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Celebrating Jamaican Independence: Sixty (60) years of Jamaican Fiction

Celebrating Sixty Years of Jamaican Fiction
Opal Palmer Adisa

Opal Palmer Adisa

Alexia Arthurs

Alexia Arthurs

James Berry

James Berry

Erna Brodber

Erna Brodber

Hazel D. Campbell

Hazel D. Campbell

Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Colin Channer

Colin Channer

Michelle Cliff

Michelle Cliff

Opal Palmer Adisa

 

 

 

Diverse and multi-genre, Opal Palmer Adisa, is an exceptional talent, nurtured on cane-sap and the oceanic breeze of Jamaica. Currently the Director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies.

Adisa has lectured and read her work throughout the United States, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Germany, England and Prague, and has performed in Italy and Bosnia. An award-winning poet and prose writer Adisa has over sixteen titles to her credit, including the novel, It Begins With Tears (1997), which Rick Ayers proclaimed as one of the most motivational works for young adults. She has been a resident artist in internationally acclaimed residences such as El Gounda (Egypt), Sacatar Institute (Brazil) and McColl Center (North Carolina) and Headlines Center for the Arts (California, USA). Opal Palmer Adisa's work has been reviewed by Ishmael Reed, Al Young and Alice Walker, who described her work as "solid, visceral, important stories written with integrity and love."

Following in the tradition of African 'griot' Opal Palmer Adisa, an accomplished storyteller, commands the mastery and extraordinary talent of storytelling, exemplary of her predecessors. Through her imaginative characterizations of people, places and things, she is able to transport her listeners to the very wonderlands she creates.

For the last 23 years Opal was a distinguished professor at California College of the Arts. She has been a visiting professor at several universities including, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley and University of the Virgin Islands. Her poetry, stories, essays and articles on a wide range of subjects have been collected in over 400 journals, anthologies and other publications, including Essence Magazine. She has also conducted workshops in elementary through high school, museums, churches and community centers, as well as in prison and juvenile centers.

https://opalpalmeradisa.com/about/opals-bio/

 

Alexia Arthurs

THE SHORT

The short version is that I grew up in Jamaica and New York. I’m a graduate of Hunter College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I write stories about Jamaicans. I’m interested in the Jamaican diaspora and in Caribbean feminism. I published my first book, a collection of short stories, called “How to Love a Jamaican” in the U.S. and the U.K. in 2018. Some people had nice things to say about HTLAJ. I’m at work on a novel.

THE LONG

The longer story is that I was born in Mandeville, Jamaica. We moved to New York when I was twelve—my mother, like many immigrant mothers, believed that she could better provide for her three children in the States, where three of her sisters lived.  As a child, moving to the United States was a fulfilled dream because I had observed that everyone believed that the U.S. was superior to any other place in the world. The realities were different, painful—I was navigating the distance from the country of my childhood, and the fact that my family wanted so badly to build a future in a country that was unwelcome to foreigners. As I grew, in some ways I recognized myself as an American and in other ways I was Jamaican. Over time, I started to explore this tension of belonging and distance through my writing. I started writing “How to Love a Jamaican” when I was twenty-four and finished when I was twenty-eight, but in a way it feels that I was writing those stories for even longer than that because I’ve been asking certain questions since I was a kid.

I’ve always loved storytelling. Growing up, my parents in the Jamaican tradition were good storytellers. As a teenager, I would read under my sheets with a flashlight. I read YA novels about white suburban teenagers, girls who were unlike me in most ways, which intrigued me. The first book that inspired me as both a reader and writer was “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. It was the first time I read a book that reflected my urban, immigrant life, and the kinds of people I knew.

MORE

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was twelve. I tried for a long time to be something else, something more practical. I didn’t have the kind of economic upbringing where I could forsake everything to become a writer. I considered law school, or becoming a vet, which I might actually enjoy because I love animals. I really struggled emotionally after graduate school, when I was still living in Iowa City, working awful part-time jobs. I knew that if I moved back to New York to reunite with family and friends I would give up too much writing time in a job to make the high price of rent. There isn’t a roadmap for a creative life, and I felt especially lost coming from a family like mine, where everyone made more traditional career choices. I’m still figuring out what it means to be a creative, and to live a creative life. I feel so very grateful to share parts of myself, through my writing. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, thank you.

A LITTLE MORE

I teach fiction writing, when the opportunity arises. I’ve taught high school students at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, undergraduates at the University of Iowa, and I facilitated a graduate workshop at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop during fall 2018. 

