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Island women visionaries: women writers enhancing the Caribbean literary canon: 2007-01-05
  • Excerpt from:
    Island women visionaries: how women writers are enhancing the Caribbean literary canon.
    Publication: Black Issues Book Review
    Author: Reynolds, Clarence V.

    TIMES HAVE CERTAINLY CHANGED IN THE YEARS SINCE ISLAND Voices: Stories From the West Indies--with its all-male roster--was published in 1970. Today, with the inventive works of both established and emerging writers enhancing the august history of Caribbean literature, contemporary women writers are important contributors to that rich collective and they are becoming the dominant voices on the Caribbean literary scene………

    "Caribbean women writers are one of the most recent groups of writers (collectively) to emerge onto the international literary landscape," says Marie-Elena John, an Antiguan writer and the author of Unburnable (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2006). "Without discounting the works of the others before her who didn't get as much exposure, we pretty much have to start with Paule Marshall and Brown Girl, Brownstones (Chatham Booksellers, 1959). From what I can tell, in about fifty years, which is a fairly short "past," we still continue to write out of our historical experience, which is slavery and colonialism and immigration, as well as of a blending of cultures. Some would say "clashing" as opposed to blending, which means themes of alienation and identity--race and class. And with a violent and traumatic past, we also often write about violence, especially sexual violence.

    "Also much of our writing has a spirit-centered component, and a sense of trying to uncover our past through this exploration, which sometimes involves looking to what's left of African spirituality in Caribbean culture. And part of what we often explore within this same sense of being 'fractured, more and more these days, is the additional component of immigration to North America. The word exile is often used. Again, it's not new, because Paule Marshall was writing about that back in 1960. But today you also have writers such as Edwidge Danticat and others expanding that exploration."

    John adds, "Basically, I see the same themes in new writing as in earlier works, with an additional emphasis on the Caribbean immigrant experience to the U.S. as well as the U.K. In addition to Danticat, you also have a talent like Andrea Levy (Small Island, Picador, 2005) looking at this. Even the very popular Zadie Smith (White Teeth, Random House, 2000; On Beauty, The Penguin Press, 2005), whose work is never described as Caribbean, is drawing very heavily on her Caribbean roots to create an innovative literary experience that's wildly popular as some new kind of multicultural fusion. So I see the new generation doing the same as the pioneers did, just expanding the borders somewhat."
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