Author of Breath, Eyes, Memory, Krik? Krak!, and Brother, I’m Dying, a National Book Award finalist in 2007, Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat moved to East Flatbush in Brooklyn when she was 12. In 2009, she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. Danticat continues to be a champion of Haitians, immigrants and women of color.
IN HAITI, whenever someone said they were going to the U.S., they would say they were going to New York.
MY IDEA of Brooklyn was a cold place where our parents lived.
WE SPOKE TO our parents every Sunday from a phone booth in downtown Port-au-Prince and tried to catch them up on our lives.
I CAME TO New York when I was 12. It was a shock. I was on an airplane for the first time, with my brother, unaccompanied, and I remember looking down and seeing the city below. It was so huge and full of lights.
I’M GOING to have so much to do here, I thought.
IN MY childhood mind, I imagined that my life would be touched by each and every one of those lights.
WHEN I WALKED down the hall in our building in East Flatbush, every door was closed. I remember being struck by that. Why would they keep their door locked? What were they afraid of ?
MOST OF the people were Haitian, or from some other part of the Caribbean.
WE SPOKE Creole in our house.
THE FIRST BOOK I ever owned was Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline. My uncle gave it to me. I remember holding that book in my hand and thinking, This is what I want to do.
I WANTED TO tell a story that people didn’t have to speak aloud, a story that they could hold in their hands.
MY FATHER was what was then called a gypsy cab driver. I got to see a lot of Brooklyn that way.
AN AIRPORT TRIP was a gold mine.
AFTER MY first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club, my dad told me, “Well, now you have enough money for medical school.”
WHEN I FIRST saw my parents’ tax return, as I was applying for college, I was shocked. How had they raised four children on that, I wondered?
MY PARENTS are both gone now. But it was their courage and sacrifice that made possible the lives we now live. I owe everything to the trip they took to Brooklyn.
IT WAS a leap of faith.