Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

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Overview

"Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I've always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them."—Create Dangerously

In this deeply personal book, the celebrated Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat reflects on art and exile, examining what it means to be an immigrant artist from a country in crisis. Inspired by Albert ...

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Overview

"Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I've always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them."—Create Dangerously

In this deeply personal book, the celebrated Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat reflects on art and exile, examining what it means to be an immigrant artist from a country in crisis. Inspired by Albert Camus' lecture, "Create Dangerously," and combining memoir and essay, Danticat tells the stories of artists, including herself, who create despite, or because of, the horrors that drove them from their homelands and that continue to haunt them. Danticat eulogizes an aunt who guarded her family's homestead in the Haitian countryside, a cousin who died of AIDS while living in Miami as an undocumented alien, and a renowned Haitian radio journalist whose political assassination shocked the world. Danticat writes about the Haitian novelists she first read as a girl at the Brooklyn Public Library, a woman mutilated in a machete attack who became a public witness against torture, and the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and other artists of Haitian descent. Danticat also suggests that the aftermaths of natural disasters in Haiti and the United States reveal that the countries are not as different as many Americans might like to believe.

Create Dangerously is an eloquent and moving expression of Danticat's belief that immigrant artists are obliged to bear witness when their countries of origin are suffering from violence, oppression, poverty, and tragedy.

