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Danticat, Edwidge

Edwidge Danticat

1969—

Author

Edwidge Danticat is one of only a handful of contemporary novelists of Haitian heritage writing in English. Danticat did not begin learning English until she moved from Haiti to New York City as an adolescent. Her talents in this second language were evident in her award-winning 1994 debut, Breath, Eyes, Memory. In this work, as well as her equally lauded 1995 short story collection, Krik? Krak!, Danticat focuses on the lives and losses of Haitians, both at home—where poverty, political repression, and fear were everyday hindrances for decades—and as transplants to urban America, where Haitians face similar poverty, compounded by racism. "The agonies of Haiti are as wide as they are deep," the Caribbean-focused journal Islands acknowledged. "It would seem impossible, in fact, to write anything about Haiti that wasn't entirely tragic, yet Edwidge Danticat has done it."

Danticat was born in Leogane, a rural area of Haiti just west of Port-au-Prince, in 1969. When she was two years old her father immigrated to New York City to find more promising work. Her mother joined him two years later and left Danticat and a younger brother behind with her father's brother, Joseph Dantica. The future writer was in close contact with extended family members, some of whom were elders who thrived on telling folk tales. Oral traditions assumed a vital role in the education and sense of heritage of young Haitians like Danticat; the country had a marginal literacy rate—one of the lowest in the western hemisphere—and television broadcasts were infrequent because of meager electricity. "My most vivid memories of Haiti involved incidents that represent power failures," Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. "At those times, you can't read, or study, or watch TV, so you sit around a candle and listen to stories from the elders in the house."

Experienced Hardship in Haiti

Spirituality and the rituals of religion also influenced Danticat as a child. Her uncle was a Baptist minister, and she would attend all the funerals of the community with him. For a young girl whose parents had disappeared from her world—and furthermore, a world where people who fell out of favor with dictator François Duvalier and his son, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, also disappeared—death was a lesser dread. Danticat once shared a room with a distant relative, a woman who was more than one hundred years old, and was present when she passed away. "I accepted her death very easily because in Haiti death was always around us," Danticat remarked in her publicity biography.

Life in Haiti was difficult. Poverty and fear infected daily life and blunted simple childhood pleasures. "I have memories of Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier and his wife racing by in their Mercedes Benz and throwing money out of the window to the very poor children in our neighborhood," Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. Another time, a radio announcement alerted children to a Christmas-time toy giveaway at the presidential palace. "My cousins and I went and were nearly trampled in the mob of children who flooded the palace lawns," she remembered.

More problematic for Danticat, however, was her family situation. "The initial question of my life was explaining to myself first my mother's absence and then my father's," Danticat told New York's Rebecca Mead. "When she [Danticat's mother] was leaving, I didn't understand…. I didn't get it at all—and not just the fact that she was absent, but the conditions that drive that and that separate families." Her mother's move to New York City—though ultimately only a temporary loss—was nevertheless a difficult cross for Danticat to bear. Haitian culture gives a special reverence to mothers and to be "san manman"—motherless—is also a synonym for a hoodlum, or someone who knows no boundaries of human decency.

Immigrated to the United States

When Danticat was twelve years old, she and her brother flew to New York City to join her parents and two younger brothers born there. The airport reunion was not completely joyful, however, for Danticat. "I was very, very nervous," Danticat recalled in an interview with Margaria Fichtner writing in the Miami Herald. "I didn't know these people. I felt like I was adopted." Her reunited family lived in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, and Danticat was enrolled in a bilingual education program to help with the transition. Danticat later credited the bilingual program at her intermediate school with giving her the platform to obtain a decent education. "It's very easy to get lost in the public school system because it's so big, and I am very shy," she told Joyce Purnick in the New York Times.

Danticat received an English-language set of author/illustrator Ludwig Bemelman's "Madeleine" books as a gift, and her first foray into literary expression was an attempt to write a version of Madeleine with herself cast in the role of the orphaned, misunderstood title character. In junior high school Danticat was teased by peers because of her accent. "Their name-calling pushed an already shy Danticat deeper into her shell, but also led her to take pen to paper searching for words to convey her feelings," wrote Patrik Henry Bass in B.E.T. Weekend.

