‘Brother, I’m Dying’ selected as 2020 One Book One U read

Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

‘Brother, I’m Dying’ selected as 2020 One Book One U read

By Barbara Gutierrez
Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat will discuss her book at the Otto G. Richter Library’s Kislak Center on Feb. 27.

When Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat was pregnant with her first child, she learned that her father, Mira, was sick with pulmonary fibrosis and that her beloved uncle, Joseph, was in custody at the United States Immigration and Custom’s Krome Detention Center after fleeing gang violence in his native Haiti.

That detainment would prove fatal for her uncle after his family said he was denied medicine he desperately needed.   

Danticat’s memoir “Brother, I’m Dying,” chronicling the harrowing events that led to the deaths of her two close relatives, has been chosen as the One Book, One U read for the University of Miami community.  

“I wrote the book to tell my family’s story, the story of an immigrant family with hopes and dreams like any other family,” said the author. She added that after her uncle’s death she received his briefcase that included the transcript of his interview with immigration officials.

“They didn’t believe that he was really running for his life, even though he was an 81-year-old cancer survivor speaking with a voice box traveling with only a briefcase,” Danticat said. “After reading the transcript of his airport interview, the inhumanity of his questioners came through. They didn't see him as a person.”

Danticat hopes that members of the University community will see themselves in the book.

“We live in a city with a majority immigrant population, most of whom are recent arrivals,” she said. “This is a very difficult time for immigrants, who are constantly being maligned and stigmatized. I believe that sharing our stories and listening to the stories of other people make us more empathetic and much better neighbors. I also hope this book will inspire more of us to share our stories, as difficult as they might be.”

One Book, One U is a common read effort that invites everyone in the University community to read the book and encourages professors to assign the book in their classes. It is sponsored by various departments in both academics and student affairs, including the Office of Institutional Culture, Libraries, and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Miriam Lipsky, assistant provost for the Office of Institutional Culture, said a selection committee made up of faculty members and students picked the book because it seemed tailor-made for the present times.

“With this year being the 10th anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, we chose Danticat’s book ‘Brother, I’m Dying’ because the selection committee felt that some of the book’s themes—particularly those related to immigration and health disparities—were very timely and would resonate with the UM community,” said Lipsky.

The book, which was published in 2006, delves into themes of family separation, social injustice, and political and gang violence. But the memoir also illustrates the familial bonds that neither time nor space can change.   

“Ultimately, the committee thought that Danticat’s memoir, ‘Brother, I’m Dying,’ would be a powerful selection,” said Chantel Acevedo, professor in the English department and a noted author. “The book centers on a family deeply affected by issues of immigration, a topic that is always timely, but even more so today as the country grapples with a crisis on the border.”

Danticat, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and left her with her uncle Joseph and her aunt in Haiti, wrote not only about her uncle and father’s deaths, but also about her own journey from life in her native Haiti to arrival in the U.S.

Patricia Saunders, associate professor of English and the University’s Hemispheric Caribbean Studies Faculty Lead, is teaching the book in a class titled, What Moves You?—Black Diaspora Literature and Visual Culture(s). In this case, the idea of “movement” is about migration, empathy, and political solidarity with immigrant communities.

She thinks everyone should read the memoir and points to this excerpt from her syllabus for her reasoning:  

“Given the increasing focus and debate on immigration and its impacts on North America, the need to understand the integral nature of immigrant communities and their contributions to what we now understand and refer to as the United States of America and American culture is more important than it has ever been.”

For professors who wish to teach only chapters from the book, Ava Brillat, learning and research librarian at the Otto G. Richter Library, and Roxane Pickens, director of the Learning Commons, have designed a reader’s guide that facilitates the lessons. It can be accessed through the library’s website.

Danticat, winner of numerous literary awards including the 2020 Vilcek Foundation Prize, will speak at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, at the Richter Library’s Kislak Center. The first 100 people to attend the event will receive a free copy of the book.

Visit https://culture.miami.edu/programs/one-book/index.html to access other events related to Haiti or to the One Book One U selections.