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Professor Finds Home in Cincinnati, Keeps Heart in Haiti

New English Professor Myriam Chancy discusses Haitian scholarship and the recent tragedy that rocked her homeland.

Date: 2/1/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
It has been through memory—my own and that of family members—that I have been able to keep a vital link to Haiti. I have remembered: the heat that enveloped the tropical summers of my early childhood; the walks on dust-laden mountain roads leading past the street vendors (selling tortoiseshell bracelets, woven and dyed straw baskets, baubles for the tourist dollars); lizards escaping the swift broom of the housekeeper as they slithered across clammy linoleum floors of an aunt’s house; the weekend escapes to grey sand-covered beaches to wallow in the aquamarine depths of the sea; the fruits—sweet and orange flesh encased in pliant green shells—growing on my great-grandmother’s quenępiers trees, that I have never tasted anywhere else since. These are the fragments of a life lived without full knowledge of home: home was always the place to escape to, not the place where I resided from day to day.
Myriam Chancy,
“Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women Writers in Exile”

English Professor Myriam Chancy was born in Port-au-Prince and grew up in Canada; frequent visits and storytelling parents kept alive the links to her heritage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Myriam Chancy.
Haitian-born professor Myriam Chancy is happy to find a home in UC's English Department. (Photo credit: Eddie Harris)

It wasn’t until she was a PhD student at the University of Iowa, growing weary of studying British, Canadian and American literatures, that she decided to turn her affinity for Caribbean culture from a part of her history into her future as well. She wrote her dissertation on Caribbean women’s literature and has focused her research and creative writing on Haiti ever since.

This year marks her first as a full professor at the University of Cincinnati, where she brings her expertise on Haitian women’s literature and her love for creative writing to the Department of English and Comparative Literature.

“I like to do both scholarly work and creative work,” Chancy says. “They’re two different lenses of the language but I see a lot of relationships between them.”

Her latest novel, “The Loneliness of Angels,” will be released next month by Peepal Tree Press. She is also the author of two books of literary criticism, “Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women” and “Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women Writers in Exile.”

While it’s been difficult for Chancy to return to Haiti—she hasn’t returned to her homeland since 1999—she feels she is doing more for the nation by conducting scholarship about the nation, especially on Haitian women’s issues, rather residing inside it.

“I had the advantage of becoming a scholar and being able to do research in areas of my heritage that others don’t necessarily have the opportunity to do,” she says.

“I’m more of an ambassador on behalf of Haiti,” she says. “Haiti is the cradle of my life, but for practical purposes it has not made sense to go back. I feel like I’ve had more influence by being on the outside.”

Loneliness of Angels.
Chancy does both scholary and creative work. Her newest novel, 'The Loneliness of Angels,' is being released soon.

Since arriving in Cincinnati, Chancy has felt welcomed by faculty in the department and at the university. And after the tragic earthquake in Haiti that killed thousands and displaced millions, including a member of Chancy’s family and colleagues, the support has been appreciated even more.

“I only hope that I can provide some leadership on some of the issues or contribute in a way that is helpful to rebuilding Haiti,” she says.

Along with setting up an “In Memoriam” webpage on her personal Web site as a database for lives lost, Chancy is collaborating with colleagues on a symposium to benefit Haiti. She’s even committing some of her airline miles to bring Haitian performers to UC’s campus for a fundraiser in conjunction with Cincinnati’s Restavek Foundation to be held at UC’s Great Hall, Feb. 27.

While she’s feeling a tremendous amount of loss over the earthquake, she’s grateful about the benevolence from so many sources across the university, including the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

“I’ve been buoyed by the responses from the university regarding the earthquake,” she says. “I’m happy to be here.”

Chancy is urging those who are interested in helping Haiti to donate money to Partners in Health or International Child Care.

See what UC is doing to help Haiti:

UC Symposium to Explore UC Help For Haiti
The symposium will explore the challenges and issues of helping Haiti rebuild.

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