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Editorial Reviews

Amy Wilentz
A writer truly and meaningfully immersed in her work is like a paranoid person: every piece of experience seems to echo back to her the subject of her work. So it is with Danticat…[Her] tender new book about loss and the unquenchable passion for homeland makes us remember the powerful material from which most fiction is wrought: it comes from childhood, and place. No matter her geographic and temporal distance from these, Danticat writes about them with the immediacy of love.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
“In order to shield our shattered collective psyche from a long history of setbacks and disillusionment... we cultivate communal and historical amnesia...,” writes novelist Danticat in this lean collection of jaw-breaking horrors side by side with luminous insights. This volume, which grows out of the Toni Morrison lecture series at Princeton, is uneven and inorganic in patches. But in Danticat’s many remarkable stories and pensées from the gut, one locates the inimitable power of truth. Authorship becomes an act of subversion when one’s words might be read and acted on by someone risking his or her life if only to read them. Danticat reminds us that, in a cruel twist of fate, her native Haiti, earthquake-and-poverty-torn, gained independence, in a bloody slave uprising, not long after the U.S. did: our ties, usually unexamined, run painfully deep. Whether eulogizing her family, writing on leading journalist Jean Dominique’s assassination and exiled author Marie Vieux-Chauvet, or discussing “Madison Avenue Primitive” Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danticat documents what it means for an immigrant writer to create dangerously for immigrant readers who read dangerously, awakened and no longer participants in a culture of “historical amnesia.” (Oct.)
New York Times Book Review
Danticat is at her best when writing from inside Haiti. . . . As [her] recollections show, her singular achievement is not to have remade the actual Haiti, but to have recreated it. She has wound the fabric of Haitian life into her work and made it accessible to a wide audience of Americans and other outsiders. . . . Danticat's tender new book about loss and the unquenchable passion for homeland makes us remember the powerful material from which most fiction is wrought: it comes from childhood, and place. No matter her geographic and temporal distance from these, Danticat writes about them with the immediacy of love.
— Amy Wilentz
San Francisco Chronicle
Danticat is a marvelous writer, blending personal anecdotes, history and larger reflections without turning the immigrant writer into a victim, misunderstood by all.
— Sandip Roy
Boston Globe
[Edwidge Danticat's] mission as a writer has been to speak from the diaspora for Haiti's disfranchised and silenced. . . . That responsibility weighs heavily in these essays, which dwell on her personal sorrows as much as those of the Haitian masses. . . . Her unlettered Haitian relatives call her a jounalis, a journalist writing with a purpose. She doesn't let them down.
— Amanda Heller
Santa Fe New Mexican
Danticat's prose is spare and piercing; she doesn't waste words. Her ideas are never cloaked in layers of metaphor, yet every sentence has a lyrical, persuasive quality. . . . Within this stirring collection, one theme struck me more strongly than any other: for artists, the drive to create triumphs over everything else. Or it should. . . . Creating dangerously means telling the truth—working without or in spite of fear.
— Jennifer Levin
Miami Herald
Whether the topic is Haiti's war of independence, 9/11, the artist, musician and actor Jean-Michel Basquiat, the January earthquake and its aftermath, Danticat writes with a compassionate insight but without a trace of sentimentality. Her prose is energetic, her vision is clear, the tragedies seemingly speaking for themselves.
— Betsy Willeford
Color Online
Danticat's writing is inviting, beautiful and honest.
National
[Danticat] avoids grandiose claims about the insightfulness of the exile—while honouring the complexity of the immigrant artist's role, with its precariousness and its drive to make connections.
— Scott McLemee
Guardian
What is best in this collection are the vivid portraits of the author's childhood in Haiti (and then as a book-obsessed teenager visiting the library in Brooklyn), intermingled with return journeys to visit relatives, collect sacks of coffee and observe the nation changing. There are sharp thoughts on Basquiat, Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
— Steven Poole
Oregonian
Focused on her medium of 'word art,' though incorporating theater and visual arts, Danticat pieces together a multi-essay response to the creatives' lament . . . how do, why do and should we create, in this at-best messy and at-worst dangerous world?
— Kristin Theil
Canberra Times
Have you ever started reading a book which draws you in within the first few sentences and leaves you unable to put it down until the very last word and then, because it amazed and moved you more than anything you can remember, you immediately read it again? . . . Create Dangerously, is one of those books. . . . Danticat is that rare writer who can make you smile as your soul aches. Although Create Dangerously is not an easy book to read it is disturbing and particularly controversial in places it is, nonetheless, a consistently passionate, deeply thought-provoking and highly important book which should be read, reread and then passed on to new hands.
— Josh Rosner
Blogcritics.org
Danticat's voice offers a plaintive, entreating call for recognition of the suffering of so many in the world, and of their irrepressible desire to make life more meaningful by embracing art despite it all, no matter the cost.
— Kerri Shadid
Geoffrey Philp blog
Throughout Create Dangerously, Ms. Danticat catalogs through personal narratives many of the dilemmas that immigrant writers face: readers and critics who question the 'veracity' of the stories; the accompanying guilt from the accusation of being a 'parasite,' and my personal favorite, the 'intrusion' into the lives of family and friends.
Mascara Literary Review
Danticat's essays and her memoir are highly finessed and subtle. She breaches the vertiginous fault lines between the real and the surreal, between writing and archeiropoietos, between lòt bò dlo, and anba dlo. . . . [Create Dangerously] asks us to consider art and literature as vehicles for authenticity and self-expression, however dangerous that might be. This achievement is effortless and utterly compelling, with not one syllable or sentiment below guapa.
— Michelle Cahill
Women's Review of Books
That Danticat engages and re-engages [the] complicated, important, and perennial questions of living and creating is one of the many reasons to read this book.
— Danielle Georges
Barnes and Noble Review
Whether she is profiling a courageous Haitian photojournalist, writing about a visit to relatives in a rural village, or meditating on the career of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danticat is always also writing about her responsibilities as a part of what is called, in Creole, the dyaspora. . . . [T]houghtful, powerful.
— Adam Kirsch
New York Times Book Review - Amy Wilentz
Danticat is at her best when writing from inside Haiti. . . . As [her] recollections show, her singular achievement is not to have remade the actual Haiti, but to have recreated it. She has wound the fabric of Haitian life into her work and made it accessible to a wide audience of Americans and other outsiders. . . . Danticat's tender new book about loss and the unquenchable passion for homeland makes us remember the powerful material from which most fiction is wrought: it comes from childhood, and place. No matter her geographic and temporal distance from these, Danticat writes about them with the immediacy of love.
San Francisco Chronicle - Sandip Roy
Danticat is a marvelous writer, blending personal anecdotes, history and larger reflections without turning the immigrant writer into a victim, misunderstood by all.
Boston Globe - Amanda Heller
[Edwidge Danticat's] mission as a writer has been to speak from the diaspora for Haiti's disfranchised and silenced. . . . That responsibility weighs heavily in these essays, which dwell on her personal sorrows as much as those of the Haitian masses. . . . Her unlettered Haitian relatives call her a jounalis, a journalist writing with a purpose. She doesn't let them down.
Santa Fe New Mexican - Jennifer Levin
Danticat's prose is spare and piercing; she doesn't waste words. Her ideas are never cloaked in layers of metaphor, yet every sentence has a lyrical, persuasive quality. . . . Within this stirring collection, one theme struck me more strongly than any other: for artists, the drive to create triumphs over everything else. Or it should. . . . Creating dangerously means telling the truth—working without or in spite of fear.
Barnes and Noble Review - Adam Kirsch
Whether she is profiling a courageous Haitian photojournalist, writing about a visit to relatives in a rural village, or meditating on the career of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danticat is always also writing about her responsibilities as a part of what is called, in Creole, the dyaspora. . . . [T]houghtful, powerful.
Miami Herald - Betsy Willeford
Whether the topic is Haiti's war of independence, 9/11, the artist, musician and actor Jean-Michel Basquiat, the January earthquake and its aftermath, Danticat writes with a compassionate insight but without a trace of sentimentality. Her prose is energetic, her vision is clear, the tragedies seemingly speaking for themselves.
National - Scott McLemee
[Danticat] avoids grandiose claims about the insightfulness of the exile—while honouring the complexity of the immigrant artist's role, with its precariousness and its drive to make connections.
Guardian - Steven Poole
What is best in this collection are the vivid portraits of the author's childhood in Haiti (and then as a book-obsessed teenager visiting the library in Brooklyn), intermingled with return journeys to visit relatives, collect sacks of coffee and observe the nation changing. There are sharp thoughts on Basquiat, Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
Oregonian - Kristin Theil
Focused on her medium of 'word art,' though incorporating theater and visual arts, Danticat pieces together a multi-essay response to the creatives' lament . . . how do, why do and should we create, in this at-best messy and at-worst dangerous world?
Canberra Times - Josh Rosner
Have you ever started reading a book which draws you in within the first few sentences and leaves you unable to put it down until the very last word and then, because it amazed and moved you more than anything you can remember, you immediately read it again? . . . Create Dangerously, is one of those books. . . . Danticat is that rare writer who can make you smile as your soul aches. Although Create Dangerously is not an easy book to read it is disturbing and particularly controversial in places it is, nonetheless, a consistently passionate, deeply thought-provoking and highly important book which should be read, reread and then passed on to new hands.
Blogcritics.org - Kerri Shadid
Danticat's voice offers a plaintive, entreating call for recognition of the suffering of so many in the world, and of their irrepressible desire to make life more meaningful by embracing art despite it all, no matter the cost.
Mascara Literary Review - Michelle Cahill
Danticat's essays and her memoir are highly finessed and subtle. She breaches the vertiginous fault lines between the real and the surreal, between writing and archeiropoietos, between lòt bò dlo, and anba dlo. . . . [Create Dangerously] asks us to consider art and literature as vehicles for authenticity and self-expression, however dangerous that might be. This achievement is effortless and utterly compelling, with not one syllable or sentiment below guapa.
Women's Review of Books - Danielle Georges
That Danticat engages and re-engages [the] complicated, important, and perennial questions of living and creating is one of the many reasons to read this book.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2013 Association of Caribbean Writers Grand Prize for Literature

Winner of the 2011 Bocas Lit Fest OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in Nonfiction

Finalist for the 2010 Book of the Year Award in Biography and Autobiography, ForeWord Reviews

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice for 2010

One of Mosaic Magazine's Best Books for 2010

"Danticat is at her best when writing from inside Haiti. . . . As [her] recollections show, her singular achievement is not to have remade the actual Haiti, but to have recreated it. She has wound the fabric of Haitian life into her work and made it accessible to a wide audience of Americans and other outsiders. . . . Danticat's tender new book about loss and the unquenchable passion for homeland makes us remember the powerful material from which most fiction is wrought: it comes from childhood, and place. No matter her geographic and temporal distance from these, Danticat writes about them with the immediacy of love."—Amy Wilentz, New York Times Book Review

"A lean collection of jaw-breaking horrors side by side with luminous insights. . . . In Danticat's many remarkable stories and pensées from the gut, one locates the inimitable power of truth. Authorship becomes an act of subversion when one's words might be read and acted on by someone risking his or her life if only to read them."Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Danticat's writing is crisp and clear, reminiscent of what the very best essay writing once aspired to be. . . . Not just another writer's book about writing, this volume delves into the suffering that affects artists who suspend themselves from time and place to create. . . . Her book should be read by students, historians and lovers of well-crafted writing."—Nedra Crowe-Evers, Library Journal

