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Talking to Guyanese litblogger Charmaine Valere

Guyanese litblogger Charmaine Valere
Guyanese litblogger Charmaine Valere of “Signifyin’ Guyana” – Photo is the blogger's; used with permission.

C.D. Valere — Charmaine to her friends — was born in Guyana , and has lived in the United States for 22 years. She now lives in New Jersey, and teaches literature at Bloomfield College. In November 2007 she launched her blog Signifyin’ Guyana — "focusing on the words and opinions of Guyanese writers." Over the last year, Signifyin’ Guyana has grown into one of the most substantial literary blogs in the Caribbean, posting Charmaine's own reviews of Guyanese and other Caribbean books, occasionally covering current affairs in Guyana, and linking to literary discussions elsewhere in the Caribbean blogosphere. I recently interviewed Charmaine via email. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

Nicholas Laughlin: The obvious first question: why did you start blogging? What was your original goal?

Charmaine Valere: It started (no kidding) with a deep deep longing for home. As simple as that. I hit the age of (mumble) last year and just wanted to go home to Guyana. So I went, and discovered there is no bleeping way I could possibly live there anymore (laugh). I felt like an outsider in so many ways. When I returned to the US (sadder than I'd left), I decided to fulfill part of what I was missing by reading Guyanese writers. But I was disappointed in the scant and scattered information available online on Guyanese writers and their work.

So I got this wild idea to start a one-woman writing blitz on as many Guyanese writers and books I could get my hands on. And the idea for the blog was born, although at the time I was considering a newsletter or some such.

NL: Which Caribbean blogs did you read regularly before you started Signifyin’ Guyana , and did they influence your decision to become a blogger yourself?

CV: I didn't even know what a blog was until about two or three years ago, when I went online searching for up-to-date information on results from Guyana's last presidential elections . Every search I ran turned up some of the Guyana blogs, and I couldn't stop reading, especially the ones that were being updated regularly. I was impressed with the concept of a low-maintenance space where I could write regularly. But it was ultimately blogs like yours and Guyana Gyal's that convinced me to start my own.

NL: Offline, you are a literature teacher and scholar. Are you also a creative writer?

CV: Be careful how yuh fling "scholar" around, my friend (laugh).

No, I'm not a creative writer (big laugh). Although if you look closely at some of my posts, you'll see glimpses of a wannabe creative writer. But the creative world is safe for now. Nothing's in the works.

NL: Do you think Caribbean writers (and other creative professionals) are making enough use of online tools like blogs? What aspects of Caribbean life or culture would you like to see covered better on the WWW? Which writers would you like to see blogging?

CV: So many Caribbean writers have no web presence, period! I find that shocking in this day and age, when so many people search the web first for most of their information. It's unbelievable that they'd want a readership, yet not even establish a writer's profile on the web, let alone blog.

I'd like to see ALL aspects of Caribbean life and culture covered better on the web. Right now the best information you can get on the Caribbean (as you certainly know) is on Caribbean vacations. At the risk of sounding like a Walcott echo, that seems to be all the Caribbean is good for.

On a branch note, you should see the look of disbelief on the faces of some of my colleagues when I tell them I'm using three books by Caribbean authors in my course, and none of the authors is Danticat, or from Puerto Rico , or the Dominican Republic. Of course I love the writings from the Spanish Caribbean, and Danticat is one of my favourite writers, but I'm a little tired of the monopoly they have been given on Caribbean literature.

And I can't really say which writers I'd like to see blogging, but I would certainly like to see more of them interacting with their readers on the web.

NL: What's been the most unexpected thing about writing Signifyin’ Guyana ?

CV: How quickly my work has been noticed. And how quickly I was able to get in contact with the writers I initially reached out to. By the way, I've since stopped doing that, but they still manage to find me. They may not have much of an internet presence, but they certainly google themselves regularly. Which again makes me wonder why more of them aren't actively present on the web.

NL: In an early blog post , you responded to a reader who asked what "signifying" meant. Could you recap for GV readers?

