A report by Alexandra Simon for Caribbean Life News.
Two Haitian women writers are going to be celebrated for their literary strides at Brooklyn’s Greenlight bookstore on Jan. 11. The shop, in collaboration with Akashic Books and Haiti Cultural Exchange, are honoring authors Katia D. Ulysses and Ibi Zoboi for their debut release and a National Book Award nomination — respectively.
Ulysse will head a discussion with Zoboi, and read an excerpt from her book “Mouths Don’t Speak,” where she highlights a story about a Haitian woman in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. She says not seeing enough stories about people dealing with life in the aftermath of the tragedy pushed her to write the book, along with some words of wisdom from one of her favorite authors.
“I really wanted to write this story because I hadn’t seen any post-earthquake stories,” said Ulysse. “And I took some advice from Toni Morrison, who said if there’s a story out there that doesn’t exist, you have to write it yourself.”
The story follows Jacqueline, who returns to Haiti to pick up the pieces after the earthquake takes the lives of her parents. But the protagonist also finds herself dealing with more struggles at home, said Ulysse.
In her book, she uses colorful language that paints Haiti in the way most people do not often hear it described in, mostly which she used because she also wanted to introduce a new story into play.
“I really wanted to write something for the expats not in love with the idea of going back to Haiti,” she said. “And then there’s this narrative that Haiti is the poorest in the hemisphere and we hear that over and over again, so I wanted (to say) that it is incredibly rich and I speak to that in my story.”
She says every Haitian, whether at home or abroad, was affected by the devastating earthquake, and will find some aspects of the book that hit close to home.
“Personally I like to think we were all affected, even those who did not suffer a loss,” added Ulysse. “Some of us were not immediately affected but we all know people who at least know someone who perished.”
Her book’s title is a Haitian proverb, and carries the same meaning to the commonly known three wise monkeys proverb — see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
But in “Mouths Don’t Speak,” the plot primarily deals with family relationships and the type of gossip that occurs within one. Ulysse says the subjects the book tackles look at a wider familial issues that can arise after a tragedy, and readers will find it a page-turner.
Greenlight Bookstore [632 Flatbush Ave. between Chester and Westbury courts in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, (718) 246-0200, www.greenlightbookstore.com]. Jan. 11 at 7:30 pm. Free.