The formidable Edwidge Danticat has won awards for her novels, short stories, and memoirs, and all of these gifts are on display in the powerful essays of CREATE DANGEROUSLY (Princeton Univ., $19.95). Each piece in this collection illuminates a corner of Danticat’s native Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, from the violent regime of “Papa Doc” Duvalier to the devastating earthquake of January 2010. In particular, Danticat highlights those “dangerous creators” who struggle to produce relevant art in the face of exile, crisis, or oppression. Her own searing blend of journalism, memoir, history, and criticism suggests that no single genre is up to such a task.
Leslie Marmon Silko, author of the longstanding favorite, Ceremony, fuses elements of her family’s heritage with Native myths and reflections on the natural world in her beautiful memoir THE TURQUOISE LEDGE (Viking, $25.95). In her preface, Silko acknowledges that memory is imagination at work. Her imaginative self-storytelling travels across boundaries of time to share aspects of her life as they are remembered; she discusses her first divorce alongside the eradication of the Laguna language. Silko’s insight is shaped by the spiritual power of nature and a keen appreciation for the contradictions and ironies within Native history. Her stories are unified by turquoise and her vision of the world is straightforward: the landscapes of the rapidly changing natural world are woven with memories of the past and cautions to a future that are each complicated by the loss of languages, cultures, and land.
In an enchanting new memoir, Pat Conroy attributes his life-long literary preoccupations to his mother’s having read to him all 1,000 pages of Gone with the Wind when he was five and to a high-school English teacher’s infectious passion for great literature. These defining experiences launched him on the path so personally and appealingly described in MY READING LIFE (Nan A. Talese, $25). Despite the fact that I have never been a great fan of Conroy’s fiction, I was so completely absorbed by his accounts of the teachers, writers, and books that he has absorbed into his life’s blood that I read this book straight through to the end, pausing occasionally to reread sections like his tribute to War and Peace, a novel that so awed him he’s read it three times.