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Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Jamaica journal, part 1

Lazy weekend at Annie's house in peaceful College Common, spent catching up on Jamaican art world gossip and browsing through Annie's excellent, eclectic library--incl. a shelf of obscure old travellers' accounts of South America, which she inherited from an eminent anthropologist. A journalist friend of hers dropped by on Sunday evening and filled me in on the latest political developments here, ahead of the much-anticipated (and -dreaded) general election.

Yesterday morning, strolled over to Mona campus to visit the UWI Bookshop. They don't currently stock the CRB. We'll have to see about that. Bought an armload of books, incl. Douglas Hall's biography of M.G. Smith, which I've long wanted. Then dropped in on Annie at her office, where I met an agitated young postgrad complaining about the university's internal politics.

Lunch with Sharon Leach, whose book of short stories What You Can't Tell Him was recently published by Star Apple Books. Sharon is also the editor of the "Bookends" section in the Sunday edition of the Jamaica Observer. She'll be running a story on the CRB this weekend. We had a long, frank, entertaining talk about the state of the Jamaican literary scene. I told her that from the perspective of Trinidad, things seem to be vital and energetic here--lots of young writers emerging and getting their books published; fiction and poems appearing in the Sunday papers every week; Calabash attracting lots of international attention. She told me that from the perspective of Jamaica, it seems that Trinidad's where it's really all happening. A case of grass-is-always-greener?

Back to Annie's for tea with Melinda Brown, an Australian artist who moved to Kingston a couple of years ago--and set up her studio in downtown Kingston, where good middle-class Jamaicans rarely venture--and is now working on an exciting, madly ambitious project to transform a derelict building into an international arts centre, or "museum of sculptural botany", as she calls it--a main feature of which will be an indoor rainforest.

Then off to a welcome dinner for the Commonwealth Writers' Prizes people, who have been arriving in Jamaica over the last couple of days (the prizes will be announced at Calabash this weekend). Writers, judges, and people from the Commonwealth Foundation, all looking a little dazed after their respective long journeys and wranglings with jetlag. Long talk with Angela Smith, one of the judges, formerly of the University of Stirling, where she was a colleague of my good friend Gemma Robinson. Angela--and the other judges on her panel--had to read something like 150 novels to come up with their shortlist. My mind boggles. Also found out that the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference will happen in Port of Spain, with a mass of cultural programmes accompanying it. Better organised than the last Carifesta, I hope. Bear-hugged on my way out by the affable Colin Channer. I'd better not ever get in a fist-fight with that man. He's twice my size.

mona window

Annie's back garden glimpsed through her study window


Jonathan said...

I'd love to know Sharon Leach's reasons for thinking Trinidad is where it's at, literature-wise.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jonathan.

I will suggest an answer to your question.

The most prominent creative writing workshop convenor is Wayne Brown from Trinidad who started The Arts, which was for many years the only weekly literary magazine.

Caribbean Beat regularly carries in-depth articles about the arts and a wide variety of other subjects.

Trinidad publishes more magazines than Jamaica.

Several literature books that are studied in school are written by Trinidadians.

The Galliwasp