Edwidge Danticat

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Edwidge Danticat
Danticat, September 2007
Danticat, September 2007
Born (1969-01-19) January 19, 1969 (age 49)
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Occupation Writer
Nationality Haitian-American
Education
Period 1994–present
Genre Novels, short stories

Edwidge Danticat (Haitian Creole pronunciation: [ɛdwidʒ dãtika]; born January 19, 1969)[1] is a Haitian-American novelist and short story writer.

Early life[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. 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.[2] Although her formal education in Haiti was in French, she spoke Haitian Creole at home.[3]

While still in Haiti, Danticat began writing at nine years old.[4] 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.[3] Danticat did not realize the racism until she went to college because of the protection of her community.[5] 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 published by Youth Communication. 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."[6]

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[7] She received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Brown University in 1993.[7]

Career[edit]

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.[7] Four years later it became an Oprah's Book Club selection.[9]

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.[10]

Since completing her MFA, Danticat has taught creative writing at the New York University and the University of Miami.[11] 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.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Danticat is married to Fedo Boyer. She has two daughters, Mira and Leila.[7] Although Danticat resides in the United States, she still considers Haiti home. To date, she still visits Haiti from time to time and has always felt as if she never left it.[13]

Themes[edit]

Three themes are prominent in various analyses 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 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]

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.

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.[14] 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.[15]

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,[16] was featured in The New York Times Magazine as one of "30 under 30" people to watch,[1][16] and was called one of the "15 Gutsiest Women of the Year" by Jane magazine.[16]

Critical Reception[edit]

Edwidge Danticat is an author, creator and participant in multiple forms of storytelling. The New York Times has remarked on Danticat’s ability to create a “moving portrait and a vivid illustration” as an “accomplished novelist and memoirist”. The New Yorker has featured Danticat’s short stories and essays on multiple occasions, and regularly reviews and critiques her work.

Danticat’s creative branching out has included filmmaking, short stories, and most recently children’s literature. Mama’s Nightingale was written to share the story of Haitian immigrants and family separation. The book combines Danticat’s storytelling abilities and work by accomplished artist Leslie Staub. Published in 2015 by Penguin Random House, the children’s book tells “a touching tale of parent-child separation and immigration…with stirring illustrations…and shows how every child has the power to make a difference.” Per a review from the Times, Mama’s Nightingale “will inspire not just empathy for the struggles of childhood immigration, but admiration” of Danticat and Staub, too.

In other creative pursuits, Danticat has worked on two films, Poto Mitan and Girl Rising. Her latter work, Girl Rising, received a large amount of press, largely due to the star power involved with the film (including Anne Hathaway, Chloë Grace Moretz, Liam Neeson, Meryl Streep, Alicia Keys and Kerry Washington). In the film, Danticat was tasked with narrating the story of Wadley from Haiti. Girl Rising was defined by The Washington Post as “a lengthy, highly effective PSA designed to kickstart a commitment to getting proper education for all young women, all over the globe”.

In Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, Danticat tells her own story as a part of the Haitian diaspora. Create Dangerously was inspired by author Albert Camus’ lecture “Create Dangerously” and his experience as an author and creator who defined his art as “a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world.” In Create Dangerously, Danticat is admired for “writing about tragedies and vanished cultures” and how “she accepts that by some accident she exists and has the power to create, so she does.” NPR positively reviewed Create Dangerously and the journey through “looming loss [which] makes every detail and person to whom we are introduced more luminous and precious.” It was chosen by The University of Kansas as the 2018-19 Common Book, which is distributed to all first-year students at the University.

Bibliography[edit]

Books[edit]

Short stories[edit]

Film[edit]

