Author explores Haiti and blackness through poetry

Cover art for her latest book, “Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, Me, and The World.” Ulysse will be discussing her book at the at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in Manhattan on Feb. 23.
Gina Athena Ulysse

In a newly released book, Connecticut-based author and anthropology professor Gina Athena Ulysse, candidly discusses her evolving world views, as a feminist, as a Haitian, and as a black woman. “Because When God is Busy: Haiti, Me, and the World,” follows a series of poems and writings that she wrote about to Haiti and it’s culture, which she will discuss at Hemispheric Institute of Performance & Politics in Manhattan on Feb. 23.

In her book, Ulysse tackles her journey throughout her life to understanding Haiti, herself, and how the world has viewed it through misconceptions. Because of this some of the poems in the book that seem current, were actually written a long time ago, she said.

“When you look at the book some of issues are current and these are things I wrote since I was 20,” said Ulysse. “It’s a book I’ve been writing for years and moreover the course of my life I’ve been writing it.”

But the book is not a memoir or an autobiography of Ulysse’s life, and rather a specific look at her varied emotions and Haiti.

“When you read the project you’ll see that Haiti is a larger black story,” said Ulysse. “There’s an autobiographical aspect to it because it’s about me and world. But it’s also about Haiti and the world, and the world and everything else and a sense of what that means.”

And one of the aspects of the books, she addresses stigmas about Haiti and blackness and where it is positioned alongside other groups. In one of the eye-opening writings in the book, she calls to mind her experience with this realization.

“Within the African-American community there is sense of attachment how people recall Haiti. Haiti seems further away from blackness — it’s black but Haiti is particular kind of black, a revolutionary kind of black,” she said. “Unless someone is Pan-African and has broader sense of blackness, our black is the farthest away from them. Because we’re not just black we’re black twice, we’re Haitian and black and that means something different.”

Ulysse says misconceptions about Haiti continues to thrive in the minds of many but she is not set out to retire those stereotypes, she said. Unlike in her previous book, “Why Haiti Needs New Narratives,” she does not give an explanation to dispel myths and preconceived notions this time — in her latest book, she lays the information out through poetry and imagery and leaves it to the viewer to decide and hopes it allows them to see beyond limited views.

“I’d like you to sit with it, hear it, listen to it, and try to recognize it,” she said. “Ask ‘Why did someone feel so compelled to break through silencers and write this?’ I have a range of emotions and I’m so raw in the book — vulnerable, lingering, wondering, angry — don’t just focus on the anger. I want you to hear this black woman and her emotions.”

“Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, me, and The World” at Hemispheric Institute of Performance & Politics. [20 Cooper Square between E. 4th and E. 8th streets in Manhattan, www.hemisphericinstitute.org, (212) 998-1631]. Feb. 23 at 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com.
Haitian-American author, professor, and anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse wrote “Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, Me, and The World” to present a different view of Haiti through a series of poetry she has worked on for years.
Lucy Giuliano

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