“The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.” Amos Oz
Trinidad and Tobago, located at the end of the Caribbean archipelago and very close to the South American continent, is a cultural hotbed. The birthplace of steelpan and calypso is also home to an established and incredibly diverse literary tradition. Many writers from these islands have excelled internationally, writing primarily in English, the nation’s official language. Others have experimented with other native languages such as Trinidadian Creole English with considerable success. Planning on traveling to T&T and want to get to know the culture inside out? Here are 6 classic Trinbagonian authors you should check out.
Naipaul was born in Trinidad when the island was still a British colony. He won a scholarship to study English at Oxford University and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. One my favorite books of his is A House for Mr. Biswas, his third novel. Partly inspired by his father’s experiences, the story is set in colonial Trinidad and traces the life of Mohun Biswas, who although “born in the wrong way,” perseveres to release himself from the crippling influence of his in-laws and to build a house for himself and his family. Naipaul’s writing is on point, offering acute and often witty observations of Trinidadian people, culture, and island life during the early 20th century.
Sam Selvon is one of those authors who can write Trinidadian Creole English down pat. I discovered him in high school when I read A Brighter Sun. The Lonely Londoners is another one of his masterpieces, exploring Caribbean immigration to the UK during the late 1940s to the early 1960s, also known as the Windrush Generation. Selvon, a gifted though often overlooked Trinidadian author, like his protagonists, also emigrated to the UK to pursue his dream of writing novels. The Lonely Londoners highlights the humorous yet poignant adventures of Caribbean immigrants in a city plagued with a racism they cannot understand.
Although CLR James is well known as a historian, political activist, and cricket expert, he is also a great novelist. Written in the late 1920s, his classic, Minty Alley, like James Joyce’s Dubliners, tells the stories of working class people living in the cramped alleys and backstreets of Trinidad’s capital city, Port of Spain. This was also the first novel published in England by a black West Indian.
Unlike other writers from Trinidad and Tobago, Earl Lovelace never really left Trinidad to pursue his dream to write fiction. One of his best-known works, The Wine of Astonishment, tells the story of Bonasse, a poor, Shouter Baptist community faced with religious persecution by the colonial government and plagued by the consequences of a cultural invasion by American soldiers during World War Two.
Merle Hodge’s Crick Crack Monkey is a bildungsroman of Tee, a motherless girl who is caught between the worlds of two matriarchs, Tantie and Aunt Beatrice. The novel explores the flaws of the country’s education system and the cost of upward social mobility in postcolonial Trinidad.
Michael Anthony is one of those authors who put South Trinidad on the literary map. Born and raised in Mayaro, much of his work feature coming-of-age tales of young men living in the seaside community. His work, particularly Green Days by the River and The Year in San Fernando, depict the pastoral beauty of the countryside and a loss of innocence of the protagonists.