Edwidge Danticat was born
in Haiti in 1969 and moved to the United States when she
was twelve. She is the author of two novels, two
collections of stories, two books for young adults, and
two nonfiction books, one of which,
Brother, I'm Dying, was a finalist for the National Book Award
and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for
autobiography. In 2009, she received a MacArthur Genius
Here, Edwidge talks about
her latest opus,
Create Dangerously, a collection
of essays based on a series of lectures she delivered at
Princeton University last year.
* * *
Williams: Hi, Edwidge, thanks for the time.
Edwidge Danticat: I hope you don’t mind that I have my
baby daughter with me. Usually, I make some sort of
Williams: No need to apologize. I once interviewed Soledad O’Brien
while she was surrounded by her kids in the kitchen, and
the children’s distractions only added to the
experience. First, let me say I enjoyed
Create Dangerously immensely. When did you arrive at an
understanding that your aesthetic coincided with that of
Albert Camus in his essay of the same name which served
as the inspiration for your book’s title?
[Laughs] You ask that question in such a very, very
serious way. I’ve always enjoyed the work of Camus, and
found it very thought-provoking, especially his novels.
But less universally read are his essays which are very
beautiful. I read that one when I was in college and
starting to think seriously about writing. He always
seemed to express more ambivalence than certainty.
That’s certainly how I feel, that this is all a kind of
quest, and that things change in terms of what you’re
trying to accomplish as you go along. I like the fact
that he talks about both sides and the ambivalence of
Williams: FSU grad Laz Lyles says: I heard a New Yorker Magazine
podcast that mentioned you and
Junot Diaz in tandem as
the frontrunner "immigrant" writers. I'd like to know if
there are any other writers we should be looking out for
who are creating and writing in this tradition.
[Laughs] I don’t know if it’s true that we’re at the
forefront. I think we are just part of a big and
emerging group. Two of the people I‘m most actively
reading right now are
Dinaw Mengestu and
who wrote an absolutely amazing novella and collection
of short stories called
How to Escape from a Leper Colony.
Williams: Rudy Lewis says: I have read several of your books and
think that you are the finest and most courageous writer
living today, on par with the late South African poet
Dennis Brutus. Do you think it a waste of energy to
protest for the return of President Aristide to Haiti
when it is almost certain that the United States,
Canada, and France will not allow his return?
Rudy is right that it would be very difficult for
Aristide to return as a leader because the larger powers
won’t allow it, but I don’t think the people in Haiti
who support his return would consider it a waste of
energy because he is a citizen of Haiti.
Williams: Rudy also says: South Africa was a cause célèbre. Why do
you think that Haiti has not risen to that level in the
African-American political imagination, in their
churches and other social and political arenas? Is it
the problem of language or some other factors?
There has long been an ideological and intellectual
engagement with Haiti as the first black republic by
Zora Neale Hurston,
Frederick Douglass and
Ntozake Shange. And since
the earthquake, we’ve witnessed a very visceral reaction
and a new wave of engagement on the part of many
African-American communities all across the country.
Williams: Speaking of the earthquake, Heritage Konpa Publisher
Rene Davis wants to know if there’s an earthquake relief
charity you recommend,
There are two.
Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees has been on the ground since the beginning. The majority
of Haitian households are female-headed because of
politics and migration. The other is the
Lambi Fund of
Both work primarily in areas outside of Port-au-Prince
which get less aid.
Williams: Rene also wants to know whether you have any political
aspirations in Haiti, ala Wyclef Jean?
No, no, no, no, no! The only thing I will ever run for
is a bus. [LOL]
Williams: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: First of all, I want to say
how very much I appreciated
The Dew Breaker. How has
winning a MacArthur Award and being dubbed a genius
affected your writing process?
It hasn’t made it easier, strangely enough. [Chuckles]
Writing is the same, no matter what else happened with
your previous book, because ultimately you have to sit
down with a blank page and wrestle with an idea. It
hasn’t changed that process in terms of the anxiety.
