Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper has published a lengthy interview with writer Patricia Powell, whose latest novel, The Fullness of Everything, has just come out. Here are some excerpts. The link to the full article appears below.
It is almost impossible to believe that as a child, Jamaica-born Patricia Powell did not have a deep yearning to become a writer. But she says she did not. When she moved from Jamaica with her family to live in the United States in 1982, she was just 16 years old and very much in survival mode. “Becoming a writer was the last thing on my mind,” she said. “Even after I finished a novel/manuscript for my senior thesis and another one at graduate school, it still didn’t occur to me that I was a writer,” she said. “Derek Walcott was a writer, V.S. Naipaul was a writer, Louise Bennett was a writer. These were all authors that I read as a young girl at school. It was impossible to imagine myself among them, so I just didn’t,” she continued. “Becoming a university professor was a very natural step after graduate school. I have to admit I have been very fortunate. Time and again I’ve felt led in my life as if there were an invisible cord pulling me to the next best thing, to the next best set of circumstances. I’m often humbled by this.”
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The Fullness of Everything took at least eight years to write and it dragged me through every awful emotion imaginable. For several months I had to put it aside, it was just too intense,” said Powell. “But it’s such a beautiful thing to have some feedback after that very long and solitary and arduous journey. It’s a beautiful thing to look up from the work once it’s completed and know that there are readers who have been waiting, that there are readers who value what you do, who are curious about the next thing. In that moment you recognise that you are not alone, that your work is important, that your work is part of an ongoing conversation about how we live and love in the world and walk through fear and learn courage and bring gifts of understanding to each other.”
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Powell says many writers have influenced her. “It’s impossible to name them or even to explain how they’ve influenced me, except to say that reading is an essential part of my writing. It’s as if I’m in constant conversation with other writers. There is so much to learn about style, about language, but also about place and ideas.” As a child growing up in Jamaica, there were some early influences on her life. She was an avid listener of Dulcemina, a once popular radio play. She also loved Miss Lou and Mass Ran. She added, “We had a church and I often dreamed of being a minister so I could deliver those long-winded sermons and prayers to rapt attention. We also had a shop, which was the centre of our little district, and whenever that rum flowed, there were stories galore.”
Do you draw much from your own life experiences for your books? Can you mention any such experiences? “The books are fictionalised experiences and again they are not,” she said. The Pagoda is about Chinese immigration to Jamaica, but I used my experiences as a Jamaican immigrant to the US to help me write it. By researching and learning about the history of the Chinese and the ordeals they suffered on those boats during the crossing and again on the plantations, I was able to come to some understanding of my own situation as an immigrant.”
Do you visit Jamaica often? What are your thoughts on the many changes that have taken place there since you left in 1982? “Like the character Winston in the The Fullness of Everything, for many years I did not come home. There were many things that made me uneasy, especially our treatment of gay people. I wrote about some of those issues in my second novel, A Small Gathering of Bones.” In the last year, however, she has spent more time in Jamaica than ever before. “I’ve fallen in love with Jamaica all over again, everything, the sun, the heat, the sky, the mosquitoes, the mountains, the food, the bad roads, our laughter, our stories, people’s kindness, their infinite goodness,” she continued. “I’ve decided that Jamaica is home after all, that she produced me, and in producing me she also gave me a voice to adore her wild beauty and also to speak out against injustice.”
For the full interview go to http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20090912/life/life2.html