Writer of Color: Edwidge Danticat

Photo of POC writer Edwidge Danticat from Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau

Quick Facts on POC Writer Edwidge Danticat

  • Born January 19, 1969 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
  • Moved to Brooklyn, New York at age 12
  • Obtained MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University in 1993

Biography on POC Writer Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat (Ed-WEEDJ DAHN-ti-cah) often writes about her Haitian roots. Thematically, she writes about mother and daughter relationships, national identity, politics, travel and history. She regularly turns to op-eds to voice calls for political change while using fiction as a way to build multi-faceted characters whose lives are affected by political and social inequities.

Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, and grew up during the reign of dictator Francois Duvalier and his son Jean Claude. The entire nation struggled against extreme poverty and oppression. Her parents immigrated to New York, leaving her and her brother in the care of their aunt and uncle. At 12, she and her brother moved to Brooklyn to meet her parents and two new siblings.

Danticat used writing as a way to escape the difficulties of living in the US. While she speaks Creole and French, she writes in neither languages. Instead, Danticat opts for English, which she refers to as “neutral”.

In 1990, she graduated from Barnard College with a BA in French Literature. In 1993, she completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Brown University. Her thesis manuscript later became her debut novel Breath, Eyes, Memory in 1994. Four years later, it became an official pick of Oprah Winfrey’s book club.

Before You Read POC Writer Edwidge Danticat

Haitian Territory and Brief History

Haiti is a sovereign state in the Greater Antilles archipelago. The Greater Antilles is a collection of five islands surrounded by the Caribbean Sea: Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Greater Antilles
The Greater Antilles is a collection of five main islands. The smaller chain of islands south of Puerto Rico are collectively known as the Lesser Antilles.

The island called Hispaniola was originally inhabited by the native people Taino. In the late 1400s, Christopher Columbus arrived to the island and named it Hispaniola, The Spanish Island, after Spanish claim. Since then, the land has been subject to invasions and exploitations for resources, and colonization primarily by the French and Spanish. Africans were brought to work sugar cane plantations as slaves.

Of the Greater Antilles, Hispaniola is the island shared by both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Eventually, the French and Spanish split the island. The western half, now Haiti, was ceded to the French. The eastern half became the Dominican Republic. During the French Revolution (1789-1791), the Haitian people of color organized their own Revolution (1791–1804). In 1804, the people won their independence from France.

Super Fact: Haiti is the first Black republic, and is the first nation of the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery completely.

Hispaniola also has a few offshore islands like Gonâve Island and Tortue or Tortuga Island.

Haiti has an incredibly tumultuous history. It has plagued by wars, uprisings, colonization, slavery, revolts, dictators, poverty and exploitation. To read about Haitian history, please click here.

Haitian Culture

  • Most Haitians speak Creole and/or French.
  • Haitian culture is a unique blend of African and European heritages.
  • Mothers are exceptionally important. A child without a mother is disgraced and thought of as someone who is indecent.
  • The culture is rich in folklore.
  • The main religions include Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Voudou (or Voodoo).
  • Haitians are highly courteous. They also show a great deal of respect for elders and ancestors.
  • Close friends will be doted upon with special nicknames.

Super Fact: The Ministry for Women’s Affairs was established in 1995 and protects women from discrimination.

To learn more about Haitian culture, click here or here.

Quotes from POC Writer Edwidge Danticat

 “When you write, it’s like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring then unity.”

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. … Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”

 “Anger is a wasted emotion.”

“I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when it’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it.”

“I want to look happily forward. I want to be optimistic. I want to have a dream. I want to live in jubilee. I want my daughters to feel that they have the power to at least try to change things, even in a world that resists change with more strength than they have. I want to tell them they can overcome everything, if the are courageous, resilient and brave. Paradoxically, I also want to tell them their crowns have already been bought and paid for and that all they have to do is put them on their heads. But the world keeps tripping me up. My certainty keeps flailing.”

Works by POC Writer Edwidge Danticat

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