Welcome to the third edition of Read Your World. This week I will be highlighting 5 of Jamaica’s most talented contemporary writers and artists.
Jamaica has had a profound influence over Caribbean culture despite its small population of 2.7 million. Its literary influence is especially impressive, with today’s writers, poets, and performance artists lending their voice and talents to cement Jamaica’s cultural significance for generations to come.
Staceyann Chin – The Other Side of Paradise
This memoir tells the story of poet, spoken-word artist, and LGBT rights activist Staceyann Chin. She is Jamaican born, of Chinese-Jamaican and Afro-Jamaican descent, and her work often focuses on issues of intersectionality.
No one knew Staceyann’s mother was pregnant until a dangerously small baby was born on the floor of her grandmother’s house in Lottery, Jamaica, on Christmas Day. Staceyann’s mother did not want her, and her father was not present. No one, except her grandmother, thought Staceyann would survive.It was her grandmother who nurtured and protected and provided for Staceyann and her older brother in the early years. But when the three were separated, Staceyann was thrust, alone, into an unfamiliar and dysfunctional home in Paradise, Jamaica. There, she faced far greater troubles than absent parents. So, armed with a fierce determination and uncommon intelligence, she discovered a way to break out of this harshly unforgiving world.
Staceyann Chin, acclaimed and iconic performance artist, now brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a brave, lyrical, and fiercely candid memoir about growing up in Jamaica. She plumbs tender and unsettling memories as she writes about drifting from one home to the next, coming out as a lesbian, and finding the man she believes to be her father and ultimately her voice. Hers is an unforgettable story told with grace, humor, and courage.
Marlon James – The Book of Night Women
Marlon Jame’s debut novel, John Crow’s Devil and his latest, Man Booker Prize winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, are both critically acclaimed works that demand to be read. However, The Book of Night women has proven to be a fan favorite due to its honest and visceral depiction of slavery in a Jamaican sugar plantation.
The Book of Night Women is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they and she will come to both revere and fear.
The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy’s weak link.
Lilith’s story overflows with high drama and heartbreak, and life on the plantation is rife with dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion between slave and master, between slave and overseer, and among the slaves themselves. Lilith finds herself at the heart of it all. And all of it told in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page recently–and the secret of that voice is one of the book’s most intriguing mysteries.
Colin Channer – Waiting in Vain
This novel is actually named after the Bob Marley song from the album Exodus. Channer was such a fan of Marley, in fact, that he also named his second novel Satisfy My Soul after the song in the album Kaya. This fondness for Marley and Channer’s is affinity for writing with unapologetic sensuality has given him the moniker “Bob Marley with a pen.”
Meet Fire—Jamaican-born, charming, poetic, and talented—a man who vows never to
play “love-is-blind” games again. Then he meets Sylvia, a beautiful magazine editor who keeps her passions under lock and key. Together they must choose between the love in their lives and the love of their lives. From the galleries of Soho to the brownstones of Brooklyn, from the nightclubs of London to the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, Colin Channer takes us on a wild, soul-searching ride as Fire and Sylvia try to connect, disconnect, and reconnect amid conflicting desires and wounds from the past. But through intricate love triangles and crushing personal tragedies, Fire, Sylvia, and their friends must learn that some things in life are worth fighting for. If not, you’re simply waiting in vain.
Kei Miller – The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion
Kei Miller is a young and talented poet whose writing career began 10 years ago yet has garnered an impressive list of awards and honors in a relatively short time. His latest book of poetry (named above) solidified his position as a great and influential poet. In 2014, he was named one of the twenty “Next Generation of Poets” by the Poetry Book Society.
In this collection, acclaimed Jamaican poet Kei Miller dramatizes what happens when one system of knowledge, one method of understanding place and territory, comes up against another. We watch as the cartographer, used to the scientific methods of assuming control over a place by mapping it, is gradually compelled to recognize—even to envy—a wholly different understanding of place, as he tries to map his way to the rastaman’s eternal city of Zion. As the book unfolds the cartographer learns that, on this island of roads that “constrict like throats,” every place-name comes freighted with history, and not every place that can be named can be found.
Margaret Cezair-Thompson – The True History of Paradise
Cezair-Thompson’s writing is perceptive and intuitive in its depiction of Jamaica, its culture, its landmarks, and its history. She is known for her ability to capture the essence of Jamaica and the quest to find one’s identity and place in the world.
It is Easter 1981, and Jamaica is in a state of emergency: There is violence in the
streets and police checkpoints are everywhere. Island dwellers for centuries, the Landing family has gathered to bury one of its own. Staring at the closed coffin of Lana Ramcharan, her mother and sister confront the cruelest kind of loss. Jean, who was Lana’s sister and closest confidante, has always been attuned to the spirit world, and now, in the face of this latest catastrophe, the voices that have always guided her urge flight from this troubled place.As Jean makes her way across the island toward the plane waiting to take her to America and safety, she is overcome by memories, not only of Lana but also of her forebears — African, Creole, Scottish, Indian, and Chinese. Ancestral voices tell of the hardships and wonders, of the beauty and atrocity, that are indelible parts of the Jamaican experience.