Lisa Allen-Agostini asks: What Makes a Writer “Caribbean”?


From the Commonwealth Writers’ website . . . an interesting debate. Here’s an excerpt, with the link to the full text below. Our thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.

Of course it’s valid to have more than one home, and to write about a home you inhabit more in spirit than in truth. But when you write on that imagined home, what are you writing—where are you writing about?

Every so often on the Internet I’ll spot some smirk, some snide comment questioning the currency that the title “Caribbean writer” represents in the publishing world. The intimation is that it adds an exoticism, a potency, a cachet that plain old “UK writer” or “US writer” lacks. I may sound cynical to say it out loud, and I don’t necessarily co-sign the sentiment, but it’s a real question that is being floated by other people.

On the other hand, living outside the region is the only way some writers can make a living at all. Teaching and journalism, two of the old stand-by jobs for writers, only go so far here; and when almost all the publishing opportunities reside elsewhere, it may seem more sensible to just leave in pursuit of them and stay where you end up. Naipaul—one of those who left for such opportunities—has only ever been a writer, but he’s one of an elite club. Most of the other writers I’ve mentioned in this post are writing teachers or university lecturers.

And what of those like Jacob, who is not Caribbean by ancestry or birth, but by choice? Is that even possible? Can the expat claim Caribbeanness by virtue of residency? Is Caribbeanness a quality to be acquired by contact and, if so, how long does it take to stick—five years? Ten? Fifty?

But isn’t the region just precisely this kind of place, where identities can be changed, adapted, remolded?

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