Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue is a symposium of literature by women of African descent taking place in Accra, Ghana, May 16-19, 2013. This free gathering will put writers, critics, and readers from across Africa, the USA, Europe, and the Caribbean in dialogue with each other through readings, roundtables, screenings, and performances. Three Haitian women writers, Gina A. Ulysse, Evelyne Trouillot, Gabrielle Civil will be part of this conference and HIP Magazine wants them to have your support. We are applauding these women and all Yari Yari writers by featuring these three Haitian women leading up to the conference.
Evelyne Trouillot has been chosen to be part of the Yari Yari’s closing panel, meaning her voice will be one of the last ones heard by those in attendance and her message one of the last ones retained. She plans to take the audience through Haiti’s history by using her works to highlight journeys of the citizens that history books could not recount. Her body of work reads like a Haitian history timeline: award-winning debut novel about slavery Rosalie L’Infâme, short story about the U.S. occupation My Name Is Freedom will be used, including the 2010 novel La Mémoire aux Abois about the Duvalier regime and her poem Tande about Haiti’s earthquake.
Trouillot exclusively speaks to her daughter and HIP editor Shadine Ménard about her writing, Haiti and the Yari Yari OWWA conference before she jets off to Ghana to attend the latter next week.
S.M.: Before being invited to the Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) conference, did you know of the organization and what is its significance to you?
E.T.: I did not really know about it although I knew of the late co-founder Jayne Cortez. The problem of lack of communication and even ignorance of significant events or people is linked to the linguistic barriers, to the consequences of the colonial system. We from African descent have to make a constant effort to be aware of what is going on in the world, not only in function of what our former “Metropolis” judged valuable but according to our own interests and motivations. This is why I think the OWWA conference is important
S.M.: You’re one of the 3 Haitian women invited to participate. You are 3 very different types of writers, please tell us about how you would describe your writing style and how does it differ from what you know of Gina Ulysse’s and Gabrielle Civil’s works?
E.T.: It is difficult for me to speak about my style. I rather let the readers and the critics decide. But I will say that I want my writing to evolve, not to be too predictable or stagnant. I want it to move forward, to surprise the readers, by the story plot, by the choice of characters and by the language. I write poetry as well as fiction and maybe this is what I share with the other Haitian writers who will attend the Conference. I am not a performer, I read my poetry, but I am not a stage person per se. I know I know that both Gina Ulysse and Gabrielle Civil are both performing artists as well as writers. I plan to discover more about their works while in Ghana.
S.M.: Some prominent women will be at the OWWA conference in May (author Sapphire and others). Who do you most look forward to interacting with and why?
E.T.: I know other French-speaking writers who also will be attending the conference. I look forward to meeting everybody. When I go to new places and events, I am ready to interact with people because I know I will come back richer than when I left.
S.M.: As a woman, a writer and an academic living in Haiti, what are your views on the Duvalier trial going on in Haiti right now?
E.T.: In Haiti, we suffer a deficit of memory. Maybe there are so many hardships in the present time that people have no time to reflect upon past events. The youth tends to look behind like it was so much better than what is going now in their lives. They do not really know about the dictatorship of Duvalier because as a society we did not inform them, we were ready to destroy the symbols of dictatorship while we had for duty to keep the memory fresh and alive so history does not repeat itself. Duvalier should be judged and people should learn what it was like during the Duvalier era. Young Haitians should know that the freedom that they have today to express themselves was not a gift. Others fought for it before them, many died for it; it was a struggle against oppression and repression that brought this freedom of expression. To let Duvalier walk free in the streets of Haiti is like slapping the memories of all who were tortured, who died or had family members disappeared during the times of Duvalier. Bringing Duvalier to justice is paying respect to all these people and making sure that such times do not come back.
S.M.: How do you think OWWA will impact Haiti’s intellectual milieu, if at all?
E.T.: Frankly, I do not know if OWWA will have a real impact on Haiti’s intellectual milieu right away. But I think in the long term all events that allow Haitian writers, poets and artists to meet other artists and share with them their creative experiences will bring something positive to all parties.
S.M.: Last month, your new novel Absences Sans Frontières was published. Tell us about this book and where the inspiration for it came from.
E.T.: The title is Absences Sans Frontières (which translates to) Absences without borders. The immigration issues have always been a very important subject for me. I hear so many stories of destroyed families. I see so many people hurting because they live far from the people they love, not by choice but because life is so difficult that they have to leave their country, look for a better life somewhere else or simply perish. But while looking for another life, they often perish anyway. This is a vicious cycle where the impoverished populations find themselves; it could be in Peru, Mexico, Haiti or Somalia. The reasons could be economic hardship but it can also be because of war or political repression. I addressed these issues in some short stories but it is such an important subject for me that I found myself writing a novel about it and the love between a father and his daughter. She was born after he left Haiti and his only desire is to make her happy, to give her things, to help her overcome all society’s obstacles but now that she is nineteen he has to ask himself if it was worth it, since he never touched her, never had the chance to hug her, to be close to her and feel her breath, dry her tears. From her part, she loves her father but somehow resents him to have decided to let her grow up without his presence in her life. In this novel, the protagonists try to find happiness although they face tremendous problems and for me that is another important issue. Human beings are trying, whatever the social and economic background, the country of origin, the gender, we are all trying to find some degree of happiness. The obstacles might be different but the objective is the same.
S.M.: You seem to always infuse your stories with a heavy dose of Haiti. They either take place in Haiti or in Haitian communities. Is that a conscious choice? Do you feel that is what makes you a Haitian writer?
E.T.: Haiti very much inspires me, although I am open to issues that concern the world population and I think that most issues that are really crucial to some humans somehow concern everybody. The fate of women in some countries should affect me if I believe in human rights. Police brutality towards a minority or an ethnic group should also concern me. We live in a world where the connections exist even when they are not obvious to everybody. When I depict a Haitian family destroyed by immigration issues, the book questions the U.S. immigration laws, the immigration practices against citizen of Third World countries and other important issues. To answer your question, yes Haiti inspires me. Is it because I live in Haiti? Not necessarily. I know of a very good French novelist who never writes about France; his novels take place in imaginary places, in African countries, in the United States. He told me that for now France does not inspire him although he loves living there. I think I just love living in Haiti and it does inspire me; maybe I am just lucky.
S.M.: What can we expect from you in the near future?
E.T.: The writing process is a funny one. The minute my last novel came out, another started in my mind. Not yet on paper, but the characters are taking shape. The story is trying out different avenues, I am not sure of the plot yet but I know that it will involve the issue of adoption.
S.M.: Tell HIP readers why and how they should support OWWA.
E.T.: If you believe in creativity and that art is one of the best ways to promote tolerance, respect, dignity among people, I think you should support OWWA. A conference where women from African descent will be able to meet and share their experience will allow women’s voices to be heard. It will show how common experiences can create different forms of expression, of the African Diaspora to emerge.