Occasionally adolescent tensions would erupt into violence, and Danticat witnessed fights between African Americans and Haitian immigrants. She went on to a high school geared toward teenagers hoping to pursue a career in medicine. Yet the program, in which students actually worked in a hospital after school, ultimately dissuaded Danticat from becoming a nurse.

At a Glance …

Born on January 19, 1969, in Leogane, Haiti; immigrated to the United States, 1981; daughter of André Miracin (a cab driver) and Rose Souvenance (a textile worker) Danticat. Education: Barnard College, BA, 1990; Brown University, MFA, 1993.

Career: Fiction writer and memoirist. Worked as associate producer for Jonathan Demme's documentary Courage and Pain, 1993(?)-94(?).

Awards: Fiction award, Black Caucus of the American Literary Association, 1994, for Breath, Eyes, Memory; Woman of Achievement Award, Barnard College, 1995; Pushcart Prize, 1995; National Book Award nomination, 1995, for Krik? Krak!; named one of Twenty Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine, 1996, for Breath, Eyes, Memory; Lannan Foundation Fellowship, 2004; Story Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, 2005, for The Dew Breaker; National Book Award finalist, 2007, and National Book Critics Circle Award, 2008, both for Brother, I'm Dying.

Addresses: Agent—c/o Aragi Agency, 143 W. 27th St., Ste. 4-F, New York, NY 10001.

After high school, Danticat moved into a less stressful atmosphere when she enrolled at Barnard College on a scholarship. She majored in French literature and, after receiving her bachelor's degree in 1990, was still considering going on to nursing school. Her parents—a taxi driver and a factory worker—strongly felt that their children should enter into well-paid, respected professions. To them, a career in the arts did not seem a solid, income-providing vocation, but Danticat won a scholarship to Brown University and enrolled in the graduate writing program there.

Published First Work

As an undergraduate, Danticat had begun an essay on herself and her lineage. She sent it to a literary agent, who suggested she expand it a bit more. Danticat turned it into her Brown thesis and eventually sent it back to the literary agency. One week later she was lunching with the agent, and the work became her first book, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published in 1994.

The novel follows the experiences of Sophie Caco, a young female Haitian immigrant to New York City who is a victim of sexual abuse. The tale also involves Sophie's mother's prior assault by a member of Duvalier's brutal secret police and death squad—the Tontons Macoute—and touches upon Sophie's bonds with her aunt and grandmother. Danticat stressed in interviews that the abuse these women suffered was not autobiographical in nature. In the Miami Herald, Fichtner noted that many "hailed the book's emotional complexity and its resonant portrayal of the burdens history, politics, and culture impose upon the lives and hearts of women." Fichtner also noted that Breath, Eyes, Memory "has much to say about what it is like to be young, black, Haitian, and female wandering in a world too often eager to regard all of those conditions as less than worthwhile."

Danticat's willingness to tackle controversial subject matter earned her comparisons to African-American author Alice Walker, and she even admitted to "borrowing" a character from Warrior Marks, Walker's treatise against female circumcision in lesser developed countries. Danticat explained that she saw the work as a way to give voice to the Haitian community's silenced women: "In our culture, women could not talk about things that bothered them … because there is such a greater repression," Danticat told Kevin L. Carter in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As Danticat was enjoying her first flush of literary success, political events in Haiti brought her homeland into the news, causing reverberations in her own life. The Duvalier regime had spiraled to an end in 1986, and four years later Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide became the nation's first freely elected leader. In 1991 a military coup ousted Aristide, who then fled the country. The international community responded with a trade embargo, which deeply hurt the already impoverished Haitian people, and a United Nations peacekeeping force was deployed to maintain order. Many Haitians began fleeing to Florida on makeshift boats; those intercepted were put into refugee camps in which conditions were abysmal.

After receiving her master's degree, Danticat took a job with filmmaker Jonathan Demme's New York City production office; in this capacity she worked as an associate producer on Courage and Pain, a documentary about survivors of torture in Haiti. In an interview with Ingrid Sturgis appearing in Emerge, Danticat spoke of the outlaw status of writers in Haiti's dictatorial past. "In our world, if you are a writer, you are a politician, and we know what happens to politicians. They end up in a prison dungeon, where their bodies are covered in scalding tar before they're forced to eat their own waste." With Demme she traveled back to her homeland in 1994 for the first time since leaving thirteen years earlier; she was thus able to view the ceremony marking Aristide's official return to power.

