Tag Archives: Carolyn Cooper

Caribbean Writers Online

Links to artiste/writer pages (websites and/or blogs) from the Caribbean region – artistes listed here are either Caribbean born or Caribbean descended (in the latter case, they are listed under their country of lineage). I’ve opted to list per country of birth or origin, though the writer may have grown up on elsewhere.

Please note, this page is a work in progress – links will be added over time – if you have a link you would like added, email wadadlipen@gmail.com for consideration – if linked or if sharing this post, please link back.

Antiguan_writers_group_with_Caryl_Phillips_2[1]

From left, Antiguan and Barbudan writers S E James, Joanne C. Hillhouse, Brenda Lee Browne, Akilah Jardine, Marie Elena John w/Kittitian author Caryl Phillips at the Calabash literary festival in Jamaica (2007).

 Antiguan and Barbudan Writers on the Web

group photo

This image is from a fiction editing workshop in Guyana and participants included some of the writers listed on this page – Joanne C. Hillhouse, first left back is listed among the Antiguan and Barbudan Writers on the Web; and below Shivaneee Ramlochan (Trinidad and Tobago), second from left, front; Richard Georges (BVI), second from left, back; Nailah Imoja (Barbados), third from left, front; Ruel Johnson (Guyana), third from right, back; Felene Cayetano (Belize), front, right. (2016)

Barbados

Shakirah Bourne

Babara Ann Chase

Nailah Imoja

Karen Lord

Sandra Sealey

Edison T. Williams

Belize

Felene Cayetano

Ivory Kelly

Bermuda

Yesha Townsend

the British Virgin Islands

Richard Georges

Eugenia O’Neal

the Dominican Republic

Junot Diaz

Grenada

Tobias Buckell

Oonya Kempadoo 

Guyana

Maggie Harris

Ruel Johnson

Yolanda T. Marshall

Caribbean Writers Congress with Marin Bethel and Leone Ross 2013

Leone Ross, right, shows up in the Jamaica section. Pictured here at a writers’ conference in Guadeloupe with Joanne C. Hillhouse and Bahamas’ Marion Bethel.

Jamaica

Raymond Antrobus

Tanya Batson-Savage (publisher and editor Blue Banyan Books)

Jacqueline Bishop

Amina Blackwood-Meeks

Diane Browne

Colin Channer

Carolyn Cooper

Kwame Dawes

Jonathan Escoffery

Yashika Graham

Diana McCaulay

Alecia McKenzie

Kei Miller

Opal Palmer Adisa

Annie Paul

Geoffrey Philp

Leone Ross

Olive Senior

Safiya Sinclair

Puerto Rico

Lisa Paravisini-Gebert

Ivette Romero-Cesareo

St. Kitts & Nevis

Carol Mitchell 4 by Joanne C Hillhouse

Carol Mitchell is pictured here as a guest presenter at Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Jhohadli Summer Youth Project writing camp in Antigua, 2013.

Carol Mitchell

Caryl Phillips

St. Lucia

John Robert Lee

Derek Walcott

Suriname

Rihana Jamaludin

Karin Lachmising

Trinidad and Tobago

Lisa Allen-Agostini

Vashti Bowlah

Danielle Boodoo Fortune (see also this link to her various past blogs)

Summer Edward

Marsha Gomes-McKie

Nicholas Laughlin

Sharon Millar

with Sharon Millar

Sharon Millar, left, makes a point at the V I Lit Fest 2015 as Joanne C. Hillhouse listens.

Paula Obe

Ingrid Persaud

M. Nourbese Philip

Shivanee Ramlochan

Leshanta Roop

Lawrence Scott

Liane Spicer

U. S. V. I.

Tiphanie Yanique

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READING ROOM VII

Like the title says, this is the seventh reading room. Use the search feature to your right and the term ‘reading room’ to find the others. Six came before, pack-full-0 good reading: poetry, fiction, non fiction, and some visuals too. Good reading makes for good writing. So use the reading rooms like your personal library and enjoy. And remember, keep coming back; they’re never finished. As I discover things, things get added. And don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts re not only what you read here but also possible additions to the reading room.

BLOG

Monique Roffey (Trinidad and Tobago), author of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle -a book I recommended in my Blogger on Books a while back – shares writing advice and recommended reads in this post. I also want to mention that another Roffey post sparked a most interesting discussion re Caribbean literature – check out this post (also this) and this one from Vladimir Lucien (St. Lucia) for more on that.

