Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat's New Collection of Stories Explores 'Gap Between Life And Death'

Nov 12, 2019

In a short story by Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat a man sees his life flash before his eyes as he falls 500 feet from the sky. 

"It's a story that is meant to be compressed in those seconds that he's falling," says Danticat on Sundial.  There's a list of thoughts that goes through the man's mind: love, loss and regret. And the burning image of his son.

Death and how people come to terms with it is a central theme of "Everything Inside," Danticat's newest short story collection and the Sundial Book Club pick for November. All of the book's eight short stories take place in locales like Miami and Haiti -- places Danticat calls home. 

She joined Sundial to talk about her writing process, why she decided to write short stories and how she views mortality. Danticat will be at this year's Miami Book Fair on Sunday, November 24 at 1:30 p.m.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

WLRN: In this book, the two themes that jump out are death and this love-hate relationship people have with their home country, in this case Haiti. Why are you so drawn to these topics?

DANTICAT: Death, I feel even as a young person, was something that sort of haunted me and fascinating me as a subject. In many ways, it's an unsolvable subject. I tried to solve this in the book, "The Art of Death" (2017 book). I think part of the appeal is the unknowable.

I grew up in a house in Haiti where my uncle was a minister and all weekends would be often a funeral Saturday morning, a wedding in the afternoon and church service on Sunday. I got to experience that whole cycle of life and it wasn't unusual for me as a young woman. Death and sort of what happens after has always been fascinating to me.

How do you view your own mortality?

Well, I'm 50 now, which is a nice round age. And I've started writing for public at 25, which was also another round age. You sort of have these anniversaries and again, watching when your parents have passed on, you feel like  they were between me and, you know, whatever the next step was. So I'm quite aware of my mortality. Maybe too much for some.

Edwidge Danticat's 'Everything Inside' is the first short story collection read by the Sundial Book Club.
Credit Alejandra Martinez

The story Without Inspection, I love it because it's the point of view of a person facing their mortality in the final seconds. Where did the inspiration for that story come from?

When I first moved from New York to Miami, every now and then a person would be said to have fallen from a construction site. And there was a horrible case of one man who fell in like a quick cement. You would watch it on the news and then there was a statement from the construction company about investigations and so forth. And those things kind of gelled in my mind as a kind of the first impression of now being a resident of this place.

It's the story that is meant to be compressed in those seconds that he's falling. I also wanted to explore something that I personally experienced at that moment, where people is said to be dead. And then what? Well, the world doesn't know it yet. Right?

I'd experienced that with my mother after she took her last breath. I had to tell the people outside that room with us. Then I had to call my brothers in New York to tell them. And I remember lingering at that moment. I remember just cherishing that moment where it's just like, well, maybe, in that silence of that gap, she's not yet gone because I haven't told everyone yet. And then I wondered, what is happening in this moment? Is she traveling and what is happening to the body? What is happening to the mind and where's she going? That's the premise, really of that story. What happens in that sort of gap between life and death?

Want to join the Sundial Book Club? Click here.