Creating Dangerously: An Interview with Edwidge Danticat

I feel so blessed to have a literary legend here on my blog. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Edwidge Danticat has dedicated her writing career to shining a spotlight on the plight of Haiti and its people. A remarkable storyteller and wordsmith, she is the author of groundbreaking works like Krik? Krak! and The Farming of Bones.
RLM: How do you feel your writing has influenced the people and politics of Haiti?
ED: I would like to think that my writing, as well as my advocacy,  has brought some attention to the challenges of Haiti. I often meet people who say that they identify with or have a broader understanding of some issue because of my work. But frankly as much as I would love for it to be true, I think that very few writers can change the course and politics of a country and when it does happen it might be that  their work lines up with a particular moment in time and they often live inside the country they’re writing about and they often take on  an additional role beyond writing.
The_Farming_of_Bones_(first_edition)   breath
RLM: When you’re writing, do you think at all about who will be reading you?
ED: Not at all.  It’s a cliché answer, but a true one as well. When I’m writing, I’m thinking of  the voracious reader I was when I was fifteen years old, the girl who was always looking to either fall into a book and escape into it or find a mirror of herself in one. I write for her.  I think I would simply freeze if I started thinking about who would be reading me.
RLM: You’ve been referred to as “Haiti’s Storyteller.” How do you feel having that title applied to yourself and your writing?
ED: The truth is I’m one of Haiti’s many storytellers. There are a lot of us both in Haiti and in the diaspora. I’ve edited quite a few anthologies and have tried to encourage and seek out many possibilities to have my countrymen and women translated  so the  people who read my work might realize that. I’ve always said it from the beginning and I still believe it today. And I’m not just saying that to be modest. It’s the truth. There are many voices. I’m just one.
RLM: In your books you’ve made the political personal. What do you most want readers to understand about Haiti and the people there?
ED: Well the political is always personal and vice versa, otherwise most people would never muster up the stamina to fight a long struggle.  I want most readers to understand that we Haitians are not just victims, that our lives, both our internal and external lives, are just as complicated as everyone else’s. When you’re stereotyped so often, you try very hard not to stereotype yourself and this might tie your hands a bit in terms of what  stories you feel you can tell, but I try to create complex and nuanced characters, as much as I can.
RLM: What, in your opinion, is the duty of authors in today’s world?
ED: To tell his or her story in the best and truest way he or she can. The rest is up to the person who also has this other life in the world, who in my case is mother, sister, friend, and concerned citizen of many different communities, who sometimes speak out as a concerned citizen about what she sees and feels.
RLM: What, if any, criticism have you received from readers in Haiti, including those in the government?
ED: The current government has much bigger problems to worry about than writers. I have had both good and bad reactions from readers there. Some people like my work and others feel that I have no business writing about Haiti when I no longer live there. And every other range of reaction you can think of in between.
RLM: As you earned your MFA, you wrote a play, The Education of Adam. You’ve also acted in several films. Have you ever wanted to see/translate any of your novels to film? If so, which one?
ED: People have tried at different points to make some of my books into films. Nothing’s gone really far.  One of the short  stories from Krik? Krak!, “Caroline’s Wedding,” might soon be a feature film. I would love to see a sweet art film made out of Brother, I’m Dying, which is not fiction but memoir.
brother    krik
RLM: Your most recent novel, Claire of the Sea Light, revolves around a little girl and her community. How much of your own experience of being a mother went into this particular story?
ED: My parents left me in the care of relatives when I was really young so I channeled some of that experience into Claire. Being a parent now to children who are the ages I was without my parents makes me relieve that time more deeply. So I was able to experience those characters, especially Claire, both from the perspectives of the parent and the child.
claire    create
RLM: While you’re working on a story, what do you read to help you along, get your brain oiled and ready to go?
ED: When I’m working on fiction, I read a lot of nonfiction. I love to come across some great fact or phenomenon that then finds itself into my fiction. When I am writing nonfiction, I read a lot of fast paced fiction, because I always want my nonfiction to move at a good clip and captivate the reader just as the best fiction would. I also read poetry for voice and beauty and inspiration on the word and sentence level.
RLM: If you could only write one more sentence in your life, have one last chance to convey your life’s message, what would it be?
ED: Just one sentence?  I’d try to write a kind of poem.
Just one more year.
To hold my children.
And kiss my husband.
And write more words.
To learn more about Edwidge Danticat, visit her on Facebook!

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