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Have you read any of these Caribbean women writers?

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Love everything about this post and Shakirah Bourne’s gushing nervousness and excitement over meeting her literary hero. READ MORE.

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“Make no apology for your language, and nobody will expect one.” Bajan Shakirah Bourne speaks about the write to use our natural, our mother, our heart language in life and on the page. Sidebar: that bit about Dickens struck me about him training his ear and his hand to write what people said, and how they said it; as a reporter, who writes what some people think is short hand but is actually Joanne-warp-speed-hand, I’m beginning to see how my life tracking down stories and interviewing people shaped and shapes the stories I tell and how I tell them. Still figuring it out, but yeah, that resonated with me. Plus I love Dickens. Sidebar over. Substantively, Bourne writes about Scottish author Irvine Welsh and what we can learn about how he uses dialect, unapologetically. Read the full here.

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I was tempted to put this art-heavy Althea Romeo Mark post in the visual category but it’s an art blog,  in which she reminds us that “art is part of our everyday life” and shows us too. Read and see here.

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Food for thought: 5 Reasons to Wait and Slow Down when it comes to Publishing your Book.

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In this post, Jamaican writer Diane Browne wonders, what is it about Calabash, the literary festival that leaves us all a little bit drunk on words. Dr. Carolyn Cooper also had some musings about the magical festival.

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What Makes a Writer ‘Caribbean’? asks Lisa Allen-Agostini

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Creative people can be oddities…but that’s a good thing…really…and daring to be a little odd can be good for anyone. Embarrass Yourself. It’s Good for the Heart by Elaine Orr.

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“I think you have to work hard, and you have to place yourself in the light somehow – whether it is at readings, by writing online, by submissions, by reaching out to people as you have just done – and if you stand there long enough and nicely enough (i.e. as part of a bigger picture, not as the star of your own show!), then good things do happen.” – RU FREEMAN RESPONDS TO A ASPIRING WRITER

FICTION

I’ll confess I haven’t fully read Gateway – a Caribbean Sampler in the Missing Slate as yet but somehow I have no qualms about recommending it. When you’re done, check out the first issue of Susumba’s Book Bag.

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“You wake to see the sunrise exactly once a year. The cock’s crow which normally signals the start of the day alerts you that you are late.

Kadooment Day is here.” READ MORE OF THIS BARBADOS FESTIVAL FROM THE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE OF SHAKIRAH BOURNE’S PEN IN ‘THE FOOT IS MINE’

INTERVIEWS

Elizabeth Nunez being interviewed on NPR about my book Oh Gad!

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Kei Miller interview.

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John Robert Lee’s interview with the ARC has some interesting insights about the arts scene in St. Lucia which some may find also mirrors the scene in their territory. Read the full here.

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Audio interview – my girl, Belizean writer Ivory Kelly on the BBC.

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“The IDEA is key. Get your IDEA straight and you can execute it in a thousand ways. But the IDEA must always be singular and original.” – Read more of Jamaican Roland Watson-Grant’s interview with Annie Paul.

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“There’s been a kind of amnesia,” he says, “or not wanting to focus on this, because of it being so painful. It’s kind of crazy. We can deal with the second world war and the Holocaust and so forth and what not, but this side of history, maybe because it was so hideous, people just do not want to see. People do not want to engage.” More from the director of 12 Years a Slave here.

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“My father recited poetry all the time, spasmodically and loudly in the house. But there was a method to his madness. He read with a compelling rotundity: Neruda’s ‘United Fruit Company’, Wilfred Owen’s ‘Exposure’, Martin Carter’s ‘This is the Dark Time My Love’, Derek Walcott’s ‘As John to Patmos’, Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gently Into that Good Night’. He also wrote and was very modest about doing so.” – Read more of the Arc’s interview with St. Lucian poet Vladimir Lucien.

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“In a way Island Princess in Brooklyn celebrates my father’s family and their journey. Interestingly enough, Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune celebrated the fact that fame and fortune can be found here at home (no need to migrate). However, Princess is forced to migrate and forced to make a new life or return home. Is this back story then part of the journey, a journey in which I am now able to look outwards from our island to our people overseas? This circle of family, of story, fills me with wonder.” – Diane Browne, Read the full interview at the Brown Bookshelf.