FUN FACT

I live with two Persian cats, Cous Cous, who is twelve years old, and Fable, who is a few months old. They make me smile every day.

 

https://www.alexiaarthurs.com/

 

James Berry

 

James Berry was born in Jamaica in 1924. He grew up in Jamaica and at the age of seventeen went to work in America and eventually settled in England, where he would spend the rest of his life. Berry published his first book, Fractured Circles (Beacon Press), in 1979, and rose to prominence two years later when he won the National Poetry Competition. He was the first West Indian poet to win the prestigious prize.

Berry is the author of several books of poetry and children's literature, including A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), Windrush Songa (bloodaxe Books, 2007), and Only One of Me: Selected Poems (Macmillan, 2004). His honors included the Smarties Prize, the Signal Poetry Award, and the Cholmondeley Award. In 1990 he was awarded an OBE for his services to poetry. He died on June 20, 2017.

https://poets.org/poet/james-berry

 

        

 

Erna Brodber

 

Nationality: Jamaican. Born: Woodside, St. Mary, Jamaica, 1940. Education: University College of the West Indies, London, 1960-63, B.A. (honours) in history 1963; University of Washington, Seattle, (Ford Foundation fellowship), 1967; University College of the West Indies, Kingston, M.Sc. in sociology 1968, Ph.D. in history 1985; University of Sussex, (Commonwealth fellowship), 1979. Career: Lecturer in sociology, University of the West Indies for seven years, research fellow and staff member, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1972-83; associate professor, Randolph-Macon College (Du-Pont scholar). Visiting scholar, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1973; visiting fellow, University of Sussex, 1981; visiting professor, Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania, Clark-Atlanta University, Georgia, and University of California, Santa Cruz. Awards: University of the West Indies postgraduate award, 1964; National Festival award, Jamaica Festival Commission, 1975; Commomwealth Writers Prize for Canada and the Americas, 1989; Fulbright fellowship, 1990.
 

"My work, fiction and non-fiction, is devoted to helping Africans of the diaspora to understand themselves and hopefully to consequently undertake with more clarity the job of social (re)construction which we have to do. To better communicate with this target group, I use folk songs, etc., which are well known within the culture to make my points and to inform a group often far from archival data. I inject information which I think this group needs to have, and which I arrive at from my investigations, into my novels."   Erna Brodber 

https://biography.jrank.org/pages/4182/Brodber-Erna-May.html

 

Hazel D. Campbell

Hazel Campbell (1940 – 12 December 2018) was a Jamaican writer, notably of short stories and children's books, who was also a teacher, editor and public relations worker.

Hazel Dorothy Campbell was born in Jamaica, where she attended Merl Grove High School in Kingston. She subsequently earned a BA degree in English & Spanish at the University of the West Indies, Mona, followed by Diplomas in Mass Communications and Management Studies. She worked as a teacher, as a public relations worker, editor, features writer and video producer for the Jamaican Information Service, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Creative Production and Training Centre. From 1987 she freelanced as a communications consultant.

Her first published book, in 1978, was The Rag Doll & Other Stories, and she went on to become one of the most prolific writers produced by Jamaica. She was particularly noted for her children's books, and the Jamaica Gleaner noted: "Campbell had an in-depth understanding of children and demonstrated giftedness in crafting material that engaged their attention in literature." Her short stories appeared in publications including West Indian Stories (ed. John Wickham, 1981), Caribanthology I (ed. Bruce St. John, 1981), Focus 1983; and Facing the Sea (ed. Anne Walmsley, 1986).

https://peoplepill.com/people/hazel-campbell-1

 

 

Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Margaret Cezair-Thompson was born in Jamaica, West Indies; she attended St Andrews High School for Girls, a long-established government-subsidized school that has produced many of Jamaican's most prominent women.  She also spent a year at a Roman Catholic boarding school in the countryside called Servite Convent of the Assumption School for Girls—which was a bit like the school she describes Ida as attending in The Pirate's Daughter.  She was expelled after a year and returned happily to St Andrews.

She came of age as Jamaica emerged from being a British colony to being an independent nation.  She left Jamaica at nineteen years old to attend Barnard College in New York where she received a B.A. in English.  She received her Ph.D. in English from the City University of New York with a dissertation on V.S. Naipaul. Since 1990, she has taught literature and creative writing at Wellesley College. 

Her son was born in 1999, the same year that her first book, The True History of Paradise, was published. She's also published short fiction, essays, reviews, and interviews in various magazines.  Her first screenplay, Photo Finish, about a Jamaican-American athlete, was sold to Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions in 1994 (now Harpo-Disney). The True History of Paradise was selected as one of six finalists for the Dublin International IMPAC Award.

