I was in my usual Friday position, that is, splayed across the couch with a steaming cup of coffee, listening to the Festival Radio podcasts on the NGC Bocas Lit Festival presently taking place in Trinidad, and thinking that I was in the wrong island. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because Barbados’ own literary festival is coming up in May.
Anyway, Peepal Tree Press Founder, Jeremy Poynting made an interesting point in an interview about the gap between the type of books that Caribbean writers like to write and the type of books that Caribbean readers like to read. Peepal Tree Press is a British based publishing company that focuses on publishing Caribbean and Black British literature.
Poynting said that most Caribbean readers want to read genre fiction, while most Caribbean writers want to write literary fiction, which is important, but it’s not reaching a wide Caribbean audience.
He mentioned the fact that one of the ambitions of the Caribbean writer, going all the way back to the days of the late C.L.R. James, is to reach the people that he or she is writing about.
When Trinidadian author Earl Lovelace was asked in an interview whether he asked readers what they wanted, Lovelace said that he was a reader too and did not think of readers as external to himself. So the trick is for his ‘writing self’ not to ‘shortchange’ his ‘reading self’. However he had to admit that Caribbean literature needs more readers.
One of the problems I had as a young reader, is that I read to escape. I would bury myself deep in whimsical passages of magical universities, parallel worlds and distant planets. I read anything that didn’t remind me of anything familiar. What I knew about Caribbean literature then, which was very little, was that it was uncomfortably real. So a lot of the authors that I read were American or British. It took me years to learn to appreciate Caribbean literature.
I remember being a teenager in Maryland, and my Dad was so concerned that I was losing touch with my ‘Caribbean Identity’ that he
forced encouraged me, enthusiastically, to read No Pain Like This Body by Harold Sonny Ladoo. It was a story about the struggles of a poor Indo-Trinidadian rice-growing family.
It is the most depressing book I have ever read.
To get back to Poynting’s point about the disconnect between Caribbean writers and Caribbean readers, there obviously needs to be some kind of dialogue between both parties. This is probably why literary festivals like Bocas Lit Fest, BIM Lit Fest and Calabash International Literary Festival, to be held in Jamaica from May 30th to June 1st, are so important. Literary Festivals bring together authors and readers and hopefully both can connect with one another.
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