Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian novelist and memoirist born in January 1969 not far from Port-au-Prince. At the time, Haiti was under the dictatorship of François Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc." When Danticat was 2 years old, her father, André, left Haiti, arrived in New York on a tourist visa and became a taxi driver. Two years later, Danticat's mother, Rose, also left Haiti for New York, ...
Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian novelist and memoirist born in January 1969 not far from Port-au-Prince. At the time, Haiti was under the dictatorship of François Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc." When Danticat was 2 years old, her father, André, left Haiti, arrived in New York on a tourist visa and became a taxi driver. Two years later, Danticat's mother, Rose, also left Haiti for New York, leaving Edwidge and her baby brother, Eliab, with their uncle and aunt. Rose became a factory worker.
In 1981, at age 12, Edwidge joined her parents in New York. There, the Creole-speaking, French-educated Danticat learned English as she attended public schools in Crown Heights, a section of Brooklyn.
Danticat received a bachelor's degree in French literature from Barnard College in 1990. In 1993, she received a Master of Fine Arts from Brown University. Danticat's master's thesis, published in 1993, was entitled My Turn in the Fire: an Abridged Novel. One year later, at 25, Danticat published her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, a finalist for the National Book Award.
Danticat's work is based on memories of her early youth in Haiti. There is a morbid quality to these works that seem to be filled with death. In Danticat's notes on her first novel, she wrote, "In Haiti death was always around us."
Danticat recalls a ritual not unlike the female circumcision or clitorectomy so common in Africa. Young girls in Haiti are "locked" and given manual virginity tests. Wealthy families paid a doctor for this purpose. Poor families attended to the ritual with the help of female relatives: mothers, aunts and grandmothers.
Danticat sees herself as the continuation of a long chain of Haitian female storytellers and views these women as keepers of history and memory. She feels driven to dedicate her writer's voice to the task of illustrating the past and illuminating the present.
In Breath, Eyes, Memory, Danticut tells the story of a Haitian girl, Sophie, who emigrates, settling in Brooklyn. The novel appears to be based on Danticat's own life, with the protagonist spending an early childhood in Haiti under the Duvalier regime and later becoming an immigrant in the United States. Danticat describes the ignorance and prejudice of Sophie's classmates in America, who insist that all Haitians have AIDS.
Breath, Eyes, Memory is noteworthy as the first novel by a Haitian woman to be written all in English. The achievement is remarkable considering that until age 12, Danticat knew no English, spoke Creole at home and French in school.
While her first novel was still being lauded by critics (it had been nominated for the National Book Award), Danticat published Krik? Krak!, a collection of short stories, in 1995. The title is derived from a storytelling tradition native to Haiti in which a grandmother will use the Creole word Krik to learn whether youngsters want to hear a story. The traditional answer of the children is "Krak!" Critics described the short stories in this collection using words like "spare" and "dreamy." Though much of the material in this work is based on life in contemporary Haiti, Danticat also goes back in time, weaving historical figures and events into her narrative, including Boukman, a 1790s slave leader, and the murder of Haitians in 1937 by the Dominican Republic at Massacre River.
A more recent Danticat novel, Brother, I'm Dying, treats the events that led up to the death of the uncle in whose home she was raised, Joseph Dantica. The pastor of a small church located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Dantica left Haiti for the United States in 2004, after being caught in crossfire between the Haitian police, United Nations peacekeeping tanks and armed gangs. Dantica arrived in Miami and despite having all the necessary documents, was placed in hand and ankle manacles by officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The 81-year-old Haitian was sent to the Krome Detention Center where he was found dead two days later.
Danticat lives in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. The writer remains determined to chronicle the history of her people. "Haiti has an extensively rich history. It is both glorious and painful, a divided history," she says. "It's something people struggle with every day. We cling to the past. It is our most glorious asset."