Geoffrey Philp’s new novel, Garvey’s Ghost (Carlong Publishers Caribbean Limited, 2016) has just been released. Here are excerpts about the author and the novel from an interview by Jennifer Maritza McCauley for ORIGINS, “Geoffrey Philp and the Spirit of the Story.”
[Geoffrey] Philp was born in Kingston, Jamaica and left Jamaica for Miami in 1979. [. . .] Philp released five books of poems, including Exodus and Other Poems, Florida Bound, Hurricane Center, Xango Music, and Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas. He has also written a short story collection, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien, a novel, Benjamin, My Son, which was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, and two children’s books. His work has been anthologized in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, among other collections.
Philp’s work is heavily influenced by Jamaica and South Florida. He is particularly interested in the Caribbean male identity, reggae music, and Caribbean tradition and culture. Throughout all of Philp’s writing, there is an undefinable magic that lifts his poetry, stories, and plays beyond just good writing. Philp’s work becomes a spiritual experience. His voices are serving him well.
ORIGINS: So much of your work is heavily influenced by the historical figure Marcus Garvey. Would you talk a bit about his influence on your writing?
PHILP: Every time I think I’ve learned something new I go “Oh, Marcus has been here.” It’s a strange analogy, but he’s like the big cocksman of the area. Like every girl is saying, “Oh I used to be with Marcus!” Really, he just did everything. I’m getting back into semiotic theory and Marcus Garvey gave us a flag. All of these signs and symbols of blackness originated with Marcus Garvey. I’m preparing to teach a class on semiotic theory and I’m realizing Marcus Garvey did this a hundred years ago. Even what we’re talking about now in Baltimore, what’s going on there. They’re saying, Yes, we should have black-owned businesses. Marcus Garvey laid out the blueprint over one hundred years ago and said, “Look if you follow this, you’ll be okay.” But, people don’t listen and so they suffer.
ORIGINS: How does Garvey play into your new book, Garvey’s Ghost?
PHILP: It’s partly inspired by what’s happening with my life and how Marcus Garvey has influenced it. I’m also meeting with all sorts of black groups and organizations. I tell you some of those brothers out there are scary.
Most of the action in the novel takes place here, in South Florida. Benjamin, My Son was about reclaiming the feminine. This new book is an extension of that. It’s about a young girl named Jasmine who runs away from her mother’s house. She’s living on South Beach. She goes to join an ultra-militant Garvey group. The first night they keep Jasmine up 36 hours with no water. By the time she comes out she’s like, “Anything you say I’ll do.” Then her mother tries to find out where she is. While the mother is trying to find her, she meets a professor who really starts Jasmine on this path of discovering Garvey.
[. . .] ORIGINS: Absolutely. Jasmine is a woman, too, and women are often stereotyped as being easily influenced by things.
PHILP: In the novel, there’s a dream sequence with Jasmine’s mother, who has disowned her daughter. When the mother had the child she was banished from the church. There’s a dream sequence where Jasmine’s mother is back on the beach and she’s sitting waiting for the bus to come. And this old man says “Black girl, I know you want it.” And then she can feel the yellow nails tearing off her bra and everything else. That scene explores that stereotype that black women are easy.
ORIGINS: I’m always thinking about these issues. These conflicts in African American and Caribbean communities. You have the male that needs to prove he’s hyper-masculine because his manhood has been stripped away. And the woman who feels she needs to prove she is sexually responsible, good-hearted and successful. To buck all of those terrible stereotypes is no easy feat…that’s why I like your work, you explore all of these issues within these communities. [. . .]
For full interview, see http://www.originsjournal.com/more-interviews/2015/5/twentysix/geoffrey-philp