So what's a Caribbean (or African, or Asian) writer to do? I'm a great believer in the (allegedly) Ashanti proverb: Softly, softly catchee monkey. In the spirit of doing my small part to acquaint readers with non-mainstream works of merit, I'll share three of my favorite Caribbean novels and their writers, all from Trinidad and Tobago, with you.
The Friends by Rosa Guy
I have a special place in my heart for Rosa Guy: my first manuscript caught the attention of my literary agent initially because I shared a birthplace with this author. The Friends, which I read about fifteen years ago, is the first in a trilogy of young adult novels about the lives of Caribbean immigrants in Harlem during the 1960s. The novel explores issues of race and class prejudice, themes which were uncommon in young adult novels at the time of publication.
"[She] is the author of fifteen novels and is the editor and translator of several volumes. Guy, along with with John Oliver Killens, co-founded the Harlem Writer's Guild. Her work has received the Coretta Scott King Award, The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year citation, and the American Library Association's Best Book Award. She lives in New York." - AALBC.com
Night Calypso by Lawrence Scott
This book was influenced by the Bocas Islands about which I recently wrote on my personal blog. Part of the novel's allure for me was the familiarity of the setting, the history, and the culture, but along with that is the sheer appeal of story: a doctor, an attractive young nun and a traumatized boy are thrown together at a leper colony on a minute island in the middle of the Second World War, amid the roiling social and cultural changes taking place in Trinidad in the 1940s.
Scott is the author of Aelred’s Sin which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1999 for Best Book in the Canada & Caribbean region.
The Dragon Can't Dance by Earl Lovelace
I've read at least five of Lovelace's novels, and this one remains my favourite. From Booklist:
"Carnival season has just begun in Calvary Hill, a Port of Spain shantytown, and Miss Cleothilda, the carnival queen, and Aldrick, the dragon king, try to concentrate on creating their elaborate costumes, but both are distracted by a young beauty named Sylvia. The queen senses a rival, and Aldrick, famous for his avoidance of work and marriage, feels love coming on... As Lovelace masterfully choreographs the dance of each of his finely drawn characters, he reveals the conundrums not only of Caribbean life but of the human condition itself."
Lovelace's awards include:
- 1965 British Petroleum Independence Literary Award, While Gods Are Falling
- 1980 Guggenheim Fellowship
- 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book), Salt
In my next post I'll feature the works of three more writers from other territories in the Caribbean.