Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American novelist and short story writer born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 19, 1969. When she was 2 years old, her parents fled Haiti because of the oppressive political regime of François Duvalier, a dictator who was president of Haiti for 14 years. Danticat and her younger brother André were unable to escape with their parents and were raised by their aunt and uncle. Thus, from an early age, Danticat was made aware of how Haiti’s tumultuous political situation can impact personal narratives.
Eventually, Danticat and her brother were able to join their parents in Brooklyn when she was 12. They lived in a Haitian-American neighborhood where Danticat felt acutely her identity as an immigrant teenager. To cope with her disorientation, Danticat turned to literature. She had already begun writing in Haiti at age 9, using French and Haitian Creole to pen her stories. When she was 14 she published her first English story, “A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre”, in a citywide magazine written by teenagers. Following this first release, Danticat wrote another story about her immigration experience titled “A New World Full of Strangers.” She recalls that after writing this story she felt that her personal narrative was unfinished. This feeling of incompleteness was in part the motivation for Breathe, Eyes, Memory, her first novel.
Danticat enrolled at Barnard College in New York City, intent on studying medicine at the behest of her parents. Her love of literature won out, however, and she graduated with a degree in French Literature. She went on to earn a MFA from Brown University in 1993. Her thesis for the Master’s degree, titled “My turn in the fire—an abridged novel,” was published as Breathe, Eyes, Memory in 1994, to critical acclaim. Four years after publication, it was selected as an Oprah’s Book Club pick. Chronicling a girl’s journey from Haiti to the U.S., Breathe, Eyes, Memory is in part autobiographical and showcases many of the recurring themes of Danticat’s work, including diasporic politics, mother-daughter relationships, and gender-race identity.
Since Breathe, Eyes, Memory Danticat has continued to be a prolific writer in addition to teaching creative writing at New York University and Miami University. Writing both fiction and nonfiction, she still highlights the lives of Haitian people, focusing on political and societal injustice as well as interpersonal conflicts. Krik? Krak!, a collection of 10 short stories about women in Haiti, is one such work. Another notable work is Brother, I’m Dying, a memoir about the uncle who raised Danticat and her brother when they lived in Haiti. She also has a few non-prose projects, including collaborations with filmmakers Patricia Benoit and Jonathan Demme on documentaries about Haiti. In 2009, she narrated Poto Mitan: Haitian Women Pillars of the Global Economy, a documentary about five women from different generations and the role of globalization in their lives.
Danticat’s work has received numerous awards and accolades, including the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Langston Hughes Medal. She also holds honorary degrees from Smith College and Yale University. Perhaps most impressively, American author Paule Marshall has praised Danticat for giving “a silenced Haiti…its literary voice” back. Today, Danticat lives with her husband and two daughters in Miami.