Edwidge Danticat, 5 Questions pour Île en île

Romancière, essayiste, écrivaine… Edwidge Danticat répond aux 5 Questions pour Île en île.

Otè ayisyèn, Edwidge Danticat kap reponn « Senk kesyon il en il ».

Edwidge Danticat responds to the « 5 Questions for Île en île » (in Creole, English and French).

Entretien de 31 minutes réalisé à New York le 2 avril 2010 par Thomas C. Spear.
Caméra : Yves Dossous.

Notes de transcription (ci-dessous) : Coutechève Lavoie Aupont.

Dossier présentant l’auteure sur Île en île : Edwidge Danticat.

début – Mes influences (in English)
06:48 – Mon quartier (in English & an kreyòl)
14:07 – Mon enfance (an kreyòl)
20:50 – Mon oeuvre (in English)
24:59 – La préfacière (en français)
27:59 – L’insularité (in English)

Mes influences

It’s not a written influence, but storytelling is my first influence. Some people think of storytelling as a cliché, and probably it is a cliché, but it’s true. I grew up listening to stories and that’s the first I realized I wanted to tell stories in some way: by listening to stories of my grandmothers, my aunts, and from the neighborhood in Haiti where I grew up. Belair was very lively, where storytelling was done beyond the structured way that we know; everything became a story. There were also many loud, verbal exchanges that as a child you don’t understand – Voye pwen, Goumen – with words like agile weapons. That kind of daily storytelling, as well as more structured storytelling, were big literary influences.

The first book I remember was the Madeleine book my uncle gave me when I was very little. I remember reading that and thinking the book was sort of a parallel to storytelling, but was something you could take with you. Every schoolchild in Haiti learns to recite « Le lièvre et la Tortue » by Jean de La Fontaine; we recite it the way we learn it, in a sing-song manner, which is another kind of storytelling. In school, everything was rote memorization, so you had such words stuck in your mind. You can see dramatically the last words of Toussaint Louverture, « En me renversant… »

I started to read on my own, I started reading really, ironically, at age 12 when I came to the US. Suddenly I didn’t have texts in French to read, so I went and sought them out at the public library. The first was Jan J. Dominique’s Mémoire d’une amnésique, which I thought was so brilliantly told in an unconventional way; her engaging confrontation, or mixture, of memory – mémoire – with writing. Before then, I had never been beyond childhood books for pleasure. Then there were works such as Marie Chauvet’s Amour, colère et folie and Jacques Roumain’s Gouverneurs de la rosée… « Nap mouri, nap mouri » is an interesting connection: I hear from memory the Creole soundtrack from Roumain’s Gouverneurs de la Rosée that was re-broadcast occasionally on the radio in Haiti; it had become something like the story of the Passion of Christ they would re-air every year on TV. I could hear that echo of « Nap mouri, nap mouri » when reading the novel again, and then later when rereading it in English in the Langston Hughes translation.

In English, the first book I read was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read it with a dictionary. I remember it was very interesting to me because it was so glaringly honest and it was a memoir, an autobiography. Once I started reading in English, I became a reading vampire. In college, I majored in French literature; I trace that interest to a French literature teacher I had in Haiti whom I idolized. She would say, « il n’y a pas de civilisation sans littérature » ; of course, sans le préciser, she meant French literature. All these things encouraged me to read the French classics, which felt like a part of Haitian literature. At the time, I was moving away from French writers and was reading more American writers, especially African-American writers, such as James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Reading them was also a way of better knowing this country.

In college, I wanted to know [classic writers] better, including Haitian writers such as Jacques-Stephen Alexis. I worked on the translation of his novel, L’Espace d’un Cillement [In the Flickering of an Eyelid]. Compère Général Soleil gets so much attention, but L’Espace d’un Cillement is a brilliant, nuanced and layered book, with less of an agenda. It’s more of a novel and is a book I greatly love.

Mon quartier

Little Haiti

I live in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, a very interesting neighborhood. When we first moved there, it was on the cusp of gentrification, with arguments about what the neighborhood was losing and what it was keeping. This gave us a lot of thoughts, coming from New York. My husband, who has lived in Miami longer than I, was coming from Broward, outside of the city. But we wanted to live in a real neighborhood, like the neighborhoods where we grew up in Haiti and Brooklyn, the neighborhood of my later childhood. Little Haiti is fascinating; you sometimes feel as though you are in Haiti: you can look out your window and see a kind of tap-tap going by. Some Haitian artists in Miami have painted their pickups very beautifully; some of the tap-taps belong to the restaurant in Miami Beach called Tap-Tap; others are just camions that do the rounds in the neighborhood every morning. If you wake up very early, you will see the camions make the rounds to the different corners where they pick up agricultural workers on their way to Apopka or further out to Homestead. Literally, on their sides, you’ll see the names of cities (such as Gonaïves and Léogâne) and all the paintings that cover these buses in Haiti. We call them « Dignités »; they resemble school buses that have become public transportation. Sights like that make you think you are in Haiti.

