A report by Kimberley Small for Jamaica’s Gleaner.
At the recent launch of Calabash Lit Up, Rachel Manley gave the very first reading from her debut fiction novel – The Black Peacock.
“Rachel Manley is a poet,” artistic director of the festival, Kwame Dawes, said before opening the floor to the award-winning writer – relaying his opinion that poets sit at the peak of the pyramid of writers.
Dawes made sure to impress upon the audience that the book was not autobiographical in any form, as readers are often wont to interpret.
“I am a failed poet,” Manley modestly retorted, after she took the podium – to introduce the world to her newest work.
As one of the main features of the launch, Manley was invited to give a reading – like many other authors have been invited to do for Calabash Literary Festival on June 1-3, along the shores of Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth.
The Black Peacock follows the stories of Lethe and Daniel – two Caribbean writers whose relationship is tried by time and distance, then eventually confronted as they reunite in the eastern isles.
Manley used the moment to introduce those characters, first reading from the perspective of a middle-age Lethe, sailing on a dinghy boat across the Caribbean Sea, towards a waiting Daniel on Peacock Island.
From Daniel’s perspective, Manley took the audience back to their younger days, and their shared matriculation from the University of the West Indies, Mona, delving into their first moments of companionship with his fellow writer.
Though she began the reading from her novel, promising to demonstrate the dual perspectives presented, the ‘failed poetess’ turned fiction writer also introduced another character – which
she confessed became her favourite – Othello, the black peacock.
Manley is known for her poetic works, and also for a historical trilogy. Her first memoir, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, won the Canadian Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers, the second work in the trilogy, is devoted to the political and private life of her father.
In the final volume, Horses in Her Hair, Rachel presented another intimate, yet historical, view of Jamaica, focused on the story of her grandmother, the ‘Mother of Jamaican Art’, Edna Manley.