Nicole Dennis-Benn: “A Novelist Who Knows the Real Jamaica”


Diane Daniel interviews Nicole Dennis-Benn about Jamaica, being Jamaican, and elements that inspired her to write her novel, Here Comes the Sun. Here are excerpts:

The Brooklyn writer Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel, “Here Comes the Sun,” published this month, looks beyond Jamaica’s tourist staples to explore class, race and exploitation in her homeland. Ms. Dennis-Benn, 34, was raised in Kingston and moved to the United States to attend Cornell University. She later went on to receive a master of fine arts from Sarah Lawrence College and teaches writing at Baruch College. [. . .]

[. . .] When people learn you’re Jamaican, what’s their typical reaction?

They always say, “Oh my God, the beaches are so beautiful!” And, of course, they say how nice the people are, right? Nobody asks why I left. Yes, it was beautiful, but most of us didn’t have access to what tourists do because of the classism. What bothers me most is when people talk about reggae and Bob Marley as if he’s all about smoking weed. He was actually a voice of the working-class people. I don’t say anything negative to people, because I don’t want to ruin their positive thoughts, but I did let my characters say it. I do feel a sense of pride in Jamaica, and I want people to go there, but I also want them to be aware that it’s not all paradise. [. . .]

[. . .] What advice do you have for experiencing a more authentic side of Jamaica?

Kingston is the heart of our culture. People say it’s dangerous, but it depends on where you go. I’d stay at the Spanish Court or the Courtleigh,and go to the National Gallery and the Bob Marley Museum. For live music and reggae, I’d recommend Redbones in New Kingston. I like to go first thing to Port Royal, a fishing village close to the airport — the entire beach is like one big fish cookout. I’d also recommend Port Antonio, which has less tourism. You can go to the Blue Lagoon and get a fresh sense of the country. [. . .]

[Another version of this article will appear in print on July 17, 2016.]

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