NiteTalk: Edwidge Danticat on The Best American Essays of 2011

Danticat_Edwidge by Nancy Crampton Resized
Nancy Crampton

The stories we tell have power. " They "inform, instruct and inspire. They might even entertain." But those stories "can also strip us totally bare." So writes Edwidge Danticat in the Introduction to The Best American Essays 2011. On Tuesday, the award-winning writer, editor and anthologist brings some of those stories to life at Books and Books

How'd you come to be the guest editor for the Best American Essays 2011? The series editor, Robert Atwan, asked me. Every year he asks a different guest editor and this year I had the great honor of being asked.

Who are some of the writers included in the collection? We have Zadie Smith, Christopher Hitchens, Chang-Rae Lee, Victor Lavalle, Hilton Als, Toi Derricotte, Mischa Berlinski, Susan Straight, Pico Iyer, Caryl Phillips, Lia Purpura among others

What were the criteria for selecting those that made the cut? The series has been going on for so long that it has its own protocol. The series editors sends you a very big batch of essays and you choose among that bunch. I also went out and looked for some of my own.
It was important to me to have work from online publications because there is a lot of exiting stuff going on online that deserves to be acknowledged and to be paid attention to.

How many essays did you originally have to choose from anyway? Over a hundred.

Were there any that you wish were included? Of course. There were some that came to my attention after the book was done and some that were fabulous but covered the same or a similar subject as another essay. We tried to cover as wide a range of subjects as possible, from as many different perspectives as possible, though I realized after the fact  that illness is  kind of common thread. There's never enough room for everything you want to include  in any anthology. That's the hard part.

This isn't the only anthology you edited this year, is it?
No, I also edited Haiti Noir, which is part of Akashic Books' famous Noir series. It was published last year and was two years in the making and it was also a wonderful experience. It's a great collection and I feel extremely honored to have worked with all those wonderful writers and to have been part of that.

It isn't the only collection of essays you published either, is it? Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist At Work  is a collection of essays I published last year as well. It came out of the Toni Morrisson lecture I gave at Princeton University in March 2008. It is a series of personal essays on Haiti and Art and the immigrant experience. It's out in paperback from Vintage this fall.

Will you be taking a break from both essays and anthologies for your next book? Yes, indeed. I've been writing a novel for a while now and it's been stop and go. From now on, it's all fiction, all the time. Okay, mostly fiction, most of the time.

Edwidge Danticat reads from and discusses The Best American Essays 2011 on Tuesday, October 11 at Books and Books 265 Aragon Avenue Coral Gables.  For more information call (305) 442-4408  or log on here.

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