Danticat: Storytelling keeps memory, tradition alive
Writer Edwidge Danticat speaking was the latest speaker in the Bucknell Forum series.
Posted: April 13, 2011
LEWISBURG, Pa. — In 2004, after being diagnosed with a terminal disease, Edwidge Danticat's father began to tell his family his story.
For nine months, he relayed a series of vignettes about his life as a shoe salesman in Haiti who immigrated to America and became a taxi driver and about his proudest accomplishment: being a husband and father.
"Because he told these stories at an important point in his life, his heart was lighter," the acclaimed author told an audience at Bucknell University Tuesday night. "We tell our stories to become whole. We tell stories to live, to connect with one another and to build community."
Danticat, who has been honored with the MacArthur Genius Award and other awards for her writing and work on behalf of Haiti, told the story during a talk, "Create Dangerously: An Evening with Edwidge Danticat," as part of the ongoing Bucknell Forum speaker series, "Creativity: Beyond the Box." During the 90-minute presentation, she shared some of her own stories, read from one of her books and answered questions about the process and responsibility of storytelling.
Born in Haiti, Danticat moved to the United States when she was 12 and was praised as one of America's finest young writers after the release of her 1994 debut work, Breath, Eyes, Memory. Her most recent work, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (Princeton University Press, 2010), which she calls a deeply personal book, reflects on art and exile and what it means to be an immigrant artist from a country in crisis.
A living legacy
Storytelling, Danticat said, is a vital tool in all cultures, used to keep history and legacy alive. It provides comfort and healing during times of illness and loss and allows us to understand our own and others' history and plight. Journalists use storytelling to explain world events. Lawyers use story to "embody the voices of their clients who could not tell their own stories in a convincing way to a judge."
"Stories keep us alive and our loved ones alive, our memories alive," she said. "Hearing other peoples' stories can help us shape our own stories."
During her talk, Danticat suggested that the world is "suffering from de-storification," a phenomenon discussed by Robert Stone in his book The Healing Art of Storytelling. Danticat said the lack of storytelling is making our lives less meaningful and vivid. She encouraged the audience to tell more stories and to be more understanding of others' stories.
"We all are storytellers, whether we know it or not," she said. "Sometimes we become numb to individual horrors. Storytelling joins our voices ... Stories have comforted us and allowed us to maintain our world. Storytelling is one of the great tools we have. There is no agony worse than keeping a story behind you. Each story is a catalyst for another."
Danticat has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and is the author of several books. She also writes regularly for The New Yorker, most recently chronicling the loss of her cousin and her travels to Haiti following the island nation's earthquake more than a year ago.
She received a degree in French literature from Barnard College, where she won the 1995 Woman of Achievement Award, and an MFA from Brown University and has taught creative writing at New York University and the University of Miami. She also has worked with filmmakers Patricia Benoit and Jonathan Demme on Haitian art projects and documentaries about Haiti.
The Bucknell Forum
Since 2007, the Bucknell Forum speakers series has featured nationally renowned leaders, scholars and commentators who have examined various issues from multi-disciplinary perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints. || Previous series events
The "Creativity: Beyond the Box"series task force comprises faculty members Carmen Gillespie, Beth Capaldi Evans, Paula Davis, Joe Tranquillo, Margot Vigeant and Zhiqun Zhu; students Michael Davis, Class of '13, and Lindsay Machen, Class of '11; and administrators Kari Conrad, Rob Springall and Pete Mackey, chair.
Contact: Division of Communications
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