Joanne Hyppolite is a shining star among the few - successful,
U.S. published writers of Haitian descent. She was born in Haiti and migrated to the
United States at the age of four. Ms. Hyppolite grew up in Massachusetts. She
received her masters in Afro-American Studies at the University of California and
is currently enrolled in the Caribbean Literature Ph.D. program at the
University of Miami.
33 year old discovered her passion for the written word when she was 12 years
old. This love prompted her to pursue a bachelors degree in creative writing
from the University of Pennsylvania. She published her first book, Seth and Samona, when she was 24 years
old. The story about the relationship
between Seth, a young Haitian-American, and Samona, an African-American girl,
is set in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the city in which Ms. Hyppolite grew up. Unlike most aspiring authors who tell tales of
hundreds of rejection letters and self-doubt, Ms. Hyppolites road to
publication was not so gory. She submitted her manuscript to a publisher but
never received a reply. After months of
wondering what happened, she heeded the advice of a professor and entered the
same manuscript in the Second Annual Marguerite de Angeli Contest sponsored by
Delacorte Press. As a testament to her
craft, the novel was awarded first place.
With her first place prize a publication contract in hand; Ms.
Hyppolite was on her way to that magical place where words become tools of
exploration and comfort. Her second
novel Ola Shakes it Up was published
in 1998. The book is about a nine-year
old girl whose family, move to a community where they, along with their Haitian
immigrant housekeeper, are the only blacks. She is currently working on a third
book, A Brighter Sun, which deals
with the Civil Rights Movement in Florida. Like her previous books, the novel
focuses on the relationship between young adults of within the racial and
political context of 1960s Florida.
of the ideas for Ms. Hyppolites books center on themes that deal with Haitian
and African-American identity and the challenges of overcoming stereotypes and
cultural differences. Ms. Hyppolite
states that one of the most surprising things she learned in creating her book
is that writers are funnels of their culture.
She considers herself a both a role model and representative for her
culture, not necessarily because she is Haitian, but because she is an author.
She feels that as a young author, she debunks stereotypes and makes and
impression. Ms. Hyppolite admits that her parents, in their sense of
conservatism, were at first wary about her chosen profession. They were a bit
worried that writing could not provide a substantial living. However, after the publication of her first
novel, they became her greatest fans and task masters. They are proud and ambitious for her,
constantly asking, When is the next book coming?
Like most writers, Ms. Hyppolite has a ritual that she
follows. She writes only on week day mornings, usually for two and half to
three hours at a time. She prefers to write on her laptop, away from the PC and
the lure of the internet. In addition to
cultural environment, her muse includes a pebble that she found when visiting
Gelée Beach in Les Cayes, her hometown in Haiti. Whenever she feels the dreaded writers block
coming on, or when a character refuses to reveal him/herself, Ms. Hyppolite
rubs the little pebble, negotiating with it by saying, What are you trying to
tell me? She believes that this little
pebble, which she loves, does indeed speak to her, for seems to rejuvenate
her writing process. She considers Seth
and Samona her favorite book because of its organic quality. The book is close to her because it was
written with a neophyte writers state of unconsciousness where ideas flow
and characters bloom within her mind without the recital of an motivational
mantra. Ms. Hyppolite says that she would like to get back to that place. Her
second favorite book has yet to be published or completed. Unlike the young
adult books for which she is known, the unpublished manuscript is an adult
Ms. Hyppolite likes hearing from her readers and receives a
good bit of letters from students and teachers. Some fans even ask for responses.
She is happy to oblige these requests which.
To Ms. Hyppolite, a good story is created from, nuanced characters, a
good plot, a great first line, and something that is finely drawn, whether it
is the character or setting. Her advice
to aspiring writers is, Write, write, write! You have to translate the desire
to action. She also suggests that they attend workshops and writing
conferences not only to develop their skills, but also to network. Knowing and contacting the right names in the
business can make a big difference. She supposes, for example, that had she
addressed the Seth and Samona
manuscript to Mr. Joe Black at XYZ Publishing instead of to a general office,
her original manuscript might not now be in an a box labeled unread. But as
luck and talent would have it, the book now sits on bookshelves in the young
adult section of libraries all over the country.
When she is not writing, Ms. Hyppolite is involved in her
other love teaching. She has taught undergraduate classes at the University
of Miami. She is inspired to teach because it gives her a chance to share her
interaction with literature with others. It is a great way for her to expose
people to the power and importance of literature, not only as entertainment,
but also as socio-cultural discourse. She finds joy in helping students develop
an appreciation for the talent and craft of writing. As relaxation, she works out, does yoga, and
belongs to a book club, and watches sit-coms and her two favorite shows, 7th Heaven and ER. She also visits Haiti about once or
twice a year.
Ms. Hyppolites community service mostly consists of
her involvement in the organization Women Writers of Haitian Descent (WWOHD). In
2000, she co-founded the non-profit organization with fellow Haitian women
writers Maude Heurtelou and Liliane Nérette Louis. The organizations mission
is to use literature to educate the public about social and cultural issues
facing Haitian women and girls, to provide forums for Haitis literary
daughters to connect and to preserve works written by and about Haitian women.
Last year, WWOHD went the Leogane, Haiti
to compile a social needs assessment of women who are afflicted with the
condition, lymphatic filariasis (elephantitis). They also sponsor literary salons and book
readings. Ms. Hyppolite believes that Haitian women writers need their voices
to be heard. Too many times, she says,
their voices get broadcasted and fall into void, with a lack of publicity and
appreciation. Another difficulty facing
Haitians writers is the low literacy rates among Haitians both at home and
abroad. The country has had hundreds of
literary magazines that, yet the power of the words continue to be accessed by
the few who realize that access to language is access to power. Ms. Hyppolite
believes that Haitian parents, specifically the mothers, are responsible for
instilling emergent literacy in their children. She suggests that they take
their children to books stores and libraries, expose to the written word in all
its forms so that they can know that, books are important.
Teacher, writer, and community activist - all of these
labels can be aptly applied to Joanne Hyppolite. This dynamic young women uses her God-given
and academically honed talents in many ways.
As a educator she helps young adults develop and appreciation for the
art and power of literature. As a writer, she draws upon her cultural reservoir
and heartwarming humor to expose young adults to the themes of growing up,
belonging, and the importance of family and community values. As community
activist, Ms. Hyppolite uses literature to educate people about the issues
facing Haitian women at home and in the diaspora while campaigning for an end
to illiteracy and social debilitating prejudices. Joanne Hyppolite is truly a rising star whose
brilliance shines in many ways.