Haiti Novelist Edwidge Danticat: ‘Magnitude of This is Immense’

Novelist Edwidge Danticat, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, said she is still waiting to speak to family members who still live there.

© Nancy Crampton
Edwidge Danticat

“We did hear [Tuesday] evening from my mother-in-law, who lives in Cavaillon, in the south of Haiti,” said Ms. Danticat, who in 2009 was named a MacArthur Fellow. “She said she felt tremors in the ground, and that some rivers were swollen, but that they were more or less okay. She didn’t know the extent of what was happening in the capital because the radio was down.”

Ms. Danticat, 40 years old, said that the picture on Wednesday was much foggier in Port-au-Prince, which she described as a “very crowded city with a lot of people. The magnitude of this is immense and unbelievable. Every minute counts.”

The author, interviewed in Miami by telephone, noted that a number of international writers had been expected to meet Jan. 14 in Haiti to discuss literature, as part of a broader arts festival that got underway Jan. 1. A blog that comments on Caribbean culture, Repeating Islands, said that 50 authors had been expected to attend.

Akashic Books, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, will publish a collection of short stories being edited by Ms. Danticat titled “Haiti Noir” next January, according to Johnny Temple, Akashic’s owner.

Back in 2007, Akashic published “New Orleans Noir,” which is now in its third printing. Half of that book involves stories set in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina, with the remainder unfolding in post-Katrina settings. Ms. Danticat said she is open to including some post-earthquake stories in the upcoming Haiti collection, but that it is too early to decide. “If someone writes a good story, I would definitely be interested,” she said. Ms. Danticat doesn’t have any immediate plans to visit Haiti, saying she wouldn’t “want to get in the way.”

A biography of Ms. Danticat posted on the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Web site describes her as a “novelist whose moving and insightful depictions of Haiti’s complex history are enriching our understanding of the Haitian immigrant experience.” The program awards its fellows $500,000 in support over a five-year period to spend as they see fit.

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