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By Renia White
University News Service
Office of University Communications
March 7, 2013      

Edwidge Danticat Challenges Audience to Tell their Own Stories

Novelist Edwidge Danticat speaks at Burch Lecture on Feb. 28. Credit: Justin Knight, Office of University Communications

WASHINGTON – Edwidge Danticat, the well-known Haitian-American author and editor, spoke about the necessity of bearing witness and sharing stories as the featured presenter at the 61st annual Charles Eaton Burch Lecture on Feb. 28.

The lecture, which took place in the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, is named after Burch who was a scholar on 18th Century British Literature in the Howard University Department of English from 1921 to 1948. The lecture was titled “Our Story, Ourselves.”

In the lecture, Danticat challenged the audience to remember that “no story is ours alone.” In the spirit of sharing stories, her remarks included connections to works such as Alice Walker’s essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

Danticat moved from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to Brooklyn at age 12. Her novels Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak! regularly appear at Howard and abroad on university course syllabi. She has won many literary awards and was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 2009.

The author’s work is noted for its lyrical style and the way she elegantly tackles the heart-wrenching realities of Haitian life, immigrant life, and the intersection of Haitian and American cultures. Her most recent work is Create Dangerously, which was published in 2011. Her next book, Claire of the Sea Light, is slated for an August 2013 release

Danticat, during the lecture, told a personal story of a recent flight she took on an airplane that was struck by lightning mid-trip. She described the “flashing forward” that she experienced (rather than flashing back) as she considered what she would miss in the lives of her children if she had died on the plane. She recalled the pilot’s assurance to passengers that everything would be fine and that the plane “was built for this.”

Danticat turned to the audience and asked, “What are you built for?” Then, she answered the question for herself, “I am built to tell stories, but also to take them in.”

Following her lecture, Danticat took questions from the audience. Naomie Jean-Pierre, a senior in English, had a question inspired by a story written by Danticat entitled “A Wall of Fire Rising.” Jean-Pierre wanted to know the consequences one might encounter by choosing to be a revolutionary artist.

Danticat responded that there are still places in the world where artists are killed or jailed for their art and that such risk inspired the weight of the work that they do. She challenged Jean-Pierre to understand the necessity of her own story.

“You, as a woman artist, are the manifestation of somebody’s dreams,” Danticat said. “Somebody died in shackles dreaming of the reality you live.”

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