Some authors are gone, others are still writing, but Caribbean literature endures

A few Caribbean literature titles. Photo by Janine Mendes-Franco, used with permission.

The Caribbean has always been known for the quality of its literature, having birthed Nobel Laureates like Derek Walcott and V.S. Naipaul, not to mention a modern-day resurgence in the popularity of its literary offerings, thanks in part to Trinbagonian writers like Monique Roffey, Kevin Jared Hosein, Anthony Joseph, Vahni Capildeo, Ira Mathur, and Ayanna Lloyd Banwo whose books have been well received, with many of them winning major prizes.

Against this backdrop of limitless potential, therefore, the sudden loss of Trinidadian fiction writer and poet Jennifer Rahim, who passed away on March 13 at the age of 60, has been that much harder to bear. Nearly four months later, however, on July 12 (Caribbean Literature Day), the NGC Bocas Lit Fest honoured her life and legacy by curating a selection of her writing, along with videos of her readings.

As Rahim's publisher Jeremy Poynting posted soon after her death:

If it’s hard when writers you admire and you know are important to the Caribbean die at the end of what is at least a respectable span, like Gordon Rohlehr and Alwin Bully, playwright and cultural activist from Dominica, who died last week, it’s harder still when you know that with her sudden death at the too-soon age of 60, Jennifer Rahim had achieved much but had so much more to give. […]

I have long thought that Jennifer was one of the region’s very best writers, but of all the writers we have worked with, no one was more self-critical, less confident, on the surface at least, of the value of what they did. Underneath, though, I think she had a determined hope that her writing could make a difference.

Rahim's most well-known works include “Curfew Chronicles,” which won the overall OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in 2018 and was described by lauded Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison as “one of the most ambitious books ever attempted by a Caribbean writer,” and her 2009 poetry collection “Approaching Sabbaths,” which won a Casa de las Américas Prize the following year. Her final novel was “Goodbye Bay,” which will be published by July 27.

Rahim's writing, like that of acclaimed novelist Earl Lovelace, was always rooted in the Trinidad and Tobago experience:

Lovelace, nearly 30 years her senior, celebrated his 88th birthday on July 13:

Lovelace's books include the Caribbean classic “The Dragon Can’t Dance,” and “Salt,” which won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. His novel “Is Just a Moviewon the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

The University of the West Indies Press, which published a biography about Lovelace by Funso Aiyejina, also acknowledged the author's birthday:

Filmmaker Onyeka Nwelue, meanwhile, felt Lovelace's literary impact was critical to the region:

Other social media users lauded Lovelace as “a great soul, an amazing human, prolific writer,” and a “literary giant” — a prominent Trinbagonian author still producing at the age of 88, while Rahim was gone by 60, no doubt with many untold stories inside her. Jeremy Poynting, perhaps without realising it as he talked about some of the places that inspired both their writing, summed up the lure of Caribbean literature best:

[While] I feel shock and sadness over this loss [and] what we must have lost in important work to come, we must give thanks for what was achieved […] that showed Trinidad both its depths and its heights. […]

What [Rahim] found in her island was a certain existential insouciance and the capacity of its people, whatever their material circumstance, to commit to life in the knowledge of its bitter-sweetness. [T]here’s a brilliant sequence of poems [that] chart journeys [from] Valencia, through Salybia, Balandra, Rampanalgas, Cumana, Toco and L’Anse Noir – places that [are brought] to sensuous geographic, human and historical life. You sense that this was her Trinidad, her places of resilience and hope.

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