"Danticat is a marvelous writer, blending personal anecdotes, history and larger reflections without turning the immigrant writer into a victim, misunderstood by all."—Sandip Roy, San Francisco Chronicle

"[Edwidge Danticat's] mission as a writer has been to speak from the diaspora for Haiti's disfranchised and silenced. . . . That responsibility weighs heavily in these essays, which dwell on her personal sorrows as much as those of the Haitian masses. . . . Her unlettered Haitian relatives call her a jounalis, a journalist writing with a purpose. She doesn't let them down."—Amanda Heller, Boston Globe

"Danticat's prose is spare and piercing; she doesn't waste words. Her ideas are never cloaked in layers of metaphor, yet every sentence has a lyrical, persuasive quality. . . . Within this stirring collection, one theme struck me more strongly than any other: for artists, the drive to create triumphs over everything else. Or it should. . . . Creating dangerously means telling the truth—working without or in spite of fear."—Jennifer Levin, Santa Fe New Mexican

"Whether she is profiling a courageous Haitian photojournalist, writing about a visit to relatives in a rural village, or meditating on the career of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danticat is always also writing about her responsibilities as a part of what is called, in Creole, the dyaspora. . . . [T]houghtful, powerful."—Adam Kirsch, Barnes and Noble Review

"Whether the topic is Haiti's war of independence, 9/11, the artist, musician and actor Jean-Michel Basquiat, the January earthquake and its aftermath, Danticat writes with a compassionate insight but without a trace of sentimentality. Her prose is energetic, her vision is clear, the tragedies seemingly speaking for themselves."—Betsy Willeford, Miami Herald

"Danticat's writing is inviting, beautiful and honest."Color Online

"[Danticat] avoids grandiose claims about the insightfulness of the exile—while honouring the complexity of the immigrant artist's role, with its precariousness and its drive to make connections."—Scott McLemee, National

"What is best in this collection are the vivid portraits of the author's childhood in Haiti (and then as a book-obsessed teenager visiting the library in Brooklyn), intermingled with return journeys to visit relatives, collect sacks of coffee and observe the nation changing. There are sharp thoughts on Basquiat, Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haitian earthquake."—Steven Poole, Guardian

"Focused on her medium of 'word art,' though incorporating theater and visual arts, Danticat pieces together a multi-essay response to the creatives' lament . . . how do, why do and should we create, in this at-best messy and at-worst dangerous world?"—Kristin Theil, Oregonian

"Have you ever started reading a book which draws you in within the first few sentences and leaves you unable to put it down until the very last word and then, because it amazed and moved you more than anything you can remember, you immediately read it again? . . . Create Dangerously, is one of those books. . . . Danticat is that rare writer who can make you smile as your soul aches. Although Create Dangerously is not an easy book to read it is disturbing and particularly controversial in places it is, nonetheless, a consistently passionate, deeply thought-provoking and highly important book which should be read, reread and then passed on to new hands."—Josh Rosner, Canberra Times

"Danticat's voice offers a plaintive, entreating call for recognition of the suffering of so many in the world, and of their irrepressible desire to make life more meaningful by embracing art despite it all, no matter the cost."—Kerri Shadid, Blogcritics.org

"Throughout Create Dangerously, Ms. Danticat catalogs through personal narratives many of the dilemmas that immigrant writers face: readers and critics who question the 'veracity' of the stories; the accompanying guilt from the accusation of being a 'parasite,' and my personal favorite, the 'intrusion' into the lives of family and friends."Geoffrey Philp blog

"Danticat's essays and her memoir are highly finessed and subtle. She breaches the vertiginous fault lines between the real and the surreal, between writing and archeiropoietos, between lòt bò dlo, and anba dlo. . . . [Create Dangerously] asks us to consider art and literature as vehicles for authenticity and self-expression, however dangerous that might be. This achievement is effortless and utterly compelling, with not one syllable or sentiment below guapa."—Michelle Cahill, Mascara Literary Review

"That Danticat engages and re-engages [the] complicated, important, and perennial questions of living and creating is one of the many reasons to read this book."—Danielle Georges, Women's Review of Books

