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Readers Guide

Common Book Readers Guide

Readers Guide

First-year KU students will read Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work over the summer. This reader’s guide includes chapter summaries and will help you navigate the core ideas, themes, and incidents. After finishing each chapter, read the corresponding entry in this guide and consider the questions it presents. As you progress, keep notes on your own thoughts and questions and bring them to a KU Common Book discussion. (The first one is at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 19.)

And make sure to follow @newjayhawks on social media where we’ll post about Create Dangerously using #kucommonbook.

Chapter 1: Create Dangerously

In this chapter Danticat writes about one of the creation myths that “haunt[s] and obsess[es]” her, the 1964 public execution of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In this title essay, Danticat reflects on the power of writing and reading during the reign of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti and broadens the discussion to consider the role of art in human experience and survival. She ends the chapter discussing the roles and characteristics of the “immigrant artist.” Danticat writes in this chapter, “create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer” (p. 10).

Person: Albert Camus »

Place/Event: Haiti », Port-au-Prince »

Vocabulary: Globalization », Globalization Institute of Haitian Studies »

Questions:

  1. What are the personal and/or historical creation myths that “haunt and obsess” you?  Why?  In what ways do these creation myths inform who you are? 
  2. In this first chapter, and as you continue to read, consider the ways in which people are “creating dangerously.”  For example, why do people risk their lives to put on the play “Caligula”?  Why do people risk their lives to see the play? 
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Chapter 2: Walk Straight

Danticat’s chapter 2 is set in the summer of 1999; it takes the reader on a walk to the home of the author’s aunt in the mountains of Haiti. Readers get a glimpse of what life is like in the mountainous and isolated village of Beausejour. Through “Walk Straight” Danticat reflects on the complexities of writing about the private matters of her homeland.

Person: Refugee »

Place/Event: U.S. Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) »

Vocabulary: Panacea »

Questions:

  1. Danticat visits the home site of her aunt; the writer has not seen her relative in several years. Write about a reunion that you have experienced. Things to consider: With whom did you reunite? What was the occasion? What did you learn from the reunion?
  2. “Anguished by my own sense of guilt, I often reply feebly that in writing what I do, I exploit no one more than myself. Besides, what is the alternative for me or anyone else who might not dare to offend? Self-censorship? Silence?”(33). Danticat gives readers much to contemplate concerning the delicacy of writing about the lives of others. How does she complicate the matter by implicating herself as part of the process of exploitation?
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Chapter 3: I Am Not a Journalist

In chapter 3, “I Am Not a Journalist,” Danticat writes about the life, work, and assassination of Jean Dominique, a Haitian journalist who called himself an agronomist. Through Danticat’s personal reflections, we learn about Dominique, his wife, Michele Montas, and their work at Radio Haiti Inter where, for three years following Jean’s assassination, Montas carried on their work before being forced into exile in New York in 2003.

Person: Jean Dominique »

Place/Event: Haitian Diaspora/Dyspora »

Vocabulary: Diaspora »

Questions:

  1. Where do you get your news? Who are the journalists that you most value and why? What are the qualities of news services and individual journalists that you most respect and appreciate?
  2. Consider Danticat’s description of the word “dyaspora” beginning on page 49. What are the different ways the word is being used? Why is “dyaspora” complicated within the Haitian context?
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Chapter 4: Daughters of Memory

Chapter 4 focuses on the importance of memory when one is far from the familiarity of home. Danticat reflects on the books of writers from her childhood; all of which were written in French. Her memory makes her question the absence of Haitian writers that were not introduced to her during her formative years. This chapter encourages readers to question the importance of personal memory as well as the concept of national memory.

