- Up Close and Personal:Edwidge Danticat on Haitian Identity and the Writer's Life
I have met Edwidge Danticat several times, and always I come away thinking of her as a sweet, innocent, talented writer, who seems to be removed from it all. Since the appearance of her first novel Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994) at the tender age of twenty-five, the word was out that she was someone to watch, and indeed that prediction has proven true. Danticat has been prolific, producing a book or two yearly: Krik? Krak! (1996); The Farming of Bones (1998); Behind the Mountains (2002); After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel (2002); The Dew Breaker (2004); Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490 (2005); and her most recent title, a memoir, Brother, I'm Dying (2007). She has also edited two important collections, The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures (2000) and The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States (2001). Edwidge Danticat is perhaps the most popular Caribbean writer. Her books are taught, both nationally and internationally, across many different disciplines: African American, ethnic and women's studies, and comparative literature. Countless papers and dissertations have been presented on her work, and at almost every conference within the last ten years, scholars have presented a wide array of critiques on one or more of her works. Haitian by birth and affinity, Edwidge Danticat has received many awards including the Fiction Award from The Caribbean Writer, 1994; the National Book Award nomination for Krik? Krak!, 1995; Best Young American Novelists for Breath, Eyes, Memory by GRANTA, 1996; the American Book Award for The Farming of the Bones, 1999; and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Brother, I'm Dying, 2008.
The idea for this interview was hatched in 2006 when Danticat and I both participated in the Association of Caribbean Women Writers & Scholars Conference (ACWWS) in Miami. We began a conversation there, but were too distracted by all the events to make it meaningful. I decided to put it off until we met up again, but Danticat and I each became consumed by our own projects. We decided that the Internet would be the most expedient way to get this done. My approach to this interview was personal, as one Caribbean woman to another, whose works revolve around our love and commitment to the region. In this setting, I sought to discover the intersection of this woman and her writing.
You came to the U. S. A. when you were quite young, but still, I suspect, you were raised with Haitian cultural sensibilities even in the U. S. A. Although this might be redundant or even obvious, what is your relationship to Haiti, not simply in the political realm, but on a more visceral, navel-string level? What does Haiti mean to you?
Haiti is and will always be one of the two places, the United States being the other, that I call home. Haiti is where I was born and Haiti was my first home. I am like most Haitians living with my feet in both worlds. I go to Haiti as much as I can. I still have a lot of family there. I have always lived in Haitian communities in the United States, so while I have left Haiti, it's never left me. [End Page 345]
What are your hopes for Haiti, given its historical precedent, being the first country in the New World to earn its freedom, and now being considered one of the poorest nations in the world?
Recently there was an article in all the world's papers about people eating cookies made of clay in Haiti to quash hunger. Then Haiti was one of many places where people had demonstrations against hunger. This was quickly followed by a story about a group of Haitian sea migrants, so-called boat people, drowning off the coast of the Bahamas. You can't be Haitian, human, and not feel sad for all that. But you can't be human and not also hope...