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St. Louis Literary Award Winner Danticat Talks Craft with SLU Students

10/29/2019

For acclaimed author Edwidge Danticat, the stories she tells are her version of painting pictures to show the world the lives of the characters that live in her head.

Edwidge Danticat with Joya Uraizee, Ph.D.

Noted author Edwidge Danticat (left) talks about the craft of writing with Joya Uraizee, Ph.D., associate professor of English, at a Craft Talk on Friday, Oct. 25. Photo by Amelia Flood

Danticat, the recipient of the 2019 St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates shared her writing process and advice profound and practical with the SLU community as part of Campus Read 2019, a series of events celebrating Danticat’s writing.

Speaking to a large crowd on Friday, Oct. 25, Danticat said the visual has always been central to her work, from her memoir Krik?Krak! to her novels The Dew Breaker and Breath, Eyes, Memory.

“The visual for me is extremely important,” the author said, “and the precision of the images. I think as I write that I’m often a bit jealous of visual artists and their ability to paint a picture. And I really try to paint a picture because I have to see it before I can convey it.”

Edwidge Danticat and Ted Ibur

Author Edwidge Danticat (left) joins Ted Ibur, executive director of the Saint Louis University Library Associates at the 2019 Literary Award Presentation. Danticat, this year's recipient, joins a list of lauded winners including Stephen Sondheim and Margaret Atwood. Photo by Kegan Phillips

The author had received the St. Louis Literary Award on Thursday, Oct. 24, at a public celebration at the Sheldon Concert Hall. In receiving the award, Danticat joins literary luminaries including Margaret Atwood and Stephen Sondheim as an honoree.

Danticat’s craft talk, guided by associate professor Joya Uraizee, Ph.D., of the Department of English, was the final event in the Campus Read 2019 series. The series also featured discussions about themes in the Haitian-American writers work, including discussions of trauma, identity-formation and a “movement experience” centered on choreographer Katherine Dunham’s connections to Haiti.

I think as I write that I’m often a bit jealous of visual artists and their ability to paint a picture. And I really try to paint a picture because I have to see it before I can convey it.”

Edwidge Danticat, 2019 St. Louis Literary Award winner

As she took questions, Danticat offered guidance to young authors who asked about the process of writing. In answer to one question about time, she cautioned against expecting speed as a feature of creativity, and noted that writing is skill that one learns incrementally.

“Novels take a long time, so you might want to pick a project you’re passionate about,” Danticat said. “You have to learn that basic stuff and you have to write the essay before you can write like Joan Didion.”


About the St. Louis Literary Award: With its 50-year list of illustrious winners, the St. Louis Literary Award has become one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country. Recipients of the Saint Louis University Library Associates’ annual award include Tennessee Williams, Joan Didion and August Wilson. Learn more about previous winners of the award. 

Learn about the St. Louis Literary Award 

About the Saint Louis University Library Associates: One of the oldest literary and cultural organizations in St. Louis, the Saint Louis University Library Associates seeks to build a closer relationship between the University and the community and to promote an appreciation for the value of literature. The Library Associates work to enhance the visibility of the Saint Louis University Libraries and to support the development of their world-class collections and services. 

Get to Know the Saint Louis University Library Associates 

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications