Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Walcott/Obama part two

Perhaps Barack Obama came across the poem Derek Walcott wrote for him, published two days ago in the London Times, and wanted to read more of Walcott's work; or perhaps Obama's a longtime fan. Who knows. What's certain is that this morning, on his way to the big meeting with his financial advisors, the president-elect was spotted carrying a newish looking paperback copy of Walcott's Collected Poems, the Farrar Straus Giroux edition....

Quick, Antilles readers, what other Caribbean books would you recommend to Obama, and why? I myself hope he has time to read Naipaul's Suffrage of Elvira before the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain next April, so that he'll know what he's getting himself into, meeting with Trinidadian politicians....

On Pynter Bender

Pynter Bender, the new novel by Grenadian writer Jacob Ross, is turning some heads in the UK, where it was recently published. Reviewing it in the Independent, Kevin Le Gendre says Pynter Bender has "an epic grandeur that recalls Patrick Chamoiseau's landmark 1992 novel Texaco." Catherine Taylor, on the other hand, in her brief review in the UK Guardian, wishes the novel were "a third shorter".

And Philip Hensher considers the novel's possible impact on Grenada in a "Week in Culture" column in today's Independent:

From here, if we have an interest, Caribbean fiction as a whole looks immensely rich and rewarding. There's a substantial amount of interesting and original writing in English, French and Spanish from the region, which we happily acknowledge as a whole. What tends to be forgotten from this distance is the fact that readers in the region think of themselves much less as "Caribbean", and much more as citizens of a particular country. For a Grenadian, it is much more worth celebrating that a novelist such as Ross has emerged from his particular history than that a St Lucian like Derek Walcott or a Trinidadian like VS Naipaul has won the Nobel Prize. Ross makes it clear that his island has had a tragic history of its own, which we hardly knew about or had forgotten; the novel that sets out those national tragedies has now been written.

So is Pynter Bender the great Grenadian novel? Perhaps this excerpt (PDF format) published in the Fall-Winter 2005 edition of the online journal Calabash gives a hint.

ABILF opens

Your Antilles blogger wishes he were in Antigua this weekend. The third Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival--no, no one really calls it ABILF--opens this evening, and runs through Sunday. This year the festival writers include Lorna Goodison, Zee Edgell, Ramabai Espinet, Marie-Elena John, and Elizabeth Nunez. Check the programme here, and if you happen to be in Antigua and take in some of the events, why not give us a report in the comments below?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Walcott on Obama

From yesterday's London Times, a poem by Derek Walcott for Barack Obama:

Forty Acres

Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem, an engraving--
a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,
an emblem of impossible prophecy, a crowd
dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed,
parting for their president: a field of snow-flecked cotton
forty acres wide, of crows with predictable omens
that the young ploughman ignores for his unforgotten
cotton-haired ancestors, while lined on one branch, is a tense
court of bespectacled owls and, on the field's receding rim--
a gesticulating scarecrow stamping with rage at him.
The small plough continues on this lined page
beyond the moaning ground, the lynching tree, the tornado's
black vengeance,
and the young ploughman feels the change in his veins,
heart, muscles, tendons,
till the land lies open like a flag as dawn's sure
light streaks the field and furrows wait for the sower.

Monday, 3 November 2008

"I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed"

US election special: Maud Newton posts an interview with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, in which she talks about voting early--for Obama--in Miami:

As a naturalized citizen, born in Haiti, where elections are often monitored and contested and their results sometimes outright overturned by the United States government, via regime change, I am still puzzled that we don’t have smoother and more transparent elections here in the United States.

For people around the world, who are always told by the U.S. how to prepare for and hold their elections, the fact that the Bush/Gore election of 2000 (and to a certain extent the Kerry/Gore election of 2004) was such a mess was really troubling. I hope this year we have a transparent and clear election with uncontestable results, because how can we tell the Iraqis and others how to democratically choose their leaders when we still seem to have so much trouble with it ourselves?

