I was 4 years old when I picked up my first book, I think. It’s been too many years to remember precisely when. My mother was a teacher, and in our house, books came first. I had a space saver shelf, (yes, that’s what they called those floor to ceiling shelves back in the day), with all sorts of books – Encyclopedia Britannica, dictionaries, what my Mom termed ‘the Classics’ – Treasure Island, Beauty and the Beast, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations – and then there were her favs that she was adamant I had to read before I ‘grew up’ – Little Women, Things Fall Apart, Roots: The Saga of an American Family…I could go on.
By the time I was 8, I was an avid reader. I had read and re-read all of the books on my shelf and took to concentrating mainly on textbooks because ‘Common Entrance’ was coming up. Definitely could not disappoint by not getting into a ‘good’ high school. By that parents meant, a five or seven-year high school.
Books were more my friends than my friends themselves. We had no cable back then, (the island literally had 2 TV channels and limited shows to view), so I had no issue picking up a book to get lost in for the day.
By the time I got to high school, I was adding The Autobiography of Malcolm X to my collection. In school, I was reading stories about characters like Kale Khan in The Jumbie Bird (Ismith Khan), and The Family From One End Street (Eve Garnett), about the Ruggles family, who by all means are working class, but have seven wayward kids who go on adventures all day while their parents are hard at work.
It was a mix of books written by local authors, and stories shared from the English colonial master.
It was clear that my reading time had waned, partially because I was now trying to excel at about ten subjects and just could not spare any more brain cells for casual reading. Education took on a different form for me. It was read, learn, regurgitate to pass the test, move on…
I was aware of writers like Michael Anthony, V.S. Naipaul, CLR James, Earl Lovelace, because my Mom had her own collection and implored me to read these books. For the life of me, even when I did, I paid them no mind. Nothing stuck! In my ignorant heart, I felt these writers were only from Trinidad, and no one knew of them except us, so no point. Brainwashed much! Perhaps a disservice was done, introducing me to stories in Scotland and Sussex, places I could barely pronounce.
Fast forward to college, and it was work and more work, no reading, or at least reading for my classes. My interest in books turned to philosophy and anything to do with becoming a better you (self-help). I was obsessed. I could not get enough of reading the likes of any writer who had a concept that helped me level up my ‘self.’ For the last 20 years of my life, I have delved into every new age book about spirituality, self-awareness, and even books about being a better entrepreneur.
This year, I became involved in The Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival, the first of its kind coming to New York this September. The more I helped with the planning, the more I felt that I did not deserve to be on this team. Perhaps I needed to go back and pay homage to the Caribbean writers my Mom had long been introducing me to. I was so out of sync with Caribbean writers that I was being schooled in the planning process.
Over the last few months I’ve been introduced to so many great works by authors from throughout the Caribbean, I’m not sure if my life will allow me time to include all of them. It’s a new joy, and I’m committed to dedicating the time to become familiar again. Nicole Dennis-Benn (Jamaica), recently released Patsy last month and already it’s making the international circuit. I enjoy her writing very much.
When I published my own book, Dancing At The Crossroad in 2016, someone asked me if I wanted to be listed as a Caribbean author and I responded with a ‘hell no’ quite emphatically. I feel I have betrayed my roots, and like a friend told me years ago, sold my birthright for twenty-five cents. In part, they were right. I had given up my Caribbean heritage for this new land I was in, but looking back, Home is where the heart will always be.
I am a Caribbean writer and forever will be! I’ve been inspired on this festival journey to write more, and challenge myself to produce more stories that document Caribbean life and upbringing. I have a responsibility to do it for those with me now and those to come. I might be residing in a different land, but I am an island gyal, and I am bringing my island life to my written work!
Being a Caribbean writer is a valid niche to be embraced. Although we were colonized by the Dutch, French, Spanish, and English, the influence of each culture mixed with that from our beginning roots in Africa, India, and China means we come with soul! That’s rich if you ask me! A reason to celebrate!
As a fan of bookstores everywhere, I find myself drawn to the Caribbean section these past few months. I was even inspired to pick up Jamaica Kincaid’s, The Autobiography of My Mother, recently.
Who said learning is not a lifelong experience?! I am definitely finding that to be true. Embracing, loving, and learning as I age gracefully!
For more info on The Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival, click below. It’s a festival you don’t want to miss!