Fabienne Josaphat looks like a junior Toni Morrison with her thick shoulder-length thick braids. And she certainly looks like an author. She’s just published her first novel Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow, a historical novel about one brother who puts his life in danger to save his sibling.
The author is a graduate of Florida International University’s Master of Fine Arts program, and previously had her work anthologized in MJ Fievre’s anthology So Spoke The Earth. Born in Haiti, she moved to the United States in her late teens and currently resides in Florida.
Kreyolicious: What are your memories of growing up in Haiti?
So I remember Haiti the way it was in the eighties and nineties, always in turmoil but still intact and trying to piece itself together every day despite the protests and violence. I remember its physical beauty. And I have memories of a relatively normal childhood there, minus the political unrest. When I visit Haiti these days, I try to relive those memories, and the challenge is to find them in the aftermath of an earthquake. Migrating to America was a complete culture shock, because the landscape and the people are different, and I had to learn to fit in this complex tapestry. I am still trying.
Kreyolicious: We might as well as say all writers have a fondness for books. How did your love of books begin?
My parents made books a reward for me when I was young, so good grades earned me a trip to the bookstore. My grandfather was a gifted storyteller, and my parents read me stories all the time. That is how it all started: loving books as companions, as things that are alive and that can allow you to escape, or bring you comfort.
Kreyolicious: Why did you choose to write about mid-1960s Haiti?
The history of that era is always narrated in one-dimension. It is also told in the voice of historians and foreigners a lot. But I felt it would be interesting to understand that era through fictional characters. So I exploited the history in that way. It’s a very fascinating piece of our lives that has been erased from children’s history books. I wanted to contribute something to that.
Kreyolicious: As you were conceptualizing your book, did you feel that you had to write about ensemble female characters, as opposed to a cast of males that it eventually became?
The story had always existed in my mind as a story between two brothers. The female characters in the book find themselves revolving around them, but they aren’t necessarily weak. They exist. They make choices and decisions, too, which leads the male characters to act. One reason for the choice of male characters is the inspiration for my story. This is a narrative loosely based on my father and my uncle, so the moment the story was conceptualized, the characters came alive in my mind as men.
Kreyolicious: What was the research process like for you?
I had to do a lot of research—reading, interviewing—and it was fun. I love to research historical events because it’s a learning opportunity for me. But mostly, the research brought me to dark places. I discovered a lot about our history that was disturbing, that left me speechless, and it was so dark that at times it took me days to shake off the sense of dread I carried with me. I take research very seriously, so I invested a great deal of myself into the work.
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