Reborn In the USA
Job: Author of Breath, Eyes and Memory; Krik? Krak!; and other award-winning fiction
Born: Haiti, 1969
Arrived in America: 1981
Edwidge Danticat leans on the speaker's podium in the Coop in Harvard Square, arms crossed in front of her chest. Dressed in black, her tiny braids pulled back into two ponytails, the 33-year-old is regarded as one of this country's most talented young writers. Today she's been invited to read by the Boston Humanities Consortium, and the audience listens intently to her essay about a fire that killed two little boys in her Brooklyn apartment building many years ago. Like her writing, Danticat's speech is unadorned and lyrical, tinged not so much with an accent as with a lilt—a pleasing hint of her faraway beginnings.
Born in 1969 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Danticat was 2 years old when her father left the family and moved to New York for a better life. Luckily, she was too young to remember. When her mother joined him two years later, however, Danticat took in every wrenching detail—the silent ride to the airport and the sudden realization that she wasn't going with her. Danticat went to live with her aunt and uncle.
Nevertheless, on March 21, 1981, 12-year-old Danticat donned the yellow dress her mother had sent especially for the trip and boarded a plane. She had no idea the flight was only four hours, because New York had always seemed a million miles away. "I had a sense that America was this cold place where people worked really hard and that families went there to have something better for their children," she says.
Once in the United States, Danticat found herself suspended between two worlds. She was a quiet Creole-speaking girl in a raucous English-speaking country, and her parents labored long hours at menial jobs. There was a lot of resentment toward Haitian "boat people" at the time, and she was taunted at school, which pushed the already shy girl even deeper into herself. The ridicule, however, drove her to excel.