Edwidge Danticat 1969–-
Haitian-born American novelist and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Danticat's career through 1999. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 94.
Though relatively new to the literary scene, Danticat has been the recipient of positive critical and popular attention since the publication of her first book, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994). Drawing her subject material from her native land, Haiti (which she refers to as a “rich landscape of memory”), Danticat generates lush prose that appeals to the senses. She was the winner of the Pushcart Short Story Prize and in 1995, a finalist for the National Book Award (for Krik? Krak!, 1995).
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Andre and Rose Danticat, Edwidge was separated from her parents at the age of four when they immigrated to the United States. She joined her family in 1981 in Brooklyn, New York, where she had difficulty fitting in with her schoolmates due to her style of dress, her accent, and her hairstyle. Though her parents wanted her to pursue a career in medicine, Danticat devoted herself to her writing, eventually earning a master of fine arts degree from Brown University in 1993. Recognized for her depictions of the Haitian experience both in Haiti and the United States, Danticat is described by Margaria Fichtner as a writer whose work “has much to say about what it is like to be young, black, Haitian, and female wandering in a world too often eager to regard all of those conditions as less than worthwhile.”
Breath, Eyes, Memory, told through the eyes of Sophie Caco, details the lives of four generations of Haitian women as they struggle against poverty, violence, and prejudice in Haiti and the United States. Drawing upon contemporary Haitian history, the novel portrays the country's upheavals at the hands of the Duvalier regime and its brutal secret police, the Tonton Macoutes. While the stories of Krik? Krak! employ a wide range of plot types and characters, each story is, as Ellen Kanner explained, “part of the same tale. Women lose who and what they love to poverty, to violence, to politics, to ideals.” The Farming of Bones (1998) is a fictionalized first-person account of the 1937 massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. The novel is narrated by Amabelle Desir, a Haitian housemaid in the home of Senora Valencia, a Dominican whose soldier husband has killed a Haitian field laborer in a hit-and-run accident. While Amabelle and her lover, Sebastien, contemplate revenge, they must escape the genocide facing the country's Haitian minority.
Most commentators have found Danticat's works to be powerful fictions conveyed with sure-handed style. Breath, Eyes, Memory was praised by many critics for its lyrical language, which offsets and counterpoints the novel's often dire subject matter. Some reviewers of the novel suggested that Danticat did not display complete control of her material in the book, lavishing detailed descriptive passages on things and events that did not warrant them. Most, however, pointed out that this is a flaw common to many first novels. Krik? Krak! was lauded by critics for the diversity of narrative voices and literary styles presented in the stories. The collection brought Danticat praise for making serious subject matter readable and enjoyable through the skillful use of language. Critics noted that some of the stories reveal an overly self-conscious manipulation of form and structure, a false note of “preciousness” that detracts from their realism. Richard Eder, however, found that the “best of [the stories], using the island tradition of semi-magical folktale, or the witty, between-two-worlds voices of modern urban immigrants, are pure beguiling transformation.” The Farming of Bones generated predominantly positive reviews, with critics again praising Danticat's sensuous prose and depiction of Haitian life. Some, however, expressed disappointment when comparing The Farming of Bones with Danticat's earlier work. Michael Upchurch complimented Danticat's “considerable talents,” including her “descriptive prose,” but felt that the novel possesses “technical oddities … that detract from the power of Danticat's story,” and that “Danticat's storytelling was inhibited by the respect she has for the novel's historical sources.”