Modern Haiti's Pride and Pain

From USA Today

At 12, Edwidge Danticat spoke almost no English.

At 26, she has been nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in literature. Her collection of short stories, Krik? Krak!, explores the island of her birth, Haiti, blending its poetry and its tremendous pain.

Reached at her Brooklyn home where she lives with her parents, Danticat says she draws on the stories she heard as a little girl. "We take great pride in our past,'' says Danticat in her gently accented English. Her first languages were Creole and French. When she was a toddler, her parents left Haiti to find a better life in the U.S. She stayed with an aunt and uncle until she rejoined them at 12.

While her stories are set in contemporary Haiti, Danticat brings in historical characters like the 1790s slave leader Boukman and events like the killings in 1937 at Massacre River (when soldiers in the Dominican Republic slaughtered Haitians).

Although she is a U.S. citizen, Danticat remains connected to Haiti, which she has visited recently. Krik? Krak! is being translated into Creole for Haitian radio. Danticat also served as the associate producer of a documentary made by Jonathan Demme about Haitian torture survivors, Courage and Pain. She resents the idea that Haiti is not ready for democracy. "There is no place in the world where people fight more for democracy.''

Danticat always wanted to write, but she planned to train as a nurse after she graduated from Barnard College with a degree in French literature. Like many children of emigrants, Danticat felt great pressure to become "a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer.'' Only because she had a scholarship did she attend Brown University to earn an MFA in creative writing instead of attending nursing school. Her much-praised first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, was published in 1994.

Although her parents "are not very vocal'' about her achievements, they will accompany her to the dinner. And Danticat recently discovered that her father buys her books to give his friends. "I was reading (at a local bookstore) and the owner said, 'Your father comes in here all the time.' ''


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