Merle Collins

What is the first thing you wrote?

The first thing that I can remember feeling pretty proud of was done a very long time ago, and published in the school magazine when I was at high school in Grenada. It was an admiring profile of one of the nuns who taught me. Jacqueline Creft, who was an older student at the school at the time, was quite unimpressed by my choice of topic, and told me so.

Who do you write for?

I think I always write with the Caribbean in mind. My voice comes from Grenada and, in my head, that’s my first audience. In reality, I have to face the fact that my books are often not available in Grenada. I write for everyone who cares to read, wherever in the world they may be.

What was the first Caribbean book you read?

Probably V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. It was published in 1961, and by the mid-60s, in a high school that was a model of colonial education, I think Naipaul was thought worthy of joining Hardy by the time I was in fifth form.

How many Caribbean writers from the 1940s and 50s could you name?

C.L.R. James for sure. Then Alfred Mendes (but he was really 1930s), Edgar Mittlehozer, Vic Reid, Herbert De Lisser (died in the 1940s, but were some things published posthumously?), Sam Selvon, George Lamming, Louise Bennett, Derek Walcott, V.S. Naipaul, Kamau Brathwaite, Rajkumari Singh, Claude McKay, Andrew Salkey, Sylvia Wynter.

That’s the list I came up with and I’m sure Google will list more.

How many women?

Good question (see above). In those days, Caribbean writing meant writing largely by men. I think of that now when I devise a Caribbean literature class with women writers (mainly or only), and someone comments that there’s no balance, meaning no male writers. There was no balance then.  Rajkumari Singh’s publications may have been after the 40s and 50s, but her activist involvement was writing another story in the 40s and 50s. I also thought Jean Rhys, but her writing in the U.K. was in the 30s, and then I believe it was the 60s before she was published again. I’ve been listing Anglophone writers because I believe that’s the context, but I also think of the Puerto Rican Julia de Burgos and the Haitian writer Marie-Thérèse Colimon-Hall.

Which writer do you wish you knew more about?

I guess the problem is not knowing all that I don’t know. Perhaps it would be good to know more about all (‘discovered’ and not yet discovered), but I believe that many writers, even while reaching for publication and the publicity that usefully comes with it, also hesitate to reveal too much.

What is the earliest piece of Caribbean writing you have read?

Perhaps Phillip Sherlock’s Ananse the Spider Man. I’m tempted to say also traditional stories told at home, because they had such an impact on my later writing, but the important word there is “told.” Those are not works “I have read.”

Does the Caribbean’s literary past matter to you?

Absolutely. I want to know all those things that I don’t know… about the (so-called) Anglophone Caribbean, but I also want to know about the other language groups. I’m particularly interested in Haiti’s story because its so central to the Caribbean.

Who are our most important writers today?

All are important.

What are you reading now?

I’m focusing on the archives and particularly the stories of Africans and Indians being taken to the Caribbean. I’m also reading Lauren Francis-Sharma, a writer who was born in the U.S., and whose parents are from Trinidad & Tobago. In her first book, ‘Til the Well Runs Dry, she seems to be filtering stories she has been told of a life in Trinidad.