The year 1994 brought Danticat more honors. The New York Times Magazine included her in a story about "30 Artists under 30," a group whose members the editors predicted would make an impact on American culture in the next thirty years. In addition, Breath, Eyes, Memory received a fiction award from the Black Caucus of the American Literary Association.

Published Acclaimed Short Story Collection

In 1995 a collection of short stories—some dating back to Danticat's Barnard days—was published by Soho Press. Krik? Krak! takes its title from Danticat's Creole language: "Krik?," one inquires to another at the onset of a folk tale, roughly meaning "I have a story—would you like to hear it?," and "Krak!" comes the reply, the equivalent of "Yes, go ahead!"

In nine interrelated stories, Danticat used her own family's experiences as a basis for the lives of the characters. Much of the action takes place in the capital city of Port-au-Prince or the rural Ville Rose, where women must sometimes walk two miles each morning for the day's water. The story "1937" follows the travails of a woman imprisoned and tortured for witchcraft. Another takes place on one of the infamous doomed boats heading for Florida. "Children of the Sea" recounts a journey through letters written by a pair of lovers who never receive the other's missives. Through the letters, Danticat's story provides insight into the difficulties of life in Haiti and why so many knowingly risked their lives to escape.

"The best of these stories," wrote Robert Houston in the New York Times Book Review, "humanize, particularize, [and] give poignancy to the lives of people we may have come to think of as faceless emblems of misery, poverty, and brutality." Joanne Omang in the Washington Post Book World asserted that Danticat "has woven the sad with the funny, the unspeakable with the glorious, [and] the wild horror [with the] deep love that is Haiti today." Reviewing Krik? Krak! for the Seattle Times, Michael Upchurch found that "Danticat's often-sobering subjects are leavened by the bracing elegance of her prose and by her fondness for riddle." Krik? Krak! was nominated for the prestigious National Book Award in 1995.

In 1998 Danticat published her second novel, The Farming of Bones. This work tells the story of a Haitian housemaid in the Dominican Republic, Amabelle Desir, against the historical background of an infamous 1937 massacre of Haitian migrant workers directed by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo Molina. Writing in the New York Times, Michael Upchurch stated that Danticat "evokes the shock with which a small personal world is disrupted by military mayhem…. Danticat knows the value of understatement in bringing nightmarish scenes to life, and a spare, searing poetry infuses many of the book's best passages."

Danticat's next work, The Dew Breaker, published in 2004, is a series of interconnected tales—variously described as a novel and a short story collection—tracing back to Duvalier's brutal Tontons Macoute. The reader gradually discovers that the characters in the stories are both victims and perpetrators, all haunted by the events of this bloody period in Haitian history. Writing in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani stated that The Dew Breaker is "Ms. Danticat's most persuasive, organic performance yet. As seamless as it is compelling, the novel recounts its harrowing tale in limpid, understated prose." Widely acclaimed, The Dew Breaker was awarded the Story Prize—a $20,000 award for the best short story collection of the year—and was a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist.

Uncle Died in Detention

Also in 2004, the uncle who raised Danticat, Joseph Dantica, became a victim of the chronic political unrest in Haiti and the official indifference of the U.S. government. In the aftermath of military intervention by United Nations troops and Haitian police against armed gangs and political factions in his Port-au-Prince neighborhood, Dantica, an eighty-one-year-old Baptist minister, was threatened with death by gang members who claimed that fifteen of their friends had been killed by military snipers shooting from the roof of his church, and that he would have to pay for their funerals or be killed. Dantica escaped by hiding under a neighbor's bed for three days and eventually fled to the United States on a valid visa. Upon his arrival, he explained that he would be killed if he returned and applied for temporary asylum. Plagued by heart problems and high blood pressure, Dantica collapsed during his interview and began vomiting; the medic on duty announced that he was "faking." Arrested and held in detention, Dantica was denied access to his medication and died in custody.

