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3.26.2008

I went to a lecture last night. Edwige Danticat, Haitian-American author, came to Princeton to deliver the 2nd Annual Toni Morrison Lecture (Dr. Cornel West delivered the first one last year). Some superstars of black academia were in attendance, including Brother Cornel, Eddie Glaude, and Toni Morrison. The title of the lecture was: "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work." I freely admit I don't know much about Haiti — my knowledge of the Caribbean is limited to Jamaica — but I learned a lot last night. Danticat told the story of two guerilla fighters' execution on November 12, 1964, after they had been caught by Duvalier. Government buildings were closed, schools shut down, people bused in from the countryside, all to watch the murder of two men who were attempting to free Haiti from Papa Doc's grip. When everyone was assembled, they faced the firing squad. "Blood on the wall was the collaborative art of a dictator and his henchmen," she said. With the sombre introduction, Danticat painted a picture that showed the dark beginnings of artistic expression in Haiti. She explained how Haitians staged plays during scary times. Medea, Antigone, and Caligula were all appropriated by Haitian writers, re-written into French, and subtly changed to reflect the dangerous times. The point of the lecture was reiterated. It was the responsibility of the immigrant writer to "create dangerously for people who read dangerously." And in turn, readers found courage to read from the writer's courage to write. She touched on the horrible economic situation in Haiti, and how even now, immigrant writers are necessary. And when people ask her why she's writing stories while her people are eating dirt, she says that there is "value in writing, and not just on a prison wall." Telling the stories is an important form of activism. Danticat touched on her most recent book, Brother, I'm Dying – her most personal work to date, she later said – and a story therein. Her 81-year-old uncle, who raised her while her parents were in the U.S., came to the States on November 12, 2004, seeking political asylum. He told them of his niece, a U.S. citizen, a writer, and that she lived only minutes away in Miami. This was forty years to the day from the executions she discussed in the beginning. He was jailed, and died three days later. She says she remembers thinking, "someone should put on a play about this." The lecture was good, and the insight into the thoughts of an immigrant, an American artist, was priceless. Another quote that stuck with me: "The immigrant artist quantifies the American dream." Chew on that.

2 new thought(s):

CNEL said...

Thank God for that African American teacher with the Ph.D in folklore who took Cornel and UPenn by storm, who was a former college professor, and gave this little black boy some real knowledge.

Because of her I read "Breath, Eyes, Memory", "Krik? Krak!", and "The Farming of Bones'.

Edwidge is realness.

jameil1922 said...

edwige is the bomb. and her writing is absolutely a form of activism. people who would not otherwise know about haiti learn through her books. it annoys me that cubans are welcomed w/open arms and haitians are jailed. EQUAL TREATMENT!!!