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Edwidge Danticat: Reading full of tears

By Jacqueline Trescott

When a book makes you cry, that's one thing. When an author is reading an excerpt and audience members are dabbing their eyes, that's another thing. But when the author and the audience gets to sniffling, that probably means award-winning Edwidge Danticat is reading.

Edwidge Danticat in 2004. (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

The Haitian-born author stood at the podium at Politics and Prose Thursday night and talked about her new book of essays, "Create Dangerously." The book covers the lives and deaths of artists, who, like Danticat, have found inspiration and at times a personal toll in their immigrant experiences.

"These are people devoted to art despite difficult circumstances," she said. She discussed journalist and broadcaster Jean Dominique, who decried the poverty and dictatorships of Haiti, and was assassinated in 2000. Danticat talked about novelist Marie Vieux-Chauvet, whose work so enraged the Haitian leaders that she was 'warned her family would be wiped out,' said Danticat. Her family bought up all copies of "Love, Anger, Madness" in Haiti and Paris. The audience was shaking their heads at the bravery Danticat described.

Michael Richards, the sculptor, who was born in New York, raised in Jamaica and returned to New York, had a deep fear of airplanes. Yet Richards used the plane motif in his work. When Danticat talked about how he had died on 9/11 when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center, where he had a studio, the audience gasped.

Danticat, a MacArthur Fellow and best-selling author, has written bluntly and lovingly of Haiti in "The Farming of Bones" and "Breath, Eyes, Memory" and other works. She was thanked during the question period for her book about the earthquake. "Eight Days" is a fictionalized account of a 7-year-old trapped under crumbling buildings during last January's horrific earthquake. As Danticat explained the story, she said, "I can see this is one of the readings where we are going to cry so much."

"Create Dangerously," she added, also applies to her own writing and relationships with her family. "The immigrant artist like all other artists is a leech," said Danticat. Her relatives have protested about how they are depicted, objecting to the little things, like the conditions of their shoes. But she has some reprieve. It's usually "a year between a book is published in English and French. I cherish that year." And she smiled, and the audience joined in her humorous relief.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | October 22, 2010; 1:09 PM ET
Categories:  Books, Jacqueline Trescott  | Tags:  Haitian-American novelist, create dangerously, edwidge danticat  
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