Three years later Danticat published Brother, I'm Dying, a memoir centered on her father, Mira, and his brother Joseph. As in her other works, Danticat depicted the intersection of private lives with Haiti's tragic history, portraying the brothers on either side of the immigration divide: Mira, the hard-working immigrant who sacrificed everything to secure a better future for his children, and Joseph, who remained in Haiti as long as possible—despite his family's pleas for him to emigrate—seeking to serve his congregation and community. Brother, I'm Dying was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography and was nominated for a National Book Award.

Selected writings

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), Soho Press, 1994.

Krik? Krak! (short stories), Soho Press, 1995.

The Farming of Bones (novel), Soho Press, 1998.

The Dew Breaker (fiction), Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Brother, I'm Dying (autobiography), Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

B.E.T. Weekend, February 1996, p. 20.

Emerge, April 1995, p. 58.

Guardian (London), November 20, 2004.

Islands, May/June 1995.

Miami Herald, April 19, 1995.

New York, November 20, 1995.

New York Newsday, March 30, 1995; May 16, 1995.

New York Times, October 23, 1995; September 27, 1998; March 10, 2004; September 9, 2007.

New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1995, p. 22.

New York Times Magazine, November 20, 1994.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 17, 1994.

Progressive, January 1997.

Seattle Times, April 30, 1995.

USA Today, October 20, 1995; November 9, 1995, p. D6.

Village Voice, September 4, 2007.

Washington Post, October 14, 2007.

Washington Post Book World, May 14, 1995, p. 4.

Online

Birnbaum, Robert, "Birnbaum v. Edwidge Danticat," Morning News, April 20, 2004, http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/personalities/birnbaum__v_edwidge_danticat.php (accessed May 30, 2008).

Other

Additional information for this profile was provided by Soho Press publicity materials, 1997.

—Carol Brennan and Paula Kepos

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Danticat, Edwidge 1969–

Edwidge Danticat 1969

Novelist

Death Was Always Around Us

Degrees from Barnard, Brown

National Book Award Nominee

Selected writings

Sources

Image not available for copyright reasons

Edwidge Danticat is one of only a handful of contemporary novelists of Haitian heritage writing in English. Danticat did not begin learning English until she moved from Haiti to New York City as an adolescent. Her talents in this second language were evident in the award-winning 1994 debut, Breath, Eyes, Memory. In this work, as well as her equally lauded 1995 short story collection Krik?Krak!, Danticat focuses on the lives and losses of Haitians, both at home-where poverty, political repression, and fear were everyday hindrances for decades-and as transplants to an equally dangerous urban American setting where Haitians face a similar poverty, compounded by racism. The agonies of Haiti are as wide as they are deep, the Caribbean-focused journal Islands acknowledged. It would seem impossible, in fact, to write anything about Haiti that wasnt entirely tragic, yet Edwidge Danticat has done it.

Danticat was born in Leogane, a rural area of Haiti, in 1969. When she was two, her father emigrated to New York City to find more promising work. Her mother joined him two years later and left Danticat and a younger brother behind with a relative. The future writer was raised in proximity to several extended family members, some of whom were elders who thrived on telling folk tales. Oral traditions assumed a vital role in the education and sense of heritage for young Haitians like Danticat; for years the country had a marginal literacy rateone of the lowest in the western hemisphereand television broadcasts were infrequent because of meager electricity. My most vivid memories of Haiti involved incidents that represent power failures, Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. At those times, you cant read, or study, or watch TV, so you sit around a candle and listen to stories from the elders in the house.

Death Was Always Around Us

Spirituality and the rituals of religion also impacted Danticat as a child. Her uncle was a Baptist minister, and she would attend all the funerals of the community with him. For a young girl whose parents had disappeared from her world-and furthermore, a world where people who curried disfavor with the political regimes of dictator Francois Duvalier and his son, Baby Doc Duvalier also disappeared with regularity-death was a lesser dread.

At a Glance

Born January, 1969, in Leogane, Haiti; immigrated to the United States, c. 1981 became naturalized citizen; daughter of a cab driver and a factory worker. Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1990; Brown University, M.F A., 1993.

