Makeda Braithwaite revels in the courage to write her stories, her way

Rae Wiltshire (Stabroek News) highlights Guyanese writer Makeda Braithwaite and her creative process. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

“I am Guyanese and I will always be Guyanese. So, when I began seeing my culture as something that I had to polish up or that I had to nice up to make sure that it is pleasing to somebody else I think I became a better writer,” 25-year-old Makeda Braithwaite said. Braithwaite placed third in the fiction category at the Guyana Prize for Literature 2022, for her collection, An Anthology of Shivers. “I was shocked. I didn’t expect to win anything,” she said.

Becoming a writer who recognised the nuance and individuality of Guyanese culture was not an easy journey. “For a piece of time I felt I was writing to appease the global north…,” she said. Braithwaite said when she was 16 or 17 and this was all she consumed. It was the standard at that time, according to her. Part of her perception stemmed from Guyana’s relationship with its literature.

“When [Caribbean Literature] is given to us. It is given to us forcibly. It is not given to us as treats. It is given to us at school. Hardly anyone will go out to get Edgar Mittleholzer for their child to read, but they are going to go out and buy the Harry Potter books,” she said. “We have to treat our writers as a treat. It is not just for us to study in school. We have to treat our culture at the same level we treat other people’s culture.”

Braithwaite was able to break the spell of dominance from western literature when she read a quote from Trinidadian writer, Samuel Selvon. She recalled Selvon saying it was the duty of the West Indian writer to show the world who we are; not the west to tell us who we are. This stuck with her and it brought change to her perception of writing.

Her introduction to literature started with her hiding in a corner and reading Anne Rice as a child. She knew those books were not age-appropriate but the gothic vampires captured her

imagination. Stories were always part of her nature. They were used in her home to calm her down and capture her curiosity for fiction.

“I come from a family where there was a lot of storytelling. That was the kind of thing that got me to stop running about the place,” she said. Braithwaite began writing for online communities and she received insights from readers from all around the world. She took insightful comments and left the rest. She recognised that her writing had the ability to cross borders. This epiphany would lead her to dismiss naysayers. She recalled school peers saying, “Why you want to be a writer? Writer is dead broke.” Braithwaite felt that such a tone was self-limiting and it did not affect her inclination for writing fiction. She felt it was dangerous to only see her work being devalued by a small community. Her time writing on the internet showed her the world is small and an audience can find her even if a minority does not recognise her skill.

In 2022, FIYAH Literary Magazine published her short story, “The Pastry Shop Round the Bend”. The magazine is read worldwide and publishes speculative fiction by black writers. The story was in her collection, An Anthology of Shivers.

The collection looks at the causation of shivers. Braithwaite’s stories chronicle the pain human beings can feel. One of them portrays the different stages of a young woman’s life. It takes the reader through her first heartbreak, love and rape. It dealt with men lying about having sex with her and these incidents caused the shiver.

Braithwaite hopes women can understand stories like these and extend more love for themselves. “Young women need to give themselves a bit more grace. A bit more grace to fail. …You always feel you need to compare yourselves to the woman next to you. Because of that, you think you are lacking as a person, as a woman. You think because you look at this person… She is polished. I am lacking as a person. Therefore, I am half of what I am supposed to be as a woman,” she said. [. . .]

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