Évelyne Trouillot’s story “Detour,” translated by Paul Curtis Daw, was performed as a part of WWB’s Selected Shorts event at Symphony Space in New York City on Wednesday, February 27. We spoke with Trouillot about her inspirations, writers she admires, and her impetus for writing “Detour.”
What inspired you to become a writer and what inspires your writing today? Has your relationship to your work changed over time?
I think over time I have become more and more demanding of my work. I started writing naturally, not really knowing why. After more than twenty years since the publication of my first book of short stories, I believe that writing has become a necessity for me. As a human being, a black woman, writing helps me to make sense of the world. The more I write, the more I read, the more I see the world and its challenges—the deep inequalities, the constant struggles of the majority of the world’s population to live decently—the more I see writing as an urgency.
Do you feel that you’re writing within (or against) a specific cultural or linguistic tradition? What authors or works that have influenced you?
I hope that my writing evolves, that it enriches itself from all the texts, the numerous authors that I have read. Haitian, French, American, British, African, Latin American, there are so many that I admire, it would feel unfair to cite only a few names. Although I cannot resist going back to poetry as the main inspiration, and will cite some poets’ names: René Philoctète, Mahmoud Darwish, Louis Aragon, Pablo Neruda. When I want to remember what poetry means, I always go back to them always as an anchor and as an impetus to write, to create.
In your work, do you find that you return to particular ideas or themes?
Yes, I do. Some themes seem to come back to me even when I don’t realize it at the beginning. Madness, motherhood and all the shapes it can take, unlikely encounters, impossible situations that bring human beings into . . . madness.
Are there other contemporary writers from Haiti who you wish more people were reading?
I mentioned René Philoctète earlier. Philoctète is a great poet, a great writer since he also published novels and short stories. He never published outside of Haiti and he died in 1995. A posthumous anthology of some of his poems was published by Actes Sud in France in 2003. I truly wish more readers would have the opportunity to read Philoctète. His poetry is a type that promotes humanity, beauty, and fraternity.
Your story “Detour,” which appeared in Words Without Borders, captures a brief but complex and intimate encounter between two strangers. One of the things that makes the piece so powerful is the dual perspective—how did you decide to structure the story in that way?
Haiti is a world of extreme gaps and contrasts. For the past forty years, the gaps have become bigger and bigger. One has the feeling that there are multiple spaces and countries within the same country. Each group for numerous reasons stays in its own environment, making the encounters between the different groups rare and unlikely. As a citizen I think that we have to find ways to force different types of Haitians to live together. Evidently, this requires social justice and the end of abject poverty for the majority while a minority is living in luxury. As a writer I like to envision such situations where, for one reason or another, individuals with different backgrounds meet, and then I explore what the results could be. To go beyond what is apparent and delve into emotions and let the readers also envision what is possible.
“Detour” shows a fleeting encounter between two individuals from totally opposite backgrounds. It was important to have the dual perspective for the reader to see each character as an individual, to see if the encounter is possible, and under what conditions it can happen. Literature is a key to understanding human nature, social relations, and feelings. I hope readers can see a small aspect of Haitian society’s difficulties in that short piece.
Évelyne Trouillot lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and teaches in the French department at the Université d’État d’Haïti. She published her first book of short stories in 1996. In 2004 Trouillot received the Prix de la romancière francophone du Club Soroptimist de Grenoble for her first novel, Rosalie l’infâme. In 2005 her first piece for the theater, Le bleu de l’île, received the Beaumarchais award from ETC Caraïbe. Trouillot has also published poetry in French and in Creole. Her novel La mémoire aux abois, published in France by Éditions Hoëbeke in May 2010, presents a compelling view of the dictatorship in Haiti and received the prestigious award Le prix Carbet de la Caraibe et du Tout-Monde in December 2010. Her novel Absences sans frontières (Editions Chèvrefeuille étoilée, March 2013) depicts a family in Brooklyn and Port-au-Prince separated by migration. In October 2013 Rosalie l’infâme was published in English translation by the University of Nebraska Press, under the title The Infamous Rosalie.