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“My greatest fortune has come from the people who believed in me who have allowed my writing to flourish, and from the many individuals who I’ve come into contact with during the creative process of writing. However I have yet to walk into a bookstore and see my books there, that remains a dream!  So – a mixed life, and at the age of 60 I know I have much to be thankful for and hope when and if my writing is read, that it will bring inspiration to others.” – Read more o Arc magazine’s interview with Commonwealth short story prize winner for the Caribbean region.

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Carib Lit interviews Ezekiel Alan, a self published Jamaican novelist who claimed the Commonwealth book prize. Now that’s inspiring. How’d he do it?

“Get honest feedback, from people not too close to you. Do as professional a job as possible — get your book properly edited and proofread.”  Alan also encourages writers to develop and stick with a writing routine and to think outside the box in selecting story ideas. “It is tougher to compete by producing what everyone else is producing.”

Read more.

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Writer-colleague and Burt Award Winner A-dZiko Gegele told me on facebook “Your ‘Island SisStar’, Jamaica Kincaid was at Calabash Jamaica this year – what a fabulous soul – she was witty, and full of humility and grace – highly rated by the audience.” Here’s Susumba’s coverage of that interview.

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So much inspiration to pull from in this interview, it was hard to excerpt just one but in the end I went this: “Whatever work we do, we must work from the heart.” Dena Simmons is an American educator and activist with Antiguan and Barbudan roots. I know because I was at a literary conference in the USA where among the very few black people there, there was one other Antiguan or so she introduced herself to me and I’m happy to have made the connection. Read up.

NON FICTION

Zadie Smith’s 10 rules for writing.

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“I write because the island I live in is small, and I feel a sting each time the people who ask where I am from, then cut short their attention when they realize just how small it is, cut short their attention because the island is not on the radar of much-of-the-world, unless one sharpens the gaze.” – Jonathan Bellot. Read more.

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I hardly know where to excerpt, there’s so much wisdom here but…how about this:

“If you like fantasy and you want to be the next Tolkien, don’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies — Tolkien didn’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies, he read books on Finnish philology. Go and read outside of your comfort zone, go and learn stuff.”

Incidentally, I remember a professor making a similar point about being a journalist, he suggested that we needed to spend less time in the bubble of learning about media and communications and more time just learning about…well, everything.

Read more from Neil Gaiman here.

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“As a child being educated in Guyana, English Literature was an invitation to other worlds, an invitation which has never lost its appeal…” read more of Maggie Harris reflecting on a literary journey which most recently spiked with her 2014 win of the Commonwealth Short Story prize for the Caribbean region.

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If you’re thinking of publishing especially in the children’s market and you live in the Caribbean, you should read this article by Kellie Magnus.

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“In the first draft I sometimes found my characters being mouthpieces for me and my good intentions, and that made the writing weak and bland. In the second draft, I shut up and let the characters do their own talking, and the story improved considerably. The struggle of the protagonist to come to an understanding of herself beyond victimhood was also much clearer when I didn’t try to impose a social justice agenda on her. She became not merely a representative of all children and adults who have survived child sexual abuse, but a real character, with hopes and fears and wants and needs she tries to meet in the way she knows how to, and I had to let her speak for herself in order to give her the agency her history had denied her.” – READ MORE OF LISA ALLEN-AGOSTINI’S ATTEMPTS  TO NAVIGATE THE TERRAIN BETWEEN NON FICTION HORROR AND FICTION WITH BOTH A SOCIAL CONSCIENCE AND A REAL HEART BEAT.

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“I want to write poetry that is alive, fresh, vibrant, contemporary in feeling, readable, thought-provoking, playfully subversive, powerful, and yet still tender. I want it to be full of the energy, culture, history, music, natural beauty, spirituality, and social struggles of Puerto Rico, and other islands of the Caribbean where I have visited or lived… I don’t write love poetry, and I don’t rhyme. I write because I want to communicate with readers in a way that matters, makes an impact, or makes some kind of beneficial difference in the reader’s thoughts and in the society. Can poetry do that? I still believe in the power of the word…If there is any “must” for a poet, from my perspective, it is to widely read other poets and thus develop the ability to sort out your own place as both an innovator and a member of an ongoing literary community and tradition that you will nourish and be nourished by.” READ MORE INSIGHTS FROM PUERTO RICAN POET LORETTA COLLINS KOBLAH

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Plagiarists, Muses and ‘Stalk-home’ Syndrome by Farzana Versey.

