Sunday, February 29, 2004

There's an interesting article in today's J'ca Observer, written by Norman Rae, about the collection of books & paintings recently donated to the Edna Manley College of Visual & Performing Arts by the estate of the late Vivian Virtue, little-remembered Jamaican poet.

Also worth reading: Ian McDonald's lyrical short essay in today's Stabroek News, an ode to laziness & the landscape of the Essequibo.
Though it's not yet posted on the official website, it's been announced that Caryl Phillips's novel A Distant Shore is the winner of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize 2004, Eurasia region.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

"Do you think he would be co-authoring the party's manifesto? Or perhaps offer a catch-line for the ad-campaign? Would he campaign? Would he accompany the big honchos on their election campaign perhaps, in search of another travelogue? After all, he was among the believers and, surely it was not beyond belief, my interlocutor insisted (yes, I could hear the italics in the emphasis). Would he, you think, like, join the party?"

-- Aman Khanna gives a detailed account of "The Visit" in yesterday's Times of India.
Like Guillermoprieto's reportage ... Dancing With Cuba is a pleasure to read, full of humanity, sly humor, curiosity and knowledge.... She uses dance as a lens through which to explore the aspirations and injustices and contradictions of a whole society. It's a fresh and lively perspective....

As a memoirist she manages some difficult terrain. Somehow, she conveys the intense and immediate feelings of youth while at the same time objectifying her 20-year-old self as a character in a story she is telling. Mostly, she stays in the moment she is narrating, avoiding the unspoken, apologetic "had I but known" that can make a memoir feel sketchy and drained of life. Thus the Castro she describes is a despot, but also an engaging, enthusiastic personality whose secretive love life is the source of fascination to Alma and her friends and whose famously long speeches strike them--and hundreds of thousands of Cubans--as actually pretty interesting.

-- From Katha Pollitt's review of Alma Guillermoprieto's memoir Dancing with Cuba in tomorrow's NY Times Book Review (link good for only a week or so).

Friday, February 27, 2004

Caryl Phillips's novel A Distant Shore (winner of the 2003 Nicholas Laughlin Book Award for fiction!) has been shortlisted for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize, Eurasia Region. The winner will be announced in Calcutta tonight. The shortlist for the Caribbean & Canada region was meant to have been announced yesterday, but I haven't come across any reports yet; the Caribbean & Canada regional winner will be announced next Monday here in Port of Spain.
The Indian newspapers are full of reports on V.S. Naipaul's visit to BJP headquarters yesterday--see stories in the Business Standard, the Hindustan Times, the Statesman, the Calcutta Telegraph, the Economic Times....

Thursday, February 26, 2004

... for the most part, those at the meeting said, Naipaul chose to listen rather than speak, making periodic remarks. The level of discussion, they said, was low.

Perhaps that is why Naipaul was taciturn after the meeting. Perhaps, to avoid uncomfortable questions on why he was meeting the BJP. He needn't have bothered. When he attempted to answer questions from a clamouring posse of mediamen, his wife, Lady Nadira, asked him to "keep quiet, let me answer."

And then hell hath no fury like Lady Nadira: "What is wrong if we wish to come to the BJP cultural cell? What is so spectacular that you should gather this way? My husband writes about India, the BJP is in power and we are observers."

Attempts to assuage fell on deaf ears. Instead, she said: "He is an independent observer, he has been invited here. He is not a politician."

So what was he doing at the office of a political party? "He's in the public domain, he can be appropriated by anyone," Nadira said. "Who stopped the liberals from doing so?"

Priceless! Read the whole Times of India report here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

He said his books were not intended to hurt people and those who infer this have "not really read them. They have just heard about them".

On the Nobel he said: "The award came rather late."

-- A couple of Naipaulian tidbits from a brief report in today's Express India--Sir Vidia has been in New Delhi inaugurating some sort of literary festival.

(Personal note: I've been in St. Lucia recently, & not giving much thought to blogging.)

