Edwidge Danticat on Haitian Culture
[From Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2010, 5:00 PM ET]
Earthquake in Haiti:
A Reading (and Listening) List by Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant and an Oprah’s Book Club author, is one of Haiti’s most acclaimed writers. The Miami-based author of such works of fiction as “Krik? Krak!” and “Breath, Eyes, Memory,” as well as a mini-essay for Speakeasy, has spent the last few days on the phone trying to locate family members in her earthquake-ravaged country.
In this time of tragedy for Haiti, it’s worth noting that the country’s culture is far deeper than the bleak reports currently blanketing the news. Danticat’s writing has long sought to capture the joys and challenges of Haitian life. “Kirk? Krak!” offered up short stories about everyday Haitians, conjuring up the voices of prostitutes, plantation workers and refugees at sea. In her nonfiction book “After the Dance,” Danticat writes of being swept up in carnival festivities in Haiti: “In that brief space and time, the carnival offers all the paradoxical elements I am craving: anonymity, jubilant community, and belonging.”
Danticat took the time today to recommend some books and music that people who are interested in Haitian history and arts should seek out in order to place the current disaster in a broader context.
- “The Black Jacobins” by C.L.R. James: A groudbreaking account of the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 that examines that leadership of the rebel commander Toussaint L’Ouverture. Other slave uprisings in the Americas ended in defeat; James looks into why the slave rebellion in Haiti was victorious.
- “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” by Amy Wilentz: This nonfiction book documents the period between 1986-1989 when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was forced to flee the country and mass strikes, government-sponsored vigilante groups, and other kinds of chaos swept though the streets. The book, which blends current events with cultural history, seeks to detail the society beyond the headlines.
- “Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy” by Marie Vieux-Chauvet: This triptych of novellas, recently published in English with an introduction by Danticat, was initially suppressed when it was first released in French in 1968 during François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s Haitian reign of terror. The trilogy offers portraits of people struggling to survive dictatorship and oppression. “Hurricanes, earthquakes and drought, nothing spares us,” says the narrator of the first novella, titled “Love.”
- Boukman Eksperyans: A “mizik rasin” band from Port-au-Prince that combines elements of Haitian Vodou and folk music with rock and roll. First formed in 1987, its albums include “Vodou Adjae.” The group weaves themes of rebellion into its music, and its 1990 song “Kem Pa Sote” was banned on Haitian radio. You can see a video from the band here.
- Ram: Another mizik rasin group from Port-au-Prince. Formed in 1990, one of the band’s singles, “Fèy” was banned by the military because it was seen as an anthem of support for exiled Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. You can hear the song here.
(h/t to Lesley Ward)