What is Caribbean Literature? What gives it its “Caribbean-ness” and distinguishes it from other literatures? I imagine that these questions have been discussed, quietly contemplated, and even bitterly argued during the last 50 years or so, particularly around the time of the emergences of literature from the then colonies. Though books have been published about the island nations by citizens of these nations, the place of publishing has been the metropole, mainly because of the lack of publishing houses in the Caribbean. This phenomenon has not changed much. In fact the question of publication location has major implications for the canon. It often means that writers who have not been picked up my major publishing houses, whether in Europe or North America, do not receive the recognition and benefits that come with being attached to a major publishing house. It should be noted that many of said publishing houses are facing the challenges of a changing industry and, in particular, a digital evolution in reading.

But to return to the question of canon, there remain veritable black holes, spaces of dark matter that speckle the body of Caribbean Literature. These dark spaces take years to form and are assisted in various ways by the people I would call the Keepers of the Canon. They do not give themselves this title, their utterances are given credence and relevance by Scribes. These utterances are then frozen in time as document or testimony to the state of Caribbean literature. Where are they to be found?  Around literary magazines and journals, University literature programs and book competitions and more recently on the web.

This, of course, is not unique to Caribbean literary scenes. Every literary location has had its share of Scribes and Keepers, or as Deleuze and Guattari would describe them, the Priests of Knowledge.

On one hand I understand and appreciate the role of the Scribes and Keepers of our literary spaces. The desire to name, place and categorize the thing may be predicated on a desire to cement its legitimacy on the world stage, to order it for posterity and to highlight and celebrate the creative imagination of writers from the region.

On the other hand I also see how they can equally maim the body of literary work. For instance, perusing various lists of Caribbean Literature you would rarely see works from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This may be for several reasons, but not for lack of publications by Vincentian authors. There are works published locally and internationally by Vincentian authors that do not grace the lists of Caribbean authored texts.

One reason for the omission may be related to the question of preference of the Scribes and Keepers. Some critics of Caribbean Literature, depending on the school of thought to which they belong, their preferences for topics and messages, and whether or not they count self-publishing as a legitimate means of publishing, may seek to include the texts that meet their idea of good Caribbean Literature and, in so doing, may exclude others.

What happens, then , when the uninitiated, in a quest to learn about Caribbean Literature or read texts from Caribbean authors, is given a list that reflects the approval of Scribes and Keepers? She/he may conclude that there aren’t any Vincentian authors, or that there aren’t any of merit.

This also raises questions of continuity on a more personal note. I waver between being an academic/literary critic and an author, I am at that particular crossroad. As part of my training, and passion, I have read a great deal of Caribbean authored texts in all three genres as well as African and African American authored works. When I write some of what I would have read bleeds into my work. I then have to wonder if these are my ideas or the resonances of the works I have read. How much of it is authentic? Are the themes and concerns that have been identified as par for the course of Caribbean Literature germane to Vincentian literature? If the answer to this is no does it mean, then, that whenever I include these themes in my work, I am am inauthentic to my ‘national’ tradition?

Needless to say when it comes to Vincentian authorship, anxiety rears its head as I feel as though I am writing in a vacuum. How can the work of a writer/writers from a particular nation develop without the connections to her/their predecessors?

I have undertaken a mission of sorts to find these authors, with varying degrees of success. But this is only my personal mission. I feel that the Scribes and Keepers of the Canon have a great responsibility to a younger generation of readers and writers from the region to make their lists as representative as possible of the entire region.  It may seem like a political thing to do, but I am hard-pressed to believe that Caribbean Literature only emerges from certain locations and only focuses on certain topics.

Until such time as these inclusions are made, I have begun compiling a list of Vincentian authors that I will publish in subsequent posts. I have linked to some titles and info on a few authors below:

Peggy Carr

Cecil Browne

Ellsworth ‘Shake’ Keane

H. Nigel Thomas

I should mention that this post was triggered by Brendan deCaires’ expression of his experiences of judging the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for this year. He made some interesting points, detailing how grueling and often uninspiring the process was for him. However, what piqued my interest the most were his observations at the end of the article where he more or less states that Caribbean authors, when compared with Canadian authors, take themselves  too seriously. They have too much angst and while Canadians do not. Even as I write it I am cringing. Can all of Canada’s literature be summarized like that? I am not an expert on Canadian Literature but I feel I wouldn’t make such a comparison.  Different geo-cultural and and political contexts breed different forms of expression and subjects of interest. There, by implication, I have said it. I am not a fan of judging books in a competition.

To tie de Caires’ comments into my post, we can tell that I am already too full of angst. But until I see more recognition of Vincentian writers, in the body of work called Caribbean Literature, then call me Ms. Angsty.