I’ve been going to Kreyolicious.com for all things Haitian for quite some time now. I love their Haiti 101 series. It’s a site that caters to young Haitians in the diaspora who want to connect to their culture, history, and the fabulous Who’s Who in Haitian art and culture. So I am very honored to be featured in their latest interview. This was the most candid since the interviewer knew exactly what to ask. So I’d consider this a mini bio of sorts.
To call writer Ibi Zoboi ‘versatile’ is an understatement. Her pen will write a compelling essay one minute, a short story the next, and a children’s book the next. A recurring theme in her works is identity and culture, mostly as seen through black and Haitian-American identity. What distinguishes her from other contemporary writers and authors with a Haitian background is the science fiction and fantasy factor. Zoboi founded Daughters of Anacaona Writing Project, an initiative for women of Haitian descent. “The Harem”, a short story she wrote was among the short story collection in the anthology Haiti Noir. Her latest work Bandit, a young adult fantasy novel, has garnered lots of acclaim, as well as the honor of being one of five works nominated for the prestigious Lee and Low New Visions Award. Zoboi’s A is for Ayiti is part of a series of children’s titles published by One More Book publishing.
Q & A
You are currently working on an MFA in Writing for children and teens.
Yes, I’m in my second semester. Best decision, ever! I’ve been calling myself a writer for fifteen years. I think in my last semester, in a matter of six months, I learned how to write a book. And I’m very much committed to writing for children and teens. This is the age where magic happens. Magic can be real in the mind and imagination of a child–magic for black children especially. I teach creative writing and essay writing in New York City public schools, so I call myself an “Imagination Teacher”. You wouldn’t believe how many of our children can’t fathom a magical world outside of their own realities. They’ve inherited such rich cultural traditions from the American South, the Caribbean, West Africa, and all they can come up with is Harry Potter, sparkly vampires, fairies, and unicorns. This is especially true for Haitian children. Why can’t we have tales of the lougarou and even the Vodou pantheon to instill cultural values? Ti Bouki and Ti Malice are fine, but we need some new narratives, silvouplé!
How was it growing up Haitian in Brooklyn?That’s like an oxymoron. A Haitian in Brooklyn is basically…Haitian. There are enough Haitians around to make you feel right at home. The adjustments and the assimilation happened on the outside—–at work and at school. There’s a huge difference between growing up in Flatbush—Little Haiti & Little Caribbean—and growing up in Bushwick where I lived from age five to ten—Little Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. If I’d spent my early years in Flatbush, I think I’d be a different person. But Bushwick was rough for a little Haitian girl. My mother had held on to her childhood memories of Haiti so she sent me to school wearing the very finest in French colonial schoolgirl attire—stiff, lacy, bright party dresses with matching ribbons. We’re talking 1980s crack era Bushwick here. Despite my name and clothes screaming Haitian against the graffiti and crack vile-strewn schoolyard, I denied it every single time. Someone would accuse me of being Haitian and I’d vehemently protest saying that I was full-blooded Dominicana. This was survival! Admitting to being Haitian was permission for a beat down. There were other Haitians around, but most times, we denied it so we never really found each other unless if our parents knew each other. You remember AIDS the 4 Hs back in the 80s? The saying was that you got AIDS from being a Homosexual, Heroine [addicts], Hemophiliacs, and—drumroll please—Haitian!
Please read the rest of the interview here.