Novelist Associate producer, Jonathan Demmes Courageand Pain (a documentary), c 1993-94.

Selected awards: Fiction award, Black Caucus of the American Literary Association, 1994, for Breath, Eyes, Memory; Woman of Achievement Award, Barnard College, 1995; Pushcart Prize, 1995; National Book Award nomination, 1995, for Krik? Krakl; named one of Twenty Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine, 1996, for Breath, Eyes, Memory.

Addresses: Home -Brooklyn, NY. Office -Soho Press, 853 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

Danticat once shared a room with a distant relative, a woman who was more than 100 years old and was present when she passed away. I accepted her death very easily because in Haiti death was always around us, Danticat remarked in her publicity biography.

Life in Haiti was difficult. Poverty and fear infected daily life and blunted simple childhood pleasures. I have memories of Jean Claude Baby Doc Duvalier and his wife racing by in their Mercedes Benz and throwing money out of the window to the very poor children in our neighborhood, Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. Another time, a radio* announcement alerted children to a Christmas-time toy giveaway at the presidential palace. My cousins and I went and were nearly trampled in the mob of children who flooded the palace lawns, she remembered.

More problematic for Danticat, however, was her family situation. The initial question of my life was explaining to myself first my mothers absence and then my fathers, Danticat told New York s Rebecca Mead. When she [Danticats mother] was leaving, I didnt understand.... I didnt get it at all-and not just the fact that she was absent, but the conditions that drive that and that separate families.... Her mothers move to New York City-though ultimately only a temporary loss-was nevertheless a difficult cross for Danticat to bear. Haitian culture gives a special reverence to mothers and to be san man man --motherless-is also a synonym for a hoodlum, or someone who knows no boundaries of human decency.

When Danticat was 12, she and her brother flew to New York City to join her parentsand two younger brothers born there. The airport reunion was no picnic for Danticat, however. I was very, very nervous, Danticat recalled of the moment in an interview with the Miami Heralds Margaria Fichtner. I didnt know these people. I felt like I was adopted. Her reunited family lived in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, and Danticat was enrolled in a bilingual education program to help with the transition. Danticat later credited the bilingual program at her intermediate school with giving her the platform to obtain a decent education. Its very easy to get lost in the public school system because its so big, and I am very shy, she told Joyce Purnick of the New York Times.

Danticat received an English-language set of author/illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans Madeleine books as a gift. Danticats first foray into literary expression was in attempting to write a version of Madeleine with herself cast in the role of the orphaned, misunderstood title character. As a junior-high student, Danticat was teased by peers because of her accent. Their name-calling pushed an already shy Danticat deeper into her shell, but also led her to take pen to paper searching for words to convey her feelings, wrote B.E.T. Weekend writer Patrik Henry Bass.

Occasionally adolescent tensions would erupt into violence, and Danticat witnessed fights between African Americans and Haitian immigrants. She went on to a high school geared toward teenagers hoping to pursue a career in medicine. Yet the program, in which students actually worked in a hospital after school, ultimately dissuaded Danticat from becoming a nurse.

Degrees from Barnard, Brown

After high school, Danticat moved into a less stressful atmosphere when she enrolled at Barnard College on a scholarship. She majored in French literature, and, after receiving her B.A. in 1990, was still considering going on to nursing school. Her parentsa taxi driver and a factory worker-strongly felt that their children should enter into well-paid, respected professions. To them, a career in the arts did not seem a solid, income-providing vocation, but Danticat won a scholarship to Brown University and enrolled their graduate writing program.

As an undergraduate, Danticat had begun an essay on herself and her lineage. She sent it to a literary agent, who suggested she expand it a bit more. Danticat turned it into her Brown thesis and eventually sent it back to the literary agency. One week later she was lunching with the agent, and the work became her first book. Breath, Eyes, Memory was published in 1994.

