At just seven years old, Trinidad and Tobago's Coryn Anaya Clarke has the distinction of being her country's youngest published author. Thus far, she has written and self-published seven children's books, one for every year she's been alive, and she's currently working on three more.
An avid reader who is determined to encourage other children to discover the joys of reading, Clarke also thinks books are a great way to have people learn about the Caribbean region. In 2022, she was a guest speaker at the Alliougana Literary Festival in Montserrat, and has also done some work with the Trinidad and Tobago-based Bocas Lit Fest.
We interviewed her (and her mother, Dionne Baptiste) via email to discuss the magic of books, the pleasure she finds in both writing and reading, and, given the negative effects that the COVID-19 pandemic caused in a region with typically high literacy rates, why she believes books can change the world.
Global Voices (GV): Why do you love reading and writing so much?
Coryn Anaya Clarke (CAC): I started reading when I was two years old and I think that encouraged me to want to write books of my own. I wrote my first book when I was four. I write about my life and things that I learn. I’m still learning a lot so I have many more books to write and I’m also working on books about mystery and adventure […] so you should stay tuned for that. Writing is a form of expression, a fun way to share my thoughts about stuff […] I really like that I could inspire other children too.
GV: Tell us about the process of writing your books.
CAC: I write about my experiences a lot so I guess life inspires me. I write the books and I speak with my illustrator [Tiffany Nicholas] about my ideas for the covers and the pictures, and she does it. When that is done, my Mummy gets it up on Amazon and I let everyone know where they can buy them.
GV: What has the response been to your books?
CAC: People are really supportive so far. They’re only available in one book store in Trinidad, [but] other children like to read my books because it shows them they could do things like that, too, if they want. Grown-ups get my books because they say it inspires their children to read more.
GV: Of all the stories you’ve written, which is your favourite and why?
CAC: “Chronicles of Coryn: Meet My Heroes.” I really love that one because it’s like a gift to some of the people who inspire me — [people like] my mummy [who] is a journalist, so she writes a lot. She reads a lot, too.
CAC: Amazing! With Bocas Lit Fest, I was the face of the children’s writing competition a few years ago. [With Alliouagana Festival] I met other authors, made new friends and I got to tell many new people about my books. Montserrat is beautiful, I can’t wait to visit again. I want to do more book tours across the Caribbean.
GV: What would you say to other children to encourage them to read and write?
CAC: I tell children that reading is fun; you get to learn new things and new words. Reading helps to feed your curiosity about things. When you learn new words its easier to express yourself, so read.
GV: You've also started a book club?
CAC: The Chronicles of Coryn Book Club is where we get to discuss books we’ve read and stuff like that. We haven’t had a meeting in a while, but it’s going to be restarting really soon. Jonesy’s Literacy Foundation [in honour of her great-grandmother] is also linked to the book club. That’s where we give books to children who want to read but don’t have books of their own, so we give books away, then we have meetings to discuss [them]. It’s really fun and interactive and we have authors from all over the Caribbean, as well. Anyone can join if they want to, just keep watching my website and my social media for the announcement.
GV: What are your plans for the next book?
CAC: I will be publishing three books this year, so I will have 10 books by my eighth birthday. “Chronicles of Coryn: My Carnival Debut” is about my first time playing mas and I’ll be telling other children what they can expect if they’ve never played [Trinidad and Tobago Carnival] before. I’ll also release “Chronicles of Coryn: The Curious Caribbean Ballerina,” which is about the national emblems of all the Caribbean countries, and of course “Chronicles of Coryn: My Adventures in Montserrat.” I’m working on other books, as well.
GV: Amazing! Dionne, did you actively encourage Coryn’s interest in reading and writing from an early age, or did she have a natural inclination towards books?
Dionne Baptiste (DB): I’ve always been an avid reader and that continued throughout my pregnancy. I read for myself and I made it a habit to read books out loud to her. That may have contributed to her love for the written word. We read to her and allowed her to ‘read’ to us even before she was able to make sense of the words on the pages. It was bonding time and we made it fun. We were pleasantly surprised when, at age two, we realised she was actually reading the books that we got her.
Reading is almost second nature to her, we’ve never had to tell Coryn to read; in fact, there are times we have to ask her to put the books away. She never leaves the house without at least one book in her bag. At this point, I think the only thing we’re doing to encourage her to read is getting her new books as she requests them.
When it comes to writing, that’s a passion she discovered on her own. She was invited to read for the read2mett initiative and that was the launchpad for her journey as an author. She was four years old when she first told me she wanted to write a book. I didn’t discourage her, but I did nothing to help. Thankfully, she did it, anyway.
GV: What guidance would you give other parents to get their children interested in reading and writing?
DB: Let them see you reading; make it fun — [and] please, don’t use reading as punishment.