The first book I read in English was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read it over an entire summer with a dictionary. I was 13 years old and had been living in the United States for a year after moving from Haiti. I don’t remember now what initially led me to that particular book, but there might have been a sad-looking girl on the cover of the edition I kept renewing at the library.
Even with my limited English, I was immediately captivated by Angelou’s description of her both loving and painful childhood. I think the slow, sentence-by-sentence reading of that book made me a more attentive reader and writer.
Toward the end of that same Brooklyn summer, I discovered the other great love of my reading and writing life: Love, Anger, Madness, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet, one of Haiti’s seminal writers. In that magnificent trilogy, Vieux-Chauvet tells the story of Haiti from the brutal U.S. occupation of 1915 to 1934 to the dictatorship I had just left behind, with the violence and horror both had wrought.
I have read and reread that book, both in French and in its English translation, for many years now. And each time I stumble into something new and eye-opening that makes me want to keep reading it over and over again.
Danticat’s new novel, Claire of the Sea Light, will be out in August
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