Joseph Dantica, one of two brothers at the heart of this family memoir, was a remarkable man: a Baptist minister who founded his own church and school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; a survivor of throat cancer who returned to the pulpit using a mechanical voice box; a loyal husband and family man who raised his niece Edwidge Danticat to the age of 12, when she joined her parents in Brooklyn. He intended to return and rebuild his church as soon as the fighting stopped. But to the Department of Homeland Security officers who examined him in Miami, his plea for temporary asylum meant he was simply another unlucky Haitian determined to slip through their fingers. How does a novelist, who trades in events filtered through imagination and memory, recreate an event so recent, so intimate and so outrageous, an attack on her own loyalties and sense of deepest belonging? The story of Joseph Dantica could be, perhaps will be, told in many forms: as a popular ballad performed, in my imagination, by Wyclef Jean ; as Greek tragedy; as agitprop theater; as a bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Kafka.
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Someone has to stay behind, to receive the letters and greet family members when they come back. MacArthur Foundation Fellow Edwidge Danticat was a toddler when her parents moved to Brooklyn for work and safety, leaving her with her aunt and uncle at home in Haiti until she could join her parents in the United States a decade later. Danticat was close with her uncle, a community leader and pastor who chose to remain in Haiti with his congregation. In this poignant memoir — a finalist for the National Book Award — Danticat is now grown and living in Miami, facing the death of her father and the birth of her first child while her uncle and his son are fleeing for their lives from the Haitian government and gang disputes that have destroyed his church.
Born in the Haitian countryside, both brothers move to the big city of Port-au-Prince to work and raise families. Many years later, after Edwidge's father marries and begins a family, he decides to immigrate to the United States, while her Uncle Joseph—a community leader and pastor—chooses to remain in Haiti with his congregation.
Edwidge, only two years old at the time of her father's departure, is left in the care of her Uncle Joseph and his wife, Tante Denise. Joseph and Edwidge develop a close relationship over the next several years. Edwidge spends most of her free time with her uncle, and after he suffers severe damage to his vocal chords, she acts as his interpreter. Ten years later, Edwidge rejoins her parents in the U.
Now grown and living in Miami, Edwidge faces the impending death of her father and the birth of her first child. Meanwhile, political unrest and violence in Port-au-Prince heighten due to government and gang disputes, and Edwidge fears for the safety of her Uncle Joseph and his family.
Fleeing for their lives, Uncle Joseph and his son Maxo seek safety in America and come face to face with the complications of the U. Over the next 72 hours, Danticat's world is forever changed as her father's condition worsens and her uncle's whereabouts are unknown. As political unrest and violence in Port-au-Prince heighten due to government and gang disputes, Edwidge fears for the safety of her Uncle Joseph and his family.
Joseph Dantica Courtesy of the Danticat family. Maxo joins his father in the attempt to flee Haiti after a surge of political violence in Port-au-Prince. Bob, Karl, and Kelly Danticat Edwidge's three younger brothers.
Joseph Dantica Edwidge's uncle and Mira's brother, Joseph abandons political dreams to become a pastor, opening a church and school. Tante Denise Wife to Joseph, Denise is a stern but dedicated guardian of the many children in her care and is known as a skilled seamstress and the best cook in the Bel Air neighborhood. Marie Micheline Abandoned by her father, Marie grows up as the adored role model of the younger members of the Danticat household and spends her life in Port-au-Prince working in various medical clinics.
Tante Zi assists Maxo and Joseph when they are threatened by neighborhood violence. Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she lived with her aunt and uncle until she joined her parents in New York City at age Growing up, Danticat was shy, and though teased in her Brooklyn high school for her accent and lack of English, she was proud of her heritage.
She grew up in a rich storytelling tradition and loved writing and reading from an early age. Danticat published her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory in She had just graduated from Brown University with a master's degree in creative writing, after completing her undergraduate studies in French literature at Barnard College.
