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

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We live in challenging times. There are battles to be fought for the environment, for human rights, and for social justice. To look around and see such physical, material, and political work that needs to be done, it can be difficult to see the value in the abstract. What good does art do for a starving child? In Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, esteemed writer Edwidge Danticat explores the intersection of art and exile. She helps us to see the very real and embodied ways in which artists do the work of providing context, making space for connections to be made, giving voice to those who would otherwise go unheard, and effecting social change.

Danticat opens with the “creation myth” of her life as a writer — the true story of the execution of two men who opposed the dictatorial rule of Duvalier in her home country of Haiti. In their story, she finds the powerful threads of disobedience, banishment, and tragedy, but also inspiration, immortality, and creation that she weaves together in the twelve essays that follow. In them, we meet a host of artists — journalists, filmmakers, writers, sculptors — most of them members of the Haitian diaspora. In each of their accounts we see the different ways in which these individuals are motivated to create; to share their experiences, despite the horrors that swirl around and threaten to consume them.

The prose has a calm flow to its cadence that belies its tragic content. The laundry list of seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome, including the 2010 Haitian earthquake, clearly pain Danticat and cut her to the core. But, she is able to retain a sense of clarity and an air of pride that solicits sympathy, but not pity. One walks away from these essays believing in the importance of human connection that can only be gained in one-on-one interactions as we come together to create. Danticat is an expert storyteller and gets your attention by whispering. She not only profiles artists in exile to show the value in their work, she demonstrates it through her own writing. For it is our minds — the words and stories and images within them — that always offer the last place of refuge and resist occupation by even the most tyrannical dictators. In our art, we are free.

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