This Quick Survey of Some Contemporary Caribbean Short Fiction Women Writers was submitted to another market. It didn’t work out as these things sometimes don’t; so, rather than having it sitting on my hard drive, I’m going to share the entire article here as a series of stories about some of the female writers of contemporary Caribbean short fiction whose work (specifically short stories) I have enjoyed. I began with Sharon Leach, continued with Shakirah Bourne, then Barbara Jenkins, Edwidge Dandicat, Sharon Millar, and now…
Country: Antigua and Barbuda
First let me just repeat – I said it somewhere else in this series – that Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl is one of my favourite short stories – and I am not alone; it has been anthologized, discussed, taught widely.
Antigua me come from so, ironically, it proved hardest to write about short fiction from this island, not because nothing is happening, there is quite a bit of activity in recent years actually, though perhaps not as much in short fiction as other genres – much of which could do to challenge itself and push itself into wider spaces.
Barbara Arrindell, who’s written and self-published the colouring and activity book Antigua My Antigua, and the creative non fiction collection The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Stories, both a good fit for young readers, hasn’t published a huge amount, but when she does write, her love of history and her fondness for re-imagining what we think we know comes through. Bat’s Cave, for instance, re-imagines three bits of Antiguan lore – one personal, one religious, and the title story which is an action packed riff on the legend of real life colonizer Thomas Warner’s wife being whisked by Kalinago warriors through a maze of underground caves which local lore believes connects the islands and, essentially, ‘going native’. Her ‘rescue’ results in her exile – to take shame out of her husband’s eye – reinforcing the lack of agency afforded women in colonial times. Who else is writing that particular story? The history buff in her seems interested in writing those stories in a way that brings Antiguan and Barbudan culture and history, and folklore, alive for the non-history buff, and, it seems, especially young readers.
Speaking of folklore, she writes Anansi. Only, in her telling, Anansi is not the star of the story, rather she centres her version of How Snake Stories Became Anansi Stories (published in Volume 7 of the Womanspeak Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women) on Mrs. Anansi. Remember her? Well, according to this telling, ostensibly from her mouth, it is she who pushes Anansi to stop his griping and, if he didn’t like the stories being called snake stories, get off his ass and do something about it. Moreover, she was his war counsel when it came to his plan of attack – the one to point out holes in his strategy, so much so that at one point he got annoyed with her and decided to go through on his own. His unvetted plan failed, of course, but “he was feeling so sorry for himself that I didn’t bother to say … ‘I told you so’.” She helped him plot a new plan. She didn’t hold her tongue though when that plan proved successful and her husband seemed poised to take all credit for himself. Imagine! Well, according to Barbara that’s how what might have been Ade stories, first name of Anansi in this telling, became Anansi stories credited to both the Mr. and Mrs.
Her A Life, a Spirit…a Name, meanwhile, most recently re-published in The Crier online after being published on Tongues of the Ocean was a story I first heard at the Wadadli Pen Open Mic, one of the local reading series, this one hosted at the book store she manages, meant to pull out new voices. It tells the story of life from the perspective of the not yet born and is an interesting origins point of view, albeit potentially problematic given the politics surrounding when life begins.
However you read it, there’s a sense that she’s doing here and in the other pieces mentioned what I encourage the writers who come through the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize flagship project, the annual Wadadli Youth Pen Prize challenge designed to nurture and showcase the literary arts here, where we live, to do. Create writing that is at once fresh – in its handling of trope, management of form, and angle of point of view – while at the same time unmistakably a product of the Caribbean imagination. From Wadadli Pen, some new writers have emerged in the 10 plus years of the Challenge: e.g. Rilys Adams, a finalist in the early years with Fictional Reality , a magical fantasy, has gone on to write and self-publish her own books. And new and interesting voices are peeping through: e.g. Asha Graham, an aspiring novelist, one of the youngest winners and the first to repeat, with a mastery of words beyond her years – as seen for example in her modern spin on the temptress known as LaJabless . The stories are coming, the writers are coming through, and Wadadli Pen is happy to be a part of it.
So as this survey of the landscape as far as female writers of contemporary Caribbean short fiction ends, I can say without hesitation that the women are writing – including others I didn’t get to touch on here like Trinidad and Tobago’s Danielle Boodoo Fortune (whose short fiction I have enjoyed but who soars as a poet and visual artist), Antigua and Barbuda’s Gayle Gonsalves (based in Canada), Jamaica’s Diana McCaulay (a novelist who has written some interesting shorter pieces like Sand in Motion in Volume 26 of the Caribbean Writer, which had the immediacy of journalism as nature is laid bare at the altar of development), Leone Ross, also Jamaican, based in the UK; and as I think about the many other women whose writing I have enjoyed, I know I’m only scratching the surface. We write plenty, our words run deep, and we continue to extend and put our unique stamp on the Caribbean literary canon.
And while some are already novelists, some others have written short story exclusively, and some, within the latter group, are beginning to push against the limitations of the short story form, how ever tentatively. “I’m attempting a novel,” Sharon Leach told me, laughing, in that Wadadli Pen interview (referenced in the article on her that opened this series). “Short stories are so in my wheelhouse, and the longer form really outside it. I don’t know if I can actually write something long-range. It seems like such a long-term commitment. I don’t know how it’ll go. Let’s see how that shakes out.”
LOL, as someone who’s written both, I can attest that a novel is a long term commitment, but the short story is an intense, complicated affair – both are challenging in their own way.
Thanks for reading.
Written by me, copyrighted by me, nuh tief.
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