||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2008)|
Danticat, September 2007
January 19, 1969 |
|Genre||Novels, short stories|
Early life and education
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. 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. 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 on studying 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.
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.
Three themes are prominent in various analysis 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.
[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
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.
- 1994 Fiction Award The Caribbean Writer
- 1995 Woman of Achievement Award, Barnard College
- Pushcart Short Story Prize for "Between the Pool and the Gardenias"
- National Book Award nomination for Krik? Krak!
- 1996 Best Young American Novelists for Breath, Eyes, Memory by Granta
- Lila-Wallace-Reader's Digest Grant
- 1999 American Book Award for The Farming of Bones
- The International Flaiano Prize for literature
- The Super Flaiano Prize for The Farming of Bones
- 2005 The Story Prize for The Dew Breaker
- 2005 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award  for "The Dew Breaker"
- 2007 National Book Award nomination for Brother, I'm Dying
- 2007 The National Book Critics Circle Award for Brother, I'm Dying
- 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Brother, I'm Dying
- 2009 MacArthur Fellows Program Genius grant
- 2011 Langston Hughes Medal, City College of New York
- 2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for Create Dangerously
- 2012 Smith College Honorary Degree
- 2013 Yale University Honorary Degree
- 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, shortlist for Claire of the Sea Light
- Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel, 1994)
- Krik? Krak! (stories, 1996)
- The Farming of Bones (novel, 1998)
- Behind the Mountains (young adult novel, 2002, part of the First Person Fiction series)
- After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (travel book, 2002)
- The Dew Breaker (novel-in-stories,2004)
- Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490 (young adult novel, 2005, part of The Royal Diaries series)
- Brother, I'm Dying (memoir/social criticism, 2007)
- The Butterfly's Way (anthology editor)
- Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (essay collection, 2010)
- Tent Life: Haiti (essay contributor, 2011)
- Haiti Noir (anthology editor, 2011)
- Best American Essays, 2011 (anthology editor, October 2011)
- Claire of the Sea Light (novel, August 2013)
- Mama's Nightingale (picture book, upcoming September 1, 2015)
- Untwine (young adult novel, upcoming October 2015)
- "The Book of the Dead". The New Yorker: 194–. 21 June 1999.
- "Ghosts". The New Yorker 84 (38): 108–113. 24 November 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- "Quality Control". The Washington Post. 14 November 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
- Poto Mitan – Writer/Narrator, 2009
- Girl Rising (Haiti) – Writer/Narrator, 2013
- Jaggi, Maya (2004-11-20). "Island Memories (Profile: Edwidge Danticat)". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-05-12.
- "Behind the Books: A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat". Random House. 1998. Archived from the original on 2008-11-04. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
- 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.
- Starting With I, edited by Andrea Estepa, 1997, p. xii.
- Harvey, Charlotte Bruce (January 2011). "Haiti's Storyteller". Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2013-05-10.
- Theses & Dissertations Record from a Brown University website
- 'Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat from Oprah Winfrey's official website
- "Rackstraw Downes â€" MacArthur Foundation". Macfound.org. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2013-05-10.
- "Haitian women pillars of the global economy". Poto Mitan. Retrieved 2013-05-10.
- Postigo, Daniela (2007-09-21). "Author Danticat MFA’93 returns to campus for reading". Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 2013-10-04.
- Hua, Cynthia; Julia Zorthian (20 May 2013). "University Confers 3,084 Degrees at 312th Commencement". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
- Hillel Italie (June 30, 2014). "Tartt, Goodwin awarded Carnegie medals". Seattle Times. Associated Press. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Edwidge Danticat|
- Edwidge Danticat interview on Democracy Now!, video, audio, and print transcript, October 5, 2007.
- Novelist on "The Immigrant Artist at Work" – video interview by Democracy Now!