Archive: An n’ Pale | Café Conversation with author Ibi Zoboi

This essay, written by Ibi Zoboi, is included as the preface in the Daughters of Anacaona anthology,  sold for $10 through Haiti Cultural Exchange. To purchase a copy please contact Regine Roumain at Regine@haiticulturalx.org.

Anacaona was Taino queen of Kiskeya (what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) who defied imperialism, contested European settlers on the island and managed to avert for over a decade the impending annihilation of her people and her culture.  DAWP’s mission is to instill the legacy of Anacaona onto the new generation of young writers so her prowess and vision can manifest in their creativity.

The Daughters of Anacaona Writing Project aims to foster creative expression, self-esteem, sisterhood, community service, cultural awareness, social activism, and leadership all within a “safe space”.  By creating two mirroring programs in both Haiti and the U.S., participating girls will gain a deeper understanding of the Haitian Diaspora and the many challenges that teen girls face in either a poverty-stricken country recently ravaged by an earthquake, or a bustling cosmopolitan city oftentimes plagued with crime and violence.  Through a published anthology of their works that will act as a form of cultural exchange, a Haitian girl and a Haitian-American, Caribbean, or African-American girl will share their differences and similarities and will hopefully form a bond that will encourage each of them to carry the lessons learned into their adult lives.

This year marked the second successful summer of The Daughters of Anacaona Writing Project. DAWP partnered with Dwa Fanm with a grant from Brooklyn Arts Council in 2009 to initiate a creative writing workshop during the summer serving primarily Haitian, Dominican, and Caribbean immigrant or first generation teen girls ages 12-17 residing in Brooklyn.

In 2010 DAWP formed a partnership with Haiti Cultural Exchange, preceded by a similar 3-day intensive writing workshop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in collaboration with FONDASYON FELICITE, a local organization founded by historian and educator Bayyinah Bello.

I launched a successful week-long fundraising campaign through Kickstarter.com to help in the costs for the project in Haiti.  I am truly grateful to all those who believed in the goal of DAWP and helped in ensuring its success.

In Haiti, 19 girls were recruited from local schools and met at FONDASYON FELICITE in the town of Tabarre in Port-au-Prince for 3 hours on 3 consecutive days culminating in a reading of their works with their families and community.  The reading was televised by Radyo Tele Ginen and Tele Nationale D’Haiti, two major stations in Haiti.  Participants were given certificates of completion along with pens and a journal to continue their writing.

In Brooklyn, 19 girls participated in the workshop at the Flatbush Branch Public Library in Brooklyn.  We met for three days over four weeks and family members, friends, and library staff were invited for a reading on the final day.

It wasn’t difficult for them to bond in the beginning.  Many shared the common Haitian heritage, others the same school or neighborhood, or simply that it was the first time they had been in a small group with just girls.  I let them talk, and they sure can talk, of course.  Many of the workshops began with a game or ice-breaker and a free write to allow the young women to become comfortable with creating and sharing amongst one another.  There were check-ins in the form of “highs and lows” or “sweets and sours” of the day or week.  I would begin with a topic such as beauty, family, culture, or home and what would most oftentimes ensue is an in-depth conversation followed by a poem, story, or essay.  Some girls preferred to talk, which was encouraged, while others wrote their thoughts down, either keeping it to themselves, or feeling confident enough to ask for it to be published in the anthology.

Overall, 38 girls were served in Port-au-Prince and Brooklyn, and from what I observed; there were more similarities than differences.  In DAWP, they were challenged to show up for themselves, speak up, claim themselves as writers and tellers of their own truths. The onus of Haitian artists is to pass on this tradition of telling our stories to the next generation.

Ibi Zoboi

October 2010

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