Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Calabash 2005 was a confidently Caribbean occasion. However, the surprising theme to emerge was how contentious the term "Caribbean literature" has become. Is it a genre characterised by its subject matter, or by sensibility? Does geography define it, or can it be written from anywhere in the world?

For the festival's founder, Colin Channer, a Jamaican novelist based in the US, "it doesn't mean anything. Nowadays there aren't enough similarities for the name to have any meaning at all."...

To Channer, Caribbean literature isn't a literary label as much as a colonial stigma, invented to keep writers in their place. "It suggests empire still [provides] the prevalent identity."

Every minority genre reaches a point when it wants to test its success by declaring it no longer exists. It is easy to see why Channer would like to be rid of the label. Nevertheless, his words sounded more like an ambition than description as the weekend wore on, for writer after writer kept returning to the same central themes--displacement and history.

Robert Antoni, 47, was a typical Calabash author--a novelist born in Trinidad, raised in the Bahamas, educated and employed in America. He holds three passports, and says his latest novel, Carnival, is about "always fleeing from home, and returning home. The characters don't quite fit in where they live, nor where they return to. Identity becomes something fluid; something you pack in your suitcase. That's an essential part of being Caribbean. It's about geography, but the geography that we carry with us.

"I have no problem calling myself a Caribbean writer," he added. "I always talk about a Caribbean of the imagination that we inhabit."

-- From a thoughtful piece on the 2005 Calabash International Literary Festival by Decca Aikenhead in the UK Observer, which I missed when it appeared a week & a half ago.

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