Edwidge Danticat

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Edwidge Danticat in 2019

Edwidge Danticat (born January 19, 1969) is a Haitian-American novelist and short story writer.


  • There is a Haitian saying that might upset the aesthetic sensibilities of some women. "Nou lèd, nou la," it says. "We are ugly, but we are here." Like the modesty that is common in rural Haitian culture, this saying makes a deeper claim for poor Haitian women than maintaining beauty, be it skin-deep or otherwise. For women like my grandmother, what is worth celebrating is the fact that we are here, that against all the odds, we exist. To women like my grandmother, who greeted each other with this saying when they met along a trail in the countryside, the very essence of life lies in survival. It is always worth reminding our sisters that we have lived yet another day to answer the roll call of an often painful and very difficult life.
    • "We are ugly, but we are here" in Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean edited by Jennifer Browdy (2003)
  • We are ill-favored, but still we endure. Every once in a while, we must scream this as far as the wind can carry our voices. "Nou lèd, nou la!" We are ugly, but we are here! And here to stay.
    • "We are ugly, but we are here"
  • Watching the news reports, it is often hard to tell whether there are real living and breathing women in conflict-stricken places like Haiti. The evening news broadcasts only allow us brief glimpses of presidential coups, rejected boat people, and sabotaged elections The women's stories never manage to make the front page. But they do exist.
    • "We are ugly, but we are here"
  • At the heart of these protests is also the obligation of a country that needs, yet despises, those who comprise a large percentage of its fundamental workforce. Should we desire in our midst a group of people only when they’re willing to do for less pay the work that our own citizens find too grueling, too demeaning, or too hazardous? The moral question aside, what does it say about our own societal structure that we cannot within our own borders make these jobs more appealing and more humane for our own citizens?
  • The greatest gift anyone can give to a writer is time
    • 2010 interview included in Conversations with Edwidge Danticat edited by Maxine Lavon Montgomery (2017)
  • On this anniversary, while remembering the dead and celebrating those still living, I also want to recognize more than ever the marginalized members of Haitian society—people like my grandparents and their grandparents, poor, urban and rural, self-reliant and proud men and women who are the backbone of Haiti. Without their full inclusion and participation in the reconstruction of their country, Haiti will never fully succeed.
  • This day, more than any other, should remind us that everyone seeking asylum deserves to be treated humanely.
  • I just fell in love with the idea of writing about the sea, and there are many proverbs the sea in Haitian Creole. You know, one is ... 'The sea doesn't hide dirt,' and proverbs about, you know, 'My back is as large as the sea,' which is something you say if people start talking badly about you. And, of course, for a lot of people in terms of migration, the sea is also the way out. So, you have an island and you have the sea, and it's extraordinarily fascinating to me.
  • First novels are a lot like first children. You lavish all your love and attention on them, but you also make all your rookie mistakes on them. First novels teach you how to write. They are your initial opportunity to put into practice everything you’ve heard about long-haul narrative. They’re your primary attempt at trying to walk in the footsteps of the giant (and not so giant) writers you revere and adore.
    • Afterword to 2015 edition of Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994)
  • I am from a place, Haiti, that constantly evokes nostalgia in the people who have seen it, lived in it, and loved it “before”...The blessings of our islands are also our curse. Our geography gives us year-round sun and beautiful beaches, but more and more in the age of climate change, we are on the front line of destruction. “We are a people” seems to be what we have been saying for generations to all our colonizers and invaders who seemed intent on destroying us. And now more than ever, Mother Nature, too. We are a people, the Arawaks and Taínos might have said, even as they died trying to prove it.
  • Along with plot, I am always thinking about structure. Sometimes the story guides you to the best structure for its telling. Using letters seemed like the best way to tell this story. When writing these letters, the characters are selecting what they want to tell. In this case, the woman is writing in a way that would not endanger her or her family if her letters were found by the military authorities who took over the country, and the man is writing with the urgency of someone who could die at any minute while at sea.
  • In some of the earlier work, I liked to keep readers guessing: one story asked a question, and another resolved it. For the stories I’m working on now—both the new ones and the older ones I’m revisiting—I want to wring everything out. That way, I don’t have to write separate stories for every character who surprises me.
  • Well, I think that when I’m writing about Haiti, I’m just writing one long, ongoing story. But I really did feel, like a lot of people did, that after the earthquake, there were suddenly two Haitis: the Haiti of before the earthquake and the Haiti of after the earthquake. So I feel that I’ve been writing about the first one much longer. And writing about the earthquake... it’s been such a short period of time and it’s still such a raw experience that the few things that I’ve written about it, I feel like I’ve written them to process it myself.
  • It comes on again on her grandson's christening day. A lost moment, a blank spot, one that Carole does not know how to measure. She is there one second, then she is not. She knows exactly where she is, then she does not.
    • Everything Inside (2019), first lines of "Sunrise, Sunset"
  • The person she'd been when the three of them, she and her husband and her son, had gotten on that boat and left Haiti-that person was also lost at sea.
    • Everything Inside (2019), in the story "Without Inspection"
  • It wasn't easy, but it was the lot of so many of us, and even in the house where I was growing up, my aunt and uncle were looking after my cousins whose mother was in Canada, and another cousin whose father was in the Dominican Republic. And our parents had made this choice so that we could have a better life. You know, they could have either stayed with us and struggled and tried to make a living, or they thought that they could carve out a future for us by going abroad and leaving us behind, and then later sending for us…
  • Loving Haiti, you know, comes in the blood. And loving America, being grateful for what it's afforded my family, there are so many Americans now in my family. That's what also makes it sad to see what's happening now, in terms of how new immigrants are being scapegoated, to hear about children who could have been myself, dying at the border for lack of medical care…
  • A flattened and drying daffodil was dangling off the little card that I had made my aunt Atie for Mother's Day. I pressed my palm over the flower and squashed it against the plain beige cardboard. (first lines)
  • Tante Atie once said that love is like the rain. It comes in a drizzle sometimes. Then it starts pouring and if you're not careful it will drown you. (p91)
  • That night, I slept hugging my secret. (p112)
  • '...She cannot stay out of duty. The things one does, one should do out of love.' (p155)
  • 'If a woman is worth remembering,' said my grandmother, 'there is no need to have her name carved in letters.' (p165)
  • 'It is the calm and silent waters that drown you...' (p172)

