2018 Neustadt Luncheon

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Neustadt Lit Fest, an annual celebration of international literature and culture at OU. This year’s keynote speaker and the winner of the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature was Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian American writer. Her works, along with certain aspects of Haitian culture, were discussed over three days of events. I went to the second-day luncheon, entitled “Edwidge Danticat’s Literary Message: A Luncheon Roundtable”, given by three well-known and talented Haitian-American scholars: Catherine John Camara, a professor of African Diaspora and Francophone Caribbean Literature at OU; Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history and African American Studies from Georgetown University; and Florine Démosthène, an artist who is a current recipient of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma).

The roundtable discussion focused on various aspects of the “Haitian diaspora”, or the dispersion of Haitians in the U.S. It was extremely interesting for me since I have little experience with Haitian culture or history. The three women presented information from their studies as well as personal anecdotes from their families and their individual time traveling in the U.S., Haiti, and Africa; they used their professional and personal experiences to explain current Haitian American culture from three similar but very distinct perspectives. I really enjoyed the talk (and the free lunch), and definitely feel as though the experience opened me up to another unique culture.

At the very end of the discussion, Ms. Démosthène treated us to some of her most recent work, a series of collages entitled “Wounds” that she did while in Ghana. The works are beautiful pieces depicting the duality of emotions and speaking to her personal experience as well as being a testament to the feelings and perceptions of many groups and individuals. Her website, florinedemosthene.com, has pictures of her work at well as her bio and more information; if you are interested, it’s definitely worth checking out. Also, I’m definitely going to seek out some of Ms. Danticat’s work as soon as I have time to read again (after finals if I’m lucky), so if you have any recommendations on what to read by her I’d love to hear them!