Edwidge Danticat writes novels the way some moms make dishes. She’s always at it, creating literary dishes more delicious than the last. As your girl Kreyolicious revealed recently, Untwine is the title of her upcoming YA novel. Quite a poetic title, no? It’s about the relationship of twins. Growing up, did you ever look in the mirror and wish that image you saw looking back at you…could somehow be duplicated? No? I guess only folks like me thought things like that. In any case, that was the first question I thought of asking Edwidge [Aren’t I presumptuous, calling her by her first name? I’m such a show off. Acting like I get invited to drink te at her lakay] when I questioned her about her next book. The novel is about loss, and I didn’t realize that she had experienced a huge loss a few months prior to the interview. Read on. It’ll be like having tea with Edwidge Danticat.
[Photo Credit: Slaven Vlasic]
Kreyolicious: Growing up, you ever wished you had a twin?
I have three younger brothers, so growing up I always wished I had a sister. Having a sister would have felt like having a twin. I have a couple of sister friends I think of as my spiritual twins, the way Gisele and Isabelle consider themselves each other’s physical as well as spiritual twins.
Kreyolicious: I think we’ve discussed before how you always have the most poetic titles for your book. How did you decide on this one?
My editor, Lisa Sandell from Scholastic, came up with this one. I had a few other titles that just weren’t working and she came out and said, “Hey, you use this word a lot in the book. How about we call it Untwine?” When I saw the cover with the word “twin”, right in the middle of Untwine, I just knew it was right.
Kreyolicious: That’s so cool. I thought the Untwine title was a reference to twins’ being joined and disjointed. But wow, this is a way better rationale. You mentioned in a previous interview that this twin story was one you had started and put away before. What made you go back to it?
Yes, this is a book I was writing at the same time as Breath, Eyes, Memory. I started it in graduate school. It was about one teenage girl, not twins. I put it away and concentrated on Breath, Eyes Memory. Then I kept going back to it when I started writing for young people. Lisa—my editor—once wrote me a note asking if I had a book for young adults in me. I picked it up again. Then, my mother became terminally ill with cancer and I was spending a lot of quiet time in hospital rooms and when I got too sad watching my mother sleep, I would work on this book in the dark at her bedside.
Kreyolicious: So sorry…Do you see yourself writing another YA book after this one?
I have a few more ideas I think I’ll explore. I have so many teenagers in my life now. I have a teenage niece and nephew and goddaughter and teenage daughters of friends, a set of twins among them. I was really exited about writing specifically for their age range. I have also benefited from their influence by observing and spending time with them and asking them the occasional question about their lives. There is a kind of passion in the teenage readers in my life. They are really invested in the stories they read and are really direct about their likes and dislikes. I’m excited to enter that conversations with them and other teenagers as well as adults who will read this book.
Kreyolicious: What would you say to someone who wants to write a novel for that age-group?
Aside from the location of the writing itself, writing Untwine has been like writing any other book for me. I’d say don’t write down to the reader. Write honestly. Write the best book you know how. Put your all into it like you would any other book. Just because it’s for young people doesn’t mean youget a pass. I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books and some are better written than a lot of books that are intended for adults. There are some pretty incredible writers writing for this age group, writers like Jacqueline Woodson, who is a goddess in my house. So, write the best book you can is always good advice no matter what genre or category you’re writing in.
Kreyolicious: What’s next for you?
This fall, I also have a picture book coming out. It’s called Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation. It’s about a little girl whose mother is put in immigration detention. The mother tries to comfort her daughter by sending her cassettes with Haitian folktales on them and the daughter does everything she can to get her mother out.
Kreyolicious: Intriguing. It will be so cool to see how you handle such a tough subject. Do you ever stop?
I know it seems like I am producing a lot, but these things are often years in the making before they come out. Besides, after my mother died, I realized there were so many stories I wanted to tell, for her, for my family. We all have a limited amount of time with the people we love. And it is never the amount of time we want to have. This is, I think the themes of both Untwine and Mama’s Nightingale. You never know how much time you have. It’s very important to treasure that time and make it count.
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