Once you’re involved in the work, it’s really just you
and the characters and the words. What does change is
that the more you do it, the more practice you have, the
less stressful writing is. You know how that is, Kam
Williams: Yeah. What did being named an Oprah Book Club selection
do for you?
It gave me a lot of time. What it did was allow me the
time to concentrate on writing so I did not have to do
so many other jobs. The greatest gift anyone can give to
a writer is time, as you very well know.
Williams: Attorney Bernadette Beekman
says: I am always so incredibly moved by your writing,
The Farming of
The Dew Breaker. I see that your new work is once again about
life's challenges respecting immigrants. I wonder if one
day you will write an extended work which will examine
happiness instead of suffering.
[Laughs] I think I’m just melancholy by nature, and a
lot of that gets into my writing. But on a practical
level, I think it’s hard to write a book about happiness
because fiction requires tension and complication.
Williams: Bernadette asks: When was the last time you were in
I was there towards the end of the summer
to visit family and to work at a camp called
Li Li Li, which means “Read Read Read.”
Williams: Yale grad Tommy Russell asks: Were you surprised at the
outpouring of support after the earthquake? Are things
getting better? And what more needs to be done down
I was surprised at how broad the recovery was. Every
one was doing something. On another level, I probably
shouldn’t have been surprised because there is something
human about the way people react to and identify with
suffering. There’s a lot more empathy in the world than
we perhaps realize. The response to the earthquake
proved that. Unfortunately, many of the donations
haven’t been used, and we still have a million and a
half people homeless, plus the
recent cholera outbreak
shows the vulnerability of the situation. So, I think
there needs to be a renewed urgency.
Williams: Marcia Evans is a person who grew up in the Cambria
Heights section of New York City. She asks: Why is this
lovely neighborhood never discussed by the media when
covering the Haitian community?
Marcia’s right about that, although since the
earthquake there’s a reporter from The New York Times,
Anne Barnard, who’s been writing a very extensive series
about that particular community in Queens. I think it’s
hard for an outsider to capture the flavor of a
community and all its nuances, so ultimately
Haitian-Americans need to start sharing intimate
accounts of their stories. But, Marcia’s right, there
are many wonderful stories waiting to be told. We also
have to support Haitian-American media, like
Heritage Konpa and
The Haitian Times, because they not only link
Haitian communities to each other, but they are the
portals from the Haitian community to the greater
Williams: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you
wish someone would?
Williams: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
Yes, I’ve been afraid a few times, especially now that I
have kids. I’m more afraid for them than for myself.
Williams: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
Yes, most of the time. [Chuckles]
Williams: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you
had a good laugh?
Just now, with you.
Williams: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
That reality show Basketball Wives.
Williams: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last
book you read?
Dinaw Mengestu’s new book,
How to Read the Air.
Williams: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you
listening to on your iPod?
The Suburbs, the new album from an indie rock group
Williams: What is your favorite dish to cook?
Diri Ak Djon-Djon. It’s Haitian rice with mushroom.
Williams: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes
My mama. She sews. [Laughs]
Williams: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
A 40+ year-old woman.
Williams: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would
that be for?
A true rebuilding of Haiti.
Williams: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest
My mother cooking. I think I was about two years-old.
Williams: The Nancy Lovell Question: Why do you love doing what
Because it’s fun.
Williams: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the
By praying and reading.
Williams: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero
Williams: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to
That’s a tricky one.
Williams: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow
in your footsteps?
Just do it.
Williams: The Tavis Smiley questions. First, how introspective are
You know I have to be very introspective to do the work
that I do, so I’ll say quite a bit. [LOL]
Williams: Finally, how do you want to be remembered? What do you
want your legacy to be, and where are you in relation to
that at this point in your life?
[Laughs] That’s funny, because that was also Tavis’ last
question when I was on his show recently. I have young
daughters, and I want my legacy to be more connected to
them. I hope to be a good role model for my daughters.
I’m only at the beginning of the process, because
Williams: Thanks again, Edwidge, and best of luck with the book.
Thank you, Kam. It was a lot of fun talking to you.
* * * *