Meanwhile, also in Miami, the election reminds Geoffrey Philp of an important civil rights leader. And up in Toronto, pro-Obama Pamela Mordecai posts an exchange of emails with a friend in the US who has doubts about voting for the senator from Illinois.

Finally: it seems every newspaper and magazine in the world has endorsed one candidate or another in tomorrow's presidential election, with Obama the overwhelmingly popular choice. Your Antilles blogger, like most of the world's population, can't vote, but feels he has a lot at stake in tomorrow's events. If the CRB were to endorse a candidate, who would it be? The smart, eloquent, cool, confident one who looks like he could be from the Caribbean, of course--that one.

In the November/December Caribbean Beat

While you are waiting, dear readers, for the next issue of the CRB--almost on its way to subscribers' mailboxes--you might like to spend some time with the November/December issue of Caribbean Beat, now online. Among other delights you'll find a story about the Trinidadian dancer Beryl McBurnie's career in 1940s New York, an interview with Jamaican writer Kei Miller, and reviews of a new Marcus Garvey biography, a history of West Indians who served in the British imperial military, and the story of a Trinidadian bank--plus a feature on a tiny historical library in St Kitts and a short travel article on the little-known Caribbean island of San Andres, written by your own Antilles blogger.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Remembering David de Caires

It is not everyone who is able to find their vocation in life and by so doing make a real difference to the society in which they live, but such was the case with David de Caires, Editor-in-Chief of the Stabroek News.... Mr de Caires was clear from the beginning about the objectives of the newspaper, and while experience modified his style, he never deviated from its founding principles. From the very first issue the new editor committed the paper to espousing the cause of a free and open society in which the rule of law prevailed, and independent institutions were allowed to flourish....

"To run a newspaper one has to have a bit of a mission," he once remarked, "that is why I started."

-- From the editorial in today's Stabroek News.

My heart is too full to say much on the spur of this terrible moment but I want to express my life-long admiration for a man of great stature whose dedicated work in the cause of creating a free society was, I believe, extremely valuable and historically important....

David was an outstanding newspaperman, a clear and beautiful writer of prose, and he was the Caribbean's greatest and most eloquent advocate for free speech and a free press as an essential part of the foundation of a free and decent society and a well-run state.

-- Poet Ian McDonald, from a Stabroek article that also quotes tributes from the newspaper's senior editorial staff, President Bharrat Jagdeo and other Guyanese politicians, and other friends and colleagues of de Caires.

No one has yet quantified the value of the Stabroek News to the consolidation of post-Burnham freedoms, but it is huge, it is enormous. It is not only that the Stabroek News, under the modifying influence of David de Caires, put pressure on the then rulers to democratise even further, but it provided the society with two invaluable avenues.

It informed the nation what the pro-democracy forces were doing, and it offered its pages to those who wanted to be heard.

-- Freddie Kissoon, writing in the Kaieteur News.

Outside the world of Caribbean journalism, few people will have heard of David de Caires. He was trained and qualified as a lawyer, but in 1986 he founded the Stabroek News newspaper in Guyana, and ran it against all the odds and against all sorts of pressures for 22 years. He was its chairman and editor-in-chief.

It's hard for many, especially in the younger generation, to grasp just how difficult things were in Guyana for an independent newspaper or a non-partisan journalist in those days. We take for granted freedom of speech and expression, the right of the press to publish and report. But in the Guyana of 25 years ago, that was a freedom that had to be struggled for, and that struggle was a very risky business.

-- Jeremy Taylor, writing at the Caribbean Beat blog.

De Caires gave me the gift of being able to grow up in my generation in Guyana with courage, a humane world view, and a deep sense of care for the welfare of society.

This he was - a man with a deep sense of care for society. He lived to better the world. The best tribute I can pay him is to emulate that simple philosophy - I live as he taught me - to care for the betterment of society, to see every human being in society benefit from a fair playing field.

-- Shaun Michael Samaroo, from a letter published in today's Stabroek News.