CU Personality: Linda Alcott
FRENCH PROFESSOR HIGHLIGHTS FANTASTIQUE HAITIAN AUTHORS
Linda Alcott, an associate professor at CU Denver, was interested in French long before she started teaching it. “French goes way back for me,” she told the Sentry. “I grew up in the South, and my family had a lot of ties to the New Orleans area.”
She began with a relatively common focus in French culture. “I was first working on 18th-century women writers in France,” Alcott said. “Then, through research, I found that my real calling was in the Haitian area and in Haitian-Caribbean literature.”
She credited her upbringing for her developing that interest. “I came from a family that had a great sense of care and a heart that went out to the African-Americans of our community,” Alcott said. “So I grew up with an attitude that we needed to do something, and when I looked at France they had their issues, too, but I was drawn to Haiti because I’m always cheering for the underdog.”
That’s especially clear from her literary interests after the 2010 Haitian earthquake took place. “I’m especially interested in how Haitian women treat earthquake issues, since they have such a specific status in those countries where they don’t even have a voice in many cases,” Alcott said.
Of course, Alcott doesn’t just read Haitian literature—she actively tries to spread awareness of Haitian women by teaching about and interviewing Haitian writers, as she did the day before speaking to the Sentry in April. “I was very fortunate to have been invited to moderate and interview a very well-known Haitian woman writer, Kettly Mars,” Alcott said.
“It was for the Alliance Française de Denver. I’ve worked with her and some of her colleagues as a collective in the past and it was a once in a lifetime experience.”
“The audience was mesmerized,” Alcott said of Mars’ talk. “Where I have found her research and her writing most compelling is when she looks at Haiti a year after the earthquake and writes a devastating portrait of the sexual abuse and horrors that go on in these refugee camps.”
“Horrors” is not an exaggeration when it comes to the lives of women in refugee camps, and Alcott is insistent on people acknowledging just how impactful their experiences are. “They were forced in many cases to sacrifice their children and offer them as sexual favors for money in order to feed the family,” Alcott said. “These are very gripping topics that are considered unmentionable, but they need to be talked about because those camps, six years after the earthquake, are now an ongoing ghetto, sheets over a little hovel that still exist in a lawless world of its own.”
Stories like Mars’ are what makes Alcott so passionate about showing Haitian authors to a broader audience. “That’s really fascinating to me,” Alcott said. “The way you can get the word out that all the money of the NGOs, and all the money that Americans really thought they were putting in the right places has not helped, and that people are still suffering. That’s where I f ind my inspiration, trying to get the word out.”