Thursday, January 27, 2011

Edwidge Danticat in Guernica

We Are All Going to Die
Nathalie Handal interviews Edwidge Danticat, January 2011
One year after the earthquake that devastated her native Haiti, the novelist on rebuilding the island, art in a time of trouble, and inhabiting bodies.

“Haitians are born surrealists,” says Edwidge Danticat (quoting a friend). It’s a surrealism found in le quotidien. In Haiti it’s common to see a peasant sleeping in a tight space—the author and MacArthur Fellow explains—his toe on a poster of Brigitte Bardot’s eyes. Or a one-room house with Paris Match collages all over its walls. Art is at the heart of the island’s daily life and the most nuanced and powerful ambassador Haiti has, she tells us in her latest book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. But what can art solve in this country’s present?
On January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake followed by more than fifty aftershocks ravaged the island, leaving an estimated three million people affected—over two-hundred thousand dead, three-hundred thousand injured and more than one-and-a-half million displaced or homeless. This dark and horrid day also killed Maxo, Danticat’s cousin. The same Maxo who accompanied her uncle, alien 27041999, to the United States, and upon arrival was denied entry and accused of faking his illness. The next day, her uncle died in the custody of U.S. officials. Her uncle’s life story was poignantly captured in Danticat’s 2007 memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, nominated for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.
As Danticat and I spoke in November while she was visiting New York City, news of a cholera epidemic spreading in Haiti made headlines. This news was followed by accusations by Haitians that UN peacekeepers from Nepal were to blame. As the toll increased to one thousand dead, elections brought more instability. Riots broke out in the streets when preliminary voting was followed by rumors of fraud. Most candidates asked that the elections be discounted. There were nineteen candidates on the ballot, among the most popular were former-First Lady Mirlande Manigat, who was in first place, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, who was eliminated by ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin by less than 1 percent. The Organization of American States asked Haitian President René Préval to delay the announcement of the election results until an international panel of experts could review the vote. This action was taken in hopes of ceasing violence in the streets and conflicts between supporters.
In light of all the upheaval and tragic circumstances that have haunted Haiti in 2010, what solution can art offer? Perhaps none; perhaps, as Danticat suggests in Create Dangerously, art gives voice, and takes the international community away from a one-dimensional and narrow view of Haiti. It eradicates the idea that the island is only about turmoil and unrest, holding the world close to its pulse—its art, literature, and music. Danticat reminds us how far images of Morgan Freeman and Queen Latifah dancing on television to the music of Haiti’s Tabou Combo went.
Born in Haiti in 1969, Danticat came to the U.S. at age twelve. She holds a degree in French literature from Barnard College and an MFA from Brown University. Author of numerous books, notably, Breath, Eyes, Memory, a 1994 Oprah Book Club selection, Krik? Krak!, nominated for the National Book Award, The Farming of Bones, winner of the 1999 American Book Award, and The Dew Breaker, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award. Create Dangerously is her first book of essays, which was adapted, updated, and expanded from the Toni Morrison Lecture she gave in 2008 at Princeton University.
Haiti is her shadow, and shadows loom around her. She allows them. And in return, they save her. While writing The Farming of Bones, she watched horrible videos of death in order to understand how people died. “It’s a lot of work to die,” she concludes. She saw this more personally with her father who struggled with pulmonary fibrosis for nine months before dying. “I’ve always had this fascination with death,” notes Danticat. “I don’t know if it’s something that was said to me in the neighborhood I grew up in. So I keep looking for it.”
Like all of Danticat’s books, Create Dangerously has her heartbeat—a steady movement, a wide cry, a constant echo, a soft breathing. She offers us glimpses of an island and culture she is passionate about—and her dedication to which never ceases. She has just finished a fiction anthology, Haiti Noir, that appears this month. Readers will discover new and unknown voices, as well as masters, such as Madison Smartt Bell, Yanick Lahens, and Evelyne Trouillot. As we prepare to part, I ask her what she thinks Toussaint L’Ouverture would say about Haiti today. What revolution would he lead? We look at each other. A blank stare. Maybe these daily surrealistic portraits are leading a revolution. They’re insisting on existing and in so doing, resisting.
—Nathalie Handal for Guernica

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

this and that

Mandeep Sethi an interesting musical artist from SFO..

Niloufer Merchant on the role of protoganists in organizations

Himal South Asian is all about Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Mad Momma on A Chua

I like the ever articulate mad momma on the Amy Chua issue. I like her idea of parents and grandparents in India looking at the whole context. For example grandparents sacrificing parts or years of their life to help their children and grandchildren..

Vivek Wadhwa on why American education is still much better

U.S. Schools Are Still Ahead—Way Ahead
America's alarm about international rankings of students overlooks some critical components of our education system, Vivek Wadhwa says

By Vivek Wadhwa


America has an inferiority complex about its education system. You hear the sirens every year, when the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) releases its annual test results. Finland, South Korea, and Singapore usually come out on top; we start blaming our K-12 teachers for not teaching enough mathematics and science; we begin worrying about the millions of engineers and scientists China and India graduate.

This year the big surprise was that Shanghai garnered first place in the PISA rankings. Then The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the home page of its website titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." The Journal article claimed that Chinese (and Korean, Indian, etc.) parents raise "stereotypically successful kids"—math whizzes and music prodigies. They do this by not allowing their children to attend sleepovers; have a playdate; be in a school play; complain about not being in a school play; watch TV or play computer games; choose their own extracurricular activities; get any grade less than an A; not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama. The article went on to recount as typical a series of acts that would be considered child abuse in the U.S. (and aren't the norm in India and China).

The Journal article was simply bizarre, yet it is true that education in China and India is very challenging and fiercely competitive. Children are brought up to believe that education is everything, that it will make the difference between success and starvation. So from their early years they work long and hard. Most of their childhood is spent memorizing books on advanced subjects.

Meanwhile, the perception is that American children live a relatively easy life and coast their way through school. They don't do any more homework than they have to; they spend an extraordinary amount of time playing games, socializing on the Internet, text-messaging each other; they work part time to pay for their schooling and social habits. And they party. A lot. These stereotypes worry many Americans. They believe the American education system puts the country at a great disadvantage. But this is far from true.

The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms, and take risks. They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation; why Chinese and Indians invest their life savings to send their children to expensive U.S. schools when they can. India and China are changing, and as the next generations of students become like American ones, they too are beginning to innovate. So far, their education systems have held them back.

My research team at Duke looked in depth at the engineering education of China and India. We documented that these countries now graduate four to seven times as many engineers as does the U.S.The quality of these engineers, however, is so poor that most are not fit to work as engineers; their system of rote learning handicaps those who do get jobs, so it takes two to three years for them to achieve the same productivity as fresh American graduates.As a result, significant proportions of China's engineering graduates end up working on factory floors and Indian industry has to spend large sums of money retraining its employees. After four or five years in the workforce, Indians do become innovative and produce, overall, at the same quality as Americans, but they lose a valuable two to three years in their retraining.

Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life