Matthew Hunte addresses the controvery surrounding Monique Roffey’s blog post in Waterstone. [See our earlier post: Monique Roffey’s article stirs controversy (July 23)]. Here is an excerpt, with a link to the full article below. We thank Peter Jordens for bringing this piece to our attention.
Trinidad-born, Britain-based writer Monique Roffey has taken down her Facebook page* following fierce criticism of a blog post she wrote for the website of British bookstore chain Waterstones. The post was intended to serve as an introduction to new and emerging writers from the Caribbean who, for the most part, may not be as well known as authors from what Roffey refers to as the “Golden Era of Caribbean Literature”, which includes Nobel Laureates Derek Walcott and V.S. Naipaul.
But members of the Caribbean literary community have accused her being a “latter day Columbus,” or discovering what was already there, and representing the region inaccurately.
Roffey, perhaps best known for her novel “The White Woman on the Green Bicycle,” which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2010 and the Encore Award the following year, has been sharing her expertise with some of these authors through her involvement in CaribLit, an action group that helps to promote Caribbean writing and publishing. But until she attended the 2012 Bocas LitFest in Port of Spain, Trinidad, it hadn’t quite struck her that this new crop of regional writers were all part of her generation:
It was a memorable experience for me because there in my hometown, I got to meet many other Caribbean writers born in the 1960s and 70s. Most of these writers were female, and incredibly they were of varied race, class background, and sexual orientation [...] We all had a lot in common and yet we were all so different; in fact, much of our life experience isn’t common at all. But what was pertinent for me, then, only two years ago, was to come across a constellation of writers of similar age. We were children born into the early years of the Independence era in the region. We were children of the new era, literally.
According to Roffey, existing issues in the region, dating back to colonisation and slavery, have become more complex over time. There are new challenges as well — environmental, economic, even enduring questions of identity have a new face with the advent of cable television, the Internet and social media. Her essay came to the conclusion that this “new generation of Caribbean writers” is more interested in exploring these issues on their own terms than in responding to views from the metropole:
Our generation is no longer writing back, that much strikes me as over for sure. Instead, we are writing for ourselves and sometimes towards each other. We are not only talking to each other, but sometimes arguing too. Some of us are still gate-keeping, asking what is the real deal, who constitutes a true true Caribbean author and who doesn’t. And some of us are too busy writing for such censorious thoughts about identity. These days, the Caribbean writer might be white and middle class, or brown-skinned and privileged, or from Chinese or Syrian extractions; they might be gay or straight, they might be living in the region or in Diaspora. The New Wave of writers has become so much more porous and diverse in terms of their social background. And so, the literature of the Caribbean region is alive and well and very varied and we are charting our own here and now.
Saint Lucian poet and critic Vladimir Lucien called Roffey’s post “ahistorical,” arguing that she mischaracterized certain themes as new to Caribbean writing when they aren’t.