A child of the 60s, Edwidge Danticat grew up amidst political upheaval in her native Haiti. Emigrating to the United States at the age of twelve, she began a journey that launched a celebrated writing career and led countless thousands to recognize that, despite her circumstances, hope prevailed and no obstacle is too big to overcome.
Born in Port-au-Prince in 1969, Edwidge Danticat would grow up to be the youngest recipient ever of the coveted National Book Award nomination. Many more nominations and accolades would follow for this Haitian who relocated to the United States as an adolescent. Here is the story of an award-winning novelist who is an inspiration to women, aspiring writers, Haitians and anyone who questions whether they can overcome adversity.
The first in Danticat’s family to leave home for the United States was her father, when Danticat was only two years old. Her mother was the next to emigrate, two years later, leaving little Danticat at the tender age of four without a father or mother in residence, She and her brother were left to be raised in Haiti by an aunt and uncle.
At the age of nine, Danticat began writing, directly influenced by the familiar Haitian storytelling she treasured so dearly. Her family expected writing would be but a side hobby for young Danticat, but it developed into a key and lifelong passion.
At the age of twelve, it was Danticat’s turn to emigrate to the United States. Reunited with her mother and father in Brooklyn, New York, she overcame personal challenges. She went on to attend Barnard College, followed by a Bachelor’s Degree with the accomplishment of earning a Masters in Fine Arts at Brown University. For her graduation thesis, she composed a piece concerned with overcoming challenges that closely mirrored Danticat’s own life experiences. That 1994 work entitled “Breath, Eyes, Memory”, went on to be Danticat’s first book, published in 1998, and later honored as an Oprah’s Book Club selection.
A Fresh Voice Becomes a Celebrated Author
Tackling real issues head-on brought taboo topics right out into the open. The fact that a Haitian woman was willing to tell all, without reticence, made it that much easier for other women, Haitian or not, to add their voices to the stories of surmounting painful obstacles. In a way, Danticat’s young voice gave others “permission” to tell their tales. From this proud, unashamed precedent, many other stories leapt from Danticat’s fingertips.
Book after book won award after award. Danticat has won the Story Prize, the American Book Awards, the Lannan Literary Fellowship, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Memoir/Autobiography and, most importantly, the admiration and gratitude of thousands upon thousands of grateful readers.
In 1999, Danticat’s short story, “The Book of the Dead”, was featured in an issue of The New Yorker Magazine spotlighting “The Future of American Fiction”. How astute that magazine was to recognize an up and coming talent in Danticat. Famous books from this accomplished author include Krik? Krak!, a collection of stories from 1996; her 1998 novel, The Farming of Bones; 2007’s Brother, I’m Dying and the powerful essay collection, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. Danticat has already made a wealth of contributions to the world of literature, and to women and anyone around the world struggling with poverty, adversity, abandonment and a host of other issues, that lets them stand up and say, “Enough. I am in charge of my life. I shall make it what I want to make it, regardless of what my past has given to me”. Danticat may have earned awards, but what she has given to her readers is something far more valuable: hope.
Danticat and the Silver Screen
After graduate school, Danticat’s worked with a production company. She had a small onscreen role in the 1998 Oprah Winfrey movie, Beloved, a part in the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and appeared as herself in the 2012 documentary, Let Fury Have the Hour, which explored how creative artists have used their talents to respond to reactionary politics.
Despite these brushes with Tinseltown, writing has remained Danticat’s passion. A close friend of hers had been working on a movie script for a long while. When this friend, Patricia Benoit, decided to produce the work as a film, she tapped her dear friend Danticat to star in the movie, called “Wòch nan Solèy” (“Stones in the Sun”). The title refers to a familiar Haitian saying that stones in the river cannot know the problem of stones in the sun; a concept that is core to the movie’s storyline.
Danticat played the leading role of Yannick in the 2012 release, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April of that year. The movie received critical acclaim and a special jury mention at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival awards in the Best New Narrative Director category, honoring Benoit’s achievement.
Danticat adroitly transformed the script into a portrayal true to form on film, drawing upon her own life experiences in Haiti to help bring the character to life.
In a June 2012 interview with Katia U. Ulysse, promoting the movie, Danticat confided, “I feel very lucky to have had this experience, but I don’t suddenly consider myself an actor”.
Film in the Future
While Danticat may not expect to be rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite on a regular basis, it appears that her fans may see more of her work on the big screen in the near future. A project is currently underway to create a film adaptation of “Caroline’s Wedding”, the final story in Danticat’s 1995 Krik? Krak! anthology collection. And Peter Perecles, in conjunction with 88 Street Productions, is working on a film based upon Danticat’s short story, “In the Old Days”.
Of course, having her stories portrayed on the big screen in no way lessens the impact Danticat has had on her reading audiences. As long as she continues to share her heart openly and candidly as evidenced by her previous works, Edwidge Danticat will continue to touch lives and inspire countless others to reach beyond their means; to entrust that we create our own stories, and that we are beholden to no one to craft our own futures.
Almost like something right out of an Edwidge Danticat novel.