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

Celebrating Sixty Years of Jamaican Fiction

Writers

Barbara Lalla

Barbara Lalla

Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy

Kellie Magnus

Kellie Magnus

Rachel Manley

Rachel Manley

Kei Miller

Diana McCaulay

Diana McCaulay

Alecia McKenzie

Alecia McKenzie

St. Hope McKenzie

St. Hope McKenzie

Pamela Mordecai

Pamela Mordecai

Barbara Lalla

Barbara Lalla, a Jamaican, is Professor Emerita, Language and Literature, the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. Her many publications include the novels Grounds for Tenure, Uncle Brother, Cascade, and Arch of Fire, and the scholarly works Postcolonialisms: Caribbean Rereading of Medieval English Discourse, Defining Jamaican Fiction: Marronage and the Discourse of Survival, the companion volumes Language in Exile: Three Hundred Years of Jamaican Creole and Voices in Exile: Jamaican Texts of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Co-authored with Jean D'Costa), and Caribbean Literary Discourse (co-authored with Jean D'Costa and Velma Pollard).

 

https://www.uwipress.com/author/barbara-lalla/

 

Andrea Levy

 

In 1948 Andrea Levy's father sailed from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush ship and her mother joined him soon after. Andrea was born in London in 1956, growing up black in what was still a very white England. This experience has given her an complex perspective on the country of her birth.

Andrea Levy did not begin writing until she was in her mid-thirties. At that time there was little written about the black British experience in Britian. After attending writing workshops Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read – entertaining novels that reflect the experiences of black Britons, that look closely and perceptively at Britain and its changing population and at the intimacies that bind British history with that of the Caribbean. In her first three novels she explored - from different perspectives - the problems faced by black British-born children of Jamaican emigrants. In her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994), the story is of a Jamaican family living in London in the 1960s. Never Far from Nowhere (1996), her second, is set during the 1970s and tells the story of two very different sisters living on a London council estate. In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black woman, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown and discovers a previously unknown personal history

In her fourth novel Small Island Levy examines the experiences of those of her father's generation who returned to Britain after being in the RAF during the Second World War. But more than just the story of the Jamaicans who came looking for a new life in the Mother Country, she explores the adjustments and problems faced by the English people whom those Jamaicans came to live amongst. Immigration changes everyone's lives and in Small Island Levy examines not only the conflicts of two cultures thrown together after a terrible war, but also the kindness and strength people can show to each other. The Second World War was a great catalyst that has led to the multi-cultural society Britain has become. For Andrea Levy acknowledging the role played by all sides in this change is an important part of understanding the process so we can go on to create a better future together.

In her last novel, The Long Song, Levy goes further back to the origins of that intimacy between Britain and the Caribbean. The book is set in early 19th century Jamaica during the last years of slavery and the period immediately after emmancipation. It is the story of July, a house slave on a sugar plantation named Amity. The story is narrated by the character of July herself, now an old woman, looking back upon her eventful life.

Levy's latest publication is Six Stories and an Essay, a collection of short stories that she has written over her career, along with an essay where she talks about her Caribbean heritage and the motivation this has given her to write.

Andrea Levy was a Londoner. She not only lived and worked in the city she loved but used London as the setting in many of her novels. She was a recipient of an Arts Council Award and her second novel Never Far from Nowhere was long listed for the Orange Prize. Small Island was the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Novel Award, the Whitbread Book of the Year award, the Orange Best of the Best, and the Commonwealth Writer's Prize. Her latest novel The Long Song was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, and was the winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Besides novels she  also wrote short stories that have been read on radio, published in newspapers and anthologised. She was a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Orange Futures and the Saga Prize.

 

https://www.andrealevy.co.uk/author/

 

Kelly Magnus

 

 

Kellie Magnus is a Jamaican children’s book author. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and an MBA in Entertainment and Media Management from Columbia University. In addition to writing and publishing children’s books she writes feature articles on Caribbean entertainment and media. She is the translator of Go de Rass to Sleep.

