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Award-Winning Author Recalls Past Experiences With Hurricanes In Native Haiti


The award winning Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat has family and friends in Les Cayes. She hasn't heard from them since the hurricane struck. But she wrote this week in the New Yorker about her and her family's experiences with past hurricanes. And I asked her what this one was like for her, looking at the disaster in Haiti from her home in Miami.

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Well, it's becoming, sadly, a rather familiar experience because the Haitian community throughout the world experienced a similar feeling after the earthquake, where we're sort of watching and couldn't hear from our loved ones for a very long time. So it's very - it's terrifying. It's - it's as if you have your heart being ripped out imagining what the condition could be, especially since it hasn't been fully assessed, and we don't know how many people have died. But we do know that there's a lot of suffering now and that there will be a lot of suffering later because people have lost so much.

CORNISH: You write about experiencing the hurricane season in 2005 from Florida, but you also talk about the idea of being raised in the path of such storms and living in their crosshairs. How have you reconciled with that?

DANTICAT: Well, like everyone in Haiti right now and in years past who have experienced hurricanes, you tend to think that it's something that happens once in a while. It's not going to happen this year. And I felt that when I was a child in Haiti, and I feel that now living in Florida, where we're also in the crosshairs. I think back to sort of my whole journey through - with hurricanes, and they seem to be getting just much more devastating for the poorest places. And that's something, I think, we also have to address in the conversations about poverty, development and also climate change.

CORNISH: And you talk about there being even a dilemma for Haitians who live through these disasters and try and rebuild, in terms of how to even rebuild.

DANTICAT: It's very challenging when you are living in a region where it is both earthquake-prone and hurricane-prone. And, for example, the people in my mother-in-law's area, they are now all - 20 people are now in one concrete building that didn't fall down during the hurricane. But during an earthquake, it might be a different story. So it's a very tough choice for a lot of people.

CORNISH: You have written so much about Haiti and modern life in your literature, but you also do focus on the economics of the island and what's going on there and speaking out. Do you feel a certain responsibility, given that people, in the U.S. especially, hear reporting on Haiti almost exclusively in the context of disaster, whether it's ecological or political?

DANTICAT: Well, I think we can't ignore, for example, what's happening today. It's a very sad situation, but it's also sad to see that that's the only time that people report on it. You know, slowly the attention will go away. A lot of the suffering will continue, but we don't just suffer. We also laugh, you know, we fall in love.

And one of the things I think also people should - should remember that there's a kind of unity that people have, even within Haiti, that the first rescuers of people in Haiti will be Haitians.

And we need support, but also people who support should support organizations that are Haitian-led, that have been in Haiti for a long time, so that we don't have the same cycle of people taking advantage and then pushing Haitians aside.

CORNISH: Edwidge Danticat is an author. Thank you so much for speaking with us, and I hope that your family and friends are safe.

DANTICAT: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.