Conversation with Isis Labeau-Caberia: “On learning to be yourself”

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Grashina Gabelmann (The Creative Independent) interviews Isis Labeau-Caberia in “Conversation: On learning to be yourself,” on writing about academic subjects with creativity, not forcing a particular path, growing through burnout, and sustaining your faith in your purpose. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Isis Labeau-Caberia is a French-Martinican writer, independent researcher in Afro-Caribbean history, and podcaster. Her debut novel, La Prophétie des Soeurs Serpents (Slalom Editions), is a YA historical/Afrofuturistic fiction and will be released in France in September 2022.

What is it that you do?

I’m a Martinican (French Caribbean) writer, podcaster, and independent researcher. My work focuses on the colonial and postcolonial history of the Caribbean, through the lens of gender, queerness, and resistance. My reflection is rooted in a diasporic, transatlantic framework, which means that it radiates towards Europe, West/Central Africa, South-Asia.

Both in my podcast and my upcoming historical novel, I strive to articulate historical and sociological reflections in a way that is digestible by/targeted at my communities of belonging—Caribbean people, French POC, Afro and POC women and queer. Popularization of academic work should not come at the expense of quality: to me, it does not mean “lowering” the rigor of my work, but rather being very intentional about making what I do accessible to people outside the little bubble of academia. There’s a lot to say about the hegemony of Western academic institutions and the gate-keeping they perpetuate.

In my work, this effort of subversion manifests both in the topics I write about (history that is relevant to nowadays’ struggles for emancipation and decolonization) and the formats that I choose. It demands to rethink what we deem “legitimate” sources of knowledge and supports for its dissemination. Especially as a Black woman thinker, writing from a postcolonial society, I believe it is inherently political to challenge the dichotomy between objectivity and subjectivity. Writing about academic subjects, while allowing space for radical creativity, imagination, poetic sensibility and subjective perspectives.

What was your path and your background to getting to where you are now?

It’s funny, because ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was also so drawn to research. Of course, I didn’t have a word for it at the time, but I was obsessed with collecting stories from the past and connecting them to the present. I would spend long afternoons at my grandmother’s house, harassing her with questions about her youth, her family history, and life in colonial Martinique during the 1930’s. I would take thorough notes, and even recorded her with my dad’s old camera. I think I was made aware very early of the incredible value of “little people”’s stories within the “great,” official History—what the adult Isis would nowadays refer to as the “history from below” of subaltern people. But although it was an early calling, it has been such a long road for me to reach a point where I can live it fully.

I left Martinique at 18 to pursue my undergraduate studies at Sciences Po Paris, a French university for political and social sciences. I also studied sociology of race and gender for a year at Columbia University in New York when I was 20. It was the most intellectually stimulating, freeing, and empowering time of my life, as well as a strong confirmation that, “Yes. That’s what I’m meant to do.” [. . .]

I ended up going to Law school instead, and then worked for almost three years in a law firm that specialized in workplace anti-discrimination cases. As a young Black Caribbean woman granted with the privilege of elite higher education, I felt overwhelmed by the mountain of systemic injustices I had “the duty” to fight. I wanted to have “real” impact” and was crushed by the belief that “writing is not enough.” I thought it would be a waste of all the opportunities in front of me, which very few people who looked like me had access to. So for me, my late twenties have been a journey of learning that it’s not because I “can” that I “have to.” It’s been about deconstructing my notion of what “impact” can look like and convincing myself of the radical potential of my purpose: the radical potential of ideas and stories. [. . .]

For full interview, see https://thecreativeindependent.com/people/writer-isis-labeau-caberia-on-learning-to-be-yourself

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