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Miami author Edwidge Danticat
Miami author Edwidge Danticat
Photo by Lynn Savarese

Nikki Giovanni and Toni Morrison's Mentorship Shows in Edwidge Danticat's Everything Inside

Miami author Edwidge Danticat wrote her newly released collection of eight short fiction stories over 12 years. The stories mainly unravel in South Florida — from Miami Lakes and Brickell to North Miami and Belle Glade — through New York and Caribbean travel points.

Danticat, the recipient of major literary awards such as the Neustadt International Prize for Literature — America's version of the Nobel Prize — first tried channeling her Haitian family’s performative folktales into her debut short-story collection, Krik? Krak!

“Twenty-five years later,” she tells New Times, “the characters in [my latest book] Everything Inside could be the children and grandchildren of the people in Krik? Krak! I try to go deeper internally, really burrowing into people’s heads and into what they’re thinking and facing.”

As Danticat's literary output has grown over the past quarter-century, she's leaned into the wisdom she's gleaned from her mentors and inspirations. In particular, the influence of writers such as Nikki Giovanni and the late Toni Morriso spiritually infuse themselves into the pages of her latest collection. "We love because it’s the only true adventure," a quote by Giovanni, is the book's epigraph.

“The first book of hers I read was her autobiography, Gemini, in which she talks about her life as a poet,” Danticat says. “In the book, she also writes about a trip she took to [her birth country] Haiti during the Duvalier dictatorship. We met over a decade ago when she was asked by a newspaper to pick a young writer of promise, and she picked me."

Danticat says Giovanni's mentorship developed into friendship over the years. In 2012, Giovanni invited Danticat to "A Sheer Good Fortune," a large gathering of writers Giovanni held at Virginia Tech as a celebration of Morrison's life's work. "In Toni Morrison’s second novel, Sula, one of the characters says that ‘It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.’ So, at Nikki Giovanni’s invitation, we celebrated Toni Morrison before she left us," remembers Danticat.

Danticat met Morrison in 1996 and took flowers to her reading in New York for Toni Cade Bambara’s last book, These Bones Are Not My Child. Photographer Jill Krementz snapped their picture that night. After seeing each other at events over the years, Morrison invited Danticat to attend her guest-curated exhibition at the Louvre, "The Foreigner’s Home."

Ten years later, Danticat visited the legendary author's home and interviewed her for the documentary film named for the exhibition. “The amazing thing is that everything she says in that film remains so relevant today,” Danticat says of Morrison, who passed away early last month. “She was always, it seems, preparing us for these precarious and dizzying times we are living in today.”

Edwidge Danticat. 7 p.m. Saturday, September 7, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, booksandbooks.com. Admission is free.

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