Magnus is the Chair of the Kingston Book Festival, one of the largest book festivals in the English speaking Caribbean. She also serves on the boards of the National Library of Jamaica and the Book Industry Association of Jamaica. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica.

 

https://aalbc.com/authors/author.php?author_name=Kellie+Magnus

 

Diana McCaulay

 

Diana McCaulay is an award winning Jamaican writer and a lifelong resident of its capital city Kingston. She has written four novels, Dog-Heart (March 2010), Huracan (July 2012), both published by Peepal Tree Press in the United Kingdom, Gone to Drift (February 2016), published by Papillote Press from Dominica and the UK, the US rights published by HarperCollins (April 2018) and the self-published, White Liver Gal (May 2017).
 
Dog-Heart won a Gold Medal in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s National Creative Writing Awards (2008), was shortlisted for the Guyana Prize (2011), the IMPAC Dublin Award (2012) and the Saroyan Prize for International Writing (2012). Huracan was also shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize for International Writing in 2014. Gone to Drift placed second in CODE's Burt Prize for Caribbean Literature in 2015, won the Vic Reid Prize for Young Adult fiction in Jamaica’s Lignum Vitae Awards (2016) and is shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award (2018). .

Diana’s novels entice readers with the unique spirit and complexity of contemporary Jamaica. Dog-Heart is a compelling and dramatic story of one woman’s attempt to make a difference in the life of a young man from a disadvantaged community in Kingston, while Huracan, loosely based on Diana’s own family history is a part contemporary and part historical novel that tells the story of Leigh McCaulay, returning to Jamaica after 15 years in the US to make a home on the island. Although not a sequel to Dog-Heart, Huracan does explain the origins of the ghetto in her first novel and the nature of white guilt explored in her second. 

Ian Thomson, author of The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica, described Huracan as follows: “Diana McCaulay has captured the bright tropic warmth, the violence and beauty of her birthplace like a born storyteller”. 

Diana's third novel, Gone to Drift, her first for young adults, tells the story of a boy’s search for his grandfather who is lost at sea. The novel explores fundamental choices facing Jamaican society and many developing countries: the casting away of traditional knowledge in the embracing of fast changing modernity, the challenges of surviving in an economy mired in debt and unemployment, and the pressures of an unequal society that forces people into daily acts of compromise and corruption.  
 
White Liver Gal explores the traumatic legacies of sexual abuse over generations and the redemptive power of friendship between women.

Her newest novel, Daylight Come, came third in the CODE's Burt Prize for Caribbean Literature in April 2019 and was published by Peepal Tree Press in September 2020.  

 

http://www.dianamccaulay.com/biography.html

 

Alecia McKenzie

 

Her first collection of short stories, Satellite City, and her novel Sweetheart have both won Commonwealth literary prizes. Sweetheart has been translated into French (Trésor) and was awarded the Prix Carbet de lycéens in 2017. Other books include Stories From Yard (first published in Italian translation as Racconti giamaicani), Doctor's Orders and When the Rain Stopped in Natland. Her most recent novel is A Million Aunties - longlisted for the 2022 Dublin Literary Award.

Her work has also appeared in a range of literary magazines and in anthologies such as Stories from Blue Latitudes, The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, Global Tales, Girls Night In, and To Exit Is To Resist.

She was longlisted for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award in 2019.

 

https://www.aleciamckenzie.com/

 

St. Hope McKenzie

 

St. Hope Earl McKenzie (also known as Earl McKenzie) is a Jamaican academic philospher, poet, short-story writer, essayist, novelist, painter and educator. He is a former Head of the English Department at Church Teachers' College, Mandeville, Jamaica. He is retired from the University of the West Indies, Mona, where he taught Philosophy for many years.

