All week, we're talking with Florida authors appearing at the Miami Book Fair. So Spoke the Earth is an anthology of stories, poems and essays about Haiti.
The book is divided into three sections: death and tragedy; the nation’s rich storytelling tradition; and Haiti’s economic struggles.
Although the book was published in the United States (by Women Writers of Haitian Descent), all of the pieces in the second section are in French or Haitian Creole.
“It was a very conscious choice,” said M.J. Fievre, the book’s lead editor and a contributor of two stories in English and one in French. “One thing about Haiti that people probably don’t know is that in addition to Haitian Creole and French, there [are] a lot of English speakers over there. So we thought that we should embrace this aspect of Haiti, what it means to be Haitian, what it means to be surrounded by all three languages.”
Another contributor to the anthology, Joanne Hyppolite, is president of Women Writers of Haitian Descent and one of the group’s founders. She's also chief curator at HistoryMiami.
She said the richness of language in Haiti makes the Haitian voice distinct in literature.
“There’s this real beauty to Creole language,” said Hyppolite. “The way that they turn a phrase or use a phrase -- it’s very simple but beautiful at the same time. It’s very poetic, and I think that there’s this way of capturing pathos that is very unique to the reality of Haitian people there. It is a very poor country, and there’s a lot of concern with being able to sort of rise and become something.”
Hyppolite’s story, “Little Citizen,” kicks off the anthology. It’s about a Haitian teenager named Josephine who is becoming a poet. The story deals with the fact that writing can be particularly dangerous in a repressive society such as Haiti under former President François Duvalier. Josephine’s parents discourage her, even though her father is a poet and a journalist.
Hyppolite says that type of thing is common in Haiti.
“Most parents in Haiti don’t encourage their children to become artists or writers or things of passionate, artistic bents. Haiti is such a much smaller society than [the] United States; you have to be practical about your career choices. There are only five acceptable careers that you parents want you to be. It’s lawyer, doctor. You can be a businessperson, a teacher or a nurse.”
Hyppolite left Haiti when she was four. She says her parents were fleeing Duvalier’s reign, and her mother often told her about this time, fueling the stories she writes today.
Fievre came to the United States ten years ago. She says she hopes the anthology, which includes pieces on everything from Haiti during carnival to the country’s relationship with the Dominican Republic and the devastating earthquake of 2010, will introduce readers to her home country.
“We’ve tried to include pieces that covered such a large number of topics related to Haiti, that our hope is that the reader will feel like that they really know Haiti after reading the book,” said Fievre.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, Hyppolite and Fievre, along with several other writers involved with the project, including Edwidge Danticat, will discuss the anthology during the Miami Book Fair International.
The event does not require tickets, however book fair admission is $8.