Creating dangerously, reading collectively
This year's selection for One Book, One Philadelphia is Edwidge Danticat's "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work."
For the 10th year, the Free Library of Philadelphia is encouraging everyone in the city to read the same book--this time a collection of 12 essays by the Haitian writer. A series of events, readings and film screenings related to the book will be scheduled for early next year.
The essays in "Create Dangerously" begin with a public execution in 1964 in Port au Prince under the rule of dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. They end with the devastating earthquake of 2010.
The essays in "Create Dangerously" begin with a public execution in 1964 in Port au Prince under the rule of dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. (Photo courtesy of Create Dangerously/Edwidge Danticat)
Between those poles, Danticat traces a theme of making the personal political; articulating how events in her native country affect her life in New York.
"The idea of creating at all--under dictatorship or as a young artist with your own fears of making art in whatever way--is the common thread," said Danticat. "Haiti is also a strong common thread--the history of Haiti and how art played a very strong part of that."
Similar to last year's One Book, One Philadelphia selection--"War Dances," a collection of poems, short stories, and biographical sketches by Native American writer Sherman Alexie--this book can be dipped into wherever the reader finds a favorite part.
Also like "War Dances," if the essays in "Create Dangerously" are read linearly--from start to finish--the themes in the book becomes richer, greater than the sum of their parts.
That this collection was chosen for One Book bodes well for the essay as a literary form.
"It's saying to me--and I hope to people reading the book--that essays can be read like these other types of books, like nonfiction books, or novels, or stories," said Danticat. "They too depict a life, and they invite you to other experiences. I'm hoping that's how the book will be read."
"Create Dangerously" was published in 2010, following the earthquake in Haiti. The paperback edition, published in 2011, includes a post script about life in Haiti one year after the earthquake.