The novel follows the experiences of a young female Haitian immigrant to New York City, Sophie Caco, who is a victim of sexual abuse. The tale also involves Sophies mothers prior assault by one of Duvaliers secret police-the Tonton Macoute-and touches upon Sophies bonds with her aunt and grandmother. Danticat stressed in interviews that the abuse these women suffered was not autobiographical in nature. In the Miami Herald, Fichtner noted that many hailed the books emotional complexity and its resonant portrayal of the burdens history, politics, and culture impose upon the lives and hearts of women. Fichtner also noted that Breath, Eyes, Memory has much to say about what it is like to be young, black, Haitian, and female wandering in a world too often eager to regard all of those conditions as less than worthwhile.

Danticats willingness to tackle controversial subject matter earned her comparisons to African American author Alice Walker, and she even admitted to borrowing a character from Warrior Marks, Walkers treatise against female circumcision in lesser developed countries. Danticat explained that she saw the work as a way to give voice to the Haitian communitys silenced women: In our culture, women could not talk about things that bothered them ... because there is such a greater repression, Danticat told Philadelphia Inquirer writer Kevin L. Carter.

As Danticat was enjoying the first flushes of literary success, political events in Haiti brought her homeland into the news, causing reverberations in her own life. The Duvalier regime had spiraled to an end in 1986, and four years later, Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the nations first freely elected leader. In 1991, a military coup ousted Aristide, who then fled the country. The international community responded with a trade embargo, which deeply hurt the already-impoverished Haitian people, and U.S. troops were eventually deployed. Haitians in large numbers began fleeing to Florida on makeshift boats; those intercepted on the way were put into refugee camps where conditions were abysmal.

After receiving her master degree, Danticat had taken a job with filmmaker Jonathan Demmes New York City production office; in this capacity she worked as an associate producer on Courage and Pain, a documentary about survivors of torture in Haiti. In an interview with Ingrid Sturgis for Emerge, Danticat spoke of the outlaw status of writers in Haitis dictatorial past. In our world, if you are a writer, you are a politician, and we know what happens to politicians. They end up in a prison dungeon, where their bodies are covered in scalding tar before theyre forced to eat their own waste. With Demme she traveled back to her homeland in 1994 for the first time since leaving 13 years earlier; she was thus able to view the ceremony marking Aris-tides official return to power.

The year 1994 brought Danticat more honors. The New York Times Magazine included her in a 30 Artists under 30 story, a group the editors predicted most likely to make an impact on American culture in the next 30 years. In addition, Breath, Eyes, Memory received the fiction award from the Black Caucus of the American Literary Association.

In 1995, a collection of short stories-some dating back to Danticats Barnard days-was published by Soho Press. Krik?Krak! takes its title from Danticats Creole languageKrifc? one inquires to another at the onset of a folk tale, roughly meaning I have a story-would you like to hear it?, and Krak! comes the reply, the equivalent of Yes, go ahead!

National Book Award Nominee

In nine interrelated stories, Danticat used some her own familys experiences as a basis for the lives of the characters. Much of the action takes place in the capital city of Port-au-Prince or the rural Ville Rose, where women must sometimes walk two miles each morning for the days water. The story 1937 follows the travails of a woman imprisoned and tortured for witchcraft. Another takes place on one of the infamous doomed boats heading for Florida. Children of the Sea recounts the journey through letters written by a pair of lovers who never receive the others missives. Through the letters, Danticats story provides insight into the difficulties of life in Haiti and why so many purposely risked their lives to escape.

The best of these stories, wrote the New York Times Book Reviews Robert Houston, humanize, particularize, [and] give poignancy to the lives of people we may have come to think of as faceless emblems of misery, poverty, and brutality. Washington Post Book World writer Joanne Omang asserted that Danticat has woven the sad with the funny, the unspeakable with the glorious, [and] the wild horror and [with the] deep love that is Haiti today. Reviewing Krik? Krak! for the Seattle Times, Michael Upchurch found that Danticats often-sobering subjects are leavened by the bracing elegance of her prose and by her fondness for riddle.

Accordingly, the lauded Krik? Krak! was nominated for the prestigious National Book Award in 1995, placing Danticat in the company of established writers Philip Roth and Madison Smartt Bell that year. She announced that her next literary project would be a book about an infamous 1937 massacre of Haitians that occurred in the neighboring Dominican Republic. She also hoped to delve into issues relevant to the African diaspora. We are all one people, Danticat told Carter in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was like there was this boat that left Africa and made a lot of stops; some of us got off here, some got off there.