  • Poto Mitan – Writer/Narrator, 2009
  • Girl Rising (Haiti) – Writer, 2013[24]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Jaggi, Maya (November 20, 2004). "Island Memories (Profile: Edwidge Danticat)". The Guardian. Retrieved August 13, 2018. 
  2. ^ Adisa, Opal Palmer (2009). "Up Close and Personal: Edwidge Danticat on Haitian Identity and the Writer's Life". African American Review. 43 (2/3): 345–355; here: 346 – via Project Muse. (Subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b "Behind the Books: A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat". Random House. 1998. Archived from the original on November 4, 2008. Retrieved May 13, 2013. 
  4. ^ Munro, Martin (October 5, 2010). "Inside Out: A Brief Biography of Edwidge Danticat". In Munro. Edwidge Danticat: A Reader's Guide. University of Virginia Press. p. 16. Retrieved May 13, 2013. 
  5. ^ Adisa, Opal Palmer (2009). "Up Close and Personal: Edwidge Danticat on Haitian Identity and the Writer's Life". African American Review. 43 (2/3): 345-355; here: 347-348 – via Project Muse. (Subscription required (help)). 
  6. ^ Andrea Estepa (ed.), Starting with I: Personal Essays by Teenagers, Persea Books, 1997, p. xii.
  7. ^ a b c d Harvey, Charlotte Bruce (January 2011). "Haiti's Storyteller". Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  8. ^ Theses & Dissertations Record from a Brown University website
  9. ^ Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat from Oprah Winfrey's official website
  10. ^ "Two Blacks Named Among America's Most Promising Young Novelist", The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 12 (Summer 1996), p. 111.
  11. ^ "Rackstraw Downes – MacArthur Foundation". Macfound.org. January 26, 2009. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Haitian women pillars of the global economy". Poto Mitan. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  13. ^ Adisa, Opal Palmer (2009). "Up Close and Personal: Edwidge Danticat on Haitian Identity and the Writer's Life". African American Review. 43 (2/3): 345–355; here: 345 – via Project Muse. (Subscription required (help)). 
  14. ^ Chancy, M. J. A (2011). "Floating Islands: Spectatorship and the Body Politic in the Traveling Subjectivities of John Edgar Wideman and Edwidge Danticat". Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism. 15: 24, 25. doi:10.1215/07990537-1443268.
  15. ^ Chancy (2011). "Floating Islands: Spectatorship and the Body Politic in the Traveling Subjectivities of John Edgar Wideman and Edwidge Danticat". Small Axe. 15: 32, 33. doi:10.1215/07990537-1443268.
  16. ^ a b c Postigo, Daniela (September 21, 2007). "Author Danticat MFA'93 returns to campus for reading". Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Best of Young American Novelists" Granta 54, Summer 1996.
  18. ^ "Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards – The 80th Annual". Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards – The 80th Annual. 
  19. ^ Hua, Cynthia; Julia Zorthian (May 20, 2013). "University Confers 3,084 Degrees at 312th Commencement". Yale Daily News. Retrieved May 21, 2013. 
  20. ^ Hillel Italie (June 30, 2014). "Tartt, Goodwin awarded Carnegie medals". Seattle Times. Associated Press. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  21. ^ "The UWI to confer 12 honorary degrees at 2017 graduation ceremonies", The University of the West Indies Open Campus.
  22. ^ "The UWI 2017 Honorary Graduands", The University of the West Indies Open Campus.
  23. ^ "Edwidge Danticat is 2018 Winner of Prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature". The Neustadt Prize. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 10, 2017. 
  24. ^ Girl Rising.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Burchell, Eileen. "As My Mother's Daughter: Breath Eyes Memory by Edwidge Danticat". Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender. Fisher, J., & E. Silber (eds). Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003
  • 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.
  • Dash, J. Michael. "Danticat and Her Haitian Precursors." Edwidge Danticat: A Reader's Guide. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2010. 26–38. Print.
  • Hewitt, Heather. "At the Crossroads: Disability and Trauma in The Farming of Bones." MELUS. 31.3 (2006): 123–145. Print.
  • Machado Sáez, Elena (2015), "Dictating Diaspora: Gendering Postcolonial Violence in Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat", Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, ISBN 978-0-8139-3705-2 
  • Marouan, M. (2013). Witches, Goddesses, and Angry Spirits: The politics of spiritual liberation in African diaspora women's fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
  • Martin, W. Todd. "'Naming' Sebastian: Celebrating Men in Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones." Atenea (AteneaPR) 28.1 (2008): 65–74. Web. MLA. University of Maryland College Park Lib., College Park, MD, October 24, 2013
  • 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
  • Rosello, Mireile. "Marassa With A Difference". Edwidge Danticat: A Reader's Guide. Munro, Martin, ed. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010
  • 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. University of Maryland College Park Lib., College Park, MD, October 24, 2013

External links[edit]