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Also in today's Guardian: another review, by Mike Phillips, of Andrea Levy's novel Small Island:

Levy's immersion in the period seems an illustration of the fact that in recent years, 1948, marking the arrival at Tilbury of the Windrush, has taken on a new significance in the lexicon of Britain's social history. A few years ago, the commemoration of this event sparked off a small explosion of interest in the consequences of mid-20th century migration. Artists and writers of migrant origin, especially Afro-Caribbeans, have responded to this historical platform with a new confidence and interest in exploring both their own roots and the circumstances of the time. The result is a growing conversation about the effects of Caribbean migration on British identity.

Levy's authorial platform is balanced squarely in the middle of this conversation. The novel records some of the most un-pleasant racist aspects of the period, without displaying any sense of polemical intent, partly because her reliance on historical fact gives Levy a distance which allows her to be both dispassionate and compassionate. The history also offers an opportunity to construct the characters in patient and illuminating detail.

And: a short essay by Mark Bostridge on The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, the autobiography of the Jamaican-born Mary Seacole, heroine of the Crimean War:

In the summer of 1857, while Florence Nightingale languished in London's Burlington Hotel, seriously ill but still working on the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, another Crimean heroine was publishing an account of her experiences in the recent war. Mary Seacole, a Jamaican-born Creole, had become celebrated for her British Hotel at Spring Hill, "an iron storehouse with wooden stores and outlying tributaries", two miles along the road from Balaclava. Here she had provided warm hospitality to passing soldiers, earning praise from the famous French chef Alexis Soyer, in the Crimea to revolutionise army catering, for her "soups and dainties".

"Mother Seacole" had also won a place in the hearts of many officers and men for her care of the sick and wounded. Applying herbal remedies derived from traditional Caribbean medicine, she successfully treated diarrhoea, dysentery, even cholera. With a bag of lint, bandages, needles, thread and medicines she courageously navigated the battlefields. On September 8 1855, "a ruddy lurid day with the glare of the blazing town", Seacole became the first woman to enter Sebastopol after the siege.
"In the lobby of the National Gallery in London yesterday, staff were clambering up ladders and slapping 'Saved' stickers on the appeal posters for Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks," reports Maev Kennedy in the UK Guardian. I myself donated five pounds....

Friday, February 13, 2004

Nalo Hopkinson's new novel The Salt Roads has been nominated for a Nebula Award by the SFWA; see a list of all 2004 Nebula nominees here. (Winners will be announced on 17 April.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I want to be your cheap hotel/I want to be your lipstick by Chanel
Today's Hindustan Times reports that V.S. Naipaul will be the chief guest at the biennial World Book Fair, scheduled to open in Delhi on 14 February. This year's theme is "India's Contribution to Science and Technology". Sir Vidia, of course, is well-known for his scientific & technological writings....

Friday, February 06, 2004

Uprisings of the oppressed have erupted throughout history, but the anti-slavery movement in England was the first sustained mass campaign anywhere on behalf of someone else's rights. Sometimes Britons even seemed to be organizing against their own self-interest. From Sheffield, famous for making scissors, scythes, knives, razors, and the like, 769 metalworkers petitioned Parliament in 1789. Because their wares were sold to ship captains for use as currency to buy slaves, the Sheffield cutlers wrote, they might be expected to favor the slave trade. But they vigorously opposed it: "Your petitioners...consider the case of the nations of Africa as their own."

Consider the Africans' case as their own? Stephen Fuller, London agent for the Jamaican planters and a key figure in the pro-slavery lobby, wrote in bewilderment that the petitions flooding into Parliament were "stating no grievance or injury of any land or sort, affecting the Petitioners themselves." He was right to be startled. This was something new in human history.

In the January/February issue of Mother Jones, Adam Hochschild writes a concise, gripping history of the British anti-slavery movement in the 18th & 19th centuries, & tells us we should be inspired by its success to tackle the problems of the 21st-century world.
Ms. Guillermoprieto has written a memoir that is highly skeptical of the act of remembering. Some of what she tells is no doubt "completely invented by the stubborn narrator we all have within us who wants things to be the way they sound best to us now."