Her interests include movies, Victorian and Modern British fiction and poetry, Caribbean and British colonial history, postcolonial literature and film (especially related to the Caribbean and Africa), and Jamaican music.  The authors she returns to again and again are Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Paule Marshall, Ben Okri, Jean Rhys, William Shakespeare (especially the tragedies), Joyce’s Dubliners, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Yeats, Wallace Stevens, and the King James Bible.

She currently lives in Massachusetts.

https://aalbc.com/authors/author.php?author_name=Margaret+Cezair-Thompson

 

Colin Channer

 

 

Colin Channer is the father of two children, Makonnen and Addis. He was born in Jamaica, and educated there and in New York. His most recent book is the poetry collection Providential (2015), which Eileen Myles describes as "one of the most lucid and telling poetry books of this exact time." Other work includes the novella The Girl With the Golden Shoes (2007) - "a nearly perfect moral fable" in the words of Russell Banks - and the national bestselling novel Waiting in Vain, a Critic's Choice Selection of the Washington Post, which hails it as "a clear redefinition of the Caribbean novel - in which the discourses of post-colonialism have been usurped by the creative assurance of reggae's aesthetic..." Colin is the editor of the fiction anthologies Iron Balloons (2006) and Kingston Noir (2012), and coeditor of the poetry anthology So Much Things to Say (2010).

So Much Things to Say gathers work from a hundred poets who read at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, Jamaica, between 2001 and 2010. Colin founded the not-for-profit Calabash Trust with Kwame Dawes and Justine Henzell in 2000. As artistic director and board chairman for the first ten years, Colin led the organization's rise in world stature and local relevance by offering first-tier writing workshops, publishing seminars, film screenings, live music and readings by some of the planet's most accomplished authors at no charge. Britain's Independent describes the Calabash International Literary Festival as "a high-grade international event in which writing from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia forms a thought-provoking mosaic of story, history and mythology." The Associated Press calls Calabash "one of the most vibrant literary festivals to come around in a long time."

Colin Channer's poems and essays have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Harvard Review, The Common, The Wolf, Black Renaissance Noire, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other venues. His story "How to Beat a Child the Right and Proper Way" - "something of a tour de force, spoken in different registers of Jamaican English" in the words of the New York Times - has been mounted as a monologue at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater (2007) and other venues.

Colin's honors include fellowships in poetry and fiction from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (2014 & 2015) and a Silver Musgrave Medal in Literature from the Jamaican government (2010). He has served as Newhouse Professor in Creative Writing at Wellesley College, Fannie Hurst Writer in Residence at Brandeis University and Visiting Artist in Residence at Columbia College Chicago. He once played bass in a reggae band.

http://www.colinchanner.com/about

 

 

Michelle Cliff

 

Writer, editor, and poet Michelle Cliff was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in Jamaica and the United States. She earned a BA at Wagner College and did her graduate work at the University of London’s Warburg Institute. In her writing, Cliff slips between genres, combining memoir, history, and criticism in explorations of racism, homophobia, identity, and landscape. Early in her debut novel, Abeng, Cliff asserts, “To write a complete Caribbean woman, or man for that matter, demands of us retracing the African past of ourselves, reclaiming as our own, and as our subject, a history sunk under the sea, or scattered as potash in the cane fields, or gone to bush, or trapped in a class system notable for its rigidity and absolute dependence on colour stratification. Or a past bleached from our minds. It means finding the art forms of those of our ancestors and speaking in the patois forbidden us. It means realizing our knowledge will always be wanting. It means also, I think, mixing in the forms taught us by the oppressor, undermining his language and co-opting his style, and turning it to our purpose.”

Cliff published two volumes of prose poetry: Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise (1980) and The Land of Look Behind: Prose and Poetry (1985). Her nonfiction includes the memoir/criticism volume If I Could Write This in Fire (2008). Her novels include Abeng (1985), Free Enterprise: A Novel of Mary Ellen Pleasant (1993), and Into the Interior (2010). Cliff also edited The Winner Names the Age: A Collection of Writings by Lillian Smith (1978). During the 1980s, she served on the editorial board of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Her work has been included in the anthologies Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983), Making Face/Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color (1990), and Poems from the Women’s Movement (2009).

After serving as an editor for Norton, Cliff was the Allan K. Smith Professor of English Language and Literature at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the life partner of poet Adrienne Rich. Cliff died at her home in Santa Cruz, California, at the age of 69.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/michelle-cliff