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Never give up…plus, yay, supernatural gifs: Jennifer L. Armentrout on Why I’m not the Person to ask about self-publishing.

POETRY

Antiguan and Barbudan Linisa George’s Poetry Postcard on the BBC, In the Closet.

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St. Lucian Vladimir Lucien’s Poetry Post Card on the BBC, Ebb 1.

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“In Carnival season, he is Lord and often Monarch, but at his day job, he is a squire at White Knight Laundry, where hotels and restaurants hire linens for special occasions, and employees wash, iron, mend, pick-up, and drop off.” This line captured for me that split between real life and the larger than life calypso persona of the Carnival season. Read the full poem – What He Brought For Me by Loretta Collins Koblah – in the July 2014 edition of Caribbean Beat.

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“Tonight I want to offer you
this moonlight cupped in a purple
flower …” sigh, right? Swoon to the rest of this Esther Phillips poem, And Yet Again, here.

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Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Elizabeth Frye

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Poetry Parnassus – “verse from each Olympic nation

VISUAL

Calypso is storytelling… check out this Sparrow classic for a brief lesson. Don’t forget to dance.

Other calypso video posts on this site include: the Latumba post, the King Obtinate post, and the Short Shirt post.

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Something I’ve long wanted to do with the Wadadli Pen stories.

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, and Oh Gad!). 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. Respect copyright.

 

 

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‘One of a Handful Still Alive’

Special thanks to Dr. Carolyn Cooper for this article on the ‘strains of resistance in the writings of Jamaica Kincaid’ – the Antiguan and Barbudan born writer of such critically acclaimed books as Annie John, Lucy, and  My Brother.

Dr. Cooper is a Jamaican author and literary scholar who has written extensively on cultural politics in Caribbean literature and popular culture -particularly reggae and dancehall music. She is the author of Sound Clash:Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large, 2004; and Noises in theBlood: Orality, Gender and the ‘Vulgar’ Body of Jamaican Popular Culture,1993. She is the editor of Global Reggae, a collection ofessays on Jamaican popular music a yard and abroad, which willbe published in September 2012. Dr. Cooper currently writes a weekly column for the SundayGleaner which she irregularly translates into the Jamaican language for her blog, Jamaican Woman Tongue:  http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com

Here it is:

‘One of a Handful Still Alive’:  Strains of Resistance in the Fiction of Jamaica Kincaid

by Dr. Carolyn Cooper

Popular narratives of European ‘conquest’ in the Creole-Anglophone Caribbean routinely write the history of indigenous peoples as a genocidal discourse of near-total erasure. Tropes of bacterial warfare are deployed to account for the seemingly inevitable extermination of vulnerable populations.   Infected by the strange maladies of Europe, the First Peoples of the region succumbed in epidemic proportions to the diseases of invasion. Conversely, Jamaica Kincaid’s dissenting fictions articulate a politics of resistance to the master-narrative of extinction, affirming a durable oral family history in which the recurring figure of the iconic Carib grandmother embodies the strains of survival of the original peoples of the archipelago. 

            I frame my reading of the representation of Carib identity in Jamaica Kincaid’s oeuvre with an aetiological tale:

A legend among the Kiowas of the American Great Plains tells about an encounter between Saynday, the mythic hero of the tribe, and a stranger named Smallpox, dressed in a black suit and high hat. Smallpox speaks first:

‘‘Who are you?’’ the stranger asked.

‘‘I’m Saynday. I’m the Kiowas’ Old Uncle Saynday. I’m the one who’s always coming along.’’

‘‘I never heard of you,’’ the stranger said, ‘‘and I never heard of the Kiowas. Who are they?’’

‘‘The Kiowas are my people,’’ Saynday said, and even in that hard time he stood up proudly, like a man. ‘‘Who are you?’’

‘‘I’m Smallpox,’’ the man answered.

‘‘And I never heard of you,’’ said Saynday. ‘‘Where do you come from and what do you do and why are you here?’’

‘‘I come from far away, across the Eastern Ocean,’’ Smallpox answered. ‘‘I am one with the white men—they are my people as the Kiowas are yours. Sometimes I travel ahead of them, and sometimes I lurk behind. But I am always their companion and you will find me in their camps and in their houses.’’