They do not sound best; they present painfully "the inept young woman I was." This may win a share of our trust. More is won by the writer's trained skepticism even toward an effort so much her own that, despite her perfect published English, she has written it in Spanish. As a journalist she has disentangled too many botched and elided memories not to know that "this was" must always be less truthful than "this may have been."

-- From Richard Eder's review of Alma Guillermoprieto's memoir Dancing with Cuba, published in today's NY Times.
"None of my books is just about race," she stresses. "They're about people and history. Basically, I love people. The greatest thing I could ever do would be to walk into a room with all my characters in it and mingle with them."

-- From Christie Hickman's short profile of Andrea Levy, in today's Independent.
The essays in Literary Occasions show that Naipaul has spent 50 years questioning his vocation. Why did he stick with it? What is he doing with it? On the face of it, the answer is simple. Naipaul became a writer because his father, Seepersad Naipaul, was also a writer. Yet each time Naipaul approaches the relation between his father's writing and his own, he keeps producing a new piece of information that makes one doubt the simple cause and effect.

-- From Nicholas Blincoe's review of Literary Occasions, published last Sunday in the Telegraph.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The Literary Saloon points out today that the BBC's online audio archives contain a nice selection of interviews with writers, musicians, artists etc. in RealPlayer format. These include Derek Walcott, Marcus Garvey, & Bob Marley--not to mention my favourite prose writer, Virginia Woolf, & my favourite poet, Yeats.

Monday, February 02, 2004

This morning's Intersections programme on NPR featured Jamaica Kincaid, talking with Lynn Neary about her childhood literary influences (Jane Eyre & Paradise Lost). Listen to the audio file here.
Working in an English verse tradition and writing about everyday life in the Caribbean, Walcott knows himself to be an anomaly. "I have to live, socially, in an almost unfinished society," he told me once. "Among the almost great, among the almost true, among the almost honest. That allows me to describe the anguish." His goal, he said, is to "finish" his incomplete culture....

The epic is natural to Walcott. "I come from a place that likes grandeur," he has said. "It likes large gesture; it is not inhibited by flourish; it is a society of physical performance; it is a society of style." St. Lucia is also a place that, having had relatively little written about it, lives, still, in a vague sphere where time does not seem to exist, and where dates have little resonance. What resonates are individual stories, the image of the island's various straight-backed Helens walking to market, seemingly impervious to the ever-changing weather, or to history.

-- From Hilton Als's profile of Derek Walcott in the current New Yorker. (The legendary New Yorker fact-checkers have got at least one tiny detail wrong: the BBC radio programme to which Walcott--& just about every other West Indian writer of his generation--contributed back in the 1950s was Caribbean Voices, not Caribbean Voice.)

Sunday, February 01, 2004

The Society of Jesus is known for throwing its members--who are supposed to be willing--either to the lions or in at the deep end; Fr Morrison's case was no exception. Without ado or training at all in the field, he was told he had to be Editor of the Standard as of July 1, 1976. He recounted riding along on his bicycle, having had his first struggle with the beast called "The Editorial," and thinking in despair, "Lord--have I got to do this every week?" He did--and for eighteen years.

Quite simply put, not by training or by talent, but by spirit and by just who he was, he was the right man for wrong times.

They were times when the Catholic Standard was the only non-government, non-political party-owned form of media in a tightly-controlled country then without access to international or local television, and his role is well summed up in the comments of one lady who called to commiserate: "He was a man of integrity--which is very hard to find these days. He always rose above race, ideology--and sometimes even religion--and took a moral position." He himself would have said that it was his belief in God that made him what he was.

His guiding principle in writing was that the man in the marketplace had to understand it, and indeed he loved what he termed "doing my rounds," walking around selling the paper in the market himself, and talking to the people there. He was a man who loved Guyana and Guyanese, and loved to boast vicariously about those Guyanese who had done well. In return, all Guyanese, not just the Catholic community, felt they "owned" him.

-- From Roxana Kawall's tribute to the late Fr. Andrew Morrison, S.J.--former editor of the Catholic Standard & courageous advocate of press freedom in Guyana, who died last Monday--published in today's Stabroek News.