Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival: the lineup

If you’ve been following my blog and Instagram feed, then you know that this September is a very special month for Caribbean literature. Come 6-8 September 2019, Brooklyn will host its first ever Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival.

Festival highlights will include:

  • “An Evening with Jamaica Kincaid” hosted jointly with the Brooklyn Historical Society. At this event, fans can get up, close, and personal with the accomplished Antigua-born author whose works include A Small Place, Lucy, and Annie John.
  • A lunchtime conversation with acclaimed Trinidadian author Barbara Jenkins whose works include De Rightest Place and Sic Transit Wagon.
  • “Laureates of the Caribbean,” an evening of poetry and spoken word performances.
  • The announcement of the winning entry of the first ever Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writer’s Award.
  • A Children’s Programme featuring storytelling, wirebending, craft-making, and dancing!
  • “The Gayelle,” an all-day, open-air market with lots of literary events and stalls.

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My Summer Reading List

On the heels of this June’s #ReadCaribbean challenge, I decided to keep up with my Caribbean literature. Reading about so many Caribbean writers in June made me thirst for them and by July, I was deeply immersed in several books. I realized how much I missed the cadences of my home country and region and the only tangible way I could transport myself back was through reading Caribbean literature. With that said, here are some of my favorite reads for summer 2019.

1. Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn

This was on my radar a while ago when travel writer Bani Amor mentioned it in her book club series but it took me over two years to actually get my hands on it and finish it. Dennis Benn’s work captivated me from the beginning with memorable though amoral characters and its unmistakable Jamaican setting. The author delves beneath the surface impression so many tourists have of the island as a pleasure-seeking place of weed-smoking locals, lovely beaches, and guilt-free hook-ups. She pulls back the shiny veneer of the tourism industry and shows what some people really have to do to get by in Jamaica.

2. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Kincaid starts hitting them hard from the get-go in this one. Even though A Small Place was published in 1988, I think the author’s sentiments about how Caribbean islands are perceived by tourists as playgrounds for their personal pleasure rather than real places still stands today. This is a must-read for anyone eager to travel to the Caribbean and is a great companion read to Nicole Dennis Benn’s Here Comes The Sun.

3. Golden Child by Claire Adam

This debut novel by Trinidadian but British-based writer Claire Adam was a slow burn for me. It starts off in the bush, as we Trinis like to say, but peels back the layers to reveal the tragic story behind a working-class Indo-Trinidadian family. This family is blessed with twins, bright boy Peter and maladjusted Paul, but as the saying goes, “Peter pay for Paul, Paul pay for all.” Adam’s story definitely shows how this happens in crime-afflicted societies like Trinidad’s.

4. Augustown by Kei Miller

Miller’s work soared from the beginning for me. I loved his documentary-writing style, especially how he pinpoints the exact location of Augustown and talks about its social and economic circumstances. The reader gets into the heads of several of Augustown’s inhabitants as well as peripheral characters who get mixed up in the melee when they intrude in how things are done in this largely Rasta community.

5. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

This was my second time reading Lucy and I was able to pick up on Kincaid’s signature style having devoured Annie John and A Small Place earlier. Lucy is a character I am ambivalent about, particularly in her relationship with her mother and how she handles relationships with those close to her. As always, there are echoes of anti-colonial sentiment in this work, a theme that runs rampant through Kincaid’s body of work.

6. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

What a sweet collection of stories! I loved how the author focused on characters at home in Jamaica and in the diaspora, particularly in the US. Even though it’s written as a love letter to Jamaicans everywhere, as a Caribbean reader, I was able to connect with many of the stories. My favorite story was “Shirley from A Small Place” which seems to be based loosely on Rihanna’s rise to stardom.

Which ones have you read? Share in the comments below!

On the Radar: Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival

If you’re a Caribbean lit lover and in Brooklyn this September, you’re in for a real treat.

This year, the New York City borough will host the first-ever Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival (BCLF).

Why Brooklyn? Brooklyn has always been a major stomping ground for Caribbean people, with one of the largest Caribbean diasporas in the world. It’s also the home of the famous West Indian Day Parade that takes place every Labor Day.

From September 6 – 8, 2019, Caribbean writers, poets, and artists from the city and the diaspora will come together to explore the theme, “Caribbean beyond Carnival.” There will be readings, workshops, and talks introducing Caribbean literature and exploring what it really means to be a Caribbean person.

BCLF is spearheaded by The Idea Room Corp., in partnership with Community Revitalization Partnership and MAP Media International. I’m also happy to announce that this year, I will be partnering with this awesome literary festival. Best of all, the event is free to the public.

For more deets, follow the BCLF on Facebook and  Instagram.

It’s a wrap – #ReadCaribbean challenge

I must say that June was definitely one of the more rewarding months I have experienced this year. Thanks to Book of Cinz, I hopped on board a project to promote Caribbean literature to the masses on the ‘gram.

And what a success it was! So many people reached out and shared their recommendations. So with that, here’s a wrap up of the Caribbean books I featured for Caribbean Heritage Month 2019.

