I’ve reported here on deaths and triumphs in the Caribbean literary community. Seems only fitting to share a couple of current controversies that have attracted their share of international press and much discussion. These things are in very different lanes, but have similarly stirred up emotions. But both can be filed under conversations that need to be had. I’ll share some links (and there are additional links within the links) and you can read and engage with the issues as you wish.
African-American author Zinzi Clemmons called out Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz for sexually inappropriate behavior.
“Ms. Clemmons, who teaches writing at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said in a tweet that when she was a graduate student, Mr. Díaz had forcibly kissed her. Her claims swiftly set off other accusations of abusive and inappropriate behavior by Mr. Díaz.” (The New York Times)
Diaz’s Response: ““I take responsibility for my past,” he said. “That is the reason I made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath. This conversation is important and must continue. I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.” (The New York Times)
The reaction of the literary community: “The allegations against Mr. Díaz came as a shock to some in the literary world, but other responses to the news on social media suggested that there had long been rumors about his behavior toward women. Several prominent writers, including Cheryl Strayed, Alexander Chee, Celeste Ng, and Jesmyn Ward responded to Ms. Clemmons’s tweet, expressing sympathy and support….“Everyone in the literary world/the media knew this, or suspected it. And yet, when Junot Díaz published his New Yorker essay — a pre-emptive strike if there ever was one — we gave him nothing but plaudits,” EJ Dickson, an editor at Men’s Health Magazine, wrote.” (The New York Times)
This comes amidst the watershed moment that is the #metoo movement. ETA (May 23rd 2018): This is not Caribbean specific but we have two Caribbean Nobel Laureates for literature, so I’ll add it; the Nobel Prize for Literature has been postponed for the first time in 70 years due to a sexual assault scandal. “The controversy emerged in November, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, when 18 women accused French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault of sexual assault. Arnault is the artistic director of Forum, a cultural event venue in Stockholm, which received funding from the Swedish Academy between 2010 and 2017. Last week Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden became the latest alleged victim to be named. Others include female academy members, and the wives and daughters of male members.” (Buzzfeed News)
The most heatedly discussed issue in Caribbean literary circles though, if my newsfeed is at all indicative of what’s trending, has been Britain-based Jamaican writer Kei Miller’s essay in Pree, a new online literary publication out of Jamaica. It has stirred up conversation (not just agreement and disagreement, but also hurt and contentious back-and-forth) about race, class, gender, privilege, identity, and related issues in the Caribbean, as well as about the line between public and private discourse.
‘Asking “how many years and decades must pass before we can belong to a place and to its words? How much time before we can write it?”, the essay saw the Forward prize-winning author discuss his interactions with four white women writers from the region, evaluating their books, and the way they have interacted with the local literary community.’ (The Guardian – UK)
Some of the reaction: ‘The essay drew both praise and condemnation from writers. Rhoda Bharath called it “a necessary addition to the global cultural conversations around identity, appropriation and privilege”, while Veerle Poupeye wrote, in an open letter to Miller, that “parts of the essay are indeed breathtaking, because of the writing and because of the sublime insights you offer”, but took issue with Miller’s publication of private conversations, his focus on white women and not white men, and his representation of the women in the essay.’ (The Guardian – UK)
Also this personal essay by Trinidad and Tobago Writer Lisa Allen-Agostini sparked by the controversy though not strictly speaking about the original piece: ‘”I cried with one of the women alluded to in the piece when I saw her at Bocas. But I also said to Kei Miller, “I don’t like how you said it, but we do need to talk openly about race. History’s not over.”’ (Newsday – T&T)
The linked sources give a comprehensive breakdown of the issues which is why they were selected. For more (including different takes), there’s always google. Again, these controversies are not linked, clearly, in their nature just in terms of their Caribbean-ness, their topicality, and that each in its own way has touched some kind of nerve and stirred up an ants nests. Posted here in keeping with the information sharing that I’ve tried to do on this site.
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, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). All Rights Reserved. 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. Respect copyright.