Edwidge Danticat’s “Create Dangerously” is a Gentle Manifesto for Artists

Joseph Ross (American University) recently published a beautiful review of Edwidge Danticat’s work, in particular her 2010 Create Dangerously. Here are excerpts with a link to the full review below:

Edwidge Danticat is among the best fiction and non-fiction writers of English these days. Her novels about life in Haiti (Krik Krak; Breath, Eyes, Memory; and The Farming of Bones) create vivid stories of sympathetic characters undergoing remarkable sufferings. Her talent as a storyteller is wide and rich. More recently, she’s been writing non-fiction. Her 2010 book, Create Dangerously, which I was just given by a friend, invites other writers, indeed all artists, to bold, courageous work that bears witness to the inequalities and the suffering of so many across the globe. Danticat’s prose is fluid and story-like, even when describing historical or current events. Her tone contains a humility and gentleness that keeps her writing from sounding preachy or shrill. She urges us, as a sensitive and thoughtful writer.

Create Dangerously opens with a heartbreaking description of the 1964 execution, by the “Papa Doc” Duvalier regime, of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin, both activists against Duvalier’s brutality. She recounts their execution as a kind of “creation story” for her, as a Haitian who was largely raised, and now lives, in the United States. She recalls a video and photographs of their execution that serve as a seed event in her writing life, prompting her to write as an offering of witness.

[. . .] One undercurrent through all the stories she recounts here is the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. She describes how various relatives and friends died or were injured, how in the United States’ media world, some wanted her to become the voice of Haiti after the earthquake. She thoughtfully describes the tensions in this. She wants to speak for her country but she knows no one really can. She navigates that narrow path generously.

Through all of these, and other, interesting accounts of her own life, she weaves a kind of gentle manifesto for artists. She quietly and respectfully urges artists to tell the stories the larger cultural narratives will leave out. She urges writers especially, to bear witness to the untold stories of suffering, experienced in parts of the world which rarely get attention.

A book like this risks an overwhelming sadness. Edwidge Danticat avoids this by highlighting the essential humanity of those whose suffering she describes. A kind of soft light shines up through the accounts of torture and executions, the experiences of scarcity. This is a book worth reading, and not just for artists and writers. Anyone who wants to see more deeply into the ways art can uplift and dignify our world will find a quiet light in this book.

For full review, see http://josephross.net/?p=946

For Ross’ blog, see http://josephross.net/

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