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Monday, 18 June 2007

"I ask myself that all the time"

Founded in 2001 by three Jamaicans--novelist Colin Channer; poet, novelist, and scholar Kwame Dawes; and Justine Henzell, an ex-public-relations executive and daughter of the late novelist and filmmaker Perry Henzell (who directed the international film hit The Harder They Come)--Calabash now stands as the only literary festival intellectually and emotionally set to reggae, a literary cry of independence committed, in Channer's words, to the "earthy, inspirational, daring, and diverse."

Like many Caribbean writers whose home islands lack the academic and publishing infrastructure essential for more than a few writers to make a living, both Channer and Dawes teach in the United States, the first at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y., the second at the University of South Carolina at Columbia. Calabash reflects their engagement with America, a tilt in keeping with recent Caribbean emigration that favors the United States over Britain. Yet Calabash's core remains special attention to Jamaican literature and a broader category: "Caribbean Literature."

Coherent concept, or literary version of travel-brochure hype?

"I ask myself that all the time," admits Nicholas Laughlin, the wiry, articulate, 32-year-old editor of The Caribbean Review of Books, a three-year-old publication based in Port of Spain, Trinidad, that's packed with incisive articles.

--From Carlin Romano's essay "The Harder They Write"--subtitled "Does 'Caribbean' Literature Exist?" in this week's Chronicle Review, a weekly supplement of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Unfortunately only Chronicle subscribers can read the full text online.

I met Carlin at Calabash. One night--sitting beside a pool on the fringes of a literary party of sorts--we had a long talk about the past, present, and possible futures of Caribbean literature. Various bits of our conversation have made their way into his piece, an opinionated introduction to the regional literary scene for unfamiliar readers, ranging from colonial politics to the impact of Windrush-era migration to the question of language (or languages), audience, and the kinds of material that mainstream Caribbean literature is yet to tackle.

Update: via Shelf Space, a link to the full text of "The Harder They Write".

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