Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Edwidge Danticat and Lucille Clifton's poem

Edwidge Danticat came to speak at Butler last night. Most of her remarks focused on the devastation wreaked on Haiti by the recent earthquake. She painted a picture of her homeland, a place always rich with stories and art, now forever divided into "before and after". She spoke of her cousin, Maxo, who died in the quake. She told of how Maxo and his father, her uncle, had tried to settle in the U.S. some time ago. Her uncle, who at the time was ill and vomiting, was accused by U.S. officials of faking infirmity. Maxo was sent back to Haiti, but her uncle died before he could return. She spoke of her hopes that the crowds of people who had moved from the Haitian countryside into the severely over-crowded city - because of unemployment that came as a consequence of large quantities of staples imported into her country - might now find a way to move back to the outlying areas and find work.
The few comments Danticat made about writing were fascinating. She told us how, ironically, Haiti has both a high illiteracy rate, and a disproportionately high number of writers. When it came time for questions from the audience, Danticat was asked why she doesn't write in one of the Haitian languages so that Haitians can read her books. She responded, alluding to her previous comment on illiteracy, by saying that because so many Haitians can't read in any language, most books are inaccessible to them, regardless of which language the author writes in.
In another remark, she made a surprising comment about her first, and perhaps most famous book, Breath, Eyes, Memory, (an Oprah book). She said she put into that book everything she knew, without editing the way she does now, because she didn't know if she would ever get the chance to write another book!
In tribute to the recently deceased poet Lucille Clifton, Danticat read three of her favorite Clifton poems. I'll show my ignorance: I don't understand or appreciate much poetry. This one stayed with me, though. I think you'll like it too.
won't you celebrate with me, from Book of Light, by Lucille Clifton
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed

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