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Get to Know Portland Arts & Lectures Author Edwidge Danticat

Single tickets for Edwidge Danticat’s event on May 12th are now available!
Click here for more information.

On May 12th, Literary Arts will host Edwidge Danticat as the final event of our 2021-22 season of Portland Arts & Lectures.

Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books, including The Art of Death, a National Book Critics Circle finalist; Claire of the Sea Light, a New York Times Notable Book; Brother, I’m Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist; The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah’s Book Club selection; and Krik? Krak!, also a National Book Award finalist.

Her most recent book is the story collection, Everything Inside.

What role does place play in a reader and writer’s practice?

Danticat explores this question, and others, in this conversation with Jesmyn Ward at Brown University.

“I used to read to go home… I would read to try to go back to Haiti through the books–literature that I had not read while I was in Haiti… Then I started writing to go home, and I was writing my own version of that place, because also, I was longing to see it. So I think the attachment to place is like this effort to recreate it, not just for others, but for myself, because I was away from it. “


Danticat’s fiction and nonfiction take readers to settings in the U.S., Haiti, and elsewhere around the world. How does a personal, multigenerational relationship with immigration impact the way different places and cultures are rendered on the page?

Danticat discusses how her bicultural experience informs the stories in Everything Inside, the complicated affection she has for Haiti and America, and her own sense of belonging in this NPR interview.

“Well I sometimes feel like I belong here. And then often I’m reminded by certain things…So often, I think, these days more than ever, we are reminded that whether or not we belong is not defined by us.”

Danticat has written nonfiction, fiction, as well as young adult and children’s books. What are some of the stories that she loves?

In this list for Top Ten Books, Danticat recommends some of her favorites.

“I realized books could not only help us escape, but hold a mirror to our lives, to help us examine a problem and ponder —along with the characters —a possible solution.”

Find out more about Danticat, her career, and her writing, below.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian American novelist and short story author whose works address issues of power, injustice, and poverty through the lens of women’s lives and relationships. As a writer, Danticat believes in the power of exploring challenging topics through her work, and has said, “Every story I come across, in some way, becomes a part of my soul. And the more tragic the story, the more it lingers there. That’s the power of good literature; it changes you.”

Danticat was born in 1969 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Before she had turned four years old, her mother and father moved to the United States, leaving Danticat and her brother to be raised by an aunt and uncle. In 1981, at the age of twelve, she joined her parents in Brooklyn, New York. Adapting to life in America was difficult for Danticat. When she arrived, she spoke Creole, wore Haitian dress, and had Haitian manners. She often felt out of place; she adopted a voracious reading habit and began writing stories to provide an escape and maintain a connection to her homeland.

At age fourteen, Danticat published her first writing in English, “A Haitian-American Christmas,” in New Youth Connections, a citywide magazine written by teenagers. She graduated from Clara Barton High School and went on to earn a B.A. in French literature from Barnard College.

In 1993, she received her M.F.A. degree from Brown University. Her master’s thesis was a semi-autobiographical account of the relationships between several generations of Haitian women, entitled “My turn in the fire – an abridged novel.” It served as the basis of her debut novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published in 1994. Author Julia Alvarez described Breath, Eyes, Memory as “written in prose as clear as a bell, magical as a butterfly, and resonant as drum talk.” It was selected for Oprah’s Book Club and praised for its “vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to [Haitian] people’s suffering and courage.”

The following year, Danticat published Krik? Krak!, a collection of short stories of Haitian women, their past and daily trials and tribulations, which The Washington Post Book World called “virtually flawless. If the news from Haiti is too painful to read, read this book instead and understand the place more deeply than you ever thought possible.” The collection, which took its title from a call-and-response phrase common in Haitian storytelling, was a finalist for the National Book Award.

To date, Danticat has published over a dozen books, including novels, story collections, and children’s literature. Her titles include Claire of the Sea Light, a New York Times Notable Book, Brother, I’m Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award Finalist, The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner, The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize. Early in her career, she was named one of the country’s best young authors by the literary journal Granta, one of “20 people in their twenties who will make a difference” by Harper’s Bazaar magazine, and one of the “15 Gutsiest Women of the Year” by Jane magazine. In 2009, she received a MacArthur Fellowship.

Her most recent book, Everything Inside, was released in 2019. The eight stories contained in the collection are set throughout the Caribbean and beyond, and explore the forces that pull us together or drive us apart. The collection is emotionally absorbing and rich with hard-won wisdom and humanity. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Story Prize, and the Vilcek Prize in Literature, and was named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, Time, Esquire, and many others. The New York Times Book Review described Everything Inside as a “beautiful book” in which “Danticat’s birthplace, Haiti, emerges in an almost mythic fashion,” and NPR praised it as a “stunning collection that features some of the best writing of Danticat’s brilliant career.”

Danticat’s short stories have appeared in over twenty-five periodicals and have been widely anthologized. She has taught creative writing at New York University and the University of Miami. She has worked with filmmakers Patricia Benoit and Jonathan Demme on projects highlighting Haitian art, culture, and history. And in 2009, she narrated Poto Mitan: Haitian Women Pillars of the Global Economy, a documentary about the impact of globalization on five women from different generations.

Today, she lives in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami with her husband and two daughters. She visits Haiti often, saying, “Loving Haiti, you know, comes in the blood.”

To learn more about Edwidge Danticat, go to prhspeakers.com.

“Not everybody comes out with a happy ending, you know? And that’s one of the things that interests me—how people deal with difficulties. Maybe I just happen to be a melancholy person. I think also, these days, the experience of poor immigrants is a lot more precarious and terrifying because the rules are always changing. But I hope there are consolations. I think people in very difficult circumstances figure out a way to have moments of joy, you know, moments of appreciation.”

-interview with The Millions

Single tickets for Edwidge Danticat’s event on May 12th are now available! Click here for more information.

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