Library Journal
The 12 essays here extend from lectures by Haitian American author Danticat (Brother, I'm Dying), presented at Princeton University, exploring a variety of aspects of Haitian life and culture, including under previous repressive regimes. The themes from essay to essay are somewhat disjointed, although more than one is about truth vanquishing tragedy: "Walk Straight" is a tribute to her beloved Tante Ilyana and a wonderful glimpse into authentic rural Haiti, "Welcoming Ghosts" relates the amazing life of voodoo artist Hector Hyppolite, and "Acheiropoietus" concerns the work of photographer Daniel Moral. Throughout, Danticat's writing is crisp and clear, reminiscent of what the very best essay writing once aspired to be. VERDICT Not just another writer's book about writing, this volume delves into the suffering that affects artists who suspend themselves from time and place to create. Ironically, the Haitian Danticat was initially an immigrant to the United States (at age 12), but her years spent away from Haiti have now made her an immigrant to Haiti. Thus, she is the bridge that suspends dangerously from shore to shore. Her book should be read by students, historians and lovers of well-crafted writing.—Nedra Crowe-Evers, Sonoma Cty. Lib., Santa Rosa, CA
The Barnes & Noble Review

When an earthquake destroyed the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince in January of this year, the celebrated Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat was safely at home in the United States. Specifically, she writes in the title essay of her new nonfiction collection, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, she was "at work" on her writing. Why those quotation marks, which are Danticat's own? They seem to convey a guilty sense that sitting at a desk and making up stories can't be considered real work, especially when her fellow Haitians are dying by the hundreds of thousands. "While we are at work bodies are littering the streets somewhere," she writes. "People are buried under rubble somewhere. Mass graves are being dug somewhere."

Of course, every writer could say the same -- there is always a disaster in progress somewhere in the world, and anyone who devotes her life to "writing, quietly, quietly," as Danticat does, must sometimes wonder about the coexistence of art and atrocity. But when you are an immigrant artist -- like Danticat, who was born in Port-au-Prince and came to the United States at the age of 12 -- you have a special kind of connection to the problems of your home country. And when that country is Haiti, the contrast between your own privilege and your relatives' and friends' poverty can sometimes become unbearable. "My stories do not hold a candle to having lived under a dictatorship for most of your adult life, to having your neighbors disappear and not be able even to acknowledge it," Danticat writes.

This contrast, and the strategies by which Danticat redeems it, are the true subject of the twelve short pieces in Create Dangerously. Whether she is profiling a courageous Haitian photojournalist, writing about a visit to relatives in a rural village, or meditating on the career of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danticat is always also writing about her responsibilities as a part of what is called, in Creole, the dyaspora. Basquiat, the 1980s art star, was born in New York to a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father: can he be considered a Haitian artist? Danticat quotes his demurral -- "I'm an artist who has been influenced by his New York environment" -- but she also compares him with the Haitian painter Hector Hyppolite, whose art teems with symbols drawn from Vodou. Somehow, she writes, "Haiti…was obviously both in Basquiat's consciousness and in his DNA."

In Danticat's own work, there is no doubt about Haiti's centrality: her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory is "the story of three generations of Haitian women." Yet when the book was selected for Oprah's Book Club and reached a huge audience, Danticat found that some Haitian Americans were offended by its portrayal of their culture -- especially the practice of "testing," in which a mother would manually confirm her daughter's virginity. "You dishonor us, making us sexual and psychological misfits," one woman wrote to Danticat; she overheard a man asking bitterly, "Why was she taught to read and write?" The best answer she can give is the phrase of Camus's that provides the title of this thoughtful, powerful book. "Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I've always thought it meant to be a writer."

--Adam Kirsch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307946430
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/20/2011
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 319,831
  • Product dimensions: 8.02 (w) x 5.22 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books, including Brother, I’m Dying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a National Book Award finalist; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; and The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize. She lives in Miami with her husband and two daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

On November 12, 1964, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a huge crowd gathered to witness an execution. The president of Haiti at that time was the dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who was seven years into what would be a fifteen-year term. On the day of the execution, he decreed that government offices be closed so that hundreds of state employees could be in the crowd. Schools were shut down and principals ordered to bring their students. Hundreds of people from outside the capital were bused in to watch.

Th e two men to be executed were Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin. Marcel Numa was a tall, dark-skinned twenty-one-year-old. He was from a family of coffee planters in a beautiful southern Haitian town called Jérémie, which is often dubbed the “city of poets.” Numa had studied engineering at the Bronx Merchant Academy in New York and had worked for an American shipping company.

