Edwidge Danticat interviews Katia Ulysse: They talk about Haiti, hiding in plain sight, fiction and journeys to America in this interview for Salon. Here is an excerpt, with a link to the full interview below. Our thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.
Edwidge Danticat: I had the pleasure of meeting you almost 15 years ago when I edited an anthology called “The Butterfly’s Way: Voices From the Haitian Dyaspora” in the United States. I still remember so vividly the piece you wrote for that book. It was called “Mashe Petyon” (Petion Market). It begins with “It’s been seven years since I’ve been home.” Then it explains very beautifully why you had not returned to Haiti except in your dreams. In that piece, you wrote that you woke up every morning with a precious scarf wrapped around your head, to “keep your dreams from falling.” Are your dreams still falling and did they somehow end up in the pages of “Drifting,” your beautiful new book of fiction?
Katia Ulysse: It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 15 years since “The Butterfly’s Way” was published; 15 years since I met the Edwidge Danticat! Dr. Renee Shea, my former English professor, had told the class about a phenomenal young author from Haiti. She invited us to hear you read in D.C. I could not go, so I vowed that yes, I would hear Edwidge Danticat read from her work one day. And on that day, I would read alongside her from my own work.
A year or so afterwards I saw the call for submissions for “The Butterfly’s Way.” I never imagined my writing would be published in an actual book. A few days before the deadline for submissions was to vanish, I sat at my desk and stared at photographs of Haiti. The more I stared, the closer to home I felt. I hadn’t been there in seven years, so I wrote that. “It’s been seven years since I was home.”
Those words freed something within me, and the essay wrote itself. After a proper amount of revisions, I folded the sheets of paper into an envelope. I went to a nearby mailbox to submit “Mashe Petyon.” I expected my story to be returned with a cordial rejection letter.
As soon as I dropped the envelope into the mailbox, I regretted it. I reached in and tried to retrieve it, but could not. I was furious at myself for not having the good sense to wait, say, until the deadline had passed. I was powerfully frightened, because I knew in my soul that “Mashe Petyon” would be accepted, published and change my life somehow. I was absolutely certain of another fact: I was not ready for anything to change.
“I wrap my head at night to keep my dreams from falling out” is one of those lines for which my writer-self will always be grateful. It is a reminder of how powerful silence is. When I shut up and remain still long enough, all I have to do is transcribe memories of experiences which I never even had. Does that happen to you, Edwidge? Do you ever write a certain line or essay and then think the writing came from some place deeper than your skill and experience?
It happens all the time. I think you feel it most when you reread old work, really old work. Sometimes, I ask myself “Where did that come from?” because it seems to have been formed outside of me somehow, like I was a mere vessel for it. But that is the power of creativity, I think. Dreams are always falling out.
As for tying my head at night to keep my dreams from falling out. I have learned that dreams will fall, particularly when the dreamer pays too much attention to other people’s interpretations. Your good dream is a nightmare to someone who does not wish for you to be happy. The elders liked to say, Pa repete rèv ou bay tout moun. Do not tell your dreams to just anyone. I am careful with whom I share my dreams now.
If you recall, during readings for “The Butterfly’s Way,” tears refused to stay in my eyes. I became the weeping woman. I cried, because my dream of reading alongside Edwidge Danticat had come true. I had made that vow, and even though I had forgotten about it, it materialized. Dreams have much power. So, I keep my head wrapped at all times — figuratively.