Ayisyen: You Are Not Alone!
McClelland: You have no right to speak of my story, I
did not give you authorization
Author hopes 'genius grant' will shine on Haiti
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group in the world
sends more money
than Haitians living
in the Diaspora
Ezili Dantò's master Haitian dance class (Video clip)
Haitian & West African Dance Troop
Much Like Here- Jazzoetry CD audio clip
group of Haitian migrants arrive in a bus after being
repatriated from the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands,
in Cap-Haitien, northern Haiti, Thursday, May 10, 2007.
They were part of the survivors of a sailing vessel crowded
with Haitian migrants that overturned Friday, May 4 in
moonlit waters a half-mile from shore in shark-infested
waters. Haitian migrants claim a Turks and Caicos naval
vessel rammed their crowded sailboat twice before it capsized.
(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
in the Yellow
Dlo, Nan Ginen
Workshops - See, Red,
Black & Moonlight series or Haitian-West African
of articles written for the October 17, 2006 bicentennial
commemoration of the life and works of Dessalines, I wrote
for HLLN that: "Haiti's liberator and founding father,
Jacques Dessalines, said, "I Want
the Assets of the Country to be Equitably Divided"
and for that he was assassinated by the Mullato sons of France.
was the first coup d'etat, the Haitian holocaust - organized
of the masses, misery, poverty and the impunity of the economic
- continues (with Feb. 29, 2004 marking the 33rd coup d'etat).
Haiti's peoples continue to
resist the return of despots,
tyrants and enslavers who wage war on the poor
majority and Black, contain-them-in poverty through neocolonialism'
debts, "free trade" and foreign "investments."
These neocolonial tyrants refuse to allow an equitable division
of wealth, excluding the majority in Haiti from sharing in
country's wealth and assets." (See also, Kanga
Mundele: Our mission to live free or die trying, Another Haitian
Independence Day under occupation; The
Legacy of Impunity of One Sector-Who killed Dessalines?;
The Legacy of Impunity:The
Neoconlonialist inciting political instability is the problem.
Haiti is underdeveloped in crime, corruption, violence, compared
to other nations,
all, by Marguerite 'Ezili Dantò' Laurent
other national group in the world sends more money than Haitians
living in the Diaspora
...."[I]t is not our way to let our grief silence
us." (Edwidge Danticat in "Brother, I'm Dying"... (Brother,
I'm Dying )
Lies and Real Haiti News
The Slavery in the Haiti the Media Won’t Expose
"a time comes when silence is betrayal… Every man of
humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions,
but we must all protest" -- Martin Luther King
author, Edwidge Danticat, signs a copy of her book "Krik? Krak!"
for Pinecrest student Gabriel Seidner,17, Wednesday morning following
a question and answer session at the school.
Photo:Emily Michot/Miami Herlad Staff
Miami author Edwidge
Danticat wins `Genius Award'
Haiti-born writer Edwidge Danticat has won the prestigious MacArthur
Foundation fellowship, which comes with $500,000.
by Jacqueline Charles, jcharles@MiamiHerald.com,
Sept. 22, 2009
Miami writer Edwidge Danticat was holding her 9-month-old daughter,
Leila, while trying to read the computer screen when the phone rang.
``Are you sitting down?'' the caller asked.
``Yes. I am holding my baby,'' she said.
``Put the baby down.''
An award-winning author who was born in Haiti, Danticat, 40, learned
she had just won the biggest honor of her career: the John D. and Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation `Genius Award,' which carries a $500,000 ``no
strings attached'' prize.
``I am extremely grateful,'' said an ecstatic Danticat, one of 24 winners
named this year as a fellowship winner. ``I am still wrapping my brain
around it, trying to see how I can do it justice.''
Daniel Socolow, who directs the fellows program and called Danticat
with the news, said the writer emerged from a pool of hundreds of creative
leaders, nominated by individuals for their creative genius and potential.
The final selection, he said, was made by an anonymous 12-member committee
and after writing ``thousands and thousands of other people about them.''
In addition to Danticat, this year's winners include Jill Seaman of
Sudan, an infectious-disease specialist, Lynsey Addario of Turkey, a
photojournalist, and Peter Huybers of Massachusetts, a climate scientist
``We look at the work they've done, but at the end of the day it's a
calculation this is somebody worthy of our investment,'' Socolow said.
``We don't know what they will do next; we just know they are likely
to do something spectacular. It is betting on their future.''
Socolow said Danticat, a compelling novelist known for capturing human
endurance and perseverance through her books, ``has wonderful promise
yet ahead to do even more powerfully what she does.''
Danticat made her debut as a novelist in 1994 with Breath, Eyes, Memory.
In all, she has written eight books, recently finished a collection
of essays and is working on a new novel.
