It’s fitting that Edwidge Danticat’s “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” is this year’s “One Book, One Philadelphia” selection. Growing up in Haiti, Danticat is familiar with reading and discussing a single book as a community.
“In Haiti, a book was very much a treasured object, even comic books,” she says. “If there was a book in the neighborhood, everybody in the neighborhood had read that book.”
After arriving in Brooklyn at the age of 12, Danticat was overwhelmed by the amount of information available, for free, at the public library. “I couldn’t believe that all these books would be entrusted to ordinary citizens,” recalls Danticat, who now calls Miami home. “They had a section of Haitian books in French and Creole, and before I was able to read or speak English I was able to have this. I would just hoard the books — I was always one of those kids, and then later one of those adults, who was always at the limit of what you can borrow.”
A collection of essays with a memoir sensibility, “Create Dangerously” examines what it’s like to be an artist who has left a homeland in turmoil. “Most artists, I would imagine, have a kind of drive and urge – something that they perhaps do not understand that is pushing them to create,” says Danticat. “The extra thing that I’ve found as an immigrant is that you’re also examining this gap that you’ve fallen into — this gap that is between where you come from and where you are.”
Leaving the quake behind
“Create Dangerously” was released in August 2010, and was all but printed when the earthquake struck Haiti, destroying Danticat’s family home and trapping relatives in the rubble. She has added an epilogue to the book. “It seemed like after the earthquake everything had changed. The landscape had changed, the people — those who were still alive — had changed,” she says.