Edwidge Danticat (pronounced ‘‘Edweedj Danticah’’) was born January 19, 1969, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and was separated from her father when she was two and he emigrated to the United States to find work. When she was four, her mother also went to the United States. For the next eight years, Danticat and her younger brother Eliab were raised by their father's brother, a minister, who lived with his wife and grandson in a poor section of Port-au-Prince known as Bel Air.
When Danticat was twelve, she moved to Brooklyn and joined her parents and two new younger brothers. Adjustment to this new family was difficult, and she also had difficulty adjusting at school, because she spoke only Creole and did not know any English. Other students taunted her as a Haitian ‘‘boat person,’’ or refugee. She told Mallay Charters in Publishers Weekly, ‘‘My primary feeling the whole first year was one of loss. Loss of my childhood, and of the people I'd left behind—and also of being lost. It was like being a baby—learning everything for the first time.’’
Danticat learned to tell stories from her aunt's grandmother in Bel Air, an old woman whose long hair, with coins braided into it, fascinated the neighborhood children, who fought each other to comb it. When people gathered, she told folktales and family stories. ‘‘It was call-and-response,’’ Danticat told Charters. ‘‘If the audience seemed bored, the story would speed up, and if they were participating, a song would go in. The whole interaction was exciting to me. These cross-generational exchanges didn't happen often, because children were supposed to respect their elders. But when you were telling stories, it was more equal, and fun.’’
Danticat's cousin, Marie Micheline, taught her to read. She told Renee H. Shea in Belles Lettres, ‘‘I started school when I was three, and she would read to me when I came home. In 1987 … there was a shooting outside her house—where her children were. She had a seizure and died. Since I was away from her, my parents didn't tell me right away.… But around that same time, I was having nightmares; somehow I knew.’’
When Danticat was seven, she wrote stories with a Haitian heroine. For her, writing was not a casual undertaking. ‘‘At the time that I started thinking about writing,’’ she told Calvin Wilson in the Kansas City Star, ‘‘a lot of people who were in jail were writers. They were journalists, they were novelists, and many of them were killed or ‘disappeared.’ It was a very scary thing to think about.’’ Nevertheless, she kept writing. After she moved to Brooklyn and learned English, she wrote stories for her high school newspaper. One of these articles, about her reunion with her mother at age twelve, eventually expanded to become the book Breath, Eyes, Memory.
Danticat graduated from Barnard College with a degree in French literature in 1990, and worked as a secretary, doing her writing after work in the office. She applied to business schools and creative writing programs. She was accepted by both, but chose Brown University's creative writing program, which offered her a full scholarship. For her master's thesis, she wrote what would later become Breath, Eyes, Memory.
Breath, Eyes, Memory.and her two other books—The Farming of Bones and Krik? Krak! , a collection of stories—have been hailed for their lyrical intensity, vivid descriptions of Haitian places and people, and honest depictions of fear and pain.
Danticat has won a Granta Regional Award as one of the Twenty Best Young American Novelists, a Pushcart Prize, and fiction awards from Seventeen and Essence magazines. She is also the recipient of an ongoing grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation.
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