Through her works, she has amassed a wide range of fans with her simple
prose and themes of isolation, human struggle, cultural survival --
all set against the complex backdrop of Haiti's complex history and
Her most recent book was the semi-autobiographical Brother, I'm Dying.
The memoir is a tribute to her 81-year-old uncle, Joseph Dantica, a
minister who fled to Miami seeking refuge from Haiti's political and
gang-ridden turmoil only to die in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities.
His plight and life are chronicled through Danticat's memories as a
child growing up in Haiti under his care. The book won the National
Book Critics Circle Award, among others.
Past notable winners including Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard anthropologist
and infectious-disease specialist who won the award in 1993 for his
work combating HIV/AIDS in Haiti.
`IT LIBERATES YOU'
As a writer, Danticat says she always yearns for the time and peace
of mind as she brings her characters -- ordinary people facing hardship
and struggle -- to life. This award gives her that, she said.
``What this does is it liberates you to really concentrate on your work,''
she said. ``I have always tried to pace myself not to live extravagantly,
so I can earn the time I need to write.''
After receiving the news, Danticat said she gasped, then called her
husband Faidherbe ``Fedo'' Boyer and told him the news. He and daughter
Mira were the only ones who knew for a week.
Her mother, who lives in New York, only learned the news Monday.
Meanwhile, she says she has no idea who nominated her, but is extremely
``You just get this call one day,'' she said. ``It is so gratifying
to know people out there think I deserve more time to work.''
hopes 'genius grant' will shine on Haiti
By JONATHAN M. KATZ (AP)
– Sept. 23, 2009
AP - In this March
6, 2008 file photo, novelist Edwidge Danticat speaks during the
National Book Critics Circle awards ceremony in New York. Danticat
was named recipient of a MacArtur foundation "genius grant,"
Monday Sept. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Haiti — Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat hopes her "genius
grant" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will
bring attention to the wealth of talent struggling to be heard in her
impoverished Caribbean homeland.
The 40-year-old novelist and short story writer, who has won previous
prizes for her depiction of the travails of Haitian migrants, was one
of 24 artists, scientists, journalists and others named Tuesday as fellows
by the Chicago-based organization. Each receives a $500,000 grant over
the next five years.
"My experience or whatever talent I have is not unique: there are
probably thousands of others like me in Haiti or here," Danticat
in a phone interview from Miami. "The only difference is I've had
The foundation's online biography cites her "graceful, deceptively
simple prose" and "moving and insightful depictions of Haiti's
complex history" that "reminds us of the power of human resistance,
renewal, and endurance against great obstacles."
Danticat's 2007 memoir, "Brother, I'm Dying," told the stories
of her father and uncle's struggles in Haiti and the United States.
Her early novel "Breath, Eyes, Memory" was an Oprah's Book
Club pick. Other titles include the noted short story collection "Krick?
Krack!" and "The Farming of Bones," a retelling of the
1937 massacre of 20,000 to 30,000 Haitian workers in the neighboring
Danticat had no idea she was even being considered for the "genius
grant" until program director Daniel Socolow called her Miami home
early last week. She was holding her 9-month-old daughter, Leila.
"He suggested I put the baby down and then he told me (I had won),"
Danticat recalled. She laughed, "I was glad I was sitting down."
After giving out the awards, the foundation sits back and allows the
recipients, who must be U.S. citizens or residents, to do whatever they
want with it.
"Her work is quite extraordinary," Socolow told the AP by
phone from Chicago. "We just bask in the pleasure of what she might
Danticat, who most recently visited Haiti in March to see family, says
the prize will enable her to take time off from teaching and focus on
writing, including a novel still in the works.
The author, who was the editor of a 2001 collection of writing by Haitian-Americans,
said she also intends to quietly help other writers develop their talents.
Raised in Port-au-Prince's Bel Air slum, now a crumbling garbage-strewn
district that has been a hotbed of gang and government violence through
the years, she was taken by her parents to the United States at age
12. She attended Barnard College in New York and then earned a master's
degree at Brown University.
"I'm thinking about the journey that brought us here. There are
so many people who are probably more talented and more gifted than me
but have not had the opportunities," she said.
Previous authors to win the MacArthur grant include Thomas Pynchon,
David Foster Wallace and Andrea Barrett. Paul Farmer, the recently named
U.N. deputy special envoy for Haiti, was picked in 1993 in large part
for his work as a physician in Haiti.
In an overcrowded, impoverished country where most families scrape by
on less than $1 a day, many with the help of money sent back from relatives
abroad, Danticat's grant money will likely attract notice.
Still, Haitian artists said the critical attention to one of their own
counts for more in the long run.
"Edwidge's writing shines a light on Haiti," said Evelyne
Trouillot, an author and friend who lives in Port-au-Prince. "Not
only the poverty ... but the struggle to show that Haitians are human."
