West Indian literature online

Henry SwanzyOne of the crucial elements in the rapid development of the literature of the Anglophone Caribbean in the 1940s and 50s was a weekly radio programme called Caribbean Voices, broadcast from London on the BBC's Caribbean Service and produced by Henry Swanzy. Caribbean Voices featured stories and poems by West Indian writers, recorded in London and broadcast back to the West Indies, allowing these writers to reach an audience unrestricted by island boundaries and helping to foster the sense that the young literature of the Anglophone Caribbean territories was a single national literature: West Indian literature.

If a similar project were started today, no doubt it would use the World Wide Web–actually, I'm a little surprised no one's started a blog called Caribbean Voices yet. (Hint?) But, though there is no West Indian literary blog with the scope and reach of, say, the Literary Saloon or The Valve or Blog of a Bookslut, there is a small, vibrant, and growing literary sector in the Caribbean blogosphere.

saltroadscoverStart (as one should) with the writers. Canada-based “Caribbean writer of science fiction” Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring; Midnight Robber; The Salt Roads) has been blogging since late 2001, giving her readers updates on her current work in progress and reflecting on the experience of being a black gay woman working in a genre usually associated with white teenage men. Grenada-born sci-fi writer Tobias Buckell (Crystal Rain) also blogs–and his current work in progress, “Sly Mongoose”, takes its name from an old folk song.

philp10As does Florida-based Jamaican writer Geoffrey Philp (Uncle Obadiah and the Alien; Hurricane Centre; Benjamin, My Son), who started his blog only last December, but has already begun a series of birthday “livications” for other Caribbean writers, including Anthony Winkler, Mervyn Morris, and Andrew Salkey. He recently posted “Where I Stand”, the text of a lecture in which he talks about the birth of his literary ambition and the role of the writer in the Caribbean. Fellow Jamaican Colin Channer (co-founder of the Calabash International Literary Festival) used to have a blog on his website–it seems to have disappeared. And maybe Marlon James–whose first novel, John Crow's Devil, was nominated for both a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize–will start a “real” blog one of these days–meanwhile, he's been keeping a so-called “plog” over at Amazon.com, where he's been writing about, among other things, Jean Rhys and literacy in Jamaica.

Other Caribbean writers with websites but not blogs include Trini-Bahamian Robert Antoni (Divina Trace; Blessed Is the Fruit; Carnival), Kittitian-British Caryl Phillips (Cambridge; The Final Passage; Dancing in the Dark), and Jamaican Kwame Dawes (Progeny of Air; Midland).

What about blogs devoted to particular writers? Milton Drepaul has a blog about the work of Guyanese writer N.D. Williams (though, as of today, this hasn't been updated in over four months). It includes reviews of Williams's books and some original writing as well. Canada-based J.E. Bratt runs blogs named after the Guyanese writers Martin Carter and Edgar Mittelholzer, as well as a blog named after the venerable Guyanese journal Kyk-Over-Al, though Bratt's blogs for the most part reproduce material from elsewhere, not always of a literary nature, and sometimes, it must be said, with a casual approach to copyright.

Martin CarterCaribbean Beat magazine is not a literary periodical, but it does run frequent profiles of and interviews with major Caribbean writers, and the magazine's blog (to which I contribute) pays close attention to literary matters; recently, this has included posts on the late writer and lecturer Ken Parmasad and a discussion of “the West Indian canon” triggered by a new edition of Martin Carter's poems.

Finally, I must make special mention of Guyana-Gyal, the pseudonymous author of the simply named Guyana blog. “I gon tell you stories, true, true stories. Like me gran'pa and me nanee and cha cha used to do, and they ancestors too. Take half, leave half, cry or laff,” she says. Guyana-Gyal's lyrical musings on everyday life, written in “Creolese” (or “dialect”), often penetrate to the heart of contemporary Guyana–and the contemporary Caribbean–more directly, more deeply, more movingly than tens of thousands of words of commentary and analysis and opinion written by the pundits and the self-appointed experts.

That, after all, is the power of literature, of literary forms; that is why, fifty years after the political events that inspired them, we still read Martin Carter's “Poems of Resistance”; that is why V.S. Naipaul's 1958 novel The Suffrage of Elvira is still the best guide to electoral politics in Trinidad and Tobago. As Ezra Pound said, “Literature is news that stays news”.

[Dear reader: Have I missed any interesting Caribbean literary blogs? Do use the comments to let me know.]


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