An author, editor, art enthusiast, activist and “occasional” blogger, Nicholas Laughlin has dreams bigger than life for his hometown in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and writing projects and engagements which make him wish the day was longer than 24 hours.
His voyage into blogging, in 2002, may have been by accident, but his involvement with Global Voices Online is certainly by design.
“I wrote my first GV post on 13 January, 2006, because Georgia Popplewell drafted me. And because from the moment, more than a decade ago, when I grasped what the WWW is, I've been convinced that the people who stand to benefit from it most are those–like me–living in small, obscure, far-flung parts of the world. GV helps make our voices less obscure and pulls us together into a web of delightful collaboration and coincidence,” he admits.
Covering the Caribbean, Nicholas surely has issues to confront – concerns, which he is working to bridge, by utilising blogging and other online tools available in an optimal fashion and promoting their use.
“In the Caribbean as a whole, the big issue is who is blogging and why. Not enough of us. Too many barriers: access to technology, access to education. Caribbean bloggers come for the most part from the educated middle class. Where are the other voices?” he asks.
“I don't update my personal blog very often, don't really have a sense of an audience, and think of it as a fairly self-indulgent incomplete sort of stream-of-consciousness. Antilles is rather sometime-ish too, I guess–mostly because I just don't have the time to everything I ought every day. At Antilles I simply try to keep up with news on Caribbean writing and art, link to Caribbean writers who also blog, and occasionally I post mini-essays or interviews. At Antilles we can pay more timely attention to what's happening today, or this week,” he reflects.
“At the moment, if I spend two hours blogging each week, that's a lot. At various times in the past I've been far more prolific. I certainly spend a lot of time online–‘keeping informed,’ I tell myself, but it's really a form of higher procrastination. I am a slow writer, it takes me ages to get started, and I crave distraction of any kind.”
Despite his sporadic blogging, Nicholas is quick to point that his blogging experience is rewarding, with the highlight of his blogging career being live-blogging his country's World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in 2006.
Blogging has given me a better understanding of online tools and media, first of all, and their possible value. A space to try out tentative ideas in public. The opportunity to ‘meet’ people and grapple with new ideas I might not have encountered otherwise. A forum for expressing worries and frustrations. The thrill that everyone feels of seeing one's words and ideas injected into a global conversation. Also the occasional illusion of productivity! There have been days when I've got almost nothing productive done, met not a single deadline, but have told myself, at least you posted one paragraph on your blog about X,” he explains.
My most memorable experience blogging is probably live-blogging the football match in which Trinidad and Tobago beat Bahrain 1- 0 to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. It was too nerve-wracking to watch the match on TV, so I listened to it on the radio, alone at my office, and live blogged to keep my nervous fingers occupied. For some reason my hits, never very numerous, spiked that day.
Away from blogging, Nicholas is a busy author and editor, who is heavily investing his time and effort in promoting Caribbean literature and arts.
“I'm the editor of The Caribbean Review of Books, a quarterly magazine covering chiefly Caribbean literature, but also visual art and current affairs. The CRB was launched nearly four years ago, in May 2004, and you can find out more about the magazine at our website, or at our blog. Here in the Caribbean, we consider the literature of the entire Antillean chain plus some continental territories (like Belize, Guyana, and Suriname) to be a single “national” literature which happens to be written in several languages (English, Spanish, French, Dutch, various creoles). It's quite a challenge trying to keep up with what writers from so many different territories are doing, plus those Caribbean writers in the global diaspora. The CRB is run as a non-profit, so fundraising occupies a lot of my time, apart from my various editorial tasks.
Just about a month ago I completed a biggish project I'd been working on for a year–a new edition of V.S. Naipaul‘s early family correspondence. That will be published in the UK by Picador, probably towards the end of this year. My own major writing project is a book about Guyana–part travel narrative, part cultural history, part I'm-not-yet-sure, with the working title “Imaginary Roads”. There's some information about it at my website.
I've been working at that for nearly three years now, very slowly and indecisively. Last year, I was awarded something called the Rex Nettleford Fellowship in Cultural Studies by the Rhodes Trust, which is helping to fund my research and writing. I also seem to write lots of book reviews and occasional pieces about Caribbean contemporary art. I post links to many of them here – though the page hasn't been updated in a while!”
Being a writer, says Nicholas, opens the door wide for having interests in all aspects of life.
“Susan Sontag once described a writer as a person interested in ‘everything’. I've always liked that idea. I think I have pretty wide-ranging interests and I have a sometimes disastrous tendency to plunge into new projects without fully comprehending how much time they'll require and how they'll derail existing obligations.
Trinidad has a small but energetic (if anarchic) art scene (read a little more about that here, in which I've got increasingly involved. In late 2006 I helped organise and run a six-week arts programme called Galvanize, and more recently I've been working with friends and colleagues to run a modest arts space called Alice Yard.
I'm also right now in the middle of a campaign to preserve a historic building in Port of Spain, which is under threat of demolition–see the website (built by my friend and GV colleague Georgia Popplewell) here. This is a good example of a new project into which I plunged without fully understanding.
And as all the above links might suggest, I'm very keen on using easy, free, or near-free online tools to document the life and culture of Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean–making our ideas and stories and concerns globally accessible, responding to the sun-sand-sea stereotypes of Caribbean life, and turning up the volume on our voices in the global conversation. The great Trinidadian thinker Lloyd Best, who died last year, often described the immense challenge facing Caribbean people: understanding ourselves in and on our own terms. “Epistemic sovereignty” was his phrase. That must also extend to our presence, our existence, on the WWW.”
Despite a full schedule, Nicholas also has time to dream.
“These days, what I hope for is that the small society I was born into and have always lived in will remain a viable one. That may sound pessimistic. Trinidad and Tobago is in a phase of rapid change, mostly not for the good, and our prospects for the future depend on whether enough of us can stand up and grasp the responsibilities of true citizenhood. It is possible, yes. I don't know if it's probable. I like to think–or I hope–that many of the projects I devote my time to (the CRB, various arts initiatives, promoting the use of online media and tools) will have some ultimate good effect,” he hopes.