Book Review: Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, by Edwidge Danticat

Rating: 5 / 5

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” —Edwidge Danticat, Create Dangerously

In this phenomenal collection of personal essays, Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat explores art and artists, the act of creating, the stories and struggles of Haitians and Haiti, and her own conflicts regarding the realities of being an expatriated representative of an entire country and its people.

Create Dangerously touched me deeply, both intellectually and emotionally. I almost hesitated to write a review, because the way I experienced it is extremely personal; I’ve been having trouble disengaging Danticat’s words from my own thoughts and fears concerning my identity as an artist and a diasporic individual. I know firsthand how it feels to have one foot firmly planted on U.S. soil and the other floating in a vaguely mythic memory of a motherland that is, in actuality, languishing in poverty and corruption halfway around the world. I know what it’s like to be “from” one place and from someplace else. So, in many ways, reading Danticat was like holding up a mirror to myself and confronting thoughts that I had been previously afraid to think. Her essays forced me to examine the liminal space between where I’m from and where I think I’m from, and how I represent in my art the richness — and pain — that springs from such a dual (and sometimes duplicitous) identity.

Danticat’s real achievement, however, lies in her ability to communicate, in clear and unsentimental language, the crisis of diasporic identity to people who have never experienced that particular struggle. She successfully presents a complex and frustratingly difficult subject in simple — yet powerful — words and images. Not only will you learn huge amounts about Haiti’s history and culture, you will also be able to empathize with its plights and triumphs, its people and their art. You will feel compassion and love for individuals who are vastly different from yourself. With Danticat’s words as your vessel, you will sojourn briefly within their consciousness — which is, after all, part of the point of literature and the arts.

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