Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 5th 2013 Contents B29
May 5, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Bocas' series of writers' discussions help literary writers and readers think of literature
in its broader senses of affecting and shaping the world and representing intellectual
movement. North Indian historian Pankaj Mishra, above, and Guyanese historian Richard
Drayton shared the stage on the second day of the literature festival to discuss an area
of study they share: post-imperial history---the act of rewriting the history of subjugated
cultures from the perspective of the oppressed and not the oppressor.
"We have been made to compare ourselves to a very small global minority," said
"So much of this 'world history' is a history of violence, of domination."
Both historians mentioned the need for post-colonial cultures to re-imagine their
history and to be conscious of the need to re-imagine that history in art forms like
literature, as well as in historical archives. Drayton quoted a poem by Joseph Brodsky:
"Freedom is when you forget the tyrant's name."
PHOTO COURTESY MARIA NUNES/NGC BOCAS LIT FEST
THE NEW POST-IMPERIAL HISTORY
The Edinburgh World Writers Confer-
ence (EWWC) debates hosted by the
2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest did not live
up to the reputation of that first seminal Edin-
burgh Writers Conference in 1962, which report-
edly went on for hours and featured passionate
and outrageous debate. Maybe the Caribbean
leg should have allotted more than 90 minutes
for the author panel to shake off civility and
really get into the meat of a controversial argu-
Nevertheless, the discussions that ensued
from the debate questions, "Should Literature
be Political?" and "A National Literature?" proved
to be very stimulating to authors and audience
The first debate, held on April 27, led off with
a keynote address from celebrated Jamaican nov-
elist Marlon James. "There is an immediate pitfall
in the term national literature ; any categorisation
is reductive," he said during his address. T&T
poet Vahni Capildeo, who was also on the panel,
agreed with James that for the West Indies, the
term national literature may have to be replaced
with "regional literature."
Other panellists included chair Marina Warner,
a celebrated UK author; Trainspotting author
Scotsman Irvine Welsh; and UK poet Hannah
Lowe, who admitted that her country had been
"fog horning" its own story louder than any
other national stories for a long time and she
didn t want to be a part of that heritage. "If
you re in a place where your stories have been
suppressed and ignored, I can see that the ques-
tion of a national literature would be impor-
Welsh, along with others in the audience, was
most concerned with the corrupting effect of
the publishing industry in forcing writers to
write into "marketing holes" and ignore the
national stories that they wanted to tell.
The second instalment of the debates, held
on April 28, became a little more heated than
the previous day s discussion; politics can have
that effect. This time, only keynote speaker Olive
Senior, also a Jamaican author, addressed the
audience. Afterward the panel jumped straight
into discussion on the politics of national gov-
ernance, of self and of writers relationships
with their country of citizenship.
"We are all enmeshed in politics because we
are all citizens of somewhere," Senior said. "Lit-
erature is political because we as the creators of
literature are political beings." Fellow panellist
Earl Lovelace was most concerned with the pol-
itics of identity: "We all born in a place, and we
born in a position and we have to represent that.
For me the question has always been about
taking your place in the world."
UK writer Courttia Newland also spoke about
the need to claim a place in the imagination of
self and thus in the politics of self. "Growing
up in London I felt that I and the people around
me were largely unseen," the author, of Jamaican
and Barbadian heritage, explained.
Panellist Pankaj Mishra, an Indian historian,
expressed some doubt as to whether or not the
question of literature being political should really
be addressed to writers in the post-colonial
world. He said that the question might be better
posed to writers in the Anglo-American world
where writing is political and has always been
The questions from the audience began to
really challenge both the authors and audience.
For instance, audience members wondered
whether or not the politics of religion had a
place in the discussion, or if the idea of a cos-
mopolitan writer is a smug phenomenon that
contributes to the corruption of a writer by
multi-national publishers with a commercial
agenda. Sadly, these threads could not reach
their conclusion in the time allotted, but they
definitely got everyone s blood flowing.
"We have to depend first on ourselves,"
Lovelace said forcefully. "If we want to build a
society, we can t build it abroad; we have to
build it here." ---Desiree Seebaran
but too short
The EWWC celebrated its 50th anniversary by touring debates at literature festivals worldwide.
Author Ifeona Fulani, left, facilitated the second debate at Bocas, with panellists North Indian
historian Pankaj Mishra, UK author Courttia Newland, T&T author Earl Lovelace and keynote
speaker Jamaican short-story writer, poet and novelist Olive Senior.
advises her journalist grandson after his
worrying encounter with the Comrade Vice-
President of the Republic. But the fictional
grandson plans an elaborate ruse to redeem
himself. After he is successful and crowing
about his promotion to the Comrade VP s
personal adviser, his grandmother has one
last piece of advice: "Leave the country,"
Maharaj read, to resounding applause.
This satirical duel between writers and
politicians---the writers won---was followed
by a short talk entitled Father Figures, fea-
turing UK writers Hannah Lowe and Colin
Grant, who both explore complex relation-
ships with their Jamaican fathers in their
most recent books. Grant s memoir, Bageye
at the Wheel, gives a snapshot of his child-
hood with a mother who seems to have
struggled to ensure that her children did
better than she did and a difficult father
who inspired his children to devise several
ways to off him, without success.
"It got so bad at one point that eventually
I was afraid that my father would die before
I had a chance to kill him," Grant told the
audience before his reading.
Chick is Lowe s poetry collection about
her gambler father, a way to reimagine much
of the mystery of his life that he took with
him to his grave.
Both writers discussed anecdotes of life
with their fathers to preface their readings.
While Lowe s poetry is largely introspective
and sometimes visceral, her memories of
her father were witty and tender. Grant s
prose, on the other hand, depended much
more on the absurdity of everyday life. He
read a passage describing the family s
attempt to get Grant and his brother to a
scholarship exam, potentially the beginning
of a new life for them. But their unreliable
Mini won t start until Bageye, their father,
orchestrates a dramatic push downhill.
"In his own way, my father did try to
look after me however he could," Grant said.
"I owe my education to ganja. But ultimately,
as George Lamming has said, it was my
mother who fathered me."
From Page B4
UK writers explore
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