How I write: Edwidge Danticat
Published: October 29, 2004
|Edwidge Danticat's prose has a rhythmic, lilting quality that is almost soothing, which makes her material all the more compelling. Don't mistake her for a gentle writer. In her 2004 novel The Dew Breaker, a loving husband and father is also a man who once tortured prisoners for a living. With a clear eye, she examines moral choices, redemption and complicity in a way that leaves you thinking about the book days after you've read it. |
The Haitian-born 35-year-old author, who came to America when she was 12 and had her first article published two years later, often draws on the lives of immigrants, but her themes are universal. She received a degree in French literature from Barnard College and an MFA from Brown University.
Credits include: The novels Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994) and The Farming of Bones (1999, American Book Award winner), and the story collection Krik? Krak (1996, National Book Award finalist).
I had the good fortune of growing up in a family that was full of storytellers--not people who were necessarily readers, but they loved to tell stories. When I was given a book and started reading, I realized there was this other way of telling stories. I was too shy to tell stories with my voice, but realized I could tell stories in this other way. I truly love writing. I'm really unhappy when I don't write. There's no better way to spend a day. There are these blissful moments when you start writing and it's light outside; then you look out and it's dark, and you were just lost in this other place. Think of all the characters of literature just populating this other world. I love that.
I find that it's easier to write at night. That comes from the habit of living in a small apartment with my parents and my three brothers and, in the very beginning, writing when people were asleep. When I'm in the middle of something, I pretty much write every breathing hour that I'm not sleeping. I find it hard to stop to do other things. I can't say, like Hemingway, that I would stop in the middle. I stop when I have nothing else or something stops me. I always feel that if I don't do it, it may not come tomorrow, and I can't wait.
When I'm stuck I just put things away, and I read other books. I go to movies. I find the movies very helpful because you really get a sense in a short period of time of another way a story is told. I'll go and watch two or three movies. It's such a small capsule of experience. If you're really paying attention you can see how the story is built, how it develops, and you can learn some techniques. I'll also read books that have similar dilemmas to mine. For example, when I was writing The Farming of Bones, I was stuck on the issue of time. I had this woman in 1937, and I wanted her to be in 1961. How do I do this? A book that was very helpful to me was Toni Morrison's Sula. Time is handled so beautifully in that book. I know there are people who can't read while they are writing. But I find it very helpful, especially if I'm dealing with a specific concern.
It's important to read, because you're exposing yourself to the many ways that a story can be told. Read broadly, read what interests you, but read also to learn different things from different writers, different methods. The other thing is to observe, to be a person on whom nothing is lost (I don't remember who said that). When I teach, I make my students go out and go somewhere and take notes. And to actually write. It doesn't get easier the more you do it, but it seems more possible the more you do it.
--Posted Oct. 29, 2004