‘‘What do you do?’’ Saynday repeated.

‘‘I bring death,’’ Smallpox replied. ‘‘My breath causes children to wither like young plants in the spring snow. I bring destruction. No matter how beautiful a woman is, once she has looked at me she becomes as ugly as death. And to men I bring not death alone, but the destruction of their children and the blighting of their wives. The strongest warriors go down before me. No people who have looked on me will ever be the same.’’[i]

            “Where do you come from and what do you do and why are you here?”  These three primal questions, resonating across the broad geographical sweep of the so-called ‘Americas’ with the mythic authority of riddling fable, constitute a fundamental interrogation of colonialist narratives of ‘discovery’ (and mutual misunderstanding) that are inscribed in the historiography of the region. From the Great Plains to the small islands of the Caribbean, these recurring questions demand answers not only of personified “Smallpox,” but, more acutely, of the “white men” for whom he is precursor, companion and rear-guardian.

            Indeed, the disease smallpox can be conceived as a synecdoche for whiteness itself and for all of the ravagings of body, mind, soul and spirit of the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere that its unwelcome presence perpetrated. Smallpox’s presumptuous question, “Who are you?”, is not one that he is entitled to ask.  After all, it is he is who is the stranger.  He ought to know his place as outsider.  It is Saynday who should rightly claim the privilege of initiating interrogation.  But with the congenital arrogance spawned by his identification with the all-conquering white men, Smallpox immediately usurps Saynday’s authority.  It is he who first dismissively declares, “I never heard of you,” as if his ignorance justifies his contempt.  

            In this archetypal tale of contestation of the ideology of passive submission to extinction, Saynday the mythic hero of the Kiowas, demands to know Smallpox’s mission. The genocidal job description that Smallpox so casually delineates reduces to banality the horrors of the imperial enterprise. The decimation of countless millions of the indigenous people of this region is all in a day’s work.  Bedecked in the classic morning dress of the British undertaker – top hat and black suit – Smallpox wears his weeds of death with complete self-satisfaction.

            In the novel Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid constructs an alternative narrative of discovery that does not require conquest and genocide.  Instead, it enables “a proper interest” in, if not complete identification with, the other: “I was sure that if our ancestors had gone from Africa to Europe and come upon the people living there, they would have taken a proper interest in the Europeans on first seeing them, and said, ‘how nice,’ and then gone home to tell their friends about it.”[ii]   Annie John’s parable fails to take into account the Moorish conquest of Spain.  All the same, it proposes a model of egalitarian cross-cultural engagement that ought not to be derided for its childish optimism.

            The legend of Smallpox and the mythic hero of the Kiowas ends without further response from Saynday.  The subaltern speaks and is silenced by the audacity of Smallpox’s toxic revelation: “No people who have looked on me will ever be the same.’’ Saynday appears to concede defeat.  But the tale itself, transmitted from generation to generation of the Kiowas, confirms the regenerative authority of narratives of resistance.  This story of Saynday’s fearless confrontation with Smallpox and, by implication, his constant companions, “the white men,” affirms the durability of the “handful still alive”, whose ancestors did, indeed, survive the plague of discovery.

            It is in the novel Lucy that Jamaica Kincaid deploys the familiar metaphor of the ‘handful’ to signify the small number of Carib people who remain in the archipelago bearing their name.  Lucy’s meditation on what it now means to be Indian is precipitated by the ludicrous claim of her white employer Mariah to have been blessed with special, race-specific endowments:  “the reason I’m so good at catching fish and hunting birds and roasting corn and doing all sorts of things is that I have Indian blood.”[iii]  

            With typically brutal wit, Lucy derisively critiques Mariah’s essentialist proposition: “To look at her, there was nothing remotely like an Indian about her.  Why claim a thing like that?  I myself had Indian blood in me.  My grandmother is a Carib Indian.  That makes me one-quarter Carib Indian.  But I don’t go around saying that I have some Indian blood in me” (40).  Detaching herself from of Mariah’s all-encompassing embrace, Lucy claims the specificity of particular ties of kinship:  “To me my grandmother is my grandmother, not an Indian” (40).

