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!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Book of the week: Sly Mongoose, by Tobias S. Buckell

Some readers may recall that back in May I ambitiously announced a new Antilles "book of the month" feature. "Every month I'll choose from among the pile of newly arrived books one that seems worth recommending to Antilles readers," I said. "The choice will be entirely subjective." Kei Miller's novel The Same Earth was my first pick, and then it appears I promptly forgot about the whole thing. Mea culpa.

Meanwhile, new books continue to arrive faster than the CRB can actually review them, and it seems more worthwhile than ever to use Antilles to point readers to new and interesting titles. So here I go, second attempt, this time slightly more ambitious: the first Antilles book of the week: Tobias S. Buckell's new novel Sly Mongoose, published in August by Tor.

Sly Mongoose is Grenada-born Buckell's third novel. (Some readers may remember that his last book, Ragamuffin, was one of the CRB's 2007 books of the year.) Buckell is one of a squad of young writers who are changing and expanding our notions of what Caribbean literature can be. In his case, that means injecting Caribbean characters, Caribbean language, and elements of Caribbean thought, history, and culture into the speculative fiction genre. His books are gripping, ripping reads, but also clever--even subversive--allegories. You could say he's engaged in a version of what Louise Bennett famously called "colonisation in reverse".

Buckell wrote about the "Caribbeanness" of his fiction in an essay published in the February 2008 CRB. Lisa Allen-Agostini reviewed Ragamuffin in our November 2007 issue. This page at his publisher's website includes an excerpt from Sly Mongoose, a podcast in which he talks about the origins of the book, even a video trailer. There's also a substantial podcast interview with Buckell over at SciFiDimensions, in which he deftly addresses various stereotypes and misconceptions about the Caribbean in the course of talking about his writing. And of course he has a blog!

Look out for a review of Sly Mongoose in an upcoming issue of the CRB.

The sounds of Thebes

Even more on the Heaney/Walcott/Le Gendre Burial at Thebes. First, in the London Times Andrew Billen captures some bantering conversation between Walcott and Heaney, old friends and accomplices in verse. And the UK Guardian offers a slideshow of images from rehearsals with a soundtrack of excerpts from Dominique Le Gendre's score. (You can hear the voice of Brian Green, the Trinidadian actor and singer who has the role of Creon.) The production opens tonight at the Globe Theatre in London.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Talking about Trinidad Noir

It's only just occurred to me, dear readers, that Antilles never linked to this excellent podcast posted over at Caribbean Free Radio a whole month and a half ago: Georgia Popplewell's interview with Lisa Allen-Agostini, co-editor of the new fiction anthology Trinidad Noir.

Readers living in New York: Akashic Books will host a launch event for Trinidad Noir in Manhattan on 21 November--more information here. (And look out for a review in an upcoming issue of the CRB.)

"The music has a duty to be contemporary"

Sophocles via Heaney via Walcott and Le Gendre: the operatic version of Burial at Thebes opens tomorrow in London. The Wall Street Journal publishes an interview (by Paul Levy) with director Derek Walcott, and the Telegraph's Ivan Hewett sits in on a rehearsal. After two performances in London, Burial at Thebes moves on to Liverpool and Oxford. (Any Antilles readers planning to see it?)

From Hewett's piece:

How does [Walcott] feel about venturing into opera? "Totally inadequate," he says matter-of-factly, "because I've never been much attracted by opera. The attraction for me here was Seamus's text. What I appreciate about Heaney is his combination of down-to-earth speech with high rhetoric.

"The music has a duty to be contemporary, as does the drama. That's the best way we can honour this myth and Heaney's wonderful text."

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Dawes on PBS

... and, speaking of Kwame Dawes: two days ago the PBS NewsHour programme ran a report on a project he recently worked on with the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting--a multimedia website looking at HIV in Jamaica, combining Dawes's poetry with music, essays, and video. Read the transcript of the NewsHour segment here (or follow the links to the video); learn more about the "Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaiaca" project here; visit the project website here.

Sweeping the Hurston/Wrights

The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award is "the first national award presented to published writers of African descent by the national community of Black writers" in the United States. The 2008 winners have just been announced, and the Caribbean is well represented--three of the four categories were won by Caribbean books. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz--which has already won just about every other literary prize it was eligible for--is the Legacy fiction awardee. Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying won the non-fiction award, and Kwame Dawes's She's Gone won the debut fiction award. Lagniappe: the poetry award went to Bouquet of Hungers by Kyle Dargan--who may or may not have Caribbean roots, but who is managing editor of the journal Callaloo!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A Conversation with Vahni Capildeo

vahni rasta

Vahni Capildeo, Oxford, September 2008

Vahni Capildeo is one of the most exciting and ambitious young Caribbean writers at work today. She is also a contributing editor at the CRB--in the last few years, I've been privileged to publish both her reviews and her poems in the magazine. And she is furthermore a dear friend. So I'm triply pleased that the CRB will host Vahni at a reading and discussion of her work here in Port of Spain next week. Details below.


The Trinidadian writer Vahni Capildeo--author of the poetry collections No Traveller Returns and the forthcoming The Undraining Sea--will read from her poems, and discuss her work with Caribbean Review of Books editor Nicholas Laughlin.

