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Edwidge Danticat: Powerful Haitian-American Stories From a TCK

Edwidge Danticat speaks with Marie Arana during a "National Book Festival Presents" series event in the Coolidge Auditorium, September 24, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Edwidge Danticat is an award-winning Haitian-American novelist that has turned her TCK experience into a flourishing career.

Edwidge Danticat speaks with Marie Arana during a "National Book Festival Presents" series event in the Coolidge Auditorium, September 24, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.
Edwidge Danticat speaks with Marie Arana during a “National Book Festival Presents” series event in the Coolidge Auditorium, September 24, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Stories are what bring people together across all walks of life. Every story is unique and worth telling, but this is especially true for people with multicultural backgrounds. One’s life story can be the basis of their identity – something Third Culture Kids (TCK) often struggle with. The simple act of sharing their own story can mean a lot.

Of course, things aren’t necessarily that simple when it comes to sharing one’s story. However, Danticat has overcome countless hardships to share her story and has made a very successful career out of it. She wrote extensively on her experiences in Haiti as a young girl in the form of historical fiction, but is perhaps best known for her memoir and social critique “Brother, I’m Dying.”

Danticat started life in Haiti. Unfortunately, as her family struggled, her parents left for the United States to financially support them. This left Danticat to be raised by her aunt, uncle and community until she was 12. The experience of being separated from her parents for so long leaves Danticat to have a special kind of empathy for immigrant children today.

Although she left Haiti at a young age, the culture that she knew and loved stayed with her. Now Danticat’s books are the stage for her culture and TCK experiences. Of course, it’s not all cast in such a glamourous light. Her stories often center around the darker side of Haiti and the USA.

In an interview with Bonnie Lyons, Danticat quotes people who ask her about the dark context of one book: “Why start in a cemetery? There is so much negative press about Haiti, why would you want to write about a cemetery?” Danticat says there’s no specific “deeper” meaning intended. Still, as she says, it’s not enough for people. She argues:

There’s a larger responsibility, or so it’s perceived, for Haiti’s writers to only celebrate it and not talk about the sadness and pain that exists there.

Danticat simply believes in telling stories and showing genuine life in Haiti, whether light or dark.

Danticat Finds A Place

'Brother, I'm Dying' by Edwidge Danticat
‘Brother, I’m Dying’ by Edwidge Danticat

Danticat has found herself a place in famous literature. However, her sense of place for home is not as straightforward. In her interview with Steve Inskeep from NPR, Danticat expressed this:

Well I sometimes feel like I belong here. And then often I’m reminded by certain things — like when my uncle died in immigration, I was, you know, I felt like ‘Oh I thought I belonged. And yet I couldn’t save my uncle from the jaws of death, from the immigration service,’ so often, I think, these days more than ever, we are reminded that whether or not we belong is not defined by us.

While she lives in the U.S., Danticat says that Haiti is almost like a second “half” of home. In an interview with Opal Palmer Adisa, Danticat says:

Haiti is and will always be one of the two places, the U.S. being the other, that I call home. Haiti is where I was born and Haiti was my first home. I am like most Haitians living with my feet in both worlds. I go to Haiti as much as I can. I still have a lot of family there. I have always lived in Haitian communities in the United States, so while I have left Haiti, it’s never left me.

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