Tiphanie Yanique honors community, vernacular in writing

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A report by Gabriella Canales for the Victoria Advocate.

University of Houston-Victoria freshman Janee Veneron was amazed when Tiphanie Yanique brought her Caribbean woman character to life Thursday.

Yanique was the 93rd presenter in the American Book Review Reading Series in the Alcorn Auditorium.

“It was amazing when she read,” Veneron said. “She held my interest the entire time.”

Yanique read from her novel, “Land of Love and Drowning.”

A native of the Virgin Islands who lives in New York, Yanique is the author of four books and a short story collection.

Her writing has won the BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Fiction and Caribbean Poetry, a Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award and many others.

Part of her inspiration for the novel was the hurricane she experienced during high school, she said.

The book takes on multiple voices and is written in a third person narrative.

“I wanted to write a novel that felt like the community was speaking and to honor the community specifically,” Yanique said.

Her book is about Caribbean history and politics with a love story woven in, she said.

Her character, Annette, is talking about the island of Anegada, so she used a Caribbean vernacular to read the section.

People speak in different types of ways and code-switch when speaking, she said.

“I wanted to reflect that reality that when you’re in a regionalized place, you can code-switch,” she said.

The dialect and voice in her novel were the aspects she worked on the hardest, she said.

She said she trained at the University of Houston, so she had to go back to her home in the Virgin Islands to research the book.

Her grandmother’s stories also play a role.

When she was younger, writing vernacular was something she was not comfortable with doing, she said.

“I was more sensitive to this, being a woman, and feel like the great American writers are men,” she said. “If I’m writing in dialect, I’m stamping myself.”

Her novel is about a Caribbean, but it’s also about becoming American, she said.

“We have so many vernaculars in the United States, and I needed to honor that diversity,” she said.

It took about 11 years for her to complete her novel because of her side projects and because she is a professor, mother and wife, she said.

“For me, doing justice to the community was writing it really well,” she said. “This is the closest thing to mastery I can pull out at this time.”

Subject matter does not determine the structure and length of her work, she said.

“It’s about how much I want to live with these characters and how much I feel like I want to say about them,” she said.

Culture is part of the craft when people are on a page, Yanique said.

“Being able to craft a character believably and honestly requires having some understanding of culture and context,” she said.

Yanique recommends students take risks and be brave when writing about culture, she said.

“I think if if we want to write the world, we have to write different kinds of people,” she said.

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