Edwidge Danticat Biography
Edwidge Danticat is one of the few successful Haitian authors to write in English. Danticat’s parents moved from Haiti to New York, leaving Danticat and her brother with their aunt and uncle for many years. She was exposed to storytelling throughout this period, and it greatly influenced her development as a writer later on. Danticat felt very isolated while her parents were away and keenly felt their loss. Even though she moved to New York to join them when she was twelve, she never forgot the pain of being motherless, even for a short time. Her thesis for her MFA in creative writing was published in 1994. While not purely autobiographical, the work does deal with a young Haitian woman and her struggle to assimilate into American society.
Facts and Trivia
- Danticat’s first attempt at writing came when she received a set of Ludwig Bemelmans's Madeline books. She then wrote Madeline stories with herself as the main character.
- After earning her MFA, Danticat worked for filmmaker Jonathan Demme. One of her jobs was as an associate producer for a documentary about torture in Haiti called Courage and Pain.
- Danticat published a collection of short stories in 1995 called Krik? Krak! The title is based on her native Creole language. The question “Krik?” is equivalent to asking permission to tell a story. The reply “Krak!” means, “Sure!”
- In 1998, Breath, Eyes, Memory became an Oprah’s Book Club selection.
- Krik? Krak! was nominated for the National Book Award in 1995.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 680
Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1969. Like many Haitian children of her generation, she was born into a poor family and was left in the care of relatives when her parents emigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities. Danticat’s father left first, when she was two years old; her mother followed two years later. Danticat’s parents settled in Brooklyn, New York, and found work—her father as a cab driver, her mother as a textile worker. They had two more children, both boys, before sending for their older children in Haiti. In 1981, when Danticat was twelve years old, she and her younger brother were reunited with their parents in Brooklyn.
As a child in Haiti, Danticat spoke Haitian Creole, or Kreyol, a language that is based mainly on French but includes influences from West African languages as well. Creole is still the language that Danticat speaks at home with her parents in Brooklyn. Danticat recalls that storytelling was one of the favorite pastimes in Haiti when she was young. Older relatives would ask “Krik?” to inquire whether the children were ready to hear stories, and the children would reply “Krak!” to indicate that they were ready to listen. Danticat believes that her love of writing stems from her immersion in the culture of storytelling as a child.
When Danticat arrived in Brooklyn, she spoke no English. In school in Haiti, she had learned to read and write in French. English was her third language, which she learned in bilingual classes at Brooklyn’s Intermediate School 320. Her teen years were difficult. Danticat felt like an outsider at school, because she was very shy, and her Haitian background made her feel different from most of her classmates. In addition to adjusting to living in a new country, Danticat had to adjust to living with her parents again after eight years of separation. Although she was glad to be reunited with them, she did not remember them well, and it took some time to get to know them again.
During her first few years in Brooklyn, Danticat spoke very little, partly out of shyness, partly because she was ashamed of her accent. She quickly learned to read and write English, however, and she found consolation in the world of books at her local public library. Some of her favorite authors were Alice Walker, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. Danticat began writing during her adolescence, at first keeping journals, later writing for a high school publication, and even starting on the book that would become her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994).
Danticat’s parents hoped that she would become a nurse, and she enrolled in a special high school for students planning to enter the health professions. To her parents’ disappointment, though, Danticat was much more interested in writing than nursing. Her parents worried that writing would not help Danticat earn a living. However, Danticat attended Barnard College and excelled in writing. Some of the stories in her first collection of short stories, Krik? Krak! (1995), were written while she was at Barnard. After graduating from college in 1990, Danticat enrolled at Brown University and earned an M.F.A. degree in creative writing in 1993.
Returning to Brooklyn, she published her first two books in 1994 and 1995 and quickly achieved both popular and critical success. She was named by Granta magazine as one of the twenty “Best of American Novelists” in 1996, a remarkable accomplishment for a writer in her twenties. Several of her books have won literary awards. In 1998, Danticat’s first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory was selected for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club and became a bestseller. Later, Danticat published the novels The Farming of Bones (1998) and The Dew Breaker (2004).
Danticat is easily the best-known Haitian American writer. However, she is not comfortable with the idea that her writing “represents” the experience of Haitian Americans. In an interview with Garry Pierre-Pierre for The New York Times, Danticat said, “I don’t really see myself as the voice for the Haitian American experience. . . . There are many. I’m just one.”