Lately, I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands so I decided to volunteer at a local shelter for women. I thought it might be helpful if I taught a writing class, but the program didn’t really lend itself to that type of thing. I went to the volunteer orientation nonetheless. There were several other women there asking questions that frankly bored me. I began to think I had made a mistake until the director explained the role of the volunteer as inviting the women to share their stories in a non-threatening relationship of mutual trust. It reminded me of the role of the writer. It’s our responsibility to be the voice of those who can’t speak for themselves and to share their difficult stories.
Edwidge Danticat does just that in her book Krik? Krak!. She weaves several short stories into a larger commentary on the communal strength of the Haitian women. Though each woman’s story is capable of standing alone, the passage below, from “Epilogue: Women Like Us”, unifies the collection:
When you write, it’s like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them unity. Your fingers have still not perfected the task.
Each story is “a handful of coarse unruly strands”. Danticat works through the pain each woman’s suffered by exposing the cruelties and inhumanities of the experiences. Writing about these incidents is much like the yanking and pulling it takes to bring order to “coarse unruly” strands of hair. When you begin to examine incredible loss and heartache your emotions become “coarse” and “unruly”. You have no control over where they will take you or the depths in which it will affect your own soul.
The phrase, “Your fingers have still not perfected the task”, speaks to the fact that no matter how many times you have braided your hair, you still have to go through the process of combing through the tangles and braiding each individual braid. There is no shortcut or fast track. It takes time and it is painful. As Danticat combs through the horror of boat full of Haitians sinking off the coast of the Bahamas or the desperation of a father committing suicide because he can’t provide for his family, the reader is able to see a more complete picture of brutality inflicted on the Haitian people. And in many ways the atrocities are things that are familiar to the Haitian people because they happen over and over again. However, it’s impossible to get used to it or to “perfect the task” of making sense of tragedy.
The simile of writing like braiding also blends in the cultural aspect of Danticat’s story. Braided hair is a sign of beauty and order for the Haitian woman. If a woman is able to tame her hair and bring order to chaos she is revered as beautiful. By combing through the experience in writing, Danticat is able to reveal the beauty of the woman.
Dandicat, Edwidge. Krik? Krak! Vintage: New York, 1996. Print.
- Writers on how they write: Edwidge Danticat (gointothestory.com)
- Edwidge Danticat to Be Honored at the 2011 Langston Hughes Festival (repeatingislands.com)
- Harlem Welcomes Haitian Writer and Poet, Edwidge Danticat For The Langston Hughes Festival (harlemworldblog.wordpress.com)