Person: Jan J. Dominque », Marie Vieux-Chauvet »

Vocabulary: Amnesia »

Questions:

  1. In chapter 4, Danticat reveals that her literature teacher made such impact on her that she majored in French literature in college. Now that you are here at the University of Kansas, in what way did a high school instructor or someone else influence you to major in your chosen field of study?
  1. Danticat writes, “Memories when not frozen in time are excruciating…”(65). Reflect on Danticat’s statement. What is one way to interpret the statement? Identify a national example of memory that speaks to the troubles of grappling with memory on a large scale.
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Chapter 5: I Speak Out

In this chapter, Danticat and a team of people making a documentary film called Courage and Pain interview Alerte Belance in her New Jersey apartment. Belance has immigrated to the United States after surviving a politically motivated murder attempt in Haiti. Though the machete attack has left her disfigured, the courageous Belance becomes an outspoken critic of the Haitian regime.

Person: Jean Bertrand Aristide »

Place/Event: Coup d’etat »

Vocabulary: Junta »

Questions:

  1. Danticat is part of a documentary film crew interviewing Alerte Belance when they first meet.
  2. Danticat describes Alerte’s testimony as, “a great gift to many others who were still trying to stay alive, and to the more than eight thousand others who died under the junta’s rule.” How is Alerte’s testimony a “great gift,” as Danticat’ describes it?
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Chapter 6: The Other Side of the Water

Chapter 6 is set during the summer of 1997. The author flies to Port-au-Prince to attend the funeral of Marius, a cousin who dies from complications of AIDS. Once in Haiti, Danticat is confronted by Tante Zi, Marius’ mother. The aunt does not believe her son’s death is from “the nasty disease,” and she does not want Danticat to write about Marius. Again, the writer contemplates the complexities of storytelling, especially when it comes to the private matters of others in her life.

Place/Event: AIDS », Little Haiti, Miami, Florida »

Vocabulary: Undocumented », KU Libraries Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Resource Guide »

Questions:

  1. “The nasty disease” is the description that was used to name the illness of Marius, Danticat’s cousin. Such references tend to highlight the stigma of AIDS. How does Danticat provide ways for readers to think of Marius’ humanity?
  2. How does the chapter highlight the ways in which societal structures perpetuate stereotypes about illnesses?
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Chapter 7: Bicentennial

The title of this chapter refers to the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence from France, which occurred in 2004. The essay is an exploration of revolutionary leadership and rhetoric and the relationship between the two oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere, the United States and Haiti.

Person: Toussaint L’Ouverture », Toussaint L’Ouverture », Jean Jacques Dessalines »

Place/Event: Haitian Independence », The Haitian Declaration of Independence »

Vocabulary: Republic »

Questions:

  1. Consider the question that Danticat asks at the end of this chapter, “is there anything more timely and timeless than a public battle to control one’s destiny, a communal crusade for self-determination?” What does she mean? Use examples from the book.
  2. In what ways does this chapter enhance of your understanding of American and Haitian history? What are the various aspects of the relationship between the two countries that Danticat highlights?
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Chapter 8: Another Country

Chapter 8 concentrates on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the disastrous 2005 storm that devastated much of the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. While reflecting on footage that she watched from the period, Danticat forces readers to think about how New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina were treated during their time of need. She relates this mistreatment to the ways United States citizens often fail to truly see the victims of natural disasters in other countries.

Person: Zora Neale Hurston »

Place/Event: Hurricane Katrina », Hurricane Katrina »

Vocabulary: Privilege », KU Libraries Social Justice Resources »

Questions:

  1. Danticat titles chapter 8 “Another Country.” After reading the chapter, how is the title fitting, or not, in depicting distinctions in America during Hurricane Katrina?
  2. “This is not the America we know…”(110). Give some consideration to this statement. What events have pushed you to come to know or think of America in a renewed or reaffirming way?
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Chapter 9: Flying Home

In “Flying Home” Danticat first recounts her experiences flying on commercial flights and how these experiences force her to consider her own mortality. She then recounts the life and work of Michael Richards, a sculptor whose pieces often incorporated aviation themes. Richards was tragically killed in his studio in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Person: Michael Richards »

