Edwidge Danticat reads at Revolution Books

Author Edwidge Danticat signed books after the formal part of the book reading event at the Revolution Books in Manhattan.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

To a packed audience at Revolution Books in Manhattan last week, Edwidge Danticat read a preview excerpt from her newest book, “Claire of the Sea Light,” which will be released Aug. 27.

Set in Haiti, the particular section she read revealed the feelings, often contradictory, of a father who did his best to raise a son who is being exposed on the local radio of having raped the young domestic worker in their employ.

Danticat spent her childhood in Haiti and came of age in Brooklyn. She does not shy away from private mores or the darker or secret side of Haitian life that takes place behind closed doors. Hidden things exposed by her characters sometimes create ripples in the Haitian community. She is a courageous artist.

In this narrative, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire (who has gone missing), to her parents, and to the town itself.

Following the reading, the author discussed her writing and book with Revolution Books’ Andy Zee.

Hidden lives and possibilities (the theme of the store’s three-part reading series) are ideas that resonate for the author. Danticat thinks about the young people in some of Port-au-Prince’s most impoverished neighborhoods whose opportunities are so limited and who have such potential. “There could be a great novelist in Citi-Soleil or Belaire,” she says.

Danticat is a firm believer in the importance for people to tell their own story. She points out, “There is always something we are not hearing.” Danticat reminded the audience that under the U.S. occupation (1915-1934) Haitian stories were hijacked, told in the form of Marine narratives like “I walked with a Zombie.”

As for the motivation for her to engage with a story, there must be a sense of urgency and she must love it. The subject finds her, she explains. And, in spite of the very difficult subjects Danticat tackles, she reveals, “I wait to fall in love (with the subject).”

Revolution Books is the only store of its type in New York and it is the flagship store of a handful nationwide of similar stores explains store manager Clark Kissinger. “You can find books you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a curated collection.”

Their largest section, Black people in the U.S., has almost 400 books. Their Caribbean shelf is small but has a good selection: “Written in Blood” (Heinl & Heinl), “The Manley Memoires” (Beverley Manley), “Black Jacobins” (C. L. James), “The Dominican People” (Sagis & Inoa) and other books pertaining to economy, emancipation, and enslavement in the Caribbean.

Books are a key way to learn about the world says Kissinger. The bookstore is “a center for building a movement for revolution.”

In addition to its selected books on history, literature, political theory, religion and atheism, the store features discussions on timely events, films and related programs.

Revolution Books has been open since 1978, has been situated in numerous venues primarily Chelsea, and is looking at an expiring lease. It wants to stay in its 146 26th St. central location.

The fundraising push is to immediately weather an impending rent increase while also looking for pledge sustainers. Revolution Books’ Hidden Lives, Human Possibilities: Authors Present to save Revolution Books is a fundraiser effort.

Advance tickets to Walter Mosley’s reading, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 7:00 p.m. or the reading with Henry Wiencek author of “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves” on Sept. 10, 7:00 p.m. can be purchased at: www.revolutionbooksnyc.org/authorseries.htm.

Danticat will be back in the area for a special Bookend Event for the Brooklyn Book Festival at Five Myles Gallery on Sept. 21 from 3:00-6:00 p.m., and with novelist Elsie Augustave will discuss their careers and their newest novels.

The Brooklyn Book Festival is Sept. 22.

More from Around NYC