Tuesday 14 October, 2008, 7.30 pm, at The Reader's Bookshop, 1 Middle Street (at Patna Street), St James, Port of Spain.

Presented by The Caribbean Review of Books and The Reader's Bookshop

Admission is free, and all are invited. For further information, contact The Reader's Bookshop at 628-7221, or email crb@meppublishers.com.


"Beware. The wisdom and originality that elegantly smolders in these pages drives a startling and beautiful linguistic gearing; crafted silver turning on faultless glass."
-- Brian Catling, on No Traveller Returns

Vahni Capildeo was born in Trinidad in 1973, and has lived in Britain since 1991. She completed a DPhil in Old Norse at Oxford in 2000. Her first collection of poems, No Traveller Returns (2003), was followed by Person Animal Figure (2005), a series of dramatic monologues. Her third book, The Undraining Sea, will be published in 2009.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

R.I.P. Hawley Harris

His inability to hold down a regular job was well known. “Where are you now?” his friends would taunt. “In front of you!” Harris would answer. Eventually he was recruited to the Mirror by Mr. Macdonald Dash, in the course of a session at the Las Vegas nightclub. For Harris, as for other artists and intellectuals of his generation, the city rum shops were communities of wisdom and inspiration, populated by eccentric characters and presided over by a roving band of pavement philosophers: in vino, veritas was the watchword.

In yesterday's Stabroek News Rupert Roopnaraine remembers the late Hawley Harris, Guyanese cartoonist and caricaturist.

A judge's journal: part one

It is that time of year when people who bother about such things nudge forward their Nobel Prize predictions and speculations. The Swedish Academy, guardians of what is still considered the world's most prestigious literary prize, will make their announcement on Thursday coming. The academy's secretary made sure appetites (not to mention knives) were properly whetted, with some sour comments about the state of American literature--the Literary Saloon nicely summarises the storm-in-teacup controversy here and here. All in all, a nice opportunity for literary pundits to revive the discussion of a perennially favourite topic, the usefulness of literary prizes, and all possible subsidiary questions.

Since most of my favourite writers are dead, I don't much care who wins the Nobel Prize, and of course we all know that in the end it is the cold and distant eye of posterity that really matters. Nonetheless, in the here and now literary prizes play a hugely important role in what you might call the literary economy, the network of transactions, commercial and otherwise, that transmits books from the heads of writers to the hands of readers. Prizes mean publicity, something few writers and publishers get enough of. And of course there is the money--writers and publishers also have rents to pay and mouths to feed. So on the whole literary prizes are very good things--long may they be funded.

Which is why I barely hesitated when the Commonwealth Foundation asked me a few months ago to be a regional judge for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. I've seen how the CWP has helped Caribbean writers, both eminent and newly emerged, to find new audiences around the world. I also thought this might be a good chance for me to catch up on contemporary Caribbean fiction, which I seem to read less and less of. Only after I said yes did I do the mental arithmetic and realise I'd essentially agreed to spend the last third of the year reading a novel a day. I'm a speedy reader, but even so....

Many Antilles readers probably know how the CWP works. Any book-length work of prose fiction by a Commonwealth citizen is eligible--in the case of the 2009 prize, it must be published in the calendar year 2008. For judging purposes, the Commonwealth is divided into four broad regions--in my case, the Caribbean and Canada--from each of which the judges choose two regional winners, in the best book and best first book categories. All the books that win regional awards then go forward to a final pan-Commonwealth judging panel, which chooses the overall winners. It's a generous system, rewarding no fewer than eight writers (not to mention all the shortlistees). The 2009 regional winners will be announced sometime next March, and the overall winners in May.

Michael Bucknor of UWI, Mona--the Caribbean and Canada regional chair--has the hard work of keeping track of all the books as they're sent in by publishers. Pamela Banting of the University of Calgary and myself--the other two judges--merely have to read like the devil and decide which of these dozens of titles are worth pushing forward to the longlist, and which, sadly, will not make the cut. For my own peace of mind--and to ensure I don't manage to overlook a volume should it fall down to the back of the pile--I've decided to keep a sort of log of all the books as they turn up, with the date each arrives, the date I finish reading it, a brief note summarising my first impressions, and a final column in which each book is assigned one of three "grades": YES, NO, or MAYBE.

Earlier this year, for the first time, the Commonwealth Foundation got several of the regional prize-winners, plus one judge and one prize administrator, to blog about their different experiences of the final days of judging. I've decided to post the occasional note about my own experience as a CWP judge here at Antilles. Partly to keep me reading steadfastly--I'll want to be able to report real progress, after all. Partly because I feel the CWP needs more publicity in the Caribbean--in recent years Canadian books seem to have dominated both the regional entries and the shortlists. And, to be truthful, partly because Antilles has been much too quiet of late.

So what progress can I actually report? According to my trusty log, eleven books have arrived thus far (and I expect, perhaps even dread, another package before the end of this week). I've read five. I can't say what they are, of course, but I can tell you there are three NOs, one MAYBE, one YES. The YES is such a YES, I've even put a little asterisk next to it. It's a first book by a young Canadian writer who I've never heard of before, and one of the best things I've read in ages. I can't wait till the judging is over and I can press it eagerly on all my friends.