Madison Smartt Bell loves Haiti, has many close friends there, and initially rose to prominence because of novels he wrote about the impoverished Caribbean nation.
So when an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale struck a country that has had more than its share of bad luck, Bell was worried, heartbroken - and suddenly in demand as a media expert.
As he wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian:
"Haitians are expert in survival against all odds. They had been doing it for a century before their nation had a name. ... And they are also fortunate in that their cultural treasure is not so much bound up in architectural monuments (most of which, in the capital at least, are now rubble). A spiritual resource is that much more difficult to destroy."
The Baltimore author has written 18 books but is best known for his trilogy on the 1791 slave revolution: "All Souls Rising" (1995), "Master of the Crossroads" (2000) and "The Stone that the Builder Refused" (2004).
Bell, 52, and his wife, poet Elizabeth Spires, teach creative writing at Goucher College. He took a few moments Thursday to share recollections about the country.
Question: It's been hard to get through to you today.
Answer: If something happens in Haiti, I usually get a few calls, but today there's been a bigger media stampede than usual. I've done two interviews for Italian print publications, and I'm writing things for The Guardian and The New York Times. I did "Talk of the Nation" on NPR an hour ago, " Maryland Morning" tomorrow, and CNN is acting pretty serious.
Q: How are you getting your news about Haiti?
A: I belong to some private news feeds that give me privileged information. What I know, I know from them. I'm not calling anyone there, though. They don't need to be hearing from me right now.
Q: How often have you visited Haiti?
A: I can't come up with a number. I made my first visit in 1995, and I've been back once or twice a year since then. Initially, I went for research purposes. Now, I go back as a journalist, to attend literary conferences, and for some little projects I have up north, which doesn't seem to have been as badly hit.
Q: What about the country first intrigued you?
A: While I was researching a different project, I read about Haitian voodoo. Then I stumbled across the story of the Haitian revolution and wrote three books about it. I fell in love with the place - the culture, the religion - and I have friends there. This isn't a good day to say it, but one of the things that I do love about Haiti is that it's a place where magical thinking can actually work.
Q: Is there some place in particular that you stay when you're in Haiti?
A: I have a base in the countryside that's within 20 minutes of the spot where Pat Robertson claims the Haitians made a pact with the devil. It's actually a very nice spot.
Q: Any landmarks that are particular favorites?
A: There are a couple of places around Port-au-Prince I worry about. There's an extended community center, and it's not built in a particularly dangerous way, but the people there have not been heard from.
Also, quite near the presidential place is a compound run by the Fathers of the Holy Spirit. There is a fantastic collection of books and documents about the Haitian revolution, which I used a lot in my work. Their location is inauspicious. It's early, though, I suppose, to be worrying about things on paper.
Q: Haiti has an infamously poor infrastructure. Are you concerned about the aftermath of the quake?
A: This earthquake didn't discriminate in terms of class the way some earthquakes do. The shantytowns were devastated, and so were the more developed areas, where there's a lot of concrete that can fall on you. It's hard not to be reminded of [Hurricane] Katrina at this time. Let's hope it's not as bad as that.