Only one year later, Danticat's first collection of stories, Krik? For several years, Danticat co-produced documentaries for Hollywood director Jonathan Demme and worked as an associate producer on the films Courage and Pain and The Agronomist —both about Haiti.
During this period, Danticat began to think seriously about a career as an author, though her parents considered writing somewhat impractical. Having spent most of their lives under dictatorships, they also were concerned about Danticat writing openly of Haiti. In addition to writing and making films, Danticat was a visiting professor of creative writing at New York University and the University of Miami Meanwhile, her writing career continued to evolve steadily alongside her other endeavors.
Danticat has published numerous novels and several works of creative nonfiction, including her memoir, Brother, I'm Dying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. In , Danticat received a MacArthur Fellowship nicknamed the "genius grant" and her literary career took a new direction with a collection of essays on art and exile, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work Part personal anecdote and part historical narrative, this book focuses on the creative work of individuals who bear witness to violence, oppression, and poverty.
Danticat has often been called upon as an informal diplomat and advocate for Haiti. In , she moved to Miami with her husband and their two daughters, only a minute flight from Port-au-Prince. I'm Josephine Reed. Edwidge Danticat is a powerful and celebrated voice in contemporary fiction.
Edwidge grew up in Haiti, where she was raised by her uncle. When she was 12, she moved to the United States where she joined her parents and siblings whom she hardly knew. Edwidge Danticat : I was born in Haiti in during the Duvalier dictatorship, a family dictatorship that would last 30 years. And I grew up in Port au Prince, spent the first 12 years of my life there.
My mother and father left Haiti before I did, my father, when I was two, my mother when I was four, and I grew up with my uncle Joseph and his wife Tante Denise in a neighborhood in Haiti called Bel Air.
Back then, a very lower middle class neighborhood but one that had grown increasingly poor over the years. My uncle Joseph got cancer in the throat when I was young and came to the United States for treatment and then moved back to Haiti and started speaking and preaching with a voice box. When I was 12, my parents were finally able to send for me. So they were undocumented.
Once their status was changed, they were able to send for my brother, Bob and me. And I moved to the U. Edwidge Danticat : It was quite difficult because I feel as though I had made a place for myself, an attachment for myself, with my uncle, especially he would take me with him to banks to-- I mean, to the countryside, to a lot of places where people might not understand him after he had the surgery on his throat.
So I became a kind of interpreter for my uncle who I loved very, very much. It was very difficult to leave him and there was a great deal of uncertainty about what my life would be like in the States because I had not really lived with my parents before that I could remember. I was very young when they left and my brothers-- I had two brothers who were born in the United States-- who did not, I realize, even know about my brother Bob and me until we got to New York.
So it was a shock for everyone. Edwidge Danticat : My uncle was a minister. He had a church in Bel Air. He also had a personal clinic, and a school. He was a very prominent person in the neighborhood, a very beloved person, kind of a father figure to the congregation but also to different people in the neighborhood. I grew up, my brother and I-- in this house where there was a little group of us, of children with parents abroad, who had been entrusted in the care of my uncle and his wife in this beautiful pink house in Bel Air.
There were no strangers in that house. They were family. Everyone was related in some way but, most of the children in the house had parents who were working elsewhere, whether it was like my parents in the United States or, I had one cousin whose father was in the Dominican Republic and others who were in Canada. What time of year was it? It was still cold, cold to us. It felt cold to us. It was March 21 around Edwidge Danticat : I spoke no English.
J o Reed : Did you have to start school right away or could you wait until September? What happened? Edwidge Danticat : We started school right away. We went to school the following Monday after our arrival because he wanted us to start on a Monday. And my teacher, Mr. Lemond Ducek was an exile from Haiti. He had escaped the dictatorship.
Ducek taught us every subject in Creole. And then he taught us life skills, sort of what you do if the kids start teasing you and things of that nature. But it was a very difficult year for Haitian kids at that school. It was the year that people started talking about AIDS and there was the list, the high-risk groups, the four H s and-- homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, and Haitians.
