On Sunday, September 22nd, I attended the 2013 Brooklyn Book Festival (#WormsUnite). The main lecture I wanted to hear was called Creating Dangerously in a Dangerous World. The panelists were: Edwidge Danticat (Claire of the Sea Light), Courtney Angela Brkic (The First Rule of Swimming) and Dinaw Mengestu (How to Read Air).
I was thrilled by the opportunity to hear and meet Ms. Danticat. I had read her work The Dew Breaker several years ago and found her voice poignant and powerful. I wanted to know hear her speak hoping she would share some secrets into how she was able to put such depth and insight into her work.
One of the first things she said that struck me was when asked how does she handle survivor’s guilt. Her reply was, “Fictional [characters] are a great place to deposit guilt.” Danticat saw and experienced the ravages of war and violence in her home town of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Danticat uses her unique perspective to create stories that simultaneously paint beautiful exotic tropical landscapes juxtaposed against extreme poverty. She describes characters that are complex in that they are both cruel and true to the experiences that created them. However, she does so with a deft hand that is neither accusatory or preachy.
Another loaded comment from Danticat during the Creating… lecture was this:
“The burden of parenting in ware zones…is laden with uncertainty…it’s laden with complexity.” She explained that parents have larger issues to focus on when there is a war happening. The children’s basic needs are met: food, shelter, clothing. However, the softness, the nurturing that is not necessarily given as the energy needed for survival takes the place of the niceties of parenting in a world not torn by violence, pain, suffering and war.
Writing about Haiti and other cultures, Ms. Danticat exposes certain factual truths about the state of how things were at the time of her story. She spoke of how she received some criticism that the way she portrayed Haiti is not the real Haiti. She smiled and shared that she writes what is truth for her and does not sugarcoat things.
When she was asked how people take her work back home she said she was told, “Write good things! Join the tourism board!”
Dinaw had a most interesting answer to this question of how people at home take his work. He said (and I paraphrase) that people often are relieved that these stories are being told. There there are always those that are skeptical of anything a writer writes.
|Dinaw Mengestu (Center)|
I came away from this lecture with a sense of strength. I rushed up to Ms. Danticat after the lecture with my copy of The Dew Breaker in hand for her to sign. (I had no idea I was to ask her to sign at the table downstairs!)
She must have thought me a stalker as I followed her everywhere. I was awestruck in my own nutty way. I asked for her email address to communicate with her when I joined the line downstairs after the lecture. I even took a picture with her.
|NoteBook (R) and Edwidge Danticat (L)|
However, I think she was completely spooked by me. The email bounced back.
No matter. I am still a Danticat fan. Her work is an inspiration even from afar.