He has had four solo art exhibitions. In 2000 he was awarded a Silver Musgrave Medal for outstanding merit in the field of Literature.

https://www.earlmckenzie.net/st-hope

 

Rachel Manley

 

Rachel Manley is known not only for her poetry, but for her non-fiction trilogy about one of Jamaica’s most influential families—her own. Manley was born in Cornwall, England, on July 3, 1947. She was the first child of Michael Manley and Jacqueline Kamelard Gill. Michael Manley was a charismatic man who served as Jamaica’s prime minister between 1972 and 1980, and then again between 1987 and 1992. Her parents divorced when Manley was two, and she was sent to Jamaica to live with her grandparents at Drumblair, the family estate. Michael Manley was married five times, providing Manley with several step-mothers and siblings. Her grandparents, who were prominent citizens and led extremely active public lives, managed to provided Manley with the only family stability she had while she was growing up. As she told Maclean’s, “They were all mine.” Forced to share her father with several different families and his demanding political career, Manley often felt very distant from him.

Manley’s grandfather, Norman Washington Manley, was the founder of the People’s National Party, and one of the key figures in the Jamaican struggle for independence. An athlete and a Rhodes Scholar, Norman was also a World War I hero. After the war, he returned to Jamaica to practice law. Rising to the post of Jamaica’s chief minister in 1955, he became prime minister when Jamaica gained full independence in 1962. Manley’s grandmother, Edna Swithbank, a well-known sculptor, was also a prominent figure in Jamaica’s cultural life. Edna and Norman were first cousins, and this fact caused much public discussion. To make things even more complicated, Norman was from the “brown” side of the family, while Edna was from the “white” side of the family, thus producing a mixed marriage. Adding to family turmoil was the fact that Norman’s cousin, Alexander Bustamante, led a rival political group, the Jamaican Labor Party.

Manley, who attended boarding schools, had a solitary but relatively pleasant childhood in Jamaica. The household was particularly lively before elections, which sharpened the conflict between Norman and Edna, a situation that the Jamaican public found highly entertaining. For Manley, it was not easy to be part of a family that was under so much public scrutiny. Nevertheless, most house visitors were Norman’s supporters, friends of the family, or Edna’s fellow-artists. In 1969, when Manley was 22, Norman Manley died. Three years later, in 1972, Michael Manley was elected prime minister of Jamaica, a position that he held three times over the following twenty years. In 1975 Manley moved to Barbados, and eventually settled in Canada.

Although Manley always perceived her father as a distant, elusive figure, in the 1990s she moved back to Jamaica to be at his side after he became terminally ill with cancer. She wrote in Slipstream, according to The Antigonish Review, ” After a lifetime of chasing my father’s attention like a fleeting phantasm, I needed to be with him now.” When her father died in 1997, Manley was devastated.

Published in 1996, her first memoir, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, won the Canadian Governor General’s Prize for non-fiction. In Drumblair, Manley focuses on the lives of her grand-

parents, Norman and Edna Manley. The second in the trilogy, Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers, is devoted to the political and private lives of her father. Manley told Barbara Ellington, a reporter for the Jamaica Gleaner, that she chose that title for the book about her father because, “a slipstream is the strong current left in the wake of two giant propellers … my father’s parents were the propellers and he came in their wake; by extension we (his children), are caught in his wake and so I thought the title appropriate.” For Manley, writing about her father was definitely cathartic. According to the Jamaica Gleaner, Professor Rex Nettleford, who was a guest speaker at a gathering to honor Manley’s book, described her writing as “straightforward and elegant, never dense or unfathomable; the prose is beautifully poised, deceptively easy on the senses, eye, ear, and sensibility. It is joyously disturbing and disturbingly joyous.”

By 2002 the third book in the trilogy had not yet been written. Manley, who in 1989 had edited Edna’s diaries and published them as Edna Manley: The Diaries, planned for the final book in her trilogy to focus solely on Edna Swithbank Manley. In the final volume of her trilogy, Manley, who is intent on coming to terms with her illustrious family, will present another intimate, yet historical, view of Jamaica. In the prologue to the first of the trilogy, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, Manley declared, “This is not history—this is memory.” Manley’s memory is rich in detail and of great interest to her readers, who are certainly awaiting the last installment of her Jamaican trilogy.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/manley-rachel-1947

 

 

Brian Meeks

 

Brian Meeks was born in