Place/Event: This link contains graphic images that some readers may find disturbing. September 11 », 9/11 National Memorial »

Vocabulary: Clairvoyant »

Questions:

  1. Danticat writes, “When not reading books, I would read people, some of whom march onto planes with their life stories, literally on their sleeves” (116). She then gives several examples of how she reads people. Think of a moment in which you “read” an individual. What details can you include about the reading?
  2. Danticat titles chapter 9 “Flying Home.” Point to a passage(s) in which she encourages readers to consider the concept of home.
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Chapter 10 Welcoming Ghosts

Chapter 10 highlights cultural memory through the works of artists Hector Hyppolite and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both artists encourages a narrative of Haiti’s history byway of the work they produce. Hyppolite is a native of Haiti; whereas, Basquiat is the American born son of immigrants from Haiti and Puerto Rico. Danticat reinforces questions that centers on one’s positionality and methods of storytelling.

Person: Jean Michel Basquiat », Hector Hyppolite »

Place/Event: Marc Miller Jean Michel Basquiat Interview (1983) »

Vocabulary: Vodou »

Questions:

  1. Jean Michel Basquiat is a cultural icon. His contemporary style took the art world by storm. Identify a modern day culture icon. What is the significance of the icon’s work?
  2. Hollywood typically presents simplistic tropes of Vodou through dolls and magical powers. How does Danticat’s chapter 10 give a more intimate description of the religion?
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Chapter 11: Acheiropoietos

The word “archeiropoietos” means not made by the hands of humans. In this chapter, Danticat explores the life and work of Daniel Morel who, when he was thirteen, witnessed the execution of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin (which Danticat writes about in chapter 1). It was this event that inspired Morel to become a photographer. The essay is an exploration of the forces that drive people to create. Danticat, reflecting on the idea of archeiropoietos, asks “might we not say the same of all impassioned creative endeavors?”

Person: Daniel Morel »

Vocabulary: Witness », Witness (org.) »

Questions:

  1. Danticat discusses photographer Daniel Morel in chapter 11. Her description of his passion for documenting Haiti’s history is a compelling way to think critically about photography. This summer, take a photograph that captures a moment of deep reflection about an event, place, etc. Post it along with a caption to the OFYE Twitter page/Yammer with the #createdangerously.
  2. After reading chapter 11, what is the significance of the title to the chapter’s content?
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Chapter 12: Our Guernica

Chapter 12, the final chapter of the book, opens with the line “My cousin Maxo has died.” This definitive statement leads readers into the devastation that Haiti suffered from the 2010 7.0 earthquake. Unlike the international stories the world received about the earthquake that struck Haiti, Danticat provides a narrative that includes the loss of family as well as the pain and agony of a nation.

Person: Father Joseph Philippe », Father Joseph Phillipe »

Place/Event: Haitian Earthquake, 2010 », cont. »

Vocabulary: Guernica »

Questions:

  1. Danticat’s focus on the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti parallels recent natural disasters in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Houston etc. Review news coverage of at least one location hit by a natural disaster in the last 10 years. What do you learn about the people, the area, or even the institutions that aided the areas during the disaster?
  2. Danticat’s chapter 12 gives vivid details about the devastation that struck the island nation. However, how is the chapter also a farewell to the Haiti that Danticat once knew?
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Postscript: A Year and a Day pp. 175-177

Questions:

  1. The final paragraph of Danticat’s “Postscript” begins, “My hope.” Reflect on your reading of Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. In what way does the book leave you hopeful about the work of artists?
  2. In Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, Danticat in many ways suggests that the artist’s creation can give clarity when other mechanisms of communication may fail in transmitting the narrative of resistance fearlessly. What is most compelling about the notion that artists are the voice of the people? What is limiting about placing such a feat on the work of artists?
  3. Now that you have completed Danticat’s Create Dangerously, how does the untitled piece by Haitian artist Pascale Monnin connect to the book’s content?
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