Krik? Krak! (1996)


short story collection

  • They say behind the mountains are more mountains. Now I know it's true. I also know there are timeless waters, endless seas, and lots of people in this world whose names don't matter to anyone but themselves. I look up at the sky and I see you there. I see you crying like a crushed snail, the way you cried when I helped you pull out your first loose tooth. Yes, I did love you then. Somehow when I looked at you, I thought of fiery red ants. I wanted you to dig your fingernails into my skin and drain out all my blood. (beginning of "Children of the Sea")
  • They say the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. I have never been given very much. What was there to take away? ("Children of the Sea")
  • All anyone can hope for is just a tiny bit of love...like a drop in a cup if you can get it, or a waterfall, a flood, if you can get that too. ("Children of the Sea")
  • "Pretend that this is a time of miracles and we believe in them." ("A Wall of Fire Rising")
  • I cringe from the heat of the night on my face. I feel as bare as open flesh. Tonight I am much older than the twenty-five years that I have lived. The night is the time I dread most in my life. Yet if I am to live, I must depend on it. (beginning of "Night Women")
  • We were playing with leaves shaped like butterflies. Raymond limped from the ashes of the old schoolhouse and threw himself on top of a high pile of dirt. The dust rose in clouds around him, clinging to the lapels of his khaki uniform. (beginning of "The Missing Peace")
  • It was a cool September day when I walked out of a Brooklyn courtroom holding my naturalization certificate. As I stood on the courthouse steps, I wanted to run back to my mother's house waving the paper like the head of an enemy rightfully conquered in battle. (beginning of "Caroline's Wedding")
  • These were our bedtime stories. Tales that haunted our parents and made them laugh at the same time. We never understood them until we were fully grown and they became our sole inheritance. ("Caroline's Wedding")
  • When you write, it’s like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse, unruly strands and attempting to bring them into unity. Your fingers have still not perfected the task. Some of the braids are long, others are short. Some are thick, others are thin. Some are heavy. Others are light. Like the diverse women in your family. Those whose fables and metaphors, whose similes, and soliloquies, whose diction and je ne sais quoi daily slip into your survival soup, by way of their fingers. (epilogue)

