The new wave of Caribbean writers


Novelist Monique Roffey enthuses about the explosion of new writers emerging from the Caribbean islands. Here is an excerpt, with a link to the full article below.

When I published my novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle in 2009, I already knew several excellent writers and poets in the UK who, like, me, wrote about the Caribbean region, and lived mostly in Diaspora. I knew then, there was a small UK- based group of poets and writers including Anthony Joseph, Roger Robinson, Vahni Capildeo, Amanda Smyth, Malika Booker and others. Of course, I was also aware of a resident group of writers in Trinidad such as Raymond Ramcharitar, Kevin Baldeosingh, Lisa Allen-Agostini and Sharon Miller.

Also I was aware that there are, still alive, famous Caribbean writers, even infamous writers of great esteem and merit, big names, these men and women are our God Fathers and Mothers of the canon, the Legends, the Nobel winners and the Booker winners.  But I saw these writers and poets as way ahead of me, existing in a kind of far away stratosphere. These big names were writers I’d read and admired, but they were on a different stage, higher, above me. They were the First Generation; they are now seen as the Golden Era of Caribbean Literature, which is an odd way of seeing them, given that so many of these writers, (some of whom I’ve now met), don’t glow and aren’t made of gold. They’re just people and maybe even a little annoyed at being so lauded.

Then in 2012 something happened. I attended the BOCAS Literature festival in Port of Spain, a world-class festival which showcases the work of Caribbean writers. 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. It felt auspicious to meet such a group of peers at one gathering, some I’d heard of, some I hadn’t. 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.

I’d no inkling that such a large sweep of literature was being produced by writers connected to the Caribbean, that a whole New Wave of writers had emerged

I’ve now been to BOCAS three times, and over this period have met more and more of my peers: Kei Miller, from Jamaica, a multi-talented writer and award winner whose latest poetry collection is on the 2014 Forward Short-list, Shara McCullum, a poet, also from Jamaica, Loretta Collins-Klobah, an American living in Puerto Rica for decades (also Forward short-listed), Kerry Young, a Chinese-Jamaican novelist, James Aboud, a Syrian-Trinidadian poet, Marlon James a Jamaican novelist, Amanda Smyth, a Trinidadian novelist, Diana McCaulay, a Jamaican novelist, and of course, though I have not met him, the famous Pulitzer Prize winning Junot Diaz from the Dominican Republic. These names are just off the top of my head; the list goes on and includes many writers who are on the cusp of publication.

Until BOCAS 2012, I’d no inkling that such a large sweep of literature was being produced by writers connected to the Caribbean, that a whole New Wave of writers had emerged – and this new generation is remarkable and complex and spread across the Caribbean region and the world (some live in the region and some don’t.) There are now dozens of us New Wave Caribbean writers and poets writing and we constitute a much more diverse group of writers than previously existed in the so called Golden Era; we are fresh blood.

Of course we are talking about a generation now writing in the early part of the 21st century. Things have changed in the Caribbean since the dawn of the Independence era. Issues have changed. The Caribbean has been globalised, the world-banking crisis has hit the region too; we have specific environmental issues and the USA is the new long-term colonizer, only they haven’t invaded the region with guns, bearing arms. The USA arrived silently, insidiously, via cable and internet, via fast food outlets and big corporations and this American invasion has affected everything in the region from food, and architecture to carnival and thought itself.

Homosexuality is still illegal through much of the Caribbean, homophobia is rife. HIV is high, domestic abuse is also high and so is drug-trafficking, gang-related violence and murder. In Trinidad, alone, the murder rate is over 300 deaths per year. Trinidad, an oil-producing island, has now been de-classified as a developing nation. It is now considered developed; this is due to the amount of nearly new Japanese cars on the roads, Port of Spain’s new water taxis and glittering office blocks. New Port of Spain looks neatened up, glamorised. Meanwhile, civic society is neglected. The artists and culture bearers are ignored. The police are corrupt; the health service negligible, the schools use outdated curriculums, and town planning does not exist. Floods are common in the rainy season and so is fire in the dry season; both devastate the homes of hard working citizens.

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