Women and Adversity: Edwidge Danticat Prize-winning Author
Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and came to the U.S. when she was twelve. She has written across many genres and has won several awards. Oprah chose Breath, Eyes, Memory as a selection for her Book Club, and most recently Everything Inside: Stories received National Book Critics Circle Award among others.
JAM: What was the biggest obstacle you faced when you were writing Breath, Eyes, Memory?
ED: I started writing Breath, Eyes, Memory when I was in my teens. I learned English at age 12, so writing in English was relatively new to me. I’d read a lot of novels both in French and in English, but I had no idea how to write a novel. That was my biggest obstacle.
I had been told stories all my life, so I knew how a story was told. I just followed that instinct and kept writing. Writing Breath, Eyes, Memory taught me how to write a long form narrative. I often compared that experience to having a first child. That child makes you a parent and teaches you how to be one. So it was for me with Breath, Eyes, Memory.
JAM: Was it difficult finding an agent?
ED: I sold Breath, Eyes, Memory without an agent. I submitted the manuscript to two publishers unsolicited. The first one wrote me a very long and thoughtful rejection letter. Laura Hruska, my first editor at Soho Press, accepted the manuscript from the slush pile. I then met my agent Nicole Aragi, and she began representing me even before Breath, Eyes, Memory was published.
JAM: Did new or unique obstacles arise as you wrote each of your books?
ED: It’s always hard starting over with a new book. Each book comes with its own set of challenges. Over time, I’ve learned to be more patient with myself, to let the book breathe and take its time. I’m no longer in as much of a rush as I was when I was younger.
JAM: What obstacles do you face now as a writer?
ED: This is not a complaint, but a reality. Time. I never have enough uninterrupted time. I am not able to just sit down and write nonstop anymore. At times those breaks do end up benefiting the writing, or at least I hope they do.
I end up doing a lot of my work at night, which my body has a harder time with these days. I have to say no a lot more, which a lot of people don’t take kindly. They might think you’re being a diva when really the choice is between chaperoning a school trip or taking an elderly relative to the doctor or even getting a decent night’s sleep. I am always grateful when women who are writers and mothers talk about those challenges. Toni Morrison used to. That’s one of the many ways she modeled her love for us.
The older you get, the more you start losing fiends your age to illness, both sudden and prolonged, and the more you realize that your time on this earth is limited, so you had better do with it what means something to you, be it your work, spending time with family or serving the world in some way. Or all of the above.
I am blessed to be doing what I love, which is to write. It is a joy and a privilege that I get to share my work with readers. If that’s what you also want to do, just do it. Just write. Don’t wait for the right moment or for permission. Just write. The act of writing itself helps you to become a better writer.