Sara speaks to how while reading Considering Venus, a book by an Antiguan writer, she had difficulty getting in to it not because of deficiencies in the story and the writing but because of how little she related to it. Reasonable. We’re drawn to the familiar. She further writes that After considering the privilege of being able to pick up any number of books that reflected her/world, it got her ruminating on why diversity matters…I agree 150 thousand percent that there is not enough diversity in publishing (and that there should be for many reasons, including ones touched on by Chimamanda Adichie in her TED talk on the danger of a single story)…diversity matters… but I have to say as well that growing up, I couldn’t wait to hang with Fern, Jo March and her sisters, Judy Blume’s Margaret, Bronte’s Jane, Scout and so many other heroines from other places, who I did find points of connection with despite the differences in our location, identity, circumstances…I mean, reading Last of Eden, I related to main character Mike as a loner, as a wanna-be writer, as a mixed up teen trying to navigate friendships and family and the confusion of growing up…I do believe that a good and engaging story is just that, good and engaging, and that we can see ourselves in others and through that point of connection move in to other spaces, the world beyond our world, because, cliché though it may be, we are all human under the skin, and I’ve come to believe more and more that it can help us to appreciate the humanity of others who are other…than us… of course, growing up in the Caribbean where, ironically enough, so little of what I had access to to read was from the Caribbean (or for that matter from a black perspective, which might explain why I loved Ludell and Willie so much), there wasn’t much choice and I’ve seen (and experienced) the ways not seeing yourself in the imaginative space that art occupies can detract from your appreciation of self, of the value of your own experience, of the power of your own stories…it’s one of the reasons I insist on this idea that the Wadadli Pen Challenge submissions be rooted in the Caribbean imagination, that they be an expression of the writers’ unique perspective as a Caribbean person…I’m trying (among other things) to reinforce this idea that your stories matter, your world matters, you matter…it’s one of the reasons the Burt Award for Caribbean literature exists to gift the Caribbean teen with stories reflective of their Caribbean reality, its very existence a reminder that there are not nearly enough of these stories …how many times have I heard younger black and/or Caribbean writers say their first stories featured white protagonists doing things in other spaces because that’s who and what they thought stories had to be about?…and beneath that this damaging idea of privileging other over self (something Chinua Achebe touched on when he said, “I began to read about adventures in which I didn’t know that I was supposed to be on the side of those savages who were encountered by the good white man. I instinctively took sides with the white people. They were fine! They were excellent. They were intelligent. The others were not . . . they were stupid and ugly. That was the way I was introduced to the danger of not having your own stories.”)… it’s for this reason that in my evolution as not only a reader and a writer but as a person, that a book like Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John (a book which as a coming of age tale remains an enduring favourite of non-Caribbean readers as well though penned by an Antiguan writer) was such a pivotal discovery for my teenage self. Because there was our world on the page, and here finally was a character I understood not just as a girl but as a girl from Antigua…and as an aspiring writer, well, coo deh (!) a writer from Antigua signaling to me it wasn’t a laughable dream. Having said that, as a writer, as a writer writing from what I like to think of as an authentically Antiguan perspective, doing my best to cut through the fat and get to the meat of those characters, the heart and soul of them, I do hope that people who are a part of that Antiguan experience get to see themselves, their stories (it thrilled me no worl’ for instance when a mother tagged me in a picture of her daughter dressed up as Zahara from my book Musical Youth for, I think, dress-as-your-favourite-literary-character day)… at the same time, just as I as a young Caribbean readers engaged with Jo, Margaret, Scout and the others, there is room I’d like to believe for those not of our world, to engage with our stories, if they’re open to it and the story is engaging, to still find something in the story to latch on, something that makes them want to hang with these characters for a while… tall order? Maybe …can’t be all things to all people (and the experiences over the skin that separate us aren’t just superficial)… and, when writing, my focus is on being true to my characters, first and last… still and all…the girl (that would be me) who read about Mike and her love of poetry and her dream of being a writer while the social issues of her time began to press in on life in her elite American boarding school is kind of tickled at the possibility (however small) that someone from Mike’s world is sitting reading about Zahara playing her guitar and reimagining Anancy with her musical theatre friends as she too grapples with self-doubt and issues of growing up, in a world where the sun shines 365…and thinking, yeah, I can relate.
As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad!, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. And using any creative work without crediting the creator will open you up to legal action. Respect copyright.