Two other things that are not lacking in equal measure in our neighborhood are botanicas and evangelical churches; all along 54th Street – the heart of Little Haiti – there are many. Other things that bring me back to Haiti the skinny little old ladies walking long stretches, either going to church or to a botanica, or people dressed in white coming from evangelical services or vodou ceremonies. There are some péristyl in the area. It’s one of the few places people have managed to recreate very strongly and visually a little bit of Haiti. Before the recent economic downturn, people worried that we were losing all of that [Haitian flavor] because the city [with gentrification] was shrinking what was considered Little Haiti. It would be hard in New York to have a Little Haiti, where, rather than a dense concentration of mostly Haitians in the neighborhood, you have mixed Caribbean neighborhoods. In Miami, and Little Haiti, even if other people live in predominately Haitian neighborhoods, as in North Miami where there are [Haitian-American] elected officials, there is a strong sense of a neighborhood, and people identify it as such. We like living there.

When we go to Haiti, our five-year-old daughter will say it is « Big Haiti, » because we live in « Little Haiti »!

East Flatbush, Brooklyn

The other neighborhood that was an important part of my life was the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up, East Flatbush. East Flatbush was the first place I lived when I arrived from Haiti, in an apartment in a six-story building on Westbury Court, near Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway. Our building towered over the avenue D train station. After a while you don’t hear it, but this train was the constant backdrop to our lives. East Flatbush has also a large Haitian population; you can go the Korean market and buy tritri, andwi, chicken feet, all things Haitian, really. It’s similar to Little Haiti, but in concentrated bits, with ladies who sell cashews or dyondyon on street corners, that sort of thing.

Bèlè (Le Belair)

Bèlè nan tan sa a se te yon katye entèresan tou. Paske li te politize men pa jan li vin ye kounye a. Se te yon kote kite trè entèresan nan sans li te gen anpil atis, atis vizyèl, te gen anpil mizisyen, te genyen kèk gro Tonton Makout tou kite nan Bèlè. Se te yon kote trè entèresan pou timoun, te gen anpil vwazen, te gen perestil, te gen ligliz, kidonk se te yon katye toujou anime. M sonje pa ekszanp vandredi sen, nan peryòd timoun monte sou do kay nan monte kap. Te gen rara, kanaval. Te gen anmenm tan bagay legliz. Te toujou gen radyo k-ap pale fò yon kote. Se te yon katye trè anime, ki te rete konsa, pa trò lontan, li te vin politize, vin gen plis friksyon. Men jiskamentnan lè mwen retoune kèk semèn nan moman nap pale la a, ki toujou gen menm karaktè sa. Men si yon ti kras detwi aprè tranbleman de tè a, men ki toujou gen karaktè kwense, moun ap fè sa yo kapab.

