A maggot-infested “half-dead man” and a toxic trash heap — “a gash in the earth that eats up everything” — both figure in Haiti Noir, the lastest collection of short stories in the Akashic Books Noir series. The collection was edited by Haitian-born writer, off-and-on Miami local, and McArthur Genius Award recipient Edwidge Danticat, who appeared with fellow contributors on Sunday at the Miami Book Fair. With a brutal history of violent oppression, an earthquake-ravaged infrastructure, and a fatal cholera outbreak ongoing, Haiti is an island nation in which the noir genre may feel more like realism. Still, the writers on the panel — Danticat, Mark Kurlansky, M.J. Fievre, and Marie K. Theodore-Pharel — inspired with their ability to craft literature out of Haiti’s darkness and still smile and laugh and galvanize. “The light … is that we have brilliant people writing right now,” Danticat said.
The notion that art and literature could play a crucial role in pulling Haiti out of the abyss was a motif of the discussion. “Write what you know, what you have lived,” Fievre said. “Just write.” The panel member’s dedication to Haiti flowed from different sources. Kurlansky said his fascination started when he saw a souvenir mask carved out of black wood as a child. Like the character in his story — Izzy Goldstein, a Jewish kid who nonetheless “felt in his heart that he was really Haitian” — Kurlansky was drawn to the island by an inexplicable force. He later covered Haiti for years as a Chicago Tribune reporter. “I think I’ve learned more about life and human beings, and what is good and what is bad in human beings, from Haiti than from any other part of my life,” he said.
Through darkness and mystery and murder, the goal of Haiti Noir is to share those lessons with the world.