By Edward Nawotka
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti — which killed and injured half a million people — the publishing industry donated millions of dollars to relief agencies in the days following the disaster and published several charity books. It was a noble effort — one that has for many people been sadly forgotten, considering the ongoing deprivation on on the island. Of course, one question worth raising is whether or not the publishing industry could do more, especially by publishing a larger swath of books that exacerbates the perception that the island is populated by no small number of zombies. (We can thank William B. Seabrook’s book The Magic Island and Maya Deren’s The Divine Horsemen for getting that started).
The writer Edwidge Danticat has spoken in the past about the need to emphasize that the island is not in fact cursed, but a victim of history. Books such as Love, Anger, and Madness: A Haitian Trilogy by Marie Vieux-Chauvet were deemed so important as to be translated by The Modern Library, and even non-Haitian writers, such as Madison Smartt Bell who has written a trilogy of novels about the island (All Souls Rising, Master of the Crossroads and The Stone That The Builder Refused) as well as Toussaint Louverture: A Biography, have offered sensitive portraits of the place.
So why don’t we have more Haitian voices speaking up for themselves? Why are nearly all of Frankétienne’s have never been widely, if ever, published in English? He is, after all, considered by many to be the James Joyce of Haiti. Or even someone more contemporary, like Kettly Mars, whose work is currently only available in French (though can be sampled in Akashic Books’ anthology Haiti Noir, itself edited by Danticat).
Is it merely an issue of translation? Or is it simply more commercial to stick to silly cliché?