Tragedy transcended, The
Danticat's memoir emphasizes the enduring love
between two brothers, now united in death
with daughter Mira, whom she named after her father. "Hopefully
I'll have an uninterrupted lifetime with her," she writes,
"a lifetime to plant some things that have been uprooted
in me and uproot others that have been planted." (NEW YORK
By Renée Graham | September 16, 2007
Brother, I'm Dying
By Edwidge Danticat
Knopf, 272 pp., $23.95
They are together now, two loving brothers separated for 30 years by
geography and political circumstances, at last reunited.
Yet there is no glory, no sense of resolution or injustice made right.
These were lives deprived of happy endings or tearful reunions. They
are together only in death, sharing a grave site and a tombstone in
the compacted soil of a cemetery in Queens, N.Y.
"I wish I were absolutely certain that my father and uncle are
now together in some tranquil and restful place, sharing endless walks
and talks beyond what their too-few and too-short visits allowed,"
Edwidge Danticat writes of her father and uncle in her devastating memoir,
"Brother, I'm Dying."
"I wish I knew that they were offering enough comfort to one another
to allow them both not to remember their distressing, even excruciating,
last hours and days." Danticat knows there are no such guarantees,
only the reality of two earnest lives pockmarked by tragedy.
As with her earlier, award-winning works, including her marvelous story
collection "Krik? Krak!" and best-selling novel "The
Dew Breaker," Danticat finds poetic truth in the relentless hardships
of her native Haiti and its people. This time, it's the elegiac story
of her father, Mira, who left Haiti for New York when Danticat was 2
years old. When her mother followed two years later, Mira's older brother,
Joseph, raised the author and her brother Bob for eight years. It is
the story of two men in two countries trying to do the best they can
for their families, two men whose connection remains resolute through
decades, even though they were rarely together.
And this is also Danticat's story. As the book begins, she finds out
she is pregnant with her first child, but it is bittersweet news because,
on the same day, her father is diagnosed with late-stage pulmonary fibrosis.
Imagining life without her father takes Danticat back to the years when
his absence was temporary, but no less wrenching, times when her father
existed only in the half-page, three-paragraph letters he would send
to her uncle every other month.
Danticat's memories span more than 50 years of her family's history,
bookended by recent events tinged by birth and death, sadness and hope.
Coupled with official documents, these are the "borrowed recollections
of family members" and stories shared over the years with Danticat
by Mira and Joseph, her two fathers.
Given the endless turmoil in Haiti - and the bloodthirsty reign of "Papa
Doc" Duvalier and his ferocious thugs, the Tonton Macoutes - Mira,
a tailor, left his homeland for New York. He had a one-month tourist
visa, but had no intention of returning. Joseph, meanwhile, was a preacher
who long resisted the lure of America, and the ever-present threats
of local thugs, to remain in his troubled island home. So dedicated
was he to his congregation, he remained their pastor even after his
voice was silenced by a radical laryngectomy.
When Joseph finally decides to join his brother in the States, the results
are unexpectedly tragic; he dies in a Miami detention center while waiting
to see if he'll be granted asylum. Still, for all the palpable sorrows
throughout this memoir, it is also a story about a family's love, and
the profound bond among brothers, parents, and children.
Danticat is such an elegant writer, her prose so free of showy flourishes,
that her words can seem deceptively simple. She has the confidence to
allow the story to tell itself, and find its own pace. Emotional, but
never mawkish, "Brother, I'm Dying" is a stellar achievement
from a writer whose stunning talents continue to soar and amaze.
Renée Graham is a freelance writer.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
by Edwidge Danticat, Op-Ed Contributor,
New York Times,
June 17, 2007 | MIAMI
MY father died in May 2005, after an agonizing battle with lung disease.
This is the third Father’s Day that I will spend without him since
we started celebrating together in 1981. That was when I moved to the
United States from Haiti, after his own migration here had kept us apart
for eight long years.
My father’s absence, then and now, makes all the more poignant
for me the predicament of the following fathers who also deserve to
be remembered today.
There is the father from Honduras who was imprisoned, then deported,
after a routine traffic stop in Miami. He was forced to leave behind
his wife, who was also detained by immigration officials, and his 5-
and 7-year-old sons, who were placed in foster care. Not understanding
what had happened, the boys, when they were taken to visit their mother
in jail, asked why their father had abandoned them. Realizing that the
only way to reunite his family was to allow his children to be expatriated
to Honduras, the father resigned himself to this, only to get caught
up in a custody fight with American immigration officials who have threatened
to keep the boys permanently in foster care on the premise that their
parents abandoned them.
There is also the father from Panama, a cleaning contractor in his 50s,
who had lived and worked in the United States for more than 19 years.
One morning, he woke to the sound of loud banging on his door. He went
to answer it and was greeted by armed immigration agents. His 10-year
asylum case had been denied without notice. He was handcuffed and brought
There is the father from Argentina who moves his wife and children from
house to house hoping to remain one step ahead of the immigration raids.
