Alecia McKenzie

What is the first thing you wrote?

It must have been a poem. I wrote “poetry” constantly as a child and throughout high school. I’m glad there are no records of this left.

 

Who do you write for?

My family, friends and anyone who likes to read, wherever they live. My family sees / hears the first draft, and I listen to their suggestions.

 

What was the first Caribbean book you read?

I think it was New Day or Sixty-Five by Vic Reid, who came to give a talk at my school when I was about 12 and made writing seem a viable career, or perhaps Jamaica Labrish by Louise Bennett-Coverley. Then A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul, in fifth form, and The Children of Sisyphus by Orlando Patterson, in sixth.

 

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

Born then, or working then? Do you mean Selvon, Naipaul, Bennett, Lamming, C.L.R. James, Césaire, Roger Mais, Walcott, etc?

 

How many women?

Not that many – Una Marson, Miss Lou, Jean Rhys (who was absent from the literary scene during those two decades) and perhaps Caribbean-American writer Paule Marshall, whose Brown Girls, Brownstones first came out in 1959, I think.

 

Which writer do you wish you knew more about?

I’m fascinated by Miss Lou, by the political consciousness behind the humour and the folklore. I read that she was the first black student to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. This was in the 1940s. So she broke race and gender barriers, like Marson. As someone who grew up on her TV programme for kids, I’ve kept her voice in my head. A dream is to see her work translated into different languages, including all the ones spoken across the Caribbean.

 

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

I can’t be sure. Apart from Reid’s book and Miss Lou’s stories and poetry, the first “Caribbean” novel was A House for Mr. Biswas, as it was on the high-school curriculum. Reading it was a revelation – we saw Caribbean lives from the point of view of a Caribbean writer, but I was disturbed by the depiction of people of African descent. In addition to the usual children’s books, the first international novel I read as a pre-teen was probably The African Child (Camara Laye); this had a huge impact.

 

Does the Caribbean’s literary past matter to you?

Yes, immensely, because we build on the work of those who cleared the path, paved the way.

 

Who are our most important writers today?

I think everyone is making an important contribution, especially those trying to create something new, whether this has to do with forms of writing or with trying to shake up the status quo so that all Caribbean writers receive the respect merited.

 

What are you reading now?

I’m juggling … re-reading parts of a captivating book called From the Tricontinental to the Global South (Anne Garland Mahler, Duke University Press) – about a movement that sought to bring the peoples of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America together in solidarity; again tackling the bilingual (French-English) edition of Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal / Journal of a Homecoming – I appreciate the notes by translator Gregson Davis; and finishing Lillian Allen’s poetry collection Women Do This Every Day (Women’s Press), which a friend gave me.