Pamela Mordecai

color headshot portrait of pamela mordecai with hand resting on cheek

What is the first thing you wrote?

A poem about Hurricane Charlie. It hit Jamaica in 1951 when I was nine. We found it in my father’s papers after he died.

Terror and horror

that it was

for sadness and sorrow

it did and it does

for sadness and sorrow

was all that it taught

and sadness and sorrow

was all that it brought.

And so on, in that vein, for another verse at least…

Who do you write for?

Anybody and everybody – children, adults, anyone interested in the word, words, language, especially my heart language – Jamaican patwa.

What was the first Caribbean book you read?

The primer with Mr. Joe and Mr. Dan and Percy, the chick.

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

If you mean people who wrote at any point in that period, then George Campbell, Jan Carew, John Figueroa, John Hearne, A.L. Hendriks, Ken Ingram, C.L.R. James, Evan Jones, Roger Mais, J. E. Clare McFarlane, his son, Basil, and perhaps also his namesake, Edgar Mittelholzer, Vidia Naipaul, Saint-John Perse, Vic Reid, Sam Selvon, A.J. Seymour, Edward Lucie Smith, Vivian Virtue, Eric Williams, Ranny Williams.

How many women?

Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Louise Bennett-Coverley, Esther Chapman, Una Marson, Alma Mock Yen, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Wynter-Carew.

Which writer do you wish you knew more about?

Anthony McNeill.

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

Probably Lady Nugent’s Journal.

Does the Caribbean’s literary past matter to you?

Absolutely. I’ve worked on several anthologies of Caribbean writing (among them, From Our Yard, Her True-True Name, Jamaica Woman) and written entries for a couple encyclopaedias (in which I do not myself appear as a writer, which is diverting) as well as critical articles and a PhD thesis in an effort to learn about it, think about it and record it so it don’t get lost.

Who are our most important writers today?

Who in their right mind is going to answer that?

What are you reading now?

Cecil Foster’s Independence and James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.