And the Guatemalan, Mexican and Chinese fathers who have quietly sought
sanctuary from deportation at churches across the United States.
There’s the Haitian father who left for work one morning, was
picked up outside his apartment and was deported before he got a chance
to say goodbye to his infant daughter and his wife. There’s the
other Haitian father, a naturalized American citizen, whose wife was
deported three weeks before her residency hearing, forcing him to place
his 4-year-old son in the care of neighbors while he works every waking
hour to support two households.
These families are all casualties of a Department of Homeland Security
immigration crackdown cheekily titled Operation Return to Sender. The
goals of the operation, begun last spring, were to increase the enforcement
of immigration laws in the workplace and to catch and deport criminals.
Many women and men who have no criminal records have found themselves
in its cross hairs. More than 18,000 people have been deported since
the operation began last year.
So while politicians debate the finer points of immigration reform,
the Department of Homeland Security is already carrying out its own.
Unfortunately, these actions can not only plunge families into financial
decline, but sever them forever. One such case involves a father who
was killed soon after he was deported to El Salvador last year.
“Something else could be done,” his 13-year-old son Junior
pleaded to the New York-based advocacy group Families for Freedom, “because
kids need their fathers.”
Right now the physical, emotional, financial and legal status of American-born
minors like Junior can neither delay nor prevent their parents’
detention or deportation. Last year, Representative José E. Serrano,
a Democrat from New York, introduced a bill that would allow immigration
judges to take into consideration the fates of American-born children
while reviewing their parents’ cases. The bill has gone nowhere,
while more and more American-citizen children continue to either lose
their parents or their country.
Where are our much-touted family values when it comes to these children?
Today, as on any other day, they deserve to feel that they have not
been abandoned — by either their parents or their country.
Edwidge Danticat is the author of the forthcoming “Brother,
I’m Dying,” a memoir.
by Jess Row
September 9, 2007 | www.nytimes.com
Joseph Dantica, one of two brothers at the heart of this family memoir,
was a remarkable man: a Baptist minister who founded his own church and
school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; a survivor of throat cancer who returned
to the pulpit using a mechanical voice box; a loyal husband and family
man who raised his niece Edwidge Danticat to the age of 12, when she joined
her parents in Brooklyn. (The "t" at the end of "Danticat"
is the result of a clerical error on her father's birth certificate. )
When Dantica fled Haiti in 2004, after a battle between United Nations
peacekeepers and chimeres "gang members" destroyed his church
and put his life in jeopardy, he was 81, with high blood pressure and
heart problems, and yet for 30 years had resisted his family's pleas to
emigrate to the States. He intended to return and rebuild his church as
soon as the fighting stopped. But to the Department of Homeland Security
officers who examined him in Miami, his plea for temporary asylum meant
he was simply another unlucky Haitian determined to slip through their
fingers. When he collapsed during his "credible fear" interview
and began vomiting, the medic on duty announced, "He's faking."
That refusal of treatment cost him his life: he died in a Florida hospital,
probably in shackles, the following day.
BROTHER, I'M DYING By Edwidge Danticat.
272 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $23.95.
How does a novelist, who trades in events filtered through imagination
and memory, recreate an event so recent, so intimate and so outrageous,
an attack on her own loyalties and sense of deepest belonging? The story
of Joseph Dantica could be, perhaps will be, told in many forms: as a
popular ballad (performed, in my imagination, by Wyclef Jean); as Greek
tragedy; as agitprop theater; as a bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Kafka.
But Edwidge Danticat, true to her calling, has resisted any of these predictable
responses. "Anger is a wasted emotion," says the narrator of
"The Dew Breaker," her most recent novel; in telling her family's
story, she follows this dictum almost to a fault, giving us a memoir whose
cleareyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an astringent
undercurrent of melancholy, a mixture of homesickness and homelessness.
Haunting the book throughout is a fear of missed chances, long-overdue
payoffs and family secrets withering on the vine: a familiar anxiety when
one generation passes to another too quickly. In the first chapter Danticat
learns she is pregnant with her first child just as her father, Mira,
receives a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis and loses his livelihood as
a New York cabdriver after more than 25 years. At a family meeting, one
of his sons asks him, "Have you enjoyed your life?" Mira pauses
before answering, and when he does, he frames the response entirely in
terms of his children: "You, my children, have not shamed me. ...
You all could have turned bad, but you didn't. ... Yes, you can say I
have enjoyed my life."
