Tessa McWatt

color head and shoulders portrait of tessa mcwatt

What is the first thing you wrote?

The first thing I wrote were poems. I had long thought I was a poet, and had been attracted to the density of images that poems allow, but finally I found they couldn’t contain me. I needed to tell stories, so I then wrote short stories, the first of which was published in Fireweed Quarterly, a Feminist journal in Toronto.

Who do you write for?

I write for an ideal reader – an actual person who is now dead, but who still sits on my shoulder asking certain questions about authenticity and truth. This ideal reader was a renowned, respected and important author and critic, and he became my friend. I write for him because he represents for me the best in literature, in thinking, in humanity and because I always want to write something that he would like to read.

What was the first Caribbean book you read?

A House for Mr. Biswas, quickly followed by the poetry of Martin Carter.

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

All the well known ones – Lamming, Carter, Walcott, Brathwaite, Harris, Naipaul(s), Mittleholzer,  Selvon, Fanon… There are many others, but I’m seeing a trend that leads me to your next question.

How many women?

Very good point. Not many women: Louise Bennett, Jean Rhys, Una Marson.

Which writer do you wish you knew more about?

Una Marson, Shiva Naipaul.

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

Probably poems by Louise Bennett.

Does the Caribbean’s literary past matter to you?

Hugely. I am a product of it; it informs what I have written and will write. And yet I have also drifted away from it and don’t consider myself directly in the lineage of Caribbean writers, but rather formed early on by them. I feel the influence of the wider world, work in translation as well as in English.

Who are our most important writers today?

Dionne Brand, Vahni Capildeo, Marlon James, Caryl Phillips, Jamaica Kincaid.

What are you reading now?

At the moment I am on a jury panel in Canada, so I am loaded with Canadian voices in my head. However, the most recent Caribbean writer I have read is Leone Ross’ book of short stories, Come Let Us Sing Anyway. Excellent.