Twelve Years Later, Kettly Mars Reflects on the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti and the Novels It Inspired
Written and Translated by Nathan H. Dize
Twelve years ago, at 4:53 p.m. on January 12, 2010, the earth shook Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for less than a minute. The earthquake shattered households, crumbled buildings, and claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people. Ever since that day, Haitian author Kettly Mars has been sifting through the social, natural, and humanitarian effects of the quake in her novels, as well as in commentary and activism. When the earthquake took place, she was about to go on tour to promote her novel Savage Seasons, and by 2015 she had written two new novels––At the Borders of Thirst and I Am Alive (forthcoming in my translation from University of Virginia Press)—directly addressing the impact the earthquake had on Haitians from all walks of life. Like her earlier works, these novels are characterized by the observant eye and trenchant voice that have made Mars a fixture of Haitian literature in the twenty-first century.
A few weeks ahead of the twelfth anniversary of a day many Haitians refer to as douz, the Haitian Creole word for twelve, I spoke with Mars about the passage of time since 2010, her literary life, and her pursuit of the truth through writing.
Nathan H. Dize (NHD): I'd like to go back in time, all the way to January 2010. You were getting ready to go on tour for your latest novel, Savage Seasons, when a powerful earthquake of 7.0 magnitude struck Haiti along the Enriquillo fault line, just north of Port-au-Prince. Can you describe what it was like in Haiti at that moment? And, more recently, did the earthquake on August 14, 2021, cause the memories of January 12 to resurface?
Kettly Mars (KM): My publisher was putting the final touches on my novel Savage Seasons when the January 12, 2010 earthquake hit. It's the greatest natural disaster that has ever occurred in Haiti. More than a decade later, the country still suffers from its aftershocks. My family was not personally affected, but we had to live in the midst of this chaotic event that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, damaged thousands of houses and roads, and made millions of people homeless––that was something every Haitian living in Haiti experienced at the time. It goes without saying that we were shaken by the most recent earthquake in the Southern Peninsula on August 14. To return to Savage Seasons, it was the first Haitian novel published in France after the earthquake.
To read the rest of the interview, visit Words Without Borders.