Afro-Latin@ Writers and Scholars: Edwidge Danticat

[by Creighton N. Brown]

Editor’s Note: In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), the HBW Blog will be featuring short weekly posts on Afro-Latin@ writers and scholars.  Today, guest blogger Creighton N. Brown highlights Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.

A few months ago, Americas Quarterly published “The Dominican Republic and Haiti: A Shared View from the Diaspora,” a conversation between Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat in which the two writers respond to the groundbreaking ruling by the Dominican Constitutional Court that revoked the citizenship of Haitian labors living and working in the Dominican Republic. The discussion between Díaz and Danticat examines the tensions, trauma, and entangled histories of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Of particular interest in their dialogue are the issues of race, class, gender, and borders. These are not unfamiliar themes in the work of both Díaz and Danticat.

However, unlike Díaz, Danticat devotes significant exploration of the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in her texts. For example, in The Farming of Bones (1998), Danticat plunges readers into the lives of Haitians living and working in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. The Parsley Massacre is at the center of both the novel and shared Haitian-Dominican history. In order to distinguish between desired Dominicans and undesirable Haitians, laborers were asked to correctly pronounce the Spanish word for parsley (perejil) with its rolled r, which resulted in savage killings of creole-speaking Haitians in 1937.

Danticat’s work is not just confined to the island of Hispaniola and to issues of linguistic genocide.  She also investigates what it means to be a black body moving across borders into different national spaces. In Brother, I’m Dying (2007), for example, Danticat details the year in which she is pregnant with and gives birth to her daughter, her father succumbs to pulmonary disease, and her Uncle Joseph dies in United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Readers learn that Uncle Joseph’s black skin and inability to effectively communicate with ICE officials leads to his detention and, ultimately, his death—in a way that uncannily recapitulates Danticat’s earlier novel The Farming of Bones: instead of blood-stained machetes meting out linguistic sentences, readers witness a speechless death by bureaucratic procedure.

Through her thoughtful deliberations on race, gender, class, and borders, Danticat has established herself as one of the finest and most socially engaged Afro-Latina writers working today.

Danticat on the HBW Blog 

Rita Dove, Edwidge Danticat, and the New York Times
Dr. Jerry Ward on Edwidge Danticat
95 Dates of Importance in African American Novel History