Edwidge Danticat Describes a 'Death by Asylum'

By Rose Marie Berger 4-02-2008

A few of us around Sojourners have been reading award-winning Haitian-born writer Edwidge Danticat since she published her first novel Breath, Eyes, Memory in 1994. Ten years later we were thrilled when she sent us a lovely vignette, Indigo Girl, which wepublished in December 2004. It might be the only short story Sojourners has ever published.

When we heard that her newest book, Brother I'm Dying, dealt with the death of Danticat's 81-year-old uncle, the Reverend Joseph Dantica, who died in the custody of U.S. immigration officials while seeking political asylum, we knew we wanted her to tell Sojourners that story-and what it says about the deadly debacle that is our immigration policy today.

In March, Brother I'm Dying won the National Book Critics Circle award for best autobiography. "I only hope my dad and uncle are proud," Edwidge told me. "The book, I feel, was written with them and for them so the award too is for them."

From her home in Miami, Danticat graciously responded to our interview questions:

BERGER: As an artist you are able to witness against injustice through the crafting of story and word as you have done in Brother, I'm Dying. Does the book vindicate the indignity and death your uncle suffered? How has the experience of writing the book changed you spiritually?

DANTICAT: People sometimes think, or say, that you should have closure now, Edwidge. You've written this book. Writing the book was part of a spiritual process which does not end with the book being published though. I was changed a great deal by this process, of course. I lost two very important people to me, my father and my uncle. They both suffered so much at the end, in part so we-my family here-can thrive. The gift I ended up with at the end was my daughter, who was born as these men were dying. I wouldn't say that the book vindicates the death or deaths completely. It's certainly the only vindication we've had, so I am glad I wrote it.

Read the whole interview ("Death By Asylum," Sojourners April 2008) here.

Rose Marie Berger is an associate editor at Sojourners.

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