And we were the only people on that list identified by nationality. And every night you would watch the news, there would be sort of two headlining things that referred to us. There was this AIDS announcements, and they would always go over the list, and then there were these images of people arriving by boat in Florida and a lot of pictures of bloated bodies on the beaches.
So at school kids would call us boat people, AIDS people, and I remember there was a school trip, that we were not even allowed to go to, to the Statue of Liberty. So there were things like that that were beyond having to adjust with the family, getting to know my brothers, my parents again.
There were things like that to adjust to at school. Edwidge Danticat : After the year was over, when I started school again, they started to transition me through sort of mainstreaming. So I would have half classes with Mr.
Ducek and then start to have some classes with other kids. So I started having an English class with an English teacher where English was spoken throughout the whole class so, slowly, gradually I transitioned. Edwidge Danticat : My father, when he was alone in New York, before my mother joined, he had two jobs. He used to work in a factory where they made handbags and things like that and then had a second job where he worked in a carwash. And he always said that he had one job for-- to sustain his life in New York and one job, another job, to send money to Haiti.
When my mother came, they both started working in the same factory. And then my father often told the stories that the day we were coming, my brother and me, he had to pick us up at the airport and he asked his boss if he could leave early and the boss said no.
And so he started driving a cab, what they then called a gypsy cab, where people basically had a private car that they put a partition in and rode as a cab. So, from that day that we came to the day he became sick and could no longer work again, he was driving a gypsy cab. It was quite a monumental day for you. Tell us what happened.
Someone has to stay behind, to receive the letters and greet family members when they come back. MacArthur Foundation Fellow Edwidge Danticat was a toddler when her parents moved to Brooklyn for work and safety, leaving her with her aunt and uncle at home in Haiti until she could join her parents in the United States a decade later. Danticat was close with her uncle, a community leader and pastor who chose to remain in Haiti with his congregation. In this poignant memoir — a finalist for the National Book Award — Danticat is now grown and living in Miami, facing the death of her father and the birth of her first child while her uncle and his son are fleeing for their lives from the Haitian government and gang disputes that have destroyed his church. Born in the Haitian countryside, both brothers move to the big city of Port-au-Prince to work and raise families. Many years later, after Edwidge's father marries and begins a family, he decides to immigrate to the United States, while her Uncle Joseph—a community leader and pastor—chooses to remain in Haiti with his congregation. Edwidge, only two years old at the time of her father's departure, is left in the care of her Uncle Joseph and his wife, Tante Denise.
NEA Big Read
What I learned from my father and uncle, I learned out of sequence and in fragments. Discuss what this work of reconstruction and reordering means for the structure of the story she presents, as well as for her own understanding of what happened to the two brothers. Consider the scene in which Danticat sees the results of her pregnancy test. How do her fears for her father affect her first thoughts of her child? How does this knowledge change her sense of time?
Brother I'm Dying
And so she was both elated and saddened when, at twelve, she joined her parents and youngest brothers in New York City. As Edwidge made a life in a new country, adjusting to being far away from so many who she loved, she and her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorated. In , they entered into a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Brother I'm Dying is an astonishing true-life epic, told on an intimate scale by one of our finest writers. From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. When Danticat was nine, Joseph—a pastor and gifted orator—lost his voice to throat cancer, making their eventual separation that much harder, as he wouldn't be able to talk with the children on the phone.
Brother, I'm Dying
Brother, I'm Dying , published in , is Edwidge Danticat 's nonfiction family story that centers around her father, her uncle, and the events that linked them in the last months of their lives. On a single day in , the author discovers she is pregnant with her first child and that her father has end-stage pulmonary fibrosis. Using these events to frame her memoir, Danticat explores her family's troubled history in Haiti and the United States and her experience of having to leave the only home she had ever known. A best-selling novelist, short story writer, and editor, Edwidge Danticat has received numerous literary awards and has been heralded as the voice of Haitian Americans.