Marlene Daut is the author of Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865. Let’s all welcome her to my cultural salon. Yay! She’s an academic heavyweight, folks. She holds a degree from Loyola Marymount University (in French and in English). And at this point, I will refer to her as Dr. Marlene Daut, because there’s also a Ph.D. on her wall from the University of Notre Dame in 2009. Let’s get to know Dr. Daut in this two-part interview…
Kreyolicious: Tell us about yourself and about your Haitian-American experience.
Well, I’m not sure that I’ve had a “typical” Haitian-American experience, if there is such a thing. For example, while most of the Haitian diaspora in the United States is concentrated in just a few large cities, New York, Miami, Boston, and at least historically, Chicago, I grew up in Los Angeles. I should probably back up though, and tell you a little bit about my family, first. So, my mother was born in Port-au-Prince. She was one of four children, two girls (one deceased), and two boys (one deceased). Her mother, so my grandmother, left Port-au-Prince for Miami when my mother was only five-years old.
My mother then lived with her aunt (my grandmother’s sister) and her husband, and their, at the time, 6 children. My mother went to Catholic school in Haiti, until the time that her mother sent for her to come to the U.S. She was about 12 or 13 years old at that time and hadn’t seen her mother since the age of five. It’s hard for me to imagine what that must have been like for my mother to come to a strange country where she didn’t know the language and to live with a woman who she really didn’t know at that point….Anyway, my mother ended up marrying a “white” U.S. American, and they had four children (also, two girls and two boys). I am the third child. So, my Haitian-American experience, let’s see, although, my grandmother initially lived in Miami, by the time she sent for my mother, she was already living in Los Angeles. It’s not clear to me how or why she decided to move so far away from the kind of established Haitian-American community that existed in Miami.
But eventually, my grandmother was able to save enough money to bring my aunt, her husband, and all of their children to the States as well, to California. So, I guess you could say my family created its own little Haitian diaspora in southern California. I don’t know how, but I feel like at some point, everyone who is Haitian in southern California must have gone to at least one party at my aunt’s house! Of course, it’s not true, but it sure felt like it was!
Kreyolicious: Did you ever dream of being a published author when you were little?
You know, the funny thing is, I did actually imagine becoming an author when I was little. Perhaps, this will strike people as a bit sad, but I wanted to be a novelist. So, I guess I have strayed pretty far from my “dream.” I majored in creative writing in college, and I have actually written quite a few short stories and some poems, all of which are collecting dust on the inside of an old computer, at this point. Writing an academic book is not at all like writing a novel or engaging in creative writing, and sometimes, I miss it. But who knows, maybe one day, I’ll come back to this genre. I should mention though, when I was a little girl, I actually wrote a novel with a friend named Crystal. My friend’s mother even illustrated the novel for us when we were finished. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to that novel, and to Crystal.
We sure know what happened to Marlene Daut, though! This concludes Part I of the interview with the author. Watch for PART II of the interview! Meanwhile…