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Voicing Haiti: Edwidge Danticat

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As we all shudder through news of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, pausing to send money though text messages on our cell phones to well-established NGOs such as the Red Cross or Partners in Health, we've also been hearing from the literary voices that for many of us first brought Haiti alive, including that of MacArthur "genius grant" winner Edwidge Danticat (who turned 40 last year). Danticat's work, most of which feels as if it's written in poetry, includes The Farming of Bones; Breath, Eyes, Memory; Krik? Krak; The Dewbreaker; and her family memoir Brother, I Am Dying. We thought of her as soon as news of the island's devastation came clear -- and so, as the Christian Science Monitor notes, so did everyone else:

Danticat still has family ties in Haiti and remains a powerful advocate for that country. Since Tuesday's earthquake she has given interviews from Miami to both The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio. She says she has been able to reach her mother-in-law by phone but adds that most of what seems to be coming out of Haiti right now are "layers of bad news." She refers to the earthquake as "an apocalypse for this small and often tried country."

The Wall Street Journal asked Danticat for a reading list, to put this week's news in a deeper context than the media or even her visionary work could provide:

The Black Jacobins, by C.L.R. James: a groudbreaking account of the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 that examines that leadership of the rebel commander Toussaint L'Ouverture. Other slave uprisings in the Americas ended in defeat; James looks into why the slave rebellion in Haiti was victorious.
The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier, by Amy Wilentz: This nonfiction book documents the period 1986-1989 when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was forced to flee the country and mass strikes, government-sponsored vigilante groups and other kinds of chaos swept though the streets. The book, which blends current events with cultural history, seeks to detail the society beyond the headlines.
Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet: This triptych of novellas, recently published in English with an introduction by Danticat, was initially suppressed when it was first released in French in 1968 during François "Papa Doc" Duvalier's Haitian reign of terror. The trilogy offers portraits of people struggling to survive dictatorship and oppression. "Hurricanes, earthquakes and drought, nothing spares us," says the narrator of the first novella, titled "Love."

And while most of Danticat's sentences count as poetry, two poems chosen, if not written, by her have special meaning today.

To read the rest, including video, click here.