That pause, and that answer, neatly encapsulates an unpleasant, though
obvious, truth: immigration often involves a kind of generational sacrifice,
in which the migrants themselves give up their personal ambitions, their
families, native countries and the comforts of the mother tongue, to spend
their lives doing menial work in the land where their children and grandchildren
On the other hand, there is the futility, and danger, of staying put in
a country that over the course of Danticat's lifetime has spiraled from
almost routine hardship - the dictatorship of the Duvaliers and the Tontons
Macoute - to the stuff of nightmares. Danticat's father and uncle stand
on opposite sides of this bitter divide.
It is Joseph's story that takes up the better part of the book. He began
life in a farming family in the rural town of Beausejour, moved to Port-au-Prince
in the late 1940s to seek a better life and fell under the sway of the
populist leader Daniel Fignole, who became president but was deposed three
weeks later and was eventually replaced by Francois Duvalier. Joseph's
disenchantment with politics and gift for rousing oration led him to the
Baptist church, and for more than four decades he served as a pastor,
school principal and community leader, doing the quiet work of maintaining
and uplifting the people around him - including his large extended family.
Though he was a strong supporter of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, he served
as a witness and chronicler of the crimes and abuses committed by all
sides. Had his life and Haiti's history turned out differently, his records
and eyewitness reports - destroyed in the burning of his church - might
have been used as evidence in human rights tribunals bringing the country's
leaders to justice.
All of which makes what happened to him in 2004 the more outrageous. In
Danticat's recounting, the United Nations peacekeepers who arrived to
stabilize the country after Aristide was forced into exile appear far
more interested in battling local gangs than in serving the traumatized
civilian population. The Creole expression for this kind of governance
is mode soufle: "where those who are most able to obliterate you
are also the only ones offering some illusion of shelter and protection."
Joseph Dantica's greatest failing, it appears, was his refusal to cut
deals or strategize; his withdrawal from politics early in life left him
without the instincts or vocabulary to defend his church and himself.
He arrived in the United States holding a valid tourist visa, but because
of the circumstances and his intent to return later than he had originally
planned, he insisted on asking for "temporary asylum," not fully
comprehending what this meant. Had he not clung so stubbornly to his own
truth, he might still be alive.
After his brother was buried - against his wishes, not in Haiti but in
Queens - Danticat's father declared: "He shouldn't be here. If our
country were ever given a chance and allowed to be a country like any
other, none of us would live or die here." Danticat lets this stand
without comment; we are left to imagine how painful it must have been
for her and her American-born siblings to hear this sentiment spoken aloud.
Are Haitians in America immigrants, and the children of immigrants, or
exiles? Do they accept a hybrid identity, a hyphen, or do they keep alive
the hope of "next year in Port-au-Prince, " so to speak?
Of course, in one sense, it's a pointless question: when her parents couldn't
understand her "halting and hesitant Creole," Danticat reports,
they would respond, "Sa blan an di?" - "What did the foreigner
say?" She and her brothers, from all appearances, are fully, firmly
assimilated; her own success, as a writer of novels in a distinctly American
idiom - English being her third language - is the ultimate proof of that.
There is, however, such a thing as self-imposed, psychic exile: a feeling
of estrangement and alienation within one's adopted culture, a nagging
sense of homelessness and dispossession. "A man who repudiates his
language for another changes his identity," wrote E. M. Cioran, a
Romanian exile in Paris for nearly 60 years: "He breaks with his
memories and, to a certain point, with himself."
"Brother, I'm Dying," in its cool, understated way, begins to
gesture in that direction. Danticat's father died shortly after Joseph
and was buried under the same tombstone; she imagines them together again
in BeausEjour, reconciled and happy once more. But she makes no indication
of how she might reconcile these shattering events with her own near-miraculous
American odyssey. It's hard to imagine how anyone could.
Jess Row is the author of "The Train to Lo Wu," a collection
together the pieces of a tragedy,
By Anna Mundow,
Dandicat - Nancy Crampton
Edwidge Danticat was raised by her aunt and uncle in Haiti and joined
her parents in the United States when she was 12. Her peerless fiction
includes "Breath, Eyes, Memory" and "The Dew Breaker."
In 2004, when Danticat was pregnant with her first child and while her
father was dying of pulmonary fibrosis, her uncle, an elderly churchman,
was forced to flee the violence in Haiti.
Despite having documentation and having visited America before, a frail
Joseph Danticat was first detained by US Customs, then shackled and
imprisoned. Without his medication, he died within days. Earlier this
year, The New York Times reported that 62 immigrants have died in US
administrative custody since 2004. "Brother, I'm Dying" (Knopf,
$23.95), a model of grace and restraint, tells the story of Uncle Joseph,
of the Danticat family, and of their country.
Danticat spoke from her home in Miami.
Q: Was it hard for you to reveal yourself and your
family this way?
A: What made it less difficult was the fact that we
all had this grief in common. I'm very conscious of the self-indulgence
of writing about oneself, but there was more than just our pain happening,
for my uncle certainly but also for my father. It was a way of paying
tribute to them.
