Edwidge Danticat Speaks to South’s Writers

By: Hayden Cordova | Lifestyle Editor

On Jan. 30, novelist Edwidge Danticat visited South as the keynote speaker for the Stokes Center for Creative Writing’s visiting authors program.  Prior to providing a free public reading of excerpts from her works in the Student Center Ballroom, Danticat also led a creative writing workshop with South students discussing and critiquing graduate student Amy Patterson’s piece of short fiction.

Specializing in novels and short fiction, Haitian native Danticat has been nominated for and won numerous awards for her writings, including her autobiographical memoir and National Book Award winner Brother, I’m Dying, and short fiction collection “The Dew Breaker,” PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the Story Prize to name a few.  With the August 2019 release of her most recent collection of short stories, National Book Critic Circle Award nominee Everything Inside, Danticat had fresh material for students to read in preparation for her arrival, particularly Assistant Professor Nathan Poole’s Fiction Writing class, which hosted and provided feedback in Danticat’s workshop of Patterson’s writing.

“All of our visiting writers spend time in the classroom with students,” Poole said when asked how such a workshop came about. “That’s something that’s really important to the Stokes program is making sure our students get one on one time with our visiting writers. Amy’s a grad student that volunteered to be a part of the Refugee Memoir Project, which happened in conjunction with Danticat’s visit. She was a natural candidate to ask if she would be willing to be sort of a guinea pig and let us talk about her work in front of this prestigious writer, which is obviously a really scary and vulnerable thing to do.”

Patterson herself agreed with Poole’s sentiment when asked if she was nervous during Danticat and the class’s input.

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“Absolutely!” expressed Patterson with a chuckle.  “But I also felt very honored to have her take the time to look at my work and share her thoughts with me and the class, I thought that was so helpful for me and hopefully for others as well.  It’s been wonderful for me and fellow students just to get a sense of what it’s like to be out and be a writer and to feel connected to that community. Having writers to come see us here I think is an amazing opportunity.”

Danticat’s writing is often informed by her life story as immigrating as a child to America from Haiti and explores such topics as diaspora politics and national identity, and touched on such topics in her reading at the Student Center Ballroom afterward, which saw a new record in attendance to the Stokes presentation.  Reading selections from Brother, I’m Dying, Krik? Krak! and others with a question and answer session with the crowd, the event was followed by an open reception, a free buffet, and book signing opportunities with Danticat.

Poole elaborated on the presentation’s success, as well as what it is about Danticat’s writing that resonates with him and others.

“I was thrilled with the turnout,” said Poole.  “I think we had about 300 people for the reading.  It’s definitely been one of our biggest readings so far.  I’ve been a fan of Edwidge Danticat for about 10 years now.  She’s a writer with tremendous restraint, and I always admire that.  Especially in the context of the subjects [she covers.] Diaspora, women, motherhood, immigration; there’s lots of room for her to create dramas that will lead the witness, and she doesn’t try to do that all.  She really renders experiences that are human, that are full of the small proverbial everyday experiences, and that really helps us as readers to not only to sympathize and have empathy for them but to also understand them in their fullness or their complexity.  It’s not just a headline, her subjects aren’t just victims: they’re people.”