Haiti Noir with Edwidge Danticat

Manhattan’s Symphony Space’s Selected Shorts was packed with literature lovers and fans of Brooklyn’s and now Miami’s–own Edwidge Danticat, while it snowed ferociously outside. The Jan. 26 evening featured two readings from Danticat’s recently edited book “Haiti Noir,” part of Brooklyn-based Akashic Books’ “Noir“ series, collections of stories of crime and criminals, and celebrating their authors.

There are three editions of Brooklyn Noir, and Haiti has now joined the slew of others, almost 40 in the series, from Trinidad to Twin Cities, from Detroit to Dublin. All but two of the Haiti Noir contributors are Haitian or Diaspora; the others have spent considerable time in Haiti.

Serving as the formal book launch for the January published book, there was a casual alumni Barnard reception before hand, Danticat’s undergraduate Alma matter.

Danticat had almost completed collecting the stories prior to the earthquake and three are placed in a context of the earthquake. She writes in her introduction, “Each story is now, on top of everything else, a kind of preservation corner…places that in some cases have been irreparably altered.”

The evening began with a welcome by Isaiah Sheffer, whose recognizable booming rich voice is heard as the narrator of the NPR series by the same name. In the Selected Shorts tradition, an actor reads the short story. These performances are recorded, later to be heard on the radio. Danticat introduced the actors and gave some context for the stories.

Actor Steven Lang read Mark Kurlansky’s The Leopard of Ti Morne, the story of a well-meaning non-Haitian do-gooder who finds himself clueless in the machinations of Haitian culture and various dealings while trying to “do business” and help Haiti.

Following the intermission, Anika Noni Rose (star in Dreamgirls) captivated the audience in a dark deep tale by Danticat, Claire of the Sea Light, a story that tries to shed light on what a parent goes through when forced to choose to give away a child to become a “restavek,” a child slave–a sad institution in Haiti.

Four of the authors in the anthology participated in a brief panel discussion following the readings: Brooklyn resident, educator and writer Marie Lily Cerat, fiction and non-fiction writer and former newspaper reporter from Chicago, Mark Kurlansky, French, Creole, and English-writing poet and novelist living on Long Island Josaphat-Robert Large, and writer and mentor to teenage girls and writing Ibi Aanu Soboi (living in Brooklyn, born in Haiti, Pascale Philantrope).

One interesting question they answered: what was the motivation for the story in the anthology. Large’s story was written in Creole and translated into English. The authors and Danticat signed books following the panel.

Haiti Noir anthology contributors will read on Thursday, Feb. 10, at 6:30, Medgar Evers College and several upcoming related events are on the calendar: Wednesday Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m. at Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) and Friday, March 11, 7:30 p.m. at St. Francis College.

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