Literary Lions: 15 Questions with Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat: Mr. Raymond Dusseck, my 7th grade teacher at IS 320 in Brooklyn. I was really shy and had recently arrived from Haiti, but he told me that, on paper at least, I had a way with words.
JT: What is your biggest pet peeve
ED: People who put others down.
JT: What’s your most effective tactic for getting your children to sleep?
ED: When they were babies, both my daughters liked to sleep in the crook of my back.
Sounds strange, I know, but my oldest crawled on my back when she was one, then her sister did the same thing when she began crawling. Then they got too heavy and I had to resort to pleading and threats because both my daughters are night owls like I am.
JT: What book has given you nightmares, or otherwise appeared to you in dreams?
ED: Madison Smartt Bell’s All Souls’ Rising. He describes slavery in Saint-Domingue (Haiti before independence in 1804) so very vividly and the way it actually was that imagining my ancestors being dipped in vats of oil while still alive gave me nightmares for weeks.
JT: What book(s) are you reading right now?
ED: Fred D’Aguiar’s Children of Paradise, an amazing novel about the Jonestown massacre, told in part from the point of view of a gorilla. I’m also reading Elsie Augustave’s The Roving Tree, about a Haitian adoptee’s struggle to adjust to life in the United States. (Both are not yet published.)
JT: What is the worst film adaptation of a great book that you have ever seen?
ED: I used to work in film, so I am a bit sympathetic to adaptations that don’t go well. I do remember one writer, when asked if a film ruined his book, saying, “Nothing has happened to my book—except maybe the film adaptation cover—my book is still the same book it always was.”
JT: Have you ever been to a town hall meeting?
ED: I have been to a couple of them on immigration.
JT: Have you ever been to a freak show?
ED: No, but I have sat through many things and thought, oh my God, what a freak show.
JT: Who’s your favorite author (or book) that no one’s ever heard of?
ED: People have heard of her but not enough for my taste: Marie Vieux Chauvet, author of Love, Anger, Madness.
JT: Who’s your favorite author that everyone’s heard of?
ED: Toni Morrison.
JT: Do you avoid high school and college reunions or do you embrace them?
ED: My high school has never had a reunion that I ever heard of. I used to think that they just happened on TV. I have been to many of my college reunions, but I have never dieted for them.
JT: What’s your favorite single syllable word?
JT: If you could make up a word, what would it be? No definitions permitted.
JT: What existing word would you prefer had a different definition? State word and redefine.
ED: War: Un-armed conflict.
JT: What question would you like to ask of me?
ED: To be or not to be? Is that really the question?
EDWIDGE DANTICAT was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the editor of Haiti Noir and the author of Breath, Eyes, Memory (an Oprah Book Club selection), Krik? Krak! (a National Book Award finalist), and the novel-in-stories The Dew Breaker. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a 2008 winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a 2009 recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant and lives in Miami.
Posted: Feb 13, 2013