!, and The Farming of Bones.
Danticat will be appearing at two Miami Book Fair events to discuss new books: Create Dangerously: the Immigrant Artist at Work, a collection of personal essays, and Haiti Noir, an anthology of stories that take place in Haiti written by several authors across the diaspora. New Times spoke to the Miami resident about the effect of the earthquake on her book, writing about personal experiences, and art as therapy.
New Times: Haiti Noir is set to be published in January 2011. Will a lot of the stories deal with the earthquake?
Edwidge Danticat: Only two. We'd almost wrapped up the book when the earthquake happened,
and afterward we kept getting more submissions that had to do with it so
we decided to incorporate a few. But the stories in general, even the
ones that don't have to do with the earthquake, could still be relevant
in Haiti today. That was one of the things I was concerned about because
when a place changes so much you think--will the stories still matter?
And they certainly did--they're still very poignant. And it shows that
art transcends the moment.
Create Dangerously discusses with the role of the immigrant artist. What do you see as your role?
I always hope, whenever I write, that it's engaging and entertaining.
But because of my own passion for Haiti, I do also hope that it gives
people a desire to learn more and more about the country. I've also
edited these anthologies because I hope that when people are finished
reading they will say, "Oh I want to pick up something longer by these
writers." Maybe more of them will be translated into English.
Is it difficult to write about topics in your novels that are so
incredibly personal and raw--family, death of loved ones, injustices
suffered by people close to you?
I feel like in personal interactions with people I'm not necessarily
that open, but when I'm writing I feel the freedom to do it. I feel
totally free, and I feel like I can worry about the rest of it
afterwards like [people saying] "Oh, why did you write that?" Thankfully
in the writing moment itself I don't have those fears.
Is it a sort of therapy?
I wouldn't say therapy because that's a big load on the reader. It's not
fair to a reader to make them my therapist (laughs). But there's a kind
of release in it. I feel like a lot of writers would feel they were
less sane if they weren't doing what they are doing. I know a lot of
visual artists who say that, too--that they feel like they would be crazy
if they didn't have that portal, you know, that outlet.
The Miami Book Fair will be taking place at Miami Dade College (300 NE
Second Ave., Miami). Edwidge Danticat will be reading from Create
Dangerously: the Immigrant Artist at Work on Saturday, November 20 at
3:30 p.m. in the Chapman Conference Center (Building 3, 2nd Floor, Room
3210). The event is free, but a ticket is required. She will discuss
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Haiti Noir on Sunday, November 21 at noon at the Presentation Pavilion
(NE Third St. and First Ave.) and admission is free. Call 305-237-3258
or visit miamibookfair.com.