Q: This is part memoir, part reconstruction. What sources
did you draw on?
A: I drew a lot on the official documents of my uncle's
detention. The final document we got from the inspector general in Washington
was in fact a retelling of all the interviews in the process. It was
almost like one of those novels where you get the point of view of every
character, including my uncle's.
. . . We had to fight hard to get these papers under the Freedom of
Information Act. I also drew on stories from my aunt Zi, who was the
last person my uncle spent a lot of time with. It's a strange thing
to say, but I felt as if every other thing I had written was like training
Q: Did you feel that you were giving lives to people
we see - if at all - solely as victims?
A: I think that was the driving force. Going through
the detention bureaucracy with my uncle and going to see many doctors
with my father, you know that what they see is this old man who is poor,
who is Haitian. That he is a person is not of any concern to them. You
want to say, "This is a man, a great father, his life matters."
In fiction you do that when you write characters. But there's ambivalence
too, because there were parts I just wanted to keep for myself.
Q: When your uncle died in detention, was that your
first glimpse of a different America?
A: It really wasn't. My parents with their church used
to visit detainees at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And here in Miami I used
to visit detention centers, so this was a reality I knew. I think that
made it more horrific, I couldn't lie to myself. Of course it's different
when it's someone you love. What was most striking to me was these people
who are supposed to speak for the government saying "It was his
time, we all have to die," calling my uncle's medicine "voodoo
medicine." Then we read the New York Times article about people
dying in detention, and it was the same story. Except that I was in
the fortunate position of having, if not a big mouth, then a big pen.
Other families haven't got that.
Q: Yes, one of the questions on the form the detaining
officer fills in is "Congressional or media interest?"
A: I know, I kept thinking if they had known I was
a writer would that have made a difference. It shows how important it
is to speak out, to share your story. I also kept feeling that if only
one person in the process had acted humanely and said this is a very
sick old man, things would have turned out differently.
Q: You ask "Was he going to jail because he was
black?" Was he?
A: Certainly because he was Haitian, because there
is a specifically unfavorable policy toward Haitian refugees, especially
in Miami. If it had been an 81-year-old Cuban or European asking for
asylum, I'm pretty sure he would have been treated differently.
Q: Why do you describe the most harrowing moments so
A: I did not want to write an angry polemic. These
things speak for themselves. The details from the report, the medical
records of my uncle's death, I want the reader to come across those
and wonder how could someone have this information and make such disastrous
decisions for the life of an old man.
Q: Has your family had any redress?
A: None. The report from the inspector general of the
Department of Homeland Security concluded that nobody did anything wrong.
I guess this book is our only redress.
Anna Mundow is a correspondent for the Irish Times. She can be reached
via e-mail at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
I'm Dying' by Edwidge Danticat
writer's childhood memories form a loving tribute to her father and
9, 2007, LA
Brother, I'm Dying
Alfred A. Knopf: 272 pp., $23.95
THERE is no guarantee that a distinguished fiction writer will produce
a successful memoir. Yet Edwidge Danticat -- the author of three elegant
and complex novels, including "Breath, Eyes, Memory," and
the story collection "Krik? Krak!" brings the same lucid storytelling
to "Brother, I'm Dying."
On the same day in 2004 that Danticat joyfully discovered she was pregnant
with her first child, her father, a 69-year-old Brooklyn taxi driver,
was diagnosed with end-stage pulmonary fibrosis.
Months later, her uncle Joseph, a Baptist pastor who had raised Danticat
in Haiti during much of her childhood, was forced to flee the riot-torn
Port-au-Prince neighborhood in which he had lived for more than 50 years.
Age 81 and ailing, Joseph flew to America to stay with his brother's
family but was unjustly detained by the Department of Homeland Security
in Miami, where, under harsh conditions, he died in custody.
Revisiting this "wondrous and terrible" intersection of events,
and roaming backward through the history of her family and her native
country, Danticat struggles to fashion a cohesive narrative. Like a
burial, her account is a final, loving act on behalf of her father and
uncle. "I am writing this," she flatly states, "only
because they can't."
If rigor is elusive in such an intricate account -- one that expands
outward to include the history of U.S. involvement in Haiti since 1915;
violence and fear during the Duvalier reign and beyond; and post-Sept.
11 immigration policy -- emotional clarity is abundant.
It thrives, as it does in all of Danticat's work, in small, piercing
scenes. In 1973, her mother leaves Haiti to join her father in America,
leaving 4-year-old Edwidge and her younger brother to be raised by Joseph
and his wife. The airport goodbye is excruciating: "I wrapped my
arms around her stockinged legs to keep her feet from moving. She leaned
down and unballed my fists as Uncle Joseph tugged at the back of my
dress, grabbing both my hands, peeling me off her."