            In a deft manoeuvre, Lucy distinguishes between her own grandmother and the somewhat abstract category “Indian.”  She then locates the politics of naming and, thus, appropriating Indianness within the context of both the actual genocide of Indians and, simultaneously, the artificial preservation of Indianness within the confines of the acquisitive practice of museology:  “My grandmother is alive; the Indians she came from are all dead.  If someone could get away with it, I am sure they would put my grandmother in a museum, as an example of something now extinct in nature, one of a handful still alive” (40).

            The museum becomes a kind of reservation on which the past is preserved, largely for the pleasure of visitors.  In some bewildering instances, as in the case of Mariah, the visitor asserts rights of residency. Thus, Lucy reads the totalising fiction of Mariah’s identification with Indianness as a sign of her perverse desire to sublimate the guilty pleasures of social privilege:  “Mariah says, ‘I have Indian blood in me,’ and underneath everything I could swear she says it as if she were announcing her possession of a trophy.  How do you get to be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also? (p. 40-41).

            Mariah incomprehensibly longs to be both Smallpox and Saynday. Her avaricious First World/victimised First People’s positionality is analogous to the contorted patriarchal postures assumed by Annie John’s playmate, Mineu:  “if we played discovering Africa, he discovered Africa; he was also the leader of the savage tribes that tried to get in the way of discovery, and I played his servant, and not a very bright servant at that” (96).  Mineu almost strangles himself in an excess of theatrical zeal when, “as usual,” he plays “all the big parts” in their acting out of the melodrama of the man who “killed his girlfriend and a man who was his best friend when he found them drinking together in a bar” (96).

            The sexual politics of the ‘real life’ court case replicate the imperial discourse of discovering and staking an illegitimate claim to ‘virgin’ territory.  Annie John cunningly describes her seemingly inexplicable paralysis as she thoroughly enjoys the transformation of patriarchal high tragedy into feminist farce:

[Mineu] played the murdered man and the murderer, going back and forth; the girlfriend we left silent.  When the case got to court, Mineu played judge, jury, prosecutor, and condemned man, sitting in the condemned man’s box.  Nothing was funnier than seeing him, using some old rags as a wig for his part of the judge, pass sentence on himself; nothing was funnier than seeing him, as the drunken hangman, hang himself.  And after he was hanged, I, as his mother, came and wept over the body as it lay on the ground (97).    

            Like Annie, Lucy savours the pleasure of weeping over the dead patriarch.  She refuses to entertain Mariah’s imperious/servile posturing.  Lucy knows all too well that Mariah can flirt with the idea of possessing Indian blood precisely because it is an inheritance that leaves no visible marks on her body.  Conversely, Lucy is dressed in the inescapable skin of servitude.  Confessing her own infatuation with the romance of Paul Gauguin’s flight from the mundane to the exotic, Lucy, nevertheless, acknowledges her alienation from the world of white, male privilege:  “I was not a man; I was a young woman from the fringes of the world, and when I left my home I had wrapped around my shoulders the mantle of a servant” (95).

            Lucy eventually does discover that, like Gauguin, she can, in fact, reinvent herself.  She is free to discard the vestments of marginalisation. With the sensibility of an artist, Lucy fashions out of her complex emotional life an identity that transcends the constraints of servitude:  “I did not have position, I did not have money at my disposal.  I had memory, I had anger, I had despair” (134).  These states of feeling become the accessible raw materials of the creative writer. As the author of her autobiography, Lucy crafts the language to transmute inarticulate anger and despair into scripted text.  Her own, carefully reconstructed life story becomes the enriching cultural capital that ensures escape from the stereotype of victim.            

            In The Autobiography of My Mother, Jamaica Kincaid again addresses the meaning of Indianness in the Caribbean.  Despite the sleight of hand of the novel’s title, the narrator, Xuela, is the daughter who simultaneously writes her autobiography and her mother’s biography.  She defines her racial identity in this way: 

I was of the African people, but not exclusively.  My mother was a Carib woman, and when they looked at me this is what they saw:  The Carib people had been defeated and then exterminated, thrown away like the weeds in garden; the African people had been defeated but had survived.  When they looked at me, they saw only the Carib people.   They were wrong but I did not tell them so.[iv]

            Xuela chooses to represent Indianness not through her own eyes but from the limited perspective of Africans.  They deploy an understated horticultural trope, which, like Smallpox’s amoral job description, turns genocide into an everyday act of uncomplicated rationality:  weeding a garden. Dehumanised, the native peoples of the region are conceived by Africans as unwanted plants, subject to the colonising imperative of selective cultivation.

