Neustadt International Prize

2018 - Edwidge Danticat

Born: 19 January, 1969, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Author's Quote : “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.”

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1


Books Written By Edwidge Danticat


About Edwidge Danticat

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

Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. When she was two years old, her father André immigrated to New York, to be followed two years later by her mother Rose. This left Danticat and her younger brother, also named André, to be raised by her aunt and uncle. When asked in an interview about her traditions as a child, she included storytelling, church, and constantly studying school material as all part of growing up. Although her formal education in Haiti was in French, she spoke Haitian Creole at home.

While still in Haiti, Danticat began writing at nine years old. At the age of 12, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, to join her parents in a heavily Haitian-American neighborhood. As an immigrant teenager, Edwidge's disorientation in her new surroundings was a source of discomfort for her, and she turned to literature for solace. Danticat did not realize the racism until she went to college because of the protection of her community. Two years later she published her first writing in English, "A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre," in New Youth Connections, a citywide magazine written by teenagers published by Youth Communication. She later wrote another story about her immigration experience for New Youth Connections, "A New World Full of Strangers". In the introduction to Starting With I, an anthology of stories from the magazine, Danticat wrote, "When I was done with the [immigration] piece, I felt that my story was unfinished, so I wrote a short story, which later became a book, my first novel: Breath, Eyes, Memory…Writing for New Youth Connections had given me a voice. My silence was destroyed completely, indefinitely."

After graduating from Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, New York, Danticat entered Barnard College in New York City. Initially she had intended to study to become a nurse, but her love of writing won out and she received a BA in French literature. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Brown University in 1993.

In 1993, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Brown University—her thesis, entitled "My turn in the fire – an abridged novel", was the basis for her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published by Soho Press in 1994. Four years later it became an Oprah's Book Club selection.

The literary journal Granta asked booksellers, librarians, and literary critics to nominate who they believed to be the country's best young author. The standards were that the person must be an American citizen under the age of 40 and must have published at least one novel or collection of short stories before May 31, 1995. In 1997, at the age of 27, with 19 other finalists, Danticat was named one of the country's best young authors.

Since completing her MFA, Danticat has taught creative writing at the New York University and the University of Miami. She has also worked with filmmakers Patricia Benoit and Jonathan Demme, on projects on Haitian art and documentaries about Haïti. Her short stories have appeared in over 25 periodicals and have been anthologized several times. Her work has been translated into numerous other languages, including Japanese, French, Korean, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.

Danticat is a strong advocate for issues affecting Haitians abroad and at home. In 2009, she lent her voice and words to Poto Mitan: Haitian Women Pillars of the Global Economy, a documentary about the impact of globalization on five women from different generations.


Reviews

Breath, Eyes, Memory - Edwidge Danticat

By June P. Murray

Another focus on international culture and ethnicity - perfect for my International Psychology course - she's a great writer - easy to connect with - and reminds me very much of Paule Marshall and her stories of growing up in NYC after immigrating from Barbados...rich material, very informative - and necessary today while there is so much animosity towards those who have immigrated - and counters the mis-information about their behavior once arriving - Danticat demonstrates the determination to survive, to work hard - to overcome racism and assimilate into society as an active contributor, and to overcome adversity even within a family.

 

Breath, Eyes, Memory - Edwidge Danticat

By Ratmammy

BREATH, EYES, MEMORY is the first novel by Edwidge Danticat who, like her protaganist, grew up in Haiti and was raised initially by someone other than her birth parents, and then moves to America to be reunited with her biological parents. In Danticat's novel, Sophie Caco lives in Haiti for the first twelve years of her life, and is raised by her Aunt Atie, the older sister of her mother. She knows no other life than what her Aunt had been able to give her.
At age 12, Sophie's mother instructs that her daughter be returned to her to America. Sophie leaves her distraught Aunt, the only mother she has ever known, and travels to a far away land to live with a stranger. She knows her mother only through cassette tapes of her mother's voice, sent to the family in Tahiti periodically as one sends letters. But as far as she's concerned,her mother is Aunt Atie.
When Sophie meets her mother, she finds that she is not what she had expected. Her mother looks tired. America was not the land of luxury and opportunity that her mother had thought it would be. She works two jobs to make ends meet. She lives in the poor part of town and drives a car that barely runs. She is terribly thin, too thin, and at night she screams at the demons that try to kill her.
Her mother's emotional well-being is tested every day through nightmares and demons of a past that Sophie was never aware of, until slowly she learns of her mother's story: Sophie is the result of a rape, when her mother was a very young girl. Her mother's world is a world of sexual and mental abuse, and it is passed down to Sophie, through "tests" that leave an emotional scar on Sophie, to the point where she too begins to have recurring nightmares.
Sophie learns to resent her mother. She falls in love with the neighbor, an older man who is a musician, and he returns her love. She finally leaves her mother by running away and eloping with Joseph.
Her marraige is not easy, however. Sophie again runs away, this time to Haiti 6 months after the birth of their daugher Brigitte, seeking the only family she has known. Back home again, she is reunited with Tante Atie and her grandmother, who only talks of death. It has been 6 years since Sophie had left Haiti, and she returns as a grown woman and with her first child.
BREATH,EYES, MEMORY is more than just a story of a Haitian girl being uprooted to America. It's a story of discovery of self, and about the recovery from childhood abuse and forgiveness. Young Sophie learns to deal with her past and her mother's history, and we see her grow as a character who eventually is able to break free of the cycle of abuse handed down from generation to generation.
I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed reading about the life that Sophie lived in Haiti, a world totally foreign to me, but at the same time was brought closer to it with the imagery that Ms Danticat painted on these pages. The story of abuse and reconcillation was convincing and real to me. Am looking foward to reading her next novel.