Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

In the first pages of Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, Edwidge Danticat opens with a descriptive recounting of the execution of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin.  Though these two men, members of a guerrilla army fighting against then-president Papa Doc Duvalier, were executed before Danticat’s birth, she considers their story one of her “creation myths” – a story that haunts her, that she obsesses over.  Since her memory cannot take her back to 11/12/64 – the date of the execution, she has filled in the details of their story with photographs, books, films, etc.

Like her character, Yannick, in Stones in the Sun, Danticat has committed herself to being a witness to Haitian history.

In reading that first essay, from which the book takes its title, and the ten essays that follow, I began to piece together ideas that had been circulating in my mind: Kalamu’s essay on the value of being immersed in an era/culture; the sincerity and necessity of art as activism; and the types of commitment and sacrifice that artists are required to make.

In the essay entitled Walk Straight, I see the origins of Night Talkers (a short story from Danticat’s The Dew Breaker).  The essay starts as Danticat is traveling through the mountains of Léogâne to visit an elderly and fiercely independent aunt (who talks in her sleep).  One of the most personal of all the essays, Danticat shares that it was during this visit to her aunt that she wrote the addendum to Breath, Eyes, Memory — a letter to Sophie, the novel’s main character:

I have always taken for granted that this story, which is yours and only yours, would always be read as such.  But some of the voices that come back to me, to you, to these hills respond with a different kind of understanding than I had hoped.  And so I write this to you now, Sophie, as I write it to myself, praying that the singularity of your experience be allowed to exist, along with your own peculiarities, inconsistencies, your own voice.

In my notes, I jotted down that Edwidge is my sister-aunt, because after being a fan of her work for half of a decade, this is the first time I’ve truly seen her and empathize with her.  In discussing some of the backlash she’s received from within Haitian communities, I see more than an award-winning writer that I look up to; I see a woman who struggles with the responsibilities of her writing gift and with her Dyaspora1 duality.

The honesty that exists in this more personal essay pervades the entire collection.  In a most truthful way, Danticat shows the complexities of herself, her family and her mother country in each essay of the collection.  There are no overly romanticized reflections nor are any of the recounted stories littered with bitterness.  Through essays on political violence, family, art, and natural disasters, Danticat’s eloquence permeates.

Read the first chapter here.

1Dyaspora is a term used to describe Haitians living outside of Haiti; it sometimes has a derogatory connotation like Akata.

Purchase the book here:
IndieBound
Powell’s
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Web Finds: Half of a Yellow Sun, Speculative fiction, African activism & More

Film
Principal photography for Half of a Yellow Sun has begun!

The trailer for La Haine looks interesting, but from that alone, I can’t see a rip-off of Do the Right Thing… adding it to my to-view list.

Literary
Much gratitude to Nnedi Okorafor for sharing my post on Akata Witch, it brought a lot of traffic to my site and introduced me to other bloggers and writers.  I’ve been taking my time checking out P. Djèlí Clark’s blog.  There’s a lot of good stuff for sci-fi/fantasy fans and for writers of all genres.

From a Fall 2007 issue of Bomb Magazine, Edwidge Danticat interviews Juno Diaz

Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See.  I’m not a regular reader of the New Yorker, but I found these covers to be quite provoking, especially this cover inspired by the assault of Abner Louima.

Other
I’m in the midst of reading about recent Ghanaian history (1960s-current) so I was ecstatic to see The African Studies Library post a link to the African Activist Archive!

I enjoyed this video from The Love Project:

Web Finds: Sundance 2013, Writer’s Block, Chale Wote & More

Film
Want a chance to attend Sundance 2013? Consider volunteering with AFFRM.

Pariah is out on DVD!

Middle of Nowhere, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and Beasts of the Southern Wild will be screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival.  Full schedule will be available here on May 1.

I’ve been coming across a lot of full-length films that are free on YouTube. Planning to watch The Brother From Another Planet soon.

Chinonye Chukwu, director of Alaskaland, opens up about rejection in a personal blog:

Shame, for me, is about the illusion of public failure; it’s about the embarrassment of not reaching expectations I’ve created for myself and that I think others have of me as well. But the thing about shame, as Ms. Brown said in her talk, is that the public failure and critique that we are so ashamed of and embarrassed by is usually self conceived…

I’m not going to shy away or try to suppress my feelings of shame or embarrassment; rather I’m going to confront it head-on, allow myself to feel it, but still keep moving forward. It’s not about being tough all the time or being impervious to insecurity and self-doubt; but it’s about what you do in the midst of those feelings, at some point in time.

Literary
Did you miss Women Writers on the Horizon with Alice Walker, Sonia Sanchez, and Ruby Dee? Here’s the video.

Nnedi Okorafor was interviewed by The Africa Channel, part 1 and part 2 of the interview are on YouTube.

The Oberlin Review interviews Edwidge Danticat.  She reiterates some of what she said at Artist at Work and adds a few gems.

Other
A visual recap of Accra’s Chale Wote Festival.

The song and the story of him writing this song is inspiration for anyone:

Event Recap: Artists at Work: An Afternoon with Edwidge Danticat

Last weekend, Philadelphia’s Art Sanctuary hosted Artists at Work: An Afternoon with Edwidge Danticat. The event featured a panel discussion moderated by April Silver with panelists: spoken word artist Michelle Myers, visual artist James E. Claibrone Jr., bassist Jonathan Michel, and writer Edwidge Danticat.

A few insights I gained from the panel:

On speaking for/with a community:

I see myself as speaking as part of a chorus — the more voices that join, the more enlightened we are… saying that I am the voice of a non-monolithic, complex people silences other people’s voices. – Edwidge

Join the chorus. Don’t allow anyone to silence your voice and don’t attempt to silence anyone else’s voice.

When people lay claim, they sometimes want to dictate what I write about… – Michelle

I get excited when someone is able to put my thoughts into words but then sometimes I have expectations for them to continue to do this. It’s an unfair burden for artists.

We internalize negative images of ourselves [from popular media] and then celebrate it… [We need] to invest in and create righteous art/images – James

*a lightbulb moment for me*. When James made this comment I realized that countering negative stereotypes is not just about being accepted by the “other” but also about not internalizing negativity.

Advice to “aspiring” artists on the importance of study and discipline:

Study is paradigm to what we do…discipline comes from the love of what we do… Learn from the elders; we are not innovators, we are continuing the tradition – Jonathan Michel

I love Jonathan for this comment because it made me realize that my writing is bigger than me. Writing is something that comes naturally to me and I indulge in it as a form of therapy. But if I’m going to acknowledge writing as my calling then I need to recognize the duty that comes with it. *a true lesson in humility*

As a follow-up to Jonathan’s comment on learning from the elders: Study their grace, not just their work, but the way their personhood embodies their work. – Edwidge

This was an important message for me to hear. Though my name means grace I’ve let my ego and my insecurities create a version of myself that is anything but graceful and disconnected form my work.

*
This was originally posted on The G is for Grace