What is the first thing you wrote?
I was about seven when I wrote that poem for a poetry competition for the Annual School “Eisteddfod” It earned a first prize and was pasted up on the wall of my classroom so parents and other visitors could see it. I am not sure why I chose that topic. It could well have been a response to the murder of my great aunt around that time. In retrospect it was not a very good poem. The rhymes are quite forced! It begins:
Oh cruel cruel death
Why do you take the breath?
I think I was alternating between poetry and prose by the time I reached high school. Certainly by then my essays were being read out in class.
Who do you write for?
Myself and a Caribbean readership.
What was the first Caribbean book you read?
I am not sure if “read” is the accurate verb here. Vic Reid’s New Day serialised in the Gleaner was read aloud in my house so both parents could enjoy it and I would listen. It was the first book I was aware of not written in Standard English but in a version of Jamaican Creole. I remember my parents being quite excited about that. Later I came to know later novels and Mr. Reid himself as the father of my friend Shirley Reid at University.
How many Caribbean writers from the 1940s and 50s could you name?
Too many to mention. Perhaps twenty or thirty.
How many women?
Perhaps five or six: Una Marson, Vera Bell, Daisy Myrie, Jean Rhys, Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Louise Bennett-Coverley.
Which writer do you wish you knew more about?
Patrick Chamoiseau and a number of French and Spanish speaking Caribbean writers available in translation now. I have had the good luck to have met some of them: Cesaire, Glissant, Casimir. Trouillot (Lyonel) and many of the women: Conde, Schwarz-Bart, Trouillot (Evelyne), Pineau, Santos-Febres to name a few. I think we, writing the Caribbean experience in different languages, need to be aware of each other. I am disappointed that the Caribbean Women Writers Association seems to have faded away and that the Writers’ Association sponsored by the Government of Guadeloupe seems also to have gone to sleep. Those were worthy efforts.
What is the earliest piece of Caribbean writing you have read?
Caribbean Reader Introductory Book 1 (Newman and Sherlock, 1936?).
Does the Caribbean’s literary past matter to you?
Who are our most important writers today?
Important! Whatever that means! The older writers will always be “important.” They opened the doors for us and gave us a sense of the possible. When Walcott, as a Diploma in Education student taught my sixth form class at Excelsior High School he had already published two books of poetry and written and produced a number of plays!! When I was living in the US in the seventies, Brathwaite had successfully given Caribbean poetry a new and different voice and I was hearing recordings of it. Of the younger and exciting writers there are many and perhaps this is not a question anyone should try to answer since only time will tell but I would single out Kei Miller for breadth and for exploring/exploiting local culture and language and for (like Brathwaite) taking new paths with amazing success.
What are you reading now?
I am reading and enjoying Kei Miller’s in nearby bushes and going over Brathwaite’s poetry of the sixties and seventies especially Mother Poem. His passing and the various activities in memoriam prevent me from leaving him. He would have called this COVID space a “time of salt.”