Name Edwidge Danticat
Spouse Fedo Boyer
Genre Novels, short stories
Children Mira Boyer, Leila Boyer
|Born January 19, 1969 (age 46)
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (1969-01-19) |
Education Brown University, Barnard College, Clara Barton High School
Movies Stones in the Sun, Girl Rising, Beloved
Books Breath - Eyes - Memory, Krik? Krak!, Claire of the Sea Light, Brother - I'm Dying, The Dew Breaker
Similar People Margaret Atwood, Bonnie Clearwater, Kristiana Gregory, Kathryn Lasky, Barry Denenberg
Edwidge Danticat and Jesmyn Ward in Conversation: Writing for a Broken World
Edwidge Danticat ([ɛdwidʒ dãtika]; born January 19, 1969) is a Haitian-American novelist and short story writer.
- Edwidge Danticat and Jesmyn Ward in Conversation: Writing for a Broken World
- An interview with edwidge danticat
- Early life
- Personal life
- National identity
- Mother daughter relationships
- Diasporic politics
- Awards and honors
An interview with edwidge danticat
Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. When she was two years old, her father André immigrated to New York, to be followed two years later by her mother Rose. This left Danticat and her younger brother, also named André, to be raised by her aunt and uncle. When asked in an interview about her traditions as a child, she included storytelling, church, and constantly studying school material as all part of growing up. Although her formal education in Haiti was in French, she spoke Haitian Creole at home.
While still in Haiti, Danticat began writing at nine years old. At the age of 12, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, to join her parents in a heavily Haitian-American neighborhood. As an immigrant teenager, Edwidge's disorientation in her new surroundings was a source of discomfort for her, and she turned to literature for solace. Danticat did not realize the racism until she went to college because of the protection of her community. Two years later she published her first writing in English, "A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre," in New Youth Connections, a citywide magazine written by teenagers. She later wrote another story about her immigration experience for New Youth Connections, "A New World Full of Strangers". In the introduction to Starting With I, an anthology of stories from the magazine, Danticat wrote, "When I was done with the [immigration] piece, I felt that my story was unfinished, so I wrote a short story, which later became a book, my first novel: Breath, Eyes, Memory…Writing for New Youth Connections had given me a voice. My silence was destroyed completely, indefinitely."
After graduating from Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, New York, Danticat entered Barnard College in New York City. Initially she had intended to study to become a nurse, but her love of writing won out and she received a BA in French literature She received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Brown University in 1993.
In 1993, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Brown University—her thesis, entitled "My turn in the fire – an abridged novel", was the basis for her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published by Soho Press in 1994. Four years later it became an Oprah's Book Club selection.
The literary journal Granta asked booksellers, librarians, and literary critics to nominate who they believed to be the country's best young author. The standards were that the person must be an American citizen under the age of 40 and must have published at least one novel or collection of short stories before May 31, 1995. In 1997, at the age of 27, with 19 other finalists, Danticat was named one of the country's best young authors.
Since completing her MFA, Danticat has taught creative writing at the New York University and the University of Miami. She has also worked with filmmakers Patricia Benoit and Jonathan Demme, on projects on Haitian art and documentaries about Haïti. Her short stories have appeared in over 25 periodicals and have been anthologized several times. Her work has been translated into numerous other languages, including Japanese, French, Korean, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Danticat is a strong advocate for issues affecting Haitians abroad and at home. In 2009, she lent her voice and words to Poto Mitan: Haitian Women Pillars of the Global Economy, a documentary about the impact of globalization on five women from different generations.
Danticat is married to Fedo Boyer. She has two daughters, Mira and Leila. Although Danticat resides in the United States, she considers Haiti home. To date, she still visits Haiti from time to time and has always felt as if she never left it.
Three themes are prominent in various analyses of Edwidge Danticat's work: national identity, mother-daughter relationships, and diasporic politics.
Scholars of Danticat's work frequently examine the theme of national identity. In Breath, Eyes, Memory, Danticat explores the relationship between women and the nationalist agenda of the state [i] during the Duvalier regime. Throughout the novel, as generations of women "test" their daughters, by penetrating their vaginas with a finger to confirm their virginity, they "become enforcers," or proxies, of the state's "violence and victimization" of black women's bodies (376–377) [i], similar to the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. However, while the women of Breath, Eyes, Memory replicate "state-sanctioned" control and violation of women's bodies through acts of violence (375), they also "disrupt and challenge the masculinist, nationalist discourse" of the state by using their bodies "as deadly weapons" (387) [i]. Evidence for this claim can be drawn from Martine's suicide, seen as a tragic exhibition of freedom, releasing her body, and mind, from its past traumas [i]. Additionally, the novel demonstrates some inherent difficulties of creating a diasporic identity, as illustrated through Sophie's struggle between uniting herself with her heritage and abandoning what she perceives to be the damaging tradition of 'testing,' suggesting the impossibility of creating a resolute creolized personhood [ii]. Finally, Danticat's work, The Farming of Bones, speaks to the stories of those who survived the 1937 massacre, and the effects of that trauma on Haitian identity [iv]. Overall, Danticat makes known the history of her nation while also diversifying conceptions of the country beyond those of victimization [iii].
Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory explores the centrality of the mother-daughter relationship to self-identity and self-expression [v]. Sophie's experiences mirror those of her mother's Martine. Just as Martine was forced to submit to a virginity test at the hand of her own mother, she forces the same on Sophie after discovering her relationship with Joseph. As a result, Sophie goes through a period of self- hate, ashamed to show anyone her body, including her husband (80) [viii]. Sophie's struggles to overcome frigidity in relation to intimacy with her husband Joseph, as well as her bulimia parallels Martine's struggle bear a child with Marc to term, as well her insomnia, and detrimental eating habits (61–62) [v]. Due to Martine's rape by a Tonton Macoute and Sophie's abuse by her mother, "each woman must come to terms with herself before she can enter into a healthy relationship with a man, and these men attempt to meet these women on the latter's own terms" (68) [vi]. The pinnacle of this mirroring comes when Sophie chooses to be her mother's Marassa, a double of herself for her mother, to share the pain, the trials and the tribulations, the ultimate connection: to become one with her mother. Marassas represent "sameness and love" as one, they are "inseparable and identical. They love each other because they are alike and always together" [vii]. This connection between Sophie and her mother Martine has also been challenged through Sophie's own connection with her daughter Brigitte: "Martine's totally nihilistic unwillingness to begin again with the draining responsibilities of motherhood comments upon and stands in stark contrast to Sophie's loving desire to bring her daughter Brigitte into the welcoming" (79) [viii].
Scholars agree that Danticat manages her relationship with her Haitian history and her bicultural identity through her works by creating a new space within the political sphere. In Breath, Eyes, Memory, Danticat employs the "idea of mobile traditions" as a means of creating new space for Haitian identity in America, one that is neither a "happy hybridity" nor an "unproblematic creolization" of Flatbush Brooklyn (28) [ix]. Danticat's open reference to and acceptance of her Caribbean predecessors, especially through the "grand narratives of the dead iconic fathers of Haitian literature," creates a "new community […] in luminal extra-national spaces" that "situates her narrative" in a place that is neither "absolute belonging" nor "postcolonial placelessness" (34) [ix]. Suggestive of the Haitian literary movement Indigenism, in which works sought to connect to the land of Haiti and the "plight of the peasant class" (55) [x], Sophie's complex reality in Breath, Eyes, Memory encapsulates the transnational experience (61) [x]. Translations of Breath, Eyes, Memory, especially those in France, contain slight alterations and "clumsy" replacement of creol/Caribbean terms that shift the empowered stance of Danticat's works to one of victimization, mirroring the fight authors face for a new political space in which dual Caribbean identity is accepted (68) [x]. Danticat's short story cycles in Krik? Krak! demonstrate "a symbolic weaving together" of her works and the transnational communities, including "Haitians, immigrants, women, [and] mothers and daughters," that she attempts to unite (75) [xi]. Through her "voicing the intersubjective experience of a community," Danticat distinguishes herself from other Haitian prose authors (73, 76) [xi]. She creates a space for the "voicelessness" of those unable to "speak their individual experience" (76) [xi]. Danticat's short stories uphold an undivided experience, one that politically aligns itself with an "egalitarian regime of rights and the rule of law" (81) [xi]. The political space in which such a single experience can exist is the means through which Danticat's transnational identity and her characters can survive.
Another work of Danticat's is her travel narrative After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (2002). She believes it provides readers with an inside look and feel of Haiti's cultural legacy, practices related to Lent, its Carnival, and the Haitian Revolution. She embarks on a journey through her work to recover the lost cultural markers of Haiti while also being marked by the Haitian geopolitical privilege and by her own privilege of mobility. Due to her active traveling privilege, she considered herself an "outsider" of Jacmel even though she did originate from Haiti. She explains "This is the first time I will be an active reveler at carnival in Haiti. I am worried that such an admission would appear strange for someone whom carnival is one of life’ passions…As a child living in Haiti…I had never been allowed to "join the carnival" ... it was considered not safe for me…Since I had an intense desire to join the carnival as some peculiar American children have of joining the circus, my uncle for years spun frightening tales around it to keep me away." She said in her narrative of going back to Jacmel, "I was still wearing my own mask of distant observer." Because of this, she advises her reader to look observe her work from the perspective of a diasporic returnee instead of an insider.
Awards and honors
Danticat has won fiction awards from Essence and Seventeen magazines, was named "1 of 20 people in their twenties who will make a difference" in Harper's Bazaar, was featured in The New York Times Magazine as one of "30 under 30" people to watch, and was called one of the "15 Gutsiest Women of the Year" by Jane magazine.