Skip to main content

A Promise in Haiti
A Reporter's Notes on Families and Daily Lives

Author(s): Mark Curnutte

When a devastating earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 12, 2010, the world reacted with a collective, yet distant, horror. For Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Mark Curnutte, hearing the news provoked a far more visceral response. Curnutte had grown to love Haiti and its people as only someone who had lived with Haiti's families could.

A Promise in Haiti is Curnutte's story of his time, spanning the last decade, living among several families in Gonaives, a city of 200,000 people a hundred kilometers north of Port-au-Prince. He began traveling to Haiti as a volunteer with the aid organization Hands Together, eventually building trust and credibility with many Haitians. Curnutte introduces the reader to the Cenecharles family, strained by entrenched unemployment and the need to continually travel for work. He is invited into the home of the Henrisma family, and is forced to reconcile journalistic detachment with basic compassion as he contributes financially to help them. The reader is confronted with a complicated, conflicted written and photographic record of a worldview that evolves right on the page. As a reporter, Curnutte found parallels between the lives he encountered in Gonaives and the world of the Great Depression recounted in James Agee and Walker Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Agee and Evans loom large as a challenge and inspiration to Curnutte.

The result is equal parts homage to that historic chronicle, on-the-ground reporting, and introspective narrative on the lessons Gonaives taught Curnutte about his own life and family. In late February 2010, Curnutte went back to Haiti on assignment, but conditions made it impossible for him to return to Gonaives. The resulting frustration provoked a meditation on the monumental challenges that face Haiti -- and on the destructive cycle of international attention that constantly moves on to "The Next Big Story."

Biography of Author(s)

Mark Curnutte is a reporter with the Cincinnati Enquirer.


  • "A truly useful and thoughtful 'life-on-the-streets' view of life in Haiti both pre and post the apocalypitc events of 2010."
    --People In Aid
  • "That the book's description of conditions in Haiti will elicit expressions of concern, perhaps outrage, from readers, is certain. More heartening is the prospect, even if slender, of material change that a future visitor, retracing Curnutte's steps fifty years from now, may be able to detect."
  • "Mark Curnutte is the conscience of Cincinnati. As a newspaper reporter, he can be found in prisons with immigrants facing deportation, among the homeless in shelters and the hungry in food pantries, and in the houses of mothers with sons on death row or those of still others who've lost sons to street violence. He doesn't let readers forget the forgotten. A Promise in Haiti finds Curnutte in the city of Gonaives, where he has lived among three poor families in this hemisphere's poorest country. What emerges is a tender written and photographic portrait of daily life, absent of material trappings but rich in faith. Curnutte documents in gritty detail the resilience that allows people to move forward -- dignity intact -- in the face of crippling poverty that's complicated further by natural disasters and epidemics. And like his literary hero James Agee, Curnutte reveals the great commonalities of human life despite surface differences of race, nationality and social class."
    --Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ
  • "Despite Haiti's history of natural disasters and ongoing economic and political problems, Curnutte highlights the strength and resiliency of these families, paying particular attention to their faith and religion. ... The author's reflections on his internal struggles as a privileged American journalist in Haiti are honest, sincere, and refreshing."
    --Library Journal
  • Named a 2011 ForeWord Reviews Silver Book of the Year
  • "Beautifully written, and very moving"