On the streets of Port-au-Prince, when she's 9, Danticat serves as her
uncle's interpreter after throat cancer and a laryngectomy render him
mute. She agonizes for him as neighbors gawk at his tracheotomy hole.
"[A]ll I could think to do was imagine a wall around him, a roaming
fortress that would follow him everywhere he went and shield him from
At age 12, Danticat and her brother reunite with their parents and two
U.S.-born younger siblings in Brooklyn. As she matures in America, she
retains her role as the family voice, telling its stories, interpreting
its dreams and nightmares as she had once spoken for her wordless uncle.
In the Miami mortuary where Joseph lies in November 2004, "exiled
finally in death," the funeral manager tries to persuade the pregnant
Danticat not to view the body. She disregards him, recognizing that
"the dead and the new life were already linked, through my blood,
through me." They're linked through her eloquence as well, for
as she says, citing a Haitian folk tale, "[I]t is not our way to
let our grief silence us."
Edwidge Danticat reads an excerpt from her new memoir 'Brother, I'm
Haitian Family, Linked by Love Must Learn to Live on Separate Shores
Danticat has written a moving tribute to her father and uncle, the two
men who raised her.
11, 2007, The
Christian Science Monitor
Novelist Edwidge Danticat grew up with two papas – her dad, Mira,
who left Haiti for America when she was 2, and her Uncle Joseph, a pastor
who raised Danticat and her younger brother, Bob, until they were able
to join their parents in New York when she was 12.
Almost two decades later, in 2004, Joseph was forced to flee Haiti after
gangs threatened to kill him. Despite the fact that he had a valid visa
and a passport, the United States government imprisoned the octogenarian,
who was dead within days. Earlier that year – on the same day
that she discovered that she was pregnant – Danticat found out
that Mira had been diagnosed with a fatal illness.
Now, Danticat has written a beautiful memoir to both her fathers. If
there's such a thing as a warmhearted tragedy, Brother, I'm Dying is
a stunning example. As she did in her powerful novels, such as 2004's
"The Dew Breaker," Danticat uses the personal to show the
impact of a whole country's legacy. But she does so in a way that avoids
rage or bitterness – an amazing feat since it's not possible to
even read about her uncle's treatment in US custody without a deep-burning
anger. But the main characteristics of the memoir are the generosity,
strength, and dignity of the two men, and the love Danticat has for
"Brother, I'm Dying" also encompasses the emotional lives
of both halves of a diaspora: those who leave and those who remain behind.
As a child, she cherished the rare links to her parents, who were only
able to make one trip to Haiti during the eight years between the time
her mother left to join her father and her own trip.
Before leaving, her mother sewed Danticat 10 dresses, most of them too
big, so that she could still dress her daughter after she was gone.
In her uncle and aunt's house, Danticat shared a room with their adopted
daughter, Marie Micheline, who would whisper to Danticat the story of
the butter cookies Mira would buy for his little girl on his way home.
As a toddler, Danticat didn't care for the cookies, but she would hoot
with laughter and feed them to her papa.
" 'He loved you so much,' [Marie Micheline] would say out loud
at the end of the story, 'he left you with us.' " Marcel Proust's
stale old madeleine doesn't have anything on Marie Micheline.
With no phone at home, letters were their primary connection. Every
other month, her father would mail a three-paragraph letter, carefully
avoiding any overly personal topics that might cause his children pain.
Her uncle created a ceremony to honor the importance of those paragraphs.
In college, Danticat writes, she found out her dad's letters were written
in a "diamond sequence, the Aristotelian 'Poetics' of correspondence."
Later, he said to her, "What I wanted to tell you and your brother
was too big for any piece of paper and a small envelope."
Words remained a powerful symbol between Danticat and her father, even
though, she writes, the two always carefully avoided any emotional conversations.
When she and Bob rejoined their parents in New York, her dad gave her
a Smith-Corona Corsair portable typewriter as a welcome-home present.
" 'This will help you measure your words,' he said, tapping the
keys with his fingers for emphasis." Her dad meant it literally
– both Danticat and her dad's cursive had a tendency to run downhill
– but the gift turned out to be a prescient one.
Danticat recalls her uncle with great affection. She writes about small
treats, such as a shopping trip where her uncle bought her a shaved
coconut ice and a secondhand book ("Madeleine"), as well as
the time Joseph risked his life to save Marie Micheline and her baby
from an abusive husband. Her uncle and aunt took a number of children
into their pink house in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince,
as well as running a church and a school.
Despite Mira's urgings to join him in America, Joseph refused to abandon
his church – even when an emergency surgery left him without a
voice with which to preach. Coups and the growing riots in his neighborhood
couldn't shake him. Then gangs burned the church down and began hunting
for Joseph. His escape from Port-au-Prince was worthy of Houdini, but
the miracle was short-lived.
After arriving in Miami and asking for asylum, the octogenarian was
sent to the Krome detention center, where his medication was taken away.