Selected writings

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), Soho Press, 1994.

Krik? Krakl (short stories), Soho Press, 1995.

Sources

Periodicals

B.E.T. Weekend, February 1996, p. 20.

Emerge, April 1995, p. 58.

Islands, May/June 1995.

Miami Herald, April 19, 1995.

New York, November 20, 1995.

New York Newsday, March 30,1995; May 16,1995.

New York Times, October 23, 1995.

New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1995, p 22.

New York Times Magazine, November 20, 1994.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 17, 1994.

Progressive, January 1997.

Seattle Times, April 30, 1995.

USA Today, October 20,1995; November 9, 1995, p. D6.

Washington Post Book World, May 14, 1995, p. 4.

Other

Additional information for this profile was provided by Soho Press publicity materials, 1997.

Carol Brennan

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

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"Danticat, Edwidge 1969–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Danticat, Edwidge 1969–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/danticat-edwidge-1969

"Danticat, Edwidge 1969–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved June 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/danticat-edwidge-1969

Danticat, Edwidge

DANTICAT, Edwidge

Nationality: American. Born: Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 19 January1969. Education: Barnard College, 1990; Brown University, M.F.A. 1993. Career: Freelance writer, 1994. Address: c/o Soho Press, 853 Broadway, Number 1903, New York, New York 10003, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York, Soho Press, 1994.

The Farming of Bones. New York, Soho Press, 1998.

Short Stories

Krik? Krak! New York, Soho Press, 1995.

Other

Foreword, The Magic Orange Tree, and Other Haitian Folktales, edited by Diane Wolkstein. New York, Schocken Books, 1997.

Foreword, A Community of Equals: The Constitutional Protection of New Americans by Owen Fiss, edited by Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers. Boston, Beacon Press, 1999.

Contributor, Island on Fire: Passionate Visions of Haiti from the Collection of Jonathan Demme, edited by Jonathan Demme. Nyack, New York: Kaliko Press, 1997.

*

Edwidge Danticat comments:

(2000) At the end of most readings and lectures, a writer is often asked, "How much of your work is autobiographical?" The writer's reaction to that question varies, depending on the subject of the work. I once heard a young, shy, soft-spoken, female novelist who had just published a thriller about a serial killer quickly answer, "Not much." However, for most of us, the answer is not always so simple.

As novelist and short story writer Katherine Anne Porter once said, "A story is something you wind out of yourself. Like a spider, it is a web you weave, and you love your story like a child." In an interview with Donna Perry for her book Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out, British novelist and Booker Prize winner Pat Barker adds that the starting point of any work is "inevitably always something in your life, just as the source of every single character you create has to be yourself."

Is most writing on some levellarge or smallautobiographical, whether it be emotional autobiography or straight out borrowing from our lives?

In order to create full-fledged, three dimensional characters, writers often draw on their encounters, observations, collages of images from the everyday world, both theirs and others'. We are like actors, filtering through our emotions what life must be like, or must have been like, for those we write about. Truly we imagine these lives, aggrandize, reduce, or embellish, however we often begin our journey with an emotion close to our gut, whether it be anger, curiosity, joy, or fear.

I always have trouble answering the "How much of your work is autobiographical?" question. Not so much because it feels like a curiosity probe or a violation of privacy, but simply because the question at times rings to me like an oxymoron. To ask a fiction writer how much truth is in her work seems like asking a jockey if his/her black horse is green. (Or maybe it's if his/her black horse is black?) I once heard a writer angrily answer that autobiographical question with "If I wanted to write an autobiography, I would have written one." However, the question can be a valid one, for what about the little mannerisms of ourselves that show up in the main or minor characters in our stories? What of the characters that we plop fully formed on the page mimicking our friends and relatives? And what of the incidents from childhood that reappear over and over in different forms in our tales?

Still what do we answer? Is the work ten percent autobiographical, twenty percent? Fifty percent?