CV: Signifyin’ describes my goal of giving Guyanese writers significant, quality space and visibility on the web, and it describes my method (borrowed from black American slang) of giving them that space, which is often by interpreting their words, and suggesting (in some cases) new ways (in addition to the existing interpretations/critiques of their work) of understanding their work.

NL: The Guyanese blogosphere is known for its blunt, outspoken exchanges — sometimes to an outsider it seems unnecessarily violent. Why do you think this is? Have you been on the receiving end of readers’ criticism that you thought inappropriate?

CV: The Guyanese bloggers (and some of their friends who comment frequently on their blogs) whom I have come to know, are a passionate, intelligent group of mostly young men who are completely fed up with the corruption in Guyana, and their anger and frustration comes through in their blog writing. When it is aimed at each other it does seem unnecessarily vicious, but I believe most of it is their way of venting. They cuss and fight, and live to cuss and fight another day.

And yes, I started a fight with one blogger over the use of the term "Afro-Guyanese" a few months ago, and I now believe my attack was misplaced and vicious. I've since apologized to the blogger, but I'm not so sure I won't react the same way if I was called an "afro" again.

But I do believe Guyanese bloggers possess a strong spirit of fraternity that I have been fortunate to be included in from time to time.

NL: Does your blog help you feel more connected with everyday affairs in Guyana?

CV: I feel compelled to keep up with everyday affairs in Guyana since I brazenly call myself a Guyanese blogger (although if deh see how ah does cut meh roti and curry with knife and fork….)

So every day I read the Guyana newspapers online, and I read the blogs. I rely a lot on my blog friends in Guyana for talk on what's going on there.

Yep, blogging has definitely helped to ease my longing for a home I actually no longer have there. Through blogging, I've created a new way of belonging to Guyana that fits who I am perfectly.

5 comments

  • Awww…poor C.D. missin us folks.

  • I can’t think straight because of the generator next door SCREAMING away…

    I’m always curious about how Guyanese living overseas feel about us here, I often get the feeling that there’s some sort of superiority complex going on with some [not all but quite a few] folks over there…but Charmaine has never shown this. In fact, she’s always been appreciative, thoughtful.

    Charmaine’s lit. blog gives me a sense of pride. I’m pleased I influenced her in some small way.

    I’m not sure why Caribbean writers avoid the net, I’m wondering if it’s the old way of thinking that writers should not be ‘hawking’ their words, that we should be *discovered*…I don’t know, I’m just guessing.

    Personally, I believe that writers should sell their writing the way a business person sells his / her ‘wares’…or is that ‘prostitution’?

    Speaking of eating curry and roti with knife and fork…I was going to write about eating with fingers…

  • And hello Nicholas, it was lovely meeting you at Carifesta.

  • Hi, Great interview. I’m a Caribbean writer who has similarly bemoaned our lack of presence on the web. I had a web page going at one point for a writing programme here in Antigua, publishing the works of young writers and the Antigua lit history and goings on – under the banner of Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (also a literary competition and other lit services). That went to sleep for a minute, but I hope to wake it up…interviews like this are that added kick in the *ss. Also, though initially shy about self-promotion when I first published, I find this time around that the internet gives me a cost effective and far-reaching means of getting the word out, as I’m doing now, about the re-release of my book The Boy from Willow Bend. Also, as an avid reader, I use my My Space blog (http://www.myspace.com/jhohadli) to blog on whatever I’m reading (not all Caribbean lit but a fair amount). Of course, I’ve discovered that the most traffic seems to be on Facebook so I’m over there quite a bit (http://www.facebook.com/jhohadli). The niggling urge though is to find a way to bring back the Wadadli Pen online resource and maybe incorporate with my book review blog (Read Anything Good Lately). This interview is a real motivator in that regard. Keep up the good work, Charmaine, I recently discovered the blog and like it.

  • […] a blog?”  (The answer, I hope, is “NO” since this came from Guyanese blogger Charmaine Valere:) What if you logged on to your favourite social networking site one day and discovered the talk […]

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