Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 20th 2014 Contents | BOOKS |
By Roslyn Carrington
Photography courtesy Vashti Bowlah
"MY BEST experiences in writing would be my journey
from the first day I attempted to write to where I am now,"
says Vashti Bowlah. "The worst would be any kind of re-
jection, although it contributes to a writer's growth and
development towards accomplishing even greater things."
Bowlah will be launching her book of short stories, titled
Under The Peepal Tree, as part of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest
slate of activities, on Sunday, April 27, at the Old Fire Sta-
tion from 1 pm.
Her story unites her with almost every other successful
writer in the world; the germs of her love of books first
sprang to life in her earliest years, and were nurtured by a
generous and encouraging parent. "I always loved to read
as a child, and every time my mother travelled to San Fer-
nando, she returned with a storybook. I read everything
from nursery rhymes to classic tales and romance novels."
The evolution from reader to writer came naturally. "It oc-
curred to me one day that maybe I can also write the type
of stories I liked to read. The Hindu Women's Organisation
advertised a short story competition in 2000. I entered,
and was surprised to be named a finalist. That experience
encouraged me to pursue my writing."
She began building upon her excellent foundation in Eng-
lish and Literature at school and participating in several
creative writing workshops, including the UWI/Cropper
Foundation Creative Writers' Residential Retreat.
Her nimble literary skills allow her to explore a range of
genres, from sensitive, gentle observations to stark but
compassionate explorations of Caribbean people. "I write
short stories about simple characters leading simple lives;
characters we can all relate to and who can be our parents,
siblings, neighbours, friends or co-workers. The stories
highlight themes of love, loss, domestic violence, arranged
marriages and Indian folklore, and can easily be about our
own lives and experiences."
With such relatable themes, it's easy to understand why
her stories have met with widespread approval. They have
appeared in The Caribbean Writer, St Petersburg Review,
Poui-Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing, WomanSpeak
Journal, Signifyin' Guyana, Tongues of the Ocean, News-
day and St Somewhere Journal.
As she looks back on her early origins in the Southland,
Bowlah recalls the struggle her family faced to raise their
children well. "My family life was always humble while
growing up, and we learned to survive on only what we
needed. I recall having to purchase a pencil at the shop
around the corner on my way to school and ask the shop-
keeper to cut it in half so I could share with my younger
brother." But in their wisdom, her parents ensured that
their sacrifices were worth it. "Regardless of our circum-
stances, my parents ensured that we had a good educa-
tion and never kept us away from school."
Before being bitten by the writing bug, she had wanted to
be a teacher. "I was one of those girls who rounded up a
few neighbourhood kids to be my students and pretended
the wall was my blackboard." The career she eventually
settled on is probably just as satisfying, although it doesn't
often result in an avalanche of money. "You can survive off
writing only if you don't eat much or don't have many ex-
penses," she jokes. "But seriously, if I could make a living
from doing what I love, then I would consider that I do not
have to work a day in my life again."
Bowlah acknowledges that Caribbean writers rarely gain
the recognition they deserve, for various reasons. "I sus-
pect they never will, unless more opportunities are avail-
able. I'm grateful to have been a part of the NGC Bocas Lit
Fest in 2013 as one of the six shortlisted writers for the
inaugural Hollick Arvon Writer's Prize, and again in 2014
to launch my book. The only way forward would be to
open up more competitions and other means of promot-
ing and recognising writers, because there are talented
writers who never get the opportunity to be heard, or
Vashti Bowlah remains undaunted by the overall lack of
recognition, though. "If you don't write about your own cul-
ture, people and experiences, then who will?"
Details about the NGC Bocas Lit Fest can be found at
bocaslitfest.com. The Festival runs from April 23-27.
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