            The use of the passive voice, “The Carib people had been defeated,” does not allow for the assignation of blame for the deracination.  Smallpox and his people are not named.  The grammar of defeat makes the death sentence the consequence of environmental disaster as in Smallpox’s metaphor of young plants withering in unseasonal spring snow.  Genocide thus becomes an act of natural selection; an ontological tautology:  The weak are destroyed because they are weak.

            In The Autobiography of My Mother, the primal narrative of Smallpox’s gratuitous massacre of the estranged native is repeated in the case of the Warner brothers who, ironically, are no stranger to each other.  Like Mariah’s multiple selves, they are conjoined with the contaminated blood of Smallpox’s people:  “It was at Massacre that Indian Warner, the illegitimate son of a Carib woman and a European man, was murdered by his half brother, an Englishman named Philip Warner, because Philip Warner did not like having such a close relative whose mother was a Carib woman” (87). 

            Paradoxically, the image of uprooting, like the letting of ‘bad’ blood, connotes both the presumed undesirability of a weed and the perennial hardiness of indigenous plants that stubbornly resist the aesthetic strictures of the garden.  Weeding is a continuous process of dislocation, constantly subverted by the springing up again of errant plant life. The Africans are themselves uprooted like weeds.  And it is their transplantation that ensures, in part, the survival of the indigenous peoples.  It is through the African, as well as the European, bloodline that resistant hybrid strains of indigeneity emerge.

            Like Lucy, Xuela deploys the trope of the museum to describe the fate of her mother’s people:  “They were like living fossils, they belonged in a museum, on a shelf, enclosed in a glass case” (197-198).  Xuela intuitively comprehends the all-consuming politics of the museum which turns the commodified native into a perpetually discoverable object, preserved in the confines of the glass case for the pleasure of the visitor.  Xuela similarly conceives the circumscribed land on which the ‘full-blooded’ Caribs of Dominica put down roots in this way: “somewhere between Marigot and Castle Bruce lived my mother’s people, on a reserve, as if in commemoration of something no one could bring herself to mention” (88)

            Jamaica Kincaid’s recurring preoccupation is not just ‘to mention’ but in fact to fulsomely commemorate the genocide of generic “Indians.” Disdaining the discourse of the reserve as entombing museum – or, even worse, tourist site, Jamaica Kincaid honours the living legacy of her artfully fictionalised grandmother whose survival is the enduring victory of hardy strains of resilient weed. Thus I invert the syntax of Lucy’s triumphant rage: “the Indians she came from are all dead.  My grandmother is alive.”


[i] Alice Marriott and Carol Rachlin, American Indian Mythology. New York: New American Library, 1968, 144-45.  Cited in Bewell, Alan, Romanticism and Colonial Disease.   Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, 1-2.

[ii] Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John, New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990, p. 39-40.  Subsequent references cites in text.

[iii] Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy, New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990, p. 39-40.  Subsequent references cites in text.

[iv] Jamaica Kincaid, The Autobiography of My Mother, New York:  Plume Penguin, 1997, p. 15-16.

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Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers (and George Lamming)

 

I love this day. It was back in 2008 in Barbados where book lovers gathered to hear readings from a cross section of Caribbean women writers at the re-launch of that venerable Caribbean literary journal, BIM. I (that’s me fourth from right) got so caught up in the presentations I think I forgot to be nervous about reading…way down the line. I mean just check the line up; it included:

Dr. Carolyn Cooper (far left) one of my favourite professors from my university days – couldn’t believe I was in the same bill with her;

Danielle Boodoo Fortune  (second from left) –  how do I love this young Trini’s poetry, let me count the ways…and to think I discovered said poetry at this event;

Ramabai Espinet (sixth from left) – the Indo-Trinidad-Canadian author of the acclaimed Swinging Bridge;

George Lamming (centre) – one of the Classics, capital C, author of In the Castle of My Skin, the Pleasures of Exile and other renowned Caribbean books;

Curdella Forbes (far right) – the Jamaican author of Songs of Silence and A Permanent Freedom …and my limin’ buddy along with Espinet that night when we went to Oistens to soak up the atmosphere and some of their famed fried fish.

Yeah, a good day.

with Ramabai, Bermudan writer Angela Barry, Danielle, and Curdella

That's Bajan poet Dana Gilkes at the far end of the table

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