Mon enfance

Premye mimwa anfans. Se yon tikras difisil, paske anfans mwen te kase an de paske m te gen yon premye pati kote m te avèk manman m ak papa m. Epi papa m te kite Ayiti lè te gen de zan. Donk m pa twò sonje pati sa a. Mwen jis sonje ke papa-m te la yon jou. Epi sa-m plis sonje nan anfans mwen avèk pati sa a ; se sa moun rakonte-m ke papa te konn sot travay, pote bonbon pou mwen. Men se vrèman yon memwa prete. Epi de de zan a kat tran, m te pase avèk manman-m, avèk frè-m, ke nou te ansanm, ke-m sonje vagman. Men mwen plis sonje dènye pati lè manman-m tap kite Ayiti, ke li te koud bagay twò gran kite pou mwen, pou-m te ka mete aprè. Frè-m ki te maladif. Epi a kat tran manman-m vin kite Ayiti. M te avèk tonton-m ak matant mwen, yo menm ki te nan kay la avèk anpil timoun ke lot paran te kite. Te gen kouzen, te gen lot timoun avèk nou. Chak ane nou te oblije al fè yon foto pou voye bay manman-m ak papa-m. Detanzantan nou te konn al nan Teleco pou-n pale avèk yo nan telefon. Chak lè lekòl pral komanse te gen yon kote nan zòn nou te abite a, kote te gen kodonye pou bay fè soulye pou nou. Al pran mezi pye. Mon nonk mwen te konn fè bòt pou mwen kòm fi menm jan ak sa frè-m ak kouzen-m yo te konn mete. Pat gen anyen de sexy nan bòt yo. Se youn nan bagay kounye a ki manke-m lè m-al Ayiti. Ou pa wè kòdonye. Sa mankem vrèman. Avèk bagay pèpè yo, ou pa wè sa ankò, kote te gen tou yon « art » sou sa. Kote pou al bay koud, al mezire inifom. M te nan yon lekòl ki te rele Collège Eliode Pierre. Kidonk, yo te gen yon sòt inifòm avèk jip mawon, yon kòsaj a karo mawon e blan. Epi nan pòch la te gen C.E.P. pou Collège Eliode Pierre. Timoun te konn rele nou Cochon Elve nan Pak ! Lòt souvni mwen genyen : manman-m te mete-m lekòl bonè. Li te difisil paske lekòl la te trè di. Te gen bat sou do men paske a twa zan y’ap eseye montre-ou ekri. Sa te trè difisil profesè te toujou ap di : tèt ou di ! Tèt ou di ! Kounye a map panse m gen yon timoun kat tran, lè-m sonje yon timoun twa zan yap fòse aprann yo ekri pase ke sa te trè difisil. Men aprè m te vin vrèman akselere. Yo te konn sote-m klas. A douz zan m te pase sa yo rele sètifika an Ayiti C.E.P. (Certificat d’Études Primaires) donk m te vrèman ap pouse.

Gen yon bagay m te panse nan tout anfans mwen. Se yon bagay m te reyalize aprè manman-m te pati. M te prèske pase tout tan sa a ap panse ke nenpòt jou m ka pati. Donk vrèman ou gen yon sans ke wap tann. W ap pase tout tan anfans ou w atann ke ou pral abite yon lot kote. Se kòm si ou la, men ou pa la. Sa pat afekte-m nan lekòl. Men gen anpil timoun m’ konnen kite nan menm kay avè-m. M te gen yon kouzen ki te gen fanmi Kanada ki te nan menm sitiyasyon an men ki pat vrèman fè anyen lekòl. Paske l te toujou panse yon jou konsa l’ap pati. Ane pwochèn m ka pa la, mwa pwochen m ka pati. Se te toujou sa a, menm lè nan kay la lè yap pale avè-ou yo konn di « lè-ou al jwenn manman-ou l’ap regle-ou, papa-ou l’ap regle-ou ». Ou toujou panse ou gen yon vi yon lòt kote. M panse sa s’on aspè nan anfans ki trè empòtan. Timoun toujou ap reve. Men lè ou avèk vrè paran-ou. Menm lè ou avèk manman-ou ak papa-ou ; ou toujou ap reve m ; ou gen dè paran ideyal yon lòt kote. Timoun paran yo pa la toujou ap envante des attributs ki petèt lè ou reyini avèk yo ki fè ou vin yon tikras desi paske ou ideyalize yo yon kote, epi aprè lè ou al jwenn yo ou wè se de pèsonaj reyèl. Kounye a wap ideyalize moun kote ou te ye a. Sa a se te yon aspè ki te trè fò nan anfans la. Sa te pran-m anpil tan pou m reyalize ke m te pase tout tan sa a ap imajine lavi-m te yon lòt kote. Donk pat gen pèmanans vrèman nan kote m te ye a. Men nou te gen yon bon strikti, yon bon raprochman avèk tonton-m avèk matant mwen, ki te avèk nou. Epi m te konn anpil timoun nan menm sitiyasyon sa a. Sa se te anfans nou pat santi nou nesesèman abandone. Men nou te santi nou pafwa privilejye. Tan moun te konn ap di nou se privilejye. Nou gen paran isit. Nou gen paran lòt bò. Yo voye lajan lekòl. Yo voye lajan pou manje. Epi tou, te gen aspè sa a ladan-l tout kote ou te hors de la réalité ke lòt moun genyen. Epi tou ou gen yon vi ki pral kontinye lè ou pa timoun ankò ki pral kontinye yon lòt kote.