I was born in Haiti in 1969 and moved to the United States when I was twelve to be reunited with my mother and father who had left Haiti eight years before I did. My first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, is about a girl, Sophie Caco, who is born in Haiti as a result of a rape and comes to the United States to be reunited with her mother when she is twelve. Because of the obvious similarities between the character's and my childhood, many of my readers assume that I too was born as a result of a rape. I was not. However there are many other things that the main character in that novel, Sophie Caco, and I share.

In writing Breath, Eyes, Memory, I used the sadness and desolation I experienced as a child separated from my parents. When I invented Sophie Caco, I relived my wonder at seeing a new country for the first time and infused those moments into her first day in New York. Perhaps what I did was write an emotional autobiography, but not a factual one.

I have always split my memories into two realms: one of real memory and one of fictional memory. Fictional memory has a series of plot devices, ordered scenes, convenient settings, clever dialogue and revisions aimed at the ending of your choice. My fictional memories are what come up when I consider my real memories and ask myself "What if?" What if when Sophie Caco/Edwidge Danticat arrives in New York City for the first time she discovers a dark secret in her past, her mother's rape.

Real memory is fragmented, messy, disorganized, has no clever dialogue and you don't always get the ending of your choice. That's why I prefer to write fiction, though it is fiction that draws heavily from certain moments in my life. With my fictional memories, I can use lies to tell a greater truth, winding a different kind of tale out of myself, one in which the possibilities for tangents and digressions are boundless; I can also weave a more elaborate web, where everyone's life can serve as a thread, including my own.

* * *

American literature has produced more than its share of prodigies. From Stephen Crane to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Carson McCullers to Truman Capote, many American writers have achieved significant acclaim, and produced some of their most famous works, while still in their twenties. To this list may be added the name of Edwidge Dandicat. Her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, appeared when the author was twenty-five and was guaranteed significant popular success as a selection of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. Her next book, the short story collection Krik? Krak! was a finalist for the National Book award. Her second novel, The Farming of Bones, appeared in 1998.

Born in Haiti, Dandicat moved to the United States at the age of twelve, and all of her fiction to date has been devoted to an unflinching examination of her native culture, both on its own terms and in terms of its intersections with American culture. Dandicat's work emphasizes in particular the heroism and endurance of Haitian women as they cope with a patriarchal culture that, in its unswerving devotion to tradition and family, both oppresses and enriches them. When Sophie, the narrator of Breath, Eyes, Memory, is taken from Haiti to live with her mother in New York City, she adapts to American culture on the surface but is damaged by her mother's obsession with female "purity" and constant, degrading "testing" of Sophie's virginitya procedure that was also done to Sophie's mother, and her mother before her. Sophie leaves her mother, marries an American, and has a daughter of her own, but she must make a return pilgrimage to Haiti before she can begin, if not to condone, then to come to terms with her mother's actions and begin to understand the history she and her mother share with all the other "daughters of this land."

While Dandicat's first novel and most of her short stories focus on the plight and legacy of "those nine hundred and ninety-nine women who were boiling in your blood" (to quote the author's "Epilogue" to Krik? Krak! ), The Farming of Bones paints on an even broader canvas as we witness the horrors of dictator Rafael Trujillo's 1937 massacre of Haitians resident in the Dominican Republic. The narrator, Amabelle, Haitian servant to a prosperous Dominican family, at first is reluctant to believe the rumors of massacre but eventually has no choice as she and her lover Sebastien witness unspeakable brutalities during their attempt to flee to Haiti. The few who survive carry with them wounds beyond the physical; by the time Trujillo is finally assassinated almost a quarter-century later, Amabelle and the other survivors must cope not only with the enormity of their catastrophe but with "the most unforgivable weaknesses of the dead: their absence and their silence."

Dandicat's novels and stories are written with a passionate lyricism but also with a control of craft and seriousness of purpose that would be impressive in any writer and are astonishing in one so young. She is determined to bear imaginative witness to the history of her culture. In so doing, she offers no easy outsThe Farming of Bones in particular is a narrative of almost unrelieved sufferingbut also never lets us forget that the people of her stories, no matter how wounded, are individuals of intelligence and dignity and irreducible worth. That is, of course, a message for all cultures, and we are fortunate that a writer as talented as Dandicat has made proclaiming it her life's work.

F. Brett Cox

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