The Farming of Bones (1998)

  • '...Did the stars visit him upon me in caprice? To teach me that a lifetime can be vast as a hundred years or sudden as a few breaths? Enjoy this one you have left. It all passes so fast. In the time it takes to draw a breath.' (p116)
  • 'Misery won't touch you gentle. It always leaves its thumbprints on you; sometimes it leaves them for others to see, sometimes for nobody but you to know of.' (p145)
  • 'Freedom is a passing thing,' a man said. 'Someone can always come and snatch it away.' (p212)
  • I wish I could've done more for her, but some sorrows were simply too individual to share. (p252)
  • I once heard an elder say that the dead who have no use for their words leave them as part of their children's inheritance. Proverbs, teeth suckings, obscenities, even grunts and moans once inserted in special places during conversations, all are passed along to the next heir. (p265)
  • “Old age is not meant to be survived alone," Man Rapadou said, her voice trailing with her own hidden thoughts. "Death should come gently, slowly, like a man's hand approaching your body. There can be joy in impatience if there is time to find the joy.” (p276)

Interview (2003)

  • Often when we migrate, we find ourselves with these types of persons—the torturers and the victims mixed together in the same neighborhood.
  • (Faulkner said, “The past is never dead—it’s not even past.”) Danticat: Exactly. Especially in the case of people who have migrated from other places. We try so hard to keep some aspects of the past with us and forget others, but often we don’t get to choose. We try to keep the beautiful memories, but other things from the past creep up on us. The past is like the hair on our head. I moved to New York when I was twelve, but you always have this feeling that wherever you come from, you physically leave it, but it doesn’t leave you.
  • In the 1980s, when people were just beginning to talk about AIDS, there were just a few categories of those who were at high risk: homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, and Haitians. We were the only ones identified by nationality. Then it seemed from the media that we were being told that all Haitians had AIDS. At the time, I had just come from Haiti. I was twelve years old, and the building I was living in had primarily Haitians. A lot of people got fired from their jobs. At school, sometimes in gym class, we’d be separated because teachers were worried about what would happen if we bled. So there was really this intense discrimination. The FDA placed us on the list of people who could not give blood. So AIDS was something that was put upon us, and we were immediately identified with it. That is unfair. That is unjust. I always say, “We are all people living with AIDS.” It’s not like you can avoid it. It’s part of our world.
  • What do you think of Bush’s attack on Iraq? Danticat: That situation could have been resolved in a different way. And the justification—the idea that we have a right to invade another country and determine another people’s destiny—is frightening. And I fear really for the future of that occupation. What happens now, and twenty years from now, and forty years from now, given our case? People in the United States may feel like when we don’t see it on CNN twenty-four hours a day, it sort of disappears. But it doesn’t disappear for the people who have to live under occupation—and their children and their children’s children.
  • (Q: Masks are a big part of Carnival. You seem drawn to them. Why?) Danticat: Even when I think of writing fiction, it’s being kind of a liar, a storyteller, a weaver, and there’s that sense of how much of this is your life. The story is a way you unravel your life from behind a mask. But the idea of just putting on a mask in a big crowd where you can be anybody was always something that was interesting to me because sometimes when we’re most shielded is when we are boldest. And, being a shy child, I always longed for a mask. Even in my adult life, I have glasses, they are my mask. When I meet people for the first time, I always put on my glasses because I feel like that’s a little something extra between me and them. It’s like the Laurence Dunbar poem “We Wear the Mask.” I think we all wear some kind of mask. There are masks that shield us from others, but there are masks that embolden us, and you see that in carnival. The shiest child puts on a mask and can do anything and be anybody. So sometimes we mask ourselves to further reveal ourselves, and it’s always been connected to me with being a writer: We tell lies to tell a greater truth. The story is a mask; the characters you create are masks. That appeals to me. Aside from that, too, in the carnival the masks were beautiful, and offered a vision of Haitian creativity.