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"Gita can't believe she's in Kolkata. All she knew of the city was that her great-great grandmother got on the ship here for Chinidad, the land of sugar. She had no records, no photographs, only the bare bones of stories her father told her." Homecoming by Suzanne Bhagan For Day 23 of this June's #ReadCaribbean challenge, I am featuring We Mark Your Memory, a collection published by both the University of London (2018) and Peekash Press (2019). In collaboration with Commonwealth Writers, this collection of new writing from across the Commonwealth explores Indian indentured heritage in the 21st century. When slavery was abolished in the 19th century in the Caribbean, the first Indian indentured laborers came to the then British colonies to plug the gap. These workers from the subcontinent entered into/were often coerced into signing contracts to work on the sugar plantations there. We Mark Your Memory features a host of authors of Caribbean heritage – David Dabydeen, Kevin Jared Hosein, Gabrielle Jamela Hosein, Anita Sethi, Stella Chong Sing, Jennifer Rahim, Patti-Anne Ali, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming, Gaiutra Bahadur, Fawzia Muradali Kane, Arnold Thomas, and myself. My debut short story "Homecoming" explores the experiences of a young Indo-Trinidadian couple who visit India for the first time and face instant culture shock in their attempts to make a connection with their "long-lost homeland." What debut Caribbean author are you reading today?

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#ReadCaribbean Challenge

Together with a group of handpicked Caribbean bookstagrammers, this June, I am getting involved with a #ReadCaribbean challenge on Instagram to encourage more readers to discover Caribbean literature.

June 2019 is recognized as Caribbean Heritage Month so to celebrate, we’re encouraging you to:

  1. read books by Caribbean nationals
  2. read books about the Caribbean
  3. read books set in the Caribbean

Here are some prompts to get you inspired! Are you on board?

Review: Cuba Then, Cuba Now

Firstly, I found Cuba Then, Cuba Now, the title of the Vintage Short by travel writer Joshua Jelly-Shapiro, to be a bit misleading. It promised reflective essays on Cuba – then and now, but the bulk of the book spoke about another Caribbean island, Jamaica. In fact, Cuba Then, Cuba Now included many excerpts from Shapiro’s first book, Island People: The Caribbean and the World.

Shapiro’s three chapters on Jamaica certainly brought the island alive with keen observations of its people, history, and culture. I liked that the narrative voice was attuned to Jamaican patois, particularly the brand spoken by its Rastafarian community.

The introduction and the chapter on Cuba, however, somehow didn’t make much of an impact on me as a Caribbean-born reader and writer. That said, I enjoyed reading this title and would really like to read Island People next.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy (ARC) from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read it?

6 literary quotes about the Caribbean immigrant experience

Immigration is on everyone’s lips these days, especially with tightening national borders and refugee crises. That said, the migration of Caribbean people has always been a tumultuous one. You may not know this but most of the people in the Caribbean migrated to the region from other parts of the world: Africa, India, Europe, China, and the Middle East to name a few. After this first migration, many then left their new “homelands” for developed countries, particularly the US, the UK, and Canada. Want to learn more about their migratory experiences? Here are 6 literary quotes about the Caribbean immigrant experience.

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The Mimic Men (1967) by VS Naipaul

“Shipwreck: I have used this word before. With my island background, it was the word that always came to me. And this was what I felt I had encountered again in the great city: this feeling of being adrift, a cell in preparation, little more, that might be altered, if only fleetingly, by any encounter.”

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The Lonely Londoners (1956) by Samuel Selvon

“Harris is a fellar who like to play ladeda, and he like English customs and thing, he does be polite and say thank you and he does get up in the bus and the tube to let woman sit down, which is a thing even them Englishmen don’t do. And when he dress, you think is some Englishman going to work in the city, bowler and umbrella, and briefcase tuck under the arm, with The Times fold up in the pocket so the name would show, and he walking upright like if is he alone who alive in the world. Only thing, Harris face black.”

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‘Til the Well Runs Dry (2014) by Lauren Francis-Sharma

“New York City was like the deepest deepness of Blanchisseuse. A city bush where people, rather than animals, slithered and lurked, where people, rather than trees, smashed and bumped. In the city-bush, like in the bush of Blanchisseuse, there was barely a sky…I could sense, as I watched them, – all of them – behaving repressively wild, with fear and dread built up behind the whites of their eyes, that none of them knew how to get out either.”

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The Amazing Absorbing Boy (2010) by Rabindranath Maharaj

“I remember Uncle Boysie telling me that Canada was so safe the policemen wore nice red outfits and rode on horses but according to Roy the country was like Gotham City with crooks around every corner… I pictured them as shady Frank Miller characters with bulging muscles and machine guns poking out from trench coats but the photograph from the papers was of a group of boys my age. They kind of resembled some of my friends from Mayaro too.”

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The Swinging Bridge (2003) by Ramabai Espinet

“If you happen to be born into an Indian family, an Indian family from the Caribbean, migratory, never certain of the terrain, that’s how life falls down around you. It’s close and thick and sheltering, its ugly and violent secrets locked inside the family walls. The outside encroaches, but the ramparts are strong, and once you leave it you have no shelter and no ready skills for finding a different one. I found that out after years of trying.”

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) by Junot Diaz

“Once you’ve been fuera, Santo Domingo is the smallest place in the world.”