Mon œuvre

I am primary a fiction writer. I started out writing novels and short stories. My first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, is a story of a young girl who comes from Haiti at age twelve to the United States. My next book was a collection of short stories Kric? Krac!, then I wrote a novel, The Farming of Bones, about the massacre of Haitian cane workers in the Dominican Republic. I have also written non-fiction. One is a travel narrative about Jacmel’s annual carnival, called After the Dance: a Walk through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti. I also wrote two young adult novels, Behind the Mountainsand Anacaona, Golden Flower, about the life of our Haitian and Dominican icon, Anacaona. I had heard about Anacaona all my life and had always wanted to write about her. She was from Léogâne, as is some of my family (many things in Léogâne are named Anacaona: The Anacaona School, The Anacaona Hospital and so forth). Next, I wrote The Dewbreaker, a collection of linked stories. My most recent book was a memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, about the death of my father, who died of pulmonary fibrosis within a few months of my uncle, who died in an immigration jail. So it is their story and a bit my story, as all this was happening as my daughter was about to be born.

I am currently wrapping up a collection, called Create Dangerously, the Immigrant Artist at Work. The title is from a lecture that Albert Camus gave in the 1950s about engagement in creation. My collection of essays talks about the immigrant artist in a time of crisis in his or her country. The first essay is about the execution of two young men in the 1960s in Haiti, Louis Drouin and Marcel Dumas, and the reaction of many writers to that event. The recent earthquake is the subject of the last essay of the collection. I also have two picture books forthcoming. One is a fun book I am doing with Scholastic as a fund raiser for children’s charities in Haiti (especially those that promote reading), called Eight Days. It’s the story of a little boy who survives eight days under the rubble, and how he uses his imagination to survive. The other picture book is one I have been working on for a long time, about a child whose mother is in immigration detention [and it should be published in 2011].

La préfacière

Oui, j’écris des préfaces. Ce sont toujours les livres que je connais, que j’aime, et qui ont vraiment compté pour moi. La plus récente de ces préfaces est pour une collection de nouvelles de Yanick Lahens. Ce sont des auteurs qui ont beaucoup compté pour moi : Marie Chauvet, Jan J. Dominique, Paulette Poujol Oriol, par exemple, comme L’espace d’un cillement de Jacques-Stephen Alexis, où j’ai participé à la traduction. C’est un grand plaisir d’introduire ces livres – ces romans et ces nouvelles – aux personnes qui aimeraient bien lire la littérature haïtienne, mais qui ne lisent pas en créole ou en français, qui ne lisent qu’en anglais. Il y a de plus en plus de traductions (Lyonel Trouillot, etc.)… Quand j’avais quinze ans, il n’y avait que Dany Laferrière traduit en anglais. La littérature latino-américaine est bien traduite ; pour la littérature haïtienne, cela commence.

Après avoir lu mes livres, des lecteurs me demandent de leur proposer d’autres livres haïtiens pour mieux connaître Haïti. C’est un plaisir d’introduire par mes préfaces les romanciers haïtiens contemporains et classiques.


I think there is less and less insularity, in terms of media that are available, and the new ways people have to directly communicate with their readers. The recent earthquake in Haiti is an interesting example. Whereas before, when you had a tragedy, you had to go through the traditional media to have your story told. Now, with writers who blog for journals in French, who write op-eds directly from Haiti in English…, I think there is more direct communication and more direct access to readers for writers on all islands. If anything, tragic events show us we are engaging each other not only from île en île, but also île to métropole, and île and elsewhere. A democratization and opening up are perhaps positive sides of globalization. There is less insularity, in terms of being able to connect directly with readers. Whether poets, novelists, essayists, or ordinary people, writers are able to tell their stories, write blogs, and testify to the rest of the world.

Insularity? with traditional publications, perhaps we still have the same obstacles, but I think new media is opening that up. It’s like what we’re doing [in this recorded interview], it makes us all less insular!

Edwidge Danticat

Danticat, Edwidge. « 5 Questions pour Île en île ».
Entretien, New York (2010). 31 minutes. Île en île.

Mise en ligne sur YouTube le 8 juin 2013.
(Cette vidéo était également disponible sur Dailymotion, du 1er janvier 2011 jusqu’au 13 octobre 2018.)
Entretien réalisé par Thomas C. Spear.
Caméra : Yves Dossous.
Notes de transcription : Coutechève Lavoie Aupont.

© 2011 Île en île




mis en ligne : 1 janvier 2011 ; mis à jour : 26 octobre 2020