The Dew Breaker (2004)

  • My father is gone. I'm slouched in a cast-aluminum chair across from two men, one the manager of the hotel where we're staying and the other a policeman. They're both waiting for me to explain what's become of him, my father. (first lines)
  • he reminded himself of his own personal creed, that life was neither something you defended by hiding nor surrendered calmly on other people’s terms, but something you lived bravely, out in the open, and that if you had to lose it, you should also lose it on your own terms. (p201)

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (2010)

  • One of the advantages of being an immigrant is that two very different countries are forced to merge within you. The language you were born speaking and the one you will probably die speaking have no choice but to find a common place in your brain and regularly merge there. So too with catastrophes and disasters, which inevitably force you to rethink facile allegiances. (Chapter 8, p 112)

"Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work" (Chapter 1)

  • Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I've always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them. Coming from where I come from, with the history I have having spent the first twelve years of my life under both dictatorships of Papa Doc and his son, Jean-Claude-this is what I've always seen as the unifying principle among all writers. This is what, among other things, might join Albert Camus and Sophocles to Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Osip Mandelstam, and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Ralph Waldo Ellison. Somewhere, if not now, then maybe years in the future, a future that we may have yet to dream of, someone may risk his or her life to read us. Somewhere, if not now, then maybe years in the future, we may also save someone's life (or mind) because they have given us a passport, making us honorary citizens of their culture.
  • All artists, writers among them, have several stories-one might call them creation myths-that haunt and obsess them.
  • Some of us think we are accidents of literacy. I do. We think we are people who might not have been able to go to school at all, who might never have learned to read and write. We think we are the children of people who have lived in the shadows for too long.
  • Reading, and perhaps ultimately writing, is nothing like living in a place and time where two very young men are killed in a way that is treated like entertainment.
  • The nomad or immigrant who learns something rightly must always ponder travel and movement, just as the grief-stricken must inevitably ponder death.
  • Perhaps, just as Alice Walker writes of her own forebears in her essay "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens," my blood ancestors-unlike my literary ancestors-were so weather-beaten, terror-stricken, and maimed that they were stifled. As a result, those who somehow managed to create became, in my view, martyrs and saints.

Claire of the Sea Light (2013)

  • The morning Claire Limyè Lanmè Faustin turned seven, a freak wave, measuring between ten and twelve feet high, was seen in the ocean outside of Ville Rose. Claire's father, Nozias, a fisherman, was one of many who saw it in the distance as he walked toward his sloop. He first heard a low rumbling, like that of distant thunder, then saw a wall of water rise from the depths of the ocean, a giant blue-green tongue, trying, it seemed, to lick a pink sky. (first lines)
  • ...she was like a starfish, that she constantly needed to have a piece of her break off and walk away in order for her to become something new. (p143)
  • How do you even choose what to mend when so much has already been destroyed? How could she think, she asked herself, that she could revive or save anything? (p152)
  • “No one will ever love you more than you love your pain,” he had replied, his words ringing even louder in the dark. (p154)
  • remember that love is like kerosene. The more you have, the more you burn. (p199)

Quotes about Edwidge Danticat

  • These writers cry out against the effects of colonization, unfettered imperialism, and corporate globalization on billions of people, as well as on the planet itself. Their rage is haunting. Who can forget the saying of poor Haitian women under slavery and colonial oppression, as recalled here by Edwidge Danticat: "We are ugly, but we are here"? And here to stay, Danticat adds. "Every once in a while, we must scream this as far as the wind can carry our voices," she writes.
    • Elizabeth Martinez 2003 preface to Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean
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