[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Someone I admire greatly—cultural anthropologist and activist Denise Oliver Vélez—offers helpful overviews of Caribbean culture and intellectual history in the weekly series “Caribbean Matters” (Daily Kos). Here, she discusses writers and scholars of the Caribbean, including important figures such as Lydia Cabrera, Fernando Ortiz, Antonio Salvador Pedreira, Jean Price-Mars, Zora Neale Hurston, Melville J. Herskovits, Sidney Mintz, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Eric Williams, George Lamming, Claude McKay, Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez, and many more.
When I was teaching both an anthropology survey course on the Caribbean and one on Women of the Caribbean, I was surprised to find out how very few of my students could name a novelist, poet, or scholar from the region, or even non-Caribbean scholars whose area of focus is Caribbean history or culture. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, given that few of them could even locate most Caribbean countries on the map—including those students who were Caribbean by birth or ancestry.
We are now faced with a political firestorm here in the U.S. about the teaching of history, with racist politicians and members of school boards opting to sanitize and whitewash reading materials. I can’t help but wonder how this will affect the introduction of writings from the Caribbean, which already get short shrift.
So, in the weeks and months ahead, I will be featuring Caribbean writers and scholars and their work, alongside urgent Caribbean news.
Oliver addresses the following points and question (see the original article for the answers):
- Let’s first address the basics: “What is a Caribbean writer?” [. . .]
- Also key to a better historical and cultural understanding of the area, is the work of anthropologists who have been dubbed “Caribbeanists.” (Many Caribbeanists are not Caribbean.) For a synopsis of their work, what-when-how offers this historical overview of the field. [. . .]
- Shifting to the literary world, there is a bottomless cornucopia of writing from Caribbean poets, novelists, and playwrights to add to your reading list, though a complete collection would be far too long to post here. Writing in English, Spanish, French, Hindustani, Dutch, and Creole, these writers were both born in the Caribbean, or of Caribbean ancestry, based in the lands of their colonizers. [. . .]
- Then there are contemporary writers as well. A Twitter search offers numerous posts and links to introduce us to their work. [. . .]
- Moving to the world of history and historians, C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins should be required reading for everyone. [. . .] The work of Eric Williams is a must-read. Williams was not only a historian, he was also the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. [. . .]
She writes: Shifting to the literary world, there is a bottomless cornucopia of writing from Caribbean poets, novelists, and playwrights to add to your reading list, though a complete collection would be far too long to post here. Writing in English, Spanish, French, Hindustani, Dutch, and Creole, these writers were both born in the Caribbean, or of Caribbean ancestry, based in the lands of their colonizers. [. . .]
This is just a snapshot of some of the writers we’ll be exploring in-depth in the coming weeks. I would love to hear suggestions and recommendations from readers, so join me in the comments section below to post your thoughts and reviews, and for the latest Caribbean news updates.
Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.
[Photo by Mark Wilson, Getty Images: Writer Edwidge Danticat visits Congress in 2015.]