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The Dartmouth
June 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Danticat reads from books, speaks on Haitians

An ethnically mixed, capacity crowd filed into Rocky 3 yesterday afternoon to hear a speech and reading from the celebrated Haitian author Edwidge Danticat. The speech was the first in a series coordinated by the Women's Resource Center this term titled "Power and Passion: Women Writers, Global Voices."

Danticat shared selected passages from her three widely acclaimed books: "Breath, Eyes, Memory," "Krik? Krack!" and "Farming of Bones." Her works concentrate on the tragic history of the Haitian people and the conservation of their unique cultural tradition through storytelling, said English Professor Melissa Zeiger, who introduced the author.

"It's a very wonderful thing to listen to stories from the elders ... it is the one moment I remember of extreme intimacy between me, the oldest, and the youngest people in my family," Danticat said.

Especially of interest to Dandicat are the pained stories of Haitain emigrants, and the effects immigration has had on women. Many of her stories deal with questions of female vulnerability and responsibility, and the notion of sexuality permeating the domestic sphere. As Professor Zeiger said, "for Dandicat, the family itself is always sexual."

Dandicat's emphasis on this notion of domestic sexuality was expressed in her second reading, a story titled "Night Woman" from her collection of "call and response" inspired short stories, "Knick? Knack!"

"It's about one family across time. In 'Night Woman,' a mother makes up an elaborate tale for her son -- she doesn't want to tell him what she does in the house to earn money while he sleeps," Dandicat explained.

The aspiring author moved from Haiti to Brooklyn, NY at the age of 12. She began writing earlier in Haiti at the age of nine, despite living in an environment predominantly opposed to female literary efforts. In the United States she went on to receive her B.A. in French Literature at Barnard, and her M.F.A. at Brown University, where she wrote "Breath, Eyes, Memory" as her thesis project.

Her thesis work launched an extremely successful, literary career marked by many early achievements. At the age of 30, Dandicat has amassed considerable critical acclaim for her work.

In 1995 she received the Pushcart Short Story prize and was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award. She is largely accepted as one of the most talented contemporary American authors writing today.

Dandicat gained much of her poetic inspiration as a child from her grandmother's stories and proverbs, but admitted she "reshapes" them into her own creations, sometimes using real events. In her final reading from "Farming of Bones" -- her latest novel about the 1937 massacre of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic, Dandicat combined non-fiction with a storyteller's imagination.

Dandicat's reading was co-sponsored by the Women's Resource Center, the Thetford Academy, the African-American Society, the Shabazz Center and Parents Chair.