If you aren’t familiar with the incredibly talented Haitian-American writer, well then let me just take a moment to introduce you to Edwidge Danticat.
She was born near Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in 1969 and was raised by her uncle until age 12 when she joined her parents in Brooklyn, New York. There, she learned English and continued her education. She had begun writing at the age of 9 while still in Haiti.
Danticat earned her MFA in Creative Writing in 1993 from Brown University. Her senior these became her first novel entitled Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published in 1994 by Soho Press. She went on to write several other works, including her 2013 novel Clair of the Sea Light. She’s received many prestigious awards for her writing including the MacArthur Fellowship, Pushcart Short Story Prize and the National Book Award.
So basically, she’s phenomenal.
I was first introduced to her work as a senior at Eckerd College. I took a class called Literature from Around the World as part of the literature requirement for my creative writing degree. We were assigned Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, and I devoured every page. Her writing is truthful, insightful, and utterly breathtaking. She strings together prose that commands attention and sounds beautiful when read aloud (I’ve heard her read it aloud, so I know this from first-hand experience, of course).
I’m lucky enough to live in a smaller, underrated city that puts on a heck of a reading festival every year. Sponsored by the the Tampa Bay Times and University of Florida St. Petersburg, our annual festival brings together influential writers, indie writers, a plethora of book sellers, and many many book nerds. It’s the happiest time of year for a reader like me. Just last year, the festival hosted the tried and true R. L. Stine, Janet Burroway, and poet laureate of St. Petersburg, FL, Peter Meinke. <– That guy was also on my thesis committee. He’s published 20+ books of poetry and prose. Yep. Nerve-wracking.
Anyway, a couple of years ago, Edwidge Danticat was on the roster of authors featured at the festival. Naturally, I lost my mind in excitement. As an avid reader and writer, meeting another writer who has experienced tremendous success and really lives her craft is better than meeting any movie star. Any.
There’s something that happens when a budding writer meets a writer that’s forever altered (in the best way possible) his or her perspective on literature. The flames of inspiration seep through the skin with a rekindled intensity. Hope pervades the heart and the mind. A newfound burst of creativity and willingness makes it way into the pen of the budding writer. Edwidge Danticat is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She wasn’t afraid to start a conversation and her smile stretched from cheek to cheek. Her slight Haitian accent made listening to her read sound like music.
To top it all off, in my copy of Claire of the Sea Light, she wrote, “Keep writing for the sisterhood”. Why yes, Ms. Danticat, I think I’ll do just that.