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Create Dangerously, by Edwidge Danticat.

February 17, 2013

Create Dangerously : The Immigrant Artist at Work, by Edwidge Danticat. Princeton : Princeton University Press, c2010.

Essays in which the Haitian-American author explores her personal roots and the troubled experiences of her Haitian people and explains why her purpose is to “create dangerously.”

Edwidge Danticat is fine writer whose writing has received favorable attention in the USA.  She has been awarded a Macarthur Grant and was chosen to give a Toni Morrison lecture at Princeton University.  That lecture is the first essay in this book.

Danticat was born in Haiti in 1969. Her parents migrated to the United States when she was five, leaving her to be raised by relatives for seven years in a working class neighborhood of Port-au- Prince.  Artists, writers, and revolutionaries also lived there.  In her lecture Danticat evokes the atmosphere of that community.  After the publicized execution of two educated men who sought to dislodge the dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the neighborhood book club produced an underground staging of Camus’s play, Caligula, the story of another dictator.  Danticat takes the title of her lecture from Camus and quotes him liberally in describing the danger of an author’s task.  Like Camus, she is committed to “Create dangerously for those who read dangerously,” for those, like the residents of her childhood neighborhood, who may “risk his or her life to read us.”  Such writing and reading breaks the silence in which dictators hide their actions. Writers like herself who come from dangerous worlds are the ones who know and bear wittiness to the fragility of life.

Other essays in the book were written by Danticat at various times for various publications.  They tell of her own experiences, like the trip to visit her aunt who still lived on the family plot deep in the mountains, a location that could only be reached by two days of hiking.  Some essays record the heroic lives and deaths of Haitians and tell of her discovery, as a teenager, of the writings of Haitian women.  Danticat also retells the history of Haiti, from its black revolutionary founders through its mistreatment by the United States and the dictatorships of the Duvaliers down to the recent hurricane that left it in rubble.

In some sense, Danticat’s essays serve as a memoir in which she re-examines her life and the forces that shaped her.  Yet the story she tells is strikingly different from memoirs like Fault Lines by Meena Alexander, which I just reviewed.  Alexander and others look back on their homeland with pleasure and nostalgia and express feeling divided and rootless by their emigration.  Danticat always remains fiercely connected to the people of her homeland and uses her position in the USA as a place to speak out for them.

I enjoyed these essays and learned a great deal from them about Danticat, Haiti and the Haitian people.  But I found the essays a bit uneven.  I prefer Danticat’s fictional voice in such books as  Breath Eyes Memory, Farming of Bones, and The Dew Breaker.

 I recommend Create Dangerously to all readers, interested in Danticat, Haiti, and Caribbean literature, and to those willing to face the dangers life can hold.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2013 3:27 pm

    It’s interesting to hear about Danticat’s personal history and see how it is reflected by but also differs from the narrator in Breath, Eyes, Memory

    • February 18, 2013 9:20 am

      Yes. She has also written a somewhat autobiographical book in a series for middle-school children who have migrated to the US. In it her ages are right, but she describes her childhood as it it were the isolated family plot in the mountains. I ordered it not knowing it was for young readers, but I like the book would be very good for them.

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