A new edition of Lawrence Scott’s first novel, Witchbroom, was launched at the legendary New Beacon Bookshop in London last week. Scott, the award-winning Trinidadian writer, read extracts from the novel and discussed some of its themes with the writer and critic Margaret Busby, whose company Alison & Busby was its original publisher, in 1992. It went on to become a BBC Book at Bedtime (in 1993), read by the author, abridged by Margaret Busby and produced by Marina Salandy-Brown, the founder and director of BOCAS, the Trinidadian literary festival. A Caribbean triumvirate.
Twenty-five years ago, Witchbroom was widely praised by Caribbean reviewers with Sam Selvon describing it as “rare and magical”. However, the British literary world ignored it to prompt Salman Rushdie to later comment: “Why was this book overlooked?” Although it was out of print for many years, it has become a favoured work for literary scholars, who have been particularly drawn to its new way of looking at history, race and sexuality, and in its treatment of women and gender.
Witchbroom is a Caribbean Creole family saga as told by its last surviving member, a hermaphrodite called Lavren, whose memory and imagination uncover multi-layered encounters, from the colonial birth of the New World to the 20th century. And, as Scott explained, Lavren could not exist without Trinidad. It is Lavren who says: “I knew that no words here would have been possible without the poetry, prose, history, painting, sculpture, the mobility of mas, the invention of pan, calypso and the spoken voice which had come out of the yard of this archipelago, and which invaded my ears, sitting on the sill of the Demerara window.”
And it was in Trinidad that the new edition, published by the tiny company Papillote Press that is based in both Dominica and London, was launched. Earl Lovelace led the tributes. He said: “One of the things that the republishing of this novel does is return us to tales we have read before, to old problems , that if we look at them now we might see something new. It comes at a good time.
“I believe that is still in the struggle for the Caribbean the idea that there is a we bound together by residence – we live here – and there is another we , the colonists or colonial other who live abroad and who have exploited our resources whether as absentee landlords or multi-nationals in oil etc and that we are engaged in a struggle with each other.
“The truth is even more challenging. The struggle is with ourselves with each other and what this work can do – what art can do is to mediate between worlds. But in order to do so we must know these worlds. And that is why our friendships are not only to provide us with an agreeing chorus but help to equip us, and deepen our responsibility to shape our art.”
Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott is published 30 April 2017 by Papillote Press (ISBN: 9780993108686) at £10.00