Edwidge Danticat Bookends Living Writers Series


Author Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat visited Colgate on Thursday, November 29 as the final author of this semester’s Living Writers series. The established Haitian-American author discussed her 2013 novel “Claire of the Sea Light” with faculty and students in Love Auditorium.

Set in a pre-2008 earthquake Haiti, the book dips in and out of villagers’ lives in the fictional town of Ville Rose in chapters that read like short stories. The chapters are threaded together by the overarching story of Claire, whose father struggles to find an adoptive parent to secure her a successful future.

In describing the inspiration behind the book, Danticat cited a documentary that claimed Haitians lacked sentimentality toward their children, which allowed for easy separation in the adoption process. It was in a dream that Claire appeared to Danticat, motivating her to respond to such sentiments with a seaside novel saturated with humanity.

Throughout the book are gentle portrayals of Haitian characters that love, mourn and overflow with emotion. Danticat doesn’t hide from exploring the darker side of that emotion with examples of rape, gang violence and extreme revenge. In a true-to-life form, she captures people as complex and com- plicated individuals with universally shared experiences and feelings.

Danticat invited the audience to join her on the beach of Ville Rose as she read two excerpts from the book, centered around the wake of a lost fisherman taken to his grave by the sea.

“You’re gone. You’re gone. Back in God’s hands, and no one can pull you back. Not you. Not you, Claire. I hope you understand,” she recited her beautifully-crafted prose to the silenced audience.

Danticat also read from her 2017 book “The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story.” Part memoir and part reflection on the craft of writing, it focused on Danticat’s own struggle with the death of her mother. In it, she balanced the dismal and macabre reality with her mother’s own biting humor. Danticat ended the reading with “A New Sky,” a prayer reflecting ideas about motherhood, memories of the dead and reconnection with those we have lost.

Danticat answered questions from the audience after her readings. She explained her pro- cess translating Créole, her native language from Haiti, and its often humorous undertones. In the same vein, Danticat reminisced on her language acquisition when she first immigrated, learning English both from her brothers and Sesame Street.

Afterward, she signed books and joined faculty and select students at a dinner party to further discuss her work. As the last author of Living Writers, Danticat ended the series on a high note.

Attributed to the tireless efforts of Professor Jennifer Brice, the year has seen a successful lineup of memoirs, short stories and novels as well as the creative geniuses behind them. The campus cannot wait until the program restarts with a new batch of authors in the fall of 2019, under Brice’s direction once again.

Contact Andrew Kish at [email protected].