Edwidge Danticat

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Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat by David Shankbone.jpg
Danticat, September 2007
Born (1969-01-19) January 19, 1969 (age 45)
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Occupation Writer
Nationality Haitian American
Period 1994–present
Genre Novels, short stories

Edwidge Danticat (Haitian Creole pronunciation: [ɛdwidʒ dãtika]; born January 19, 1969) is a Haitian-American author.

Early life and education[edit]

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.[1] This left Danticat and her younger brother, also named André, to be raised by her aunt and uncle. Although her formal education in Haiti was in French, she spoke Kreyòl at home.[2]

While still in Haiti, Danticat began writing at 9 years old.[3] 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.[2] 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.”[4]

After graduating from Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, New York, Danticat entered Barnard College in New York City. Initially she had intended on studying to become a nurse, but her love of writing won out and she received a BA in French literature[5] She received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Brown University in 1993[6] an honorary Doctor of Letters also from Brown in 2008, and another from Yale University in 2013.[7]

Career[edit]

Danticat in 2009

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",[8] was the basis for her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published by Soho Press in 1994.[5] Four years later it became an Oprah's Book Club selection.[9]

Since completing her MFA, Danticat has taught creative writing at the New York University and the University of Miami.[10] She has also worked with filmmakers Patricia Benoit and Jonathan Demme, on projects on Haitian art and documentaries about Haïti.[1] 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.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Danticat is married to Fedo Boyer. She has two daughters, Mira and Leila.[5] Danticat is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Themes[edit]

Three themes are prominent in various analysis of Edwidge Danticat’s work: national identity, mother-daughter relationships, and diasporic politics.

National identity[edit]

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].

Mother-daughter relationships[edit]

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 mothers 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 mothers 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].

Diasporic politics[edit]

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.

Articles[edit]

[i] Alexander, Simone A. James. "M/Othering The Nation: Women's Bodies As Nationalist Trope In Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory." African American Review 44.3 (2011): 373–390.

[ii] Counihan, Clare. "Desiring Diaspora: 'Testing' The Boundaries Of National Identity In Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory." Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal Of Criticism 37.(2012): 36–52.

[iii] Bellamy, Maria Rice. "More Than Hunter Or Prey: Duality And Traumatic Memory In Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker." MELUS: The Journal Of The Society For The Study Of The Multi-Ethnic Literature Of The United States 37.1 (2012): 177–197.

[iv] Hewitt, Heather. "At the Crossroads: Disability and Trauma in The Farming of Bones." MELUS. 31.3 (2006): 123–145. Print.

[v] Burchell, Eileen. “As My Mother’s Daughter: Breath Eyes Memory by Edwidge Danticat”. Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender. Fisher, J. & Silber, E. (eds.). Connecticut: Greenwood Press 2003

[vi] Martin, W. Todd. “'Naming' Sebastian: Celebrating Men in Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones.” Atenea (AteneaPR) 28.1 (2008): 65–74. Web. MLA. U of Maryland College Park Lib., College Park, MD 24 October 2013

[vii] Rosello, Mireile. “Marassa With A Difference”. Edwidge Danticat: A Reader’s Guide. Munro, Martin, ed. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2010

[viii] Samway, Patrick, S. J. “A Homeward Journey: Edwidge Danticat's Fictional Landscapes, Mindscapes, Genescapes, and Signscapes in Breath, Eyes, Memory.” The Journal of Southern Cultures 57.1 (2003–2004 Winter): 75–83. Mississippi Quarterly. Web. MLA. U of Maryland College Park Lib., College Park, MD 24 October 2013

[ix] Dash, J. Michael. "Danticat and Her Haitian Precursors." Edwidge Danticat: A Reader's Guide. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2010. 26–38. Print.

[x] Marouan, M. (2013). Witches, goddesses, and angry spirits: The politics of spiritual liberation in African diaspora women's fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

[xi] Nesbitt, Nick. "Diasporic Politics: Danticat's Short Works." Edwidge Danticat: A Reader's Guide. Ed. Martin Munro. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2010. 73–85. Print

Awards and honors[edit]

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,[12] was featured in the New York Times Magazine as one of "30 under 30" people to watch,[1][12] and was called one of the "15 Gutsiest Women of the Year" by Jane Magazine.[12]

Bibliography[edit]

Books[edit]

Short stories[edit]

A Wall of Fire Rising

Film[edit]

  • Poto Mitan – Writer/Narrator, 2009
  • Girl Rising (Haiti) – Writer/Narrator, 2013

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Jaggi, Maya (2004-11-20). "Island Memories (Profile: Edwidge Danticat)". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  2. ^ a b "Behind the Books: A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat". Random House. 1998. Archived from the original on 2008-11-04. Retrieved 2013-05-13. 
  3. ^ Munro, Martin (2010-10-05). "Inside Out: A Brief Biography of Edwidge Danticat". In Munro. Edwidge Danticat: A Reader's Guide. University of Virginia Press. p. 16. Retrieved 2013-05-13. 
  4. ^ Starting With I, edited by Andrea Estepa, 1997, p. xii.
  5. ^ a b c Harvey, Charlotte Bruce (January 2011). "Haiti's Storyteller". Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  6. ^ http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/content/view/2760/32/
  7. ^ http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2013/05/20/university-confers-3084-degrees-at-312th-commencement/
  8. ^ Theses & Dissertations Record from a Brown University website
  9. ^ 'Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat from Oprah Winfrey's official website
  10. ^ "Rackstraw Downes â€" MacArthur Foundation". Macfound.org. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  11. ^ "Haitian women pillars of the global economy". Poto Mitan. Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  12. ^ a b c Postigo, Daniela (2007-09-21). "Author Danticat MFA’93 returns to campus for reading". Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 2013-10-04. 
  13. ^ Hua, Cynthia; Julia Zorthian (20 May 2013). "University Confers 3,084 Degrees at 312th Commencement". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 2013-05-21. 
  14. ^ Hillel Italie (June 30, 2014). "Tartt, Goodwin awarded Carnegie medals". Seattle Times. Associated Press. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 

External links[edit]