Louis Drouin, nicknamed Milou, was a thirty-one-year-old light-skinned man who was also from Jérémie. He had served in the U.S. army—at Fort Knox, and then at Fort Dix in New Jersey—and had studied finance before working for French, Swiss, and American banks in New York. Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin had been childhood friends in Jérémie.

Th e men had remained friends when they’d both moved to New York in the 1950s, after François Duvalier came to power. There they had joined a group called Jeune Haiti, or Young Haiti, and were two of thirteen Haitians who left the United States for Haiti in 1964 to engage in a guerrilla war that they hoped would eventually topple the Duvalier dictatorship.

The men of Jeune Haiti spent three months fighting in the hills and mountains of southern Haiti and eventually most of them died in battle. Marcel Numa was captured by members of Duvalier’s army while he was shopping for food in an open market, dressed as a peasant. Louis Drouin was wounded in battle and asked his friends to leave him behind in the woods.

“According to our principles I should have committed suicide in that situation,” Drouin reportedly declared in a final statement at his secret military trial. “Chandler and Guerdès [two other Jeune Haiti members] were wounded . . . the first one asked . . . his best friend to finish him off; the second committed suicide after destroying a case of ammunition and all the documents. That did not affect me. I reacted only after the disappearance of Marcel Numa, who had been sent to look for food and for some means of escape by sea. We were very close and our parents were friends.”

After months of attempting to capture the men of Jeune Haiti and after imprisoning and murdering hundreds of their relatives, Papa Doc Duvalier wanted to make a spectacle of Numa and Drouin’s deaths.

So on November 12, 1964, two pine poles are erected outside the national cemetery. A captive audience is gathered. Radio, print, and television journalists are summoned. Numa and Drouin are dressed in what on old black-and-white film seems to be the clothes in which they’d been captured— khakis for Drouin and a modest white shirt and denim-looking pants for Numa. They are both marched from the edge of the crowd toward the poles. Their hands are tied behind their backs by two of Duvalier’s private henchmen, Tonton Macoutes in dark glasses and civilian dress. The Tonton Macoutes then tie the ropes around the men’s biceps to bind them to the poles and keep them upright.

Numa, the taller and thinner of the two, stands erect, in perfect profile, barely leaning against the square piece of wood behind him. Drouin, who wears brow-line eyeglasses, looks down into the film camera that is taping his final moments. Drouin looks as though he is fighting back tears as he stands there, strapped to the pole, slightly slanted. Drouin’s arms are shorter than Numa’s and the rope appears looser on Drouin. While Numa looks straight ahead, Drouin pushes his head back now and then to rest it on the pole.

Time is slightly compressed on the copy of the film I have and in some places the images skip. There is no sound. A large crowd stretches out far beyond the cement wall behind the bound Numa and Drouin. To the side is a balcony filled with schoolchildren. Some time elapses, it seems, as the schoolchildren and others mill around. The soldiers shift their guns from one hand to the other. Some audience members shield their faces from the sun by raising their hands to their foreheads. Some sit idly on a low stone wall.

A young white priest in a long robe walks out of the crowd with a prayer book in his hands. It seems that he is the person everyone has been waiting for. The priest says a few words to Drouin, who slides his body upward in a defiant pose. Drouin motions with his head toward his friend. The priest spends a little more time with Numa, who bobs his head as the priest speaks. If this is Numa’s extreme unction, it is an abridged version.

The priest then returns to Drouin and is joined there by a stout Macoute in plain clothes and by two uniformed policemen, who lean in to listen to what the priest is saying to Drouin. It is possible that they are all offering Drouin some type of eye or face cover that he’s refusing. Drouin shakes his head as if to say, let’s get it over with. No blinders or hoods are placed on either man.

The firing squad, seven helmeted men in khaki military uniforms, stretch out their hands on either side of their bodies. They touch each other’s shoulders to position and space themselves. The police and army move the crowd back, perhaps to keep them from being hit by ricocheted bullets. The members of the firing squad pick up their Springfield rifles, load their ammunition, and then place their weapons on their shoulders. Off screen someone probably shouts, “Fire!” and they do. Numa and Drouin’s heads slump sideways at the same time, showing that the shots have hit home.

When the men’s bodies slide down the poles, Numa’s arms end up slightly above his shoulders and Drouin’s below his. Their heads return to an upright position above their kneeling bodies, until a soldier in camouflage walks over and delivers the final coup de grace, after which their heads slump forward and their bodies slide further toward the bottom of the pole. Blood spills out of Numa’s mouth. Drouin’s glasses fall to the ground, pieces of blood and brain matter clouding the cracked lenses.

The next day, Le Matin, one of the country’s national newspapers, described the stunned-looking crowd as “feverish, communicating in a mutual patriotic exaltation to curse adventurism and brigandage.”

“The government pamphlets circulating in Port-au-Prince last week left little to the imagination,” reported the November 27, 1964, edition of the American newsweekly Time. “ ‘Dr. François Duvalier will fulfill his sacrosanct mission. He has crushed and will always crush the attempts of the opposition. Think well, renegades. Here is the fate awaiting you and your kind.’ ”

All artists, writers among them, have several stories—one might call them creation myths—that haunt and obsess them. This is one of mine. I don’t even remember when I first heard about it. I feel as though I have always known it, having filled in the curiosity-driven details through photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, books, and films as I have gotten older.

Like many a creation myth, aside from its heartrending clash of life and death, homeland and exile, the execution of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin involves a disobeyed directive from a higher authority and a brutal punishment as a result. If we think back to the biggest creation myth of all, the world’s very first people, Adam and Eve, disobeyed the superior being that fashioned them out of chaos, defying God’s order not to eat what must have been the world’s most desirable apple. Adam and Eve were then banished from Eden, resulting in everything from our having to punch a clock to spending many long, painful hours giving birth.

The order given to Adam and Eve was not to eat the apple. Their ultimate punishment was banishment, exile from paradise. We, the storytellers of the world, ought to be more grateful than most that banishment, rather than execution, was chosen for Adam and Eve, for had they been executed, there would never have been another story told, no stories to pass on.

In his play Caligula, Albert Camus, from whom I borrow part of the title of this essay, has Caligula, the third Roman emperor, declare that it doesn’t matter whether one is exiled or executed, but it is much more important that Caligula has the power to choose. Even before they were executed, Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin had already been exiled. As young men, they had fled Haiti with their parents when Papa Doc Duvalier had come to power in 1957 and had immediately targeted for arrest all his detractors and resistors in the city of poets and elsewhere.

Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin had made new lives for themselves, becoming productive young immigrants in the United States. In addition to his army and finance experience, Louis Drouin was said to have been a good writer and the communications director of Jeune Haiti. In the United States, he contributed to a Haitian political journal called Lambi. Marcel Numa was from a family of writers. One of his male relatives, Nono Numa, had adapted the seventeenth-century French playwright Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid, placing it in a Haitian setting. Many of the young men Numa and Drouin joined with to form Jeune Haiti had had fathers killed by Papa Doc Duvalier, and had returned, Le Cid and Hamlet-like, to revenge them.

Like most creation myths, this one too exists beyond the scope of my own life, yet it still feels present, even urgent. Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin were patriots who died so that other Haitians could live. They were also immigrants, like me. Yet, they had abandoned comfortable lives in the United States and sacrificed themselves for the homeland. One of the first things the despot Duvalier tried to take away from them was the mythic element of their stories. In the propaganda preceding their execution, he labeled them not Haitian, but foreign rebels, good-for-nothing blans.

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Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: Create Dangerously: Th e Immigrant Artist at Work 1
CHAPTER 2: Walk Straight 21
CHAPTER 3: I Am Not a Journalist 41
CHAPTER 4: Daughters of Memory 59
CHAPTER 5: I Speak Out 73
CHAPTER 6: The Other Side of the Water 87
CHAPTER 7: Bicentennial 97
CHAPTER 8: Another Country 107
CHAPTER 9: Flying Home 115
CHAPTER 10: Welcoming Ghosts 127
CHAPTER 11: Acheiropoietos 137
CHAPTER 12: Our Guernica 153
Acknowledgments 175
Notes 177
Index 183

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Reading Group Guide

1. The striking image on the cover of the book is by a Haitian artist, Pascale Monnin. It was commissioned by the New York Times for an Op-Art piece titled “Scenes From a Catastrophe.” Why do you think this image was selected for the cover of the book? Did your impression of the image change after reading Create Dangerously? More generally, how important is jacket art? Can you think of a particularly memorable book cover?

2. Why do you think that the author chooses to begin a work that is at least in part a memoir with a scene that took place before her birth? What might she be trying to say about the inheritability of experience and cultural memory? Where would your life story start if you wrote a memoir?

3. On page 10, Danticat writes “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. … No matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” What is she saying about her own role as an author? Or our roles as her readers? Can you think of any books that would be worth risking your life to read?

4. On page 15, Danticat significantly quotes a passage from her friend Dany Laferrière’s book I Am a Japanese Writer: “I am surprised to see how much attention is paid to a writer’s origins.” Before or while reading a book, do you look up the author to find out more about him or her? What is gained or lost in knowing more about the author? After reading a book, do you often feel as if you know the author? After reading Create Dangerously, do you feel like you know Danticat?

5. When Danticat tells her Tante Ilyana that she would like to be buried in Haiti (page 31), her aunt replies, “You should be buried where you die.” Do you think Tante Ilyana dismisses Danticat’s desire to be buried in Haiti? Do you agree or disagree with Tante Ilyana? Is it possible to return “home” after leaving?

6. On page 64, Danticat’s friend Michèle tells her about the difficulty of being a journalist in Haiti: “Rather than reporting the story, we became part of the story.” But later she says that “I am a journalist. I cannot deal in rumors. I am looking for facts, for proof.” Can a journalist truly be objective in an environment where other journalists (including Michèle’s husband) are assassinated for their work? How does this relate to Danticat’s own struggle with depicting Haiti in her nonfiction writing? Is she a journalist?

7. After Danticat follows her cousin Marius’s body back to Haiti, her Tante Zi asks her to not write about what happened to Marius (pages 94-95). She tells her aunt that she cannot make that promise, but will not use their real names. Do you think Danticat was right to share this story about her family, even though it went against her aunt’s wishes? Is part of “creating dangerously” being willing to hurt the ones you love for a greater good?

8. Danticat frequently talks about living between worlds (see especially her recalled discussion with Jean Dominique on pages 49-51). Are there other immigrant writers whose work you enjoy and who express similar concerns?

9. After the earthquake, Danticat is called upon to speak and write about Haiti. On page 159, she writes of this experience, “maybe that was my purpose, then, as an immigrant and a writer—to be an echo chamber, gathering and then replaying voices from both the distant and the local devastation.” How does this differ from the role of news media who report on the aftermath of a catastrophe like the earthquake? Is it important to have immigrant artists tell the story, too?

10. In Chapter 5, Danticat tells the story of Alérte Bèlance, a woman who survived horrendous torture at the hands of two paramilitary men. On page 81, Alérte says that she, “healed, so I can tell my story, so people can know what happened to me.” Alérte’s story stands out because it is very violent and because Alérte is not an artist like Danticat or Dany Lafferière. Why do you think Danticat included Alérte’s story in this book about “the immigrant artist at work”?

11. On page 69, Danticat writes that when Marie Veux-Chauvet is faced with the possibility that publishing her book might bring harm to her family, “exile became Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s only choice.” Do you agree with Danticat that exile is Marie’s only choice? Would you have made the same decision?

12. Danticat writes on page 112 that “one of the advantages of being an immigrant is that two very different countries are forced to merge within you.” She continues to say, “so too with catastrophes and disasters, which inevitably force you to rethink facile allegiances.” Are national identity and patriotism "facile allegiances"? Can you think of examples from your lifetime where “facile allegiances” were cast aside?

13. The book starts with the deaths of two young men, and there is a lot of death and violence throughout the book—but there are also glimmers of hope. Danticat writes frequently about the resilience of Haiti and the Haitian people. Can you think of examples from the book that demonstrate this resilience?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    Luna to boy

    Can you be dom to me. Make me your little girl

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    Maya

    'Waters' res one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    Boy to Luna

    Look at 'luna' res 1

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2013

    Great writer, amazing read.

    Danticat brings the tragedy and beauty of Haiti together in the same bright spotlight.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2011

    creer dangereusemt

    liked it

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  • Posted November 30, 2010

    I am moved.

    Whenever I read Ms. Danticat's work, I feel that I should have been a writer and she is telling my stories. Her writing is like her personality; simple, down to earth, comfortable and complex all at once.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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