Perhaps to avoid charges of embellishment, or perhaps because it's just
too painful, Danticat keeps adjectives to a minimum and largely lets
the government's own documents tell of her uncle's final days.
Mira ended up outliving his brother long enough to hold Danticat's daughter,
whom she named for him. "I wish I could fully make sense of the
fact that they're now sharing a grave site and a tombstone in Queens,
N. Y., after living apart for more than 30 years," she writes at
the conclusion of her memoir.
"In any case, every now and then I try to imagine them on a walk
through the mountains of Beausèjour.... And in my imagining,
whenever they lose track of one another, one or the other calls out
in a voice that echoes throughout the hill, 'Kote w ye frè m?
Brother, where are you?'
"And the other one quickly answers, 'Nou la. Right here, brother.
I'm right here.' "
• Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.
Preview 2007 - Book
Danticat’s new book relates the lives—and deaths—of
her beloved father and uncle.
12, 2007, Time
Out New York
At a time when most American memoirs
practically groan under the weight of self-importance and bad-memory
baggage (check out Brock Clarke’s rant on page 32), Edwidge Danticat’s
Brother, I’m Dying provides a formidable example of an author
who knows how to write about her family without hogging the stage.
The writer refers to herself, sure,
but never at the expense of her true subjects: her father, Andre, who
emigrated from Haiti to Brooklyn in 1971; her uncle, Joseph, a preacher
who remained in Port-au-Prince; and the ways that their lives radically
differed until they converged in death.
“The idea wasn’t to talk about myself,” says the 38-year-old
author, best known for novels such as Breath, Eyes, Memory. “I
set off trying to write about these two men and the fact that for 30
years, they lived in different countries, had very different lives,
and all of a sudden, they’re both buried in Queens.”
Death hovers over chapter one, set in July 2004, when the author learns
that Andre is suffering from pulmonary fibrosis. From there, Brother
conjures up vibrant episodes in the Danticat family history in a tone
that’s both clear-eyed and mythical. One typical chapter tells
of Joseph’s throat-cancer diagnosis, and his trip to the U.S.
to undergo a laryngectomy. He returns to Haiti voiceless.
“There were many moments when I thought that my father’s
and my uncle’s lives were like folklore,” the author says.
“You know, going to the enchanted land and never coming back,
or coming back without the ability to speak.”
Interspersed with these stories of near wonder are scenes of political
turmoil in Haiti, which push the book toward its haunting moral core.
In October 2004, after gangs threaten to kill Joseph, the preacher flees
to Miami, where he’s detained by immigration officials. After
a series of seizurelike attacks that go untreated, he dies.
Danticat and her ailing father requested a report on what had happened.
“The first bunch of papers we got was 35 pages, with only two
you could read—everything else was blacked out,” she recalls.
“Eventually we got the rest.” With the help of these documents,
Danticat re-creates her uncle’s final hours in masterful detail.
“I wanted to lay out the facts, to tell a story and to let people
come to their own conclusions,” she says. But by the end, it’s
impossible not to feel outrage at the bureaucracies that denied Joseph
his humanity and his life.
Brother, I’m Dying (Knopf, $24) comes out Mon 10.
of Neocolonial Journalism on Haiti
“Be true to the highest within your soul and then allow yourself
to be governed by no customs or conventionalities or arbitrary man-made
rules that are not founded on principle.” Ralph
from the HLLN pamplet
"...HLLN dreams of a world based on principles, values, mutual
respect, equal application of laws, equitable
distribution, cooperation instead of competition and on peaceful
co-existence and acts on it. We put forth these ideas, on behalf of
voiceless Haitians, through a unique and unprecedented combination of
networking, sharing info on radio interviews, our Ezili Danto listserves
and by circulating our original
"Haitian Perspective" writings. We make presentations
at congressional briefings and at international events, such as An
Evening of Solidarity with Bolivarian Venezuela.
With the Ezili
Danto Witness Project, HLLN documents eyewitness testimonies
of the common men and women in Haiti suffering, under this US-installed
regime, the greatest forms of terror and exclusion since the days of
slavery; conducts learning forums on Haiti (The "To-Tell-The-Truth-About-Haiti"
Forums), and , in general, brings the
voices against occupation, endless poverty and exclusion
in Haiti directly to concerned peoples worldwide - people-to-people
and then to governments officials, international policymakers, human
rights organizations, journalists, the corporate and alternative media,
schools and universities, solidarity networks. We are often quoted in
major alternative and even the corporate papers and press influencing
the current thinking of readers today."
HLLN, November 9, 2005.
See, The Nescafé
machine, Common Sense, John Maxwell Sunday, November 06, 2005 , quoting
HLLN's chairperson, Marguerite Laurent, Esq.
Dantò's Note: Bwa Kayiman 2007 and the case of Lovinsky Pierre