Celebrated Haitian-born author Edwidge Danticat spent most of the first 12 years of her life living with an aunt and uncle under the brutal dictatorships of “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude. Once transported to Brooklyn, New York, to join her parents—but still harboring fears for her beloved uncle left behind—she began to write in earnest about the lives of ordinary Haitians, dedicating herself to Albert Camus’ credo: “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously.”
On Tuesday, March 31, at 8 p.m., Edwidge Danticat will deliver the public lecture “Create Dangerously” at University of Puget Sound, as the spring 2015 Pierce Lecturer in the Arts. The location is Schneebeck Concert Hall. Ticket information is below and early purchase is recommended.
Danticat is the author of Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah’s Book Club selection; the National Book Award finalist Krik? Krak!; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States and, more recently,Haiti Noir 2: The Classics. She has received numerous honors for her work, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Story Prize, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
When Danticat published her first novel at the age of 25, The New York Times pronounced her one of 30 artists under 30 “likely to change the culture for the next 30 years.” Now 46, she has created a portfolio of highly-regarded works that address deeply personal questions about family and womanhood; that investigate the lives of persecutors and victims; and that present readers with honest, but often uncomfortable, perspectives on political and social questions, as seen through the eyes of the people of Haiti and those who were part of the Haitian diaspora.
Her critically acclaimed book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work(2010), explains her drive to focus on art, exile, and the stories of her compatriots. The book is “an eloquent and moving expression of Danticat’s belief that immigrant artists are obliged to bear witness when their countries of origin are suffering from violence, oppression, poverty, and tragedy,” wrote the African American Literature Book Club.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Danticat lived with her aunt and uncle from the age of 2, after her father left to work as a New York cab driver and her seamstress mother followed. At age 12, speaking little English, Danticat and her brother reluctantly joined their parents in New York, feeling, as she told The Guardian in 2004, that “we’d been discarded.” Her empathy for her people and anger at the injustices imposed on them by one regime after another was further ignited when her adored uncle, a Baptist minister, died in U.S. custody while seeking political asylum in Miami. Danticat told The Guardian she regarded him as “a casualty of both the conflict in Haiti and an inhumane and discriminatory U.S. immigration system.”
The young Brooklyn writer’s career took off in 1998, after Oprah Winfrey chose Breath, Eyes, Memory forher book club. Danticat’s 2004 novel, The Dew Breaker, which portrays a quiet family man in New York who is hiding a past as a brutal torturer, became a bestseller.
Other works include Brother, I’m Dying (2007), a terrifying tale about the fate of her uncle; and Claire of the Sea Light (2013), about the disappearance of a child from a seaside town in Haiti. Danticat’s short stories have appeared in more than 25 periodicals, including The New Yorker and The New York Times, and her work has been translated into numerous languages.
Danticat also pursued her art through film, writing and narrating the 2009 documentary Poto Mitan, which looked at the impact of colonization and globalization on Haitian society through the eyes of five working-class women.
Currently living in Miami, Danticat earned a degree in French literature from Barnard College in New York City, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Brown University in Rhode Island. She has taught creative writing at New York University and University of Miami.
The evening with Edwidge Danticat is sponsored by the Susan Resneck Pierce Lectures in Public Affairs and the Arts, University of Puget Sound’s premier lecture series. The series brings intellectuals, public figures, writers, and artists to the university to present challenging ideas that stimulate further exploration and discussion on campus.
Past Pierce lecturers have included The Washington Post political writer E.J. Dionne; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz; Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka; economist Robert Reich; author Carlos Fuentes; psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison; filmmaker Spike Lee; the Hon. Cory Booker, now a U. S. senator; political commentator David Brooks; columnist Thomas Friedman; playwright Edward Albee; race and religion scholar Cornel West; musician Philip Glass; playwright Suzan-Lori Parks; and dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp.
FOR TICKETS: Tickets are available online at tickets.pugetsound.edu, or at Wheelock Information Center, 253.879.3100. Admission is $20 for the general public. The lecture is free for Puget Sound faculty, staff, and students with ID, but tickets are required. Any remaining tickets will be available at the door.