Edwidge Danticat: By the Book

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Many thanks to Dr. Thomas Spear for bringing this item to our attention: in the interview below (The New York Times) author Edwige Danticat speaks about her relationship to literature. Here are excerpts with a link to the full interview below:

Did you grow up with a lot of books? What are your memories of being read to as a child?  I didn’t grow up with a lot of books, but some. Actually I owned only one non- school-related book before I was 12. It was Ludwig Bemelmans’s “Madeline” (French version), which my uncle had given me for my birthday. I had an aunt who sold schoolbooks and she would occasionally have some children’s fiction that she’d let me borrow, if I promised not to crease or stain the pages. I also read French comics, Tintin and Asterix, with my brother. I was not read to as a child. Instead, I was told fabulous stories by my aunts and grandmothers and many family friends.

[. . .] Who is your favorite overlooked or underappreciated writer?   I would choose two, Paule Marshall and Percival Everett. It is possible that they are neither overlooked nor underappreciated, but they are both so incredibly brilliant that they should be household names.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?  Thanks to writers’ conferences and other such gatherings, I have met many of my living favorites — and am grateful to even call some of them my friends — so I’ll go with the dead. I would invite Colette, Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Rhys to lunch, then sit back and just listen to them talk about all kinds of things. I am pretty sure that during their conversation I’d learn absolutely everything there is to know about everything.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? It would be Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, an epic and poetic history of the Western Hemisphere, which offers, among other things, a unique and almost intimate view of what happens when U.S. administrations cause or participate in the devastation, if not the total destruction, of other countries.

You just got back from Haiti. What’s the literary scene there like right now? Did you discover any new writers? Haiti has just had the 19th edition of its largest book festival, Livres en Folie, which featured 129 authors and over a thousand titles. There is already a powerful literary legacy and a vibrant contemporary literature there. I was doing a workshop with some cinema students at a film school in Jacmel — Ciné Institute — and when I asked what new writers they were into, many of them mentioned this young man named Makenzy Orcel who’s published two poetry collections and two very powerful novels called “Les Latrines” and “Les Immortelles.” Someone who writes extremely well both in French and English is Jessica Fièvre, who published her first novel in Haiti when she was 16 and has since written six more. She now lives in South Florida and has just completed a memoir in English.

What books, recent or otherwise, would you recommend about Haiti? “The Idea of Haiti: Rethinking Crisis and Development,” edited by Millery Polyné. This book offers a wide range of perspectives on how certain narratives about Haiti’s politics, history, religion and culture have affected its past and can affect its future. Jonathan Katz explores some similar issues in a much more personal way in his very poignant book “The Big Truck That Went By.” For some brilliant analysis from the past — and on the past — one also cannot fail with Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “Silencing the Past” and Joan Dayan’s magnificent “Haiti, History, and the Gods.” I’d also recommend “The Roving Tree,” by Elsie Augustave, a gorgeous new novel about a Haitian adoptee finding her way in many different corners of the world.

What’s next on your reading list? I loved “Salvage the Bones,” so I am looking forward to reading Jesmyn Ward’s memoir, “Men We Reaped.” Also on my list is Alexander Maksik’s novel “A Marker to Measure Drift,” which is about a young Liberian woman with a mysterious past. In manuscript, the talented Cynthia Bond’s first novel, “Ruby,” is there too, next to Bob Shacochis’ new novel, “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul,” which is partly set in Haiti.

[Illustration above by Jillian Tamaki; a version of this article appeared in print on August 11, 2013, on page BR6 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: By the Book: Edwidge Danticat.]

For original article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/books/review/edwidge-danticat-by-the-book.html?_r=0

 

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