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Barnard College honors Edwidge Danticat

DEMETRIA IRWIN Special to the AmNews | 11/2/2011, 10:55 p.m.

Barnard College kicked off its Africana Program Distinguished Alumnae Series by honoring noted author Edwidge Danticat. The Haitian-American writer, perhaps best known for her books "Breath, Eyes, Memory," "Krik? Krak!" and "Brother, I'm Dying," was greeted by an enthusiastic audience of Barnard students, faculty, a class of eighth graders and longtime fans.

The eloquent Africana studies director Tina Campt and the glowing, gorgeous and pregnant French professor Kaiama L. Glover said a few kind words before bringing Danticat up to speak. Danticat read from her latest book, "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work." The author also shared a bit of her story with the audience and provided some context to her insight and talent.

"When people ask me who my best writing instructors were, I always tell them that my best writing instructors were the storytellers of my childhood," explained Danticat. "Some of them were not literate at all, but they carried stories inside of them."

The National Book Award winner talked about her craft and homeland, then sat down for a Q&A with her mentor and former instructor professor Quandra Prettyman, a delightful woman with a head of cloud-like silver tresses. As a wife and mother of two daughters, Prettyman asked Danticat how she manages to balance her very full professional life with her personal life.

"The funny thing about having kids is that they give you more inspiration for things to write about, but at the same time they give you less time to write about it. I advise women to do as much as possible before having children. You can do everything, just not at the same time," said Danticat as she talked about the difficulties, but not impossibilities, of being devoted to family and work.

When audience members were allowed to ask questions, one of them wanted to know what advice Danticat has for young aspiring writers, especially those who have parents who desire a more stable occupation for their children.

"If you want to be a writer, do it. Practice your craft, even if that means doing something else at the same time. Most writers I know have some other work as well," noted Danticat. She further explained the need to be an artist, but also to be practical and have the means to take care of oneself.

Danticat frequently speaks of Haiti in her work and talks about the politics of the island nation's past and present. Would she ever consider running for office? "The only thing I'd run for is a bus."