Joanne Hyppolite, Ph.D.
A Sense of Community & Human Life
by Stephanie Krulik
Joanne Hyppolite, greets her visitor with a strong handshake and a welcome invitation to become part of her world. Seated on deck chairs on her 9th floor south Florida apartment balcony, a cool April breeze sweeps by and a bright Florida sun reveals the Atlantic Ocean far beyond.
The fact that Hyppolite is an award-winning Middle Grade novelist (8-12 year-olds), short story writer, Chief Curator at the History Miami museum on Flagler Street, and mother of her six year-old son, Carl, provide the integrated complexities of her everyday life.
Hyppolite's life history could be the making of great stories. In fact, it has. Her written words provide themes of American/ Haitian/African- American life and the Haitian Diaspora in the United States. She offers: "The great thing about writing for kids is they are unconnected. They don't have a lot of social decorum - the rules of how we think about people - so you can have an impression, thought, feeling, and go with that."
The word connection was found. Hyppolite was born in Aouakayes ( Les Ceyes), Haiti and at age four, immigrated to America with her parents. Her strong voice was found at age 12 growing up in Dorchester and then Brookline, Massachusetts. She read every book in the children's section of the Brookline public library. "With nothing else to read, I discovered that writing was an option for me. With an empty notebook and pen, I sat for a couple of hours each day on the yellow couch in my mother's living room."
Her literary voice - Hyppolite equates that to dance steps; learning the drills first - was defined when she earned a B.A. in African-American studies and English from the University of Pennsylvania. Her creative writing professor and mentor, Kristen Hunter Lattany, was pivotal in her becoming a children's book author. Hyppolite holds an M.A. in Afro-American studies from UCLA and a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Miami with an emphasis on African-American and Caribbean culture and folklore. She is founder of Women Writers of Haitian descent.
Hyppolite's first youth novel, Seth and Samona (Delacorte Press, 1995) was published when she was just 24 years-old. Encouraged by Professor Lattany to enter a writing contest, Hyppolite won the Marguerite de Angeli Prize for New Children's Fiction. De Angeli (1889-1987) was a bestselling author and illustrator of children's books. "I had to get the prize," Hyppolite says, "I had to write for Kristin." Pause... "Life, it was the perfect storm."
The story is set in Dorchester and told in Seth's voice, that of an 11 year-old Haitian-American, a little like the author: traditional, quiet, straight-laced. Samona is an outgoing American black girl and Seth's classmate. Almost like Hyppolite's childhood friend, Tamika. Themes combine friendship, race and adjustment and an in-depth look at Hyppolits's own youth: her Haitian family in a predominant African/American neighborhood.
Hyppolite says, "I come from a very strong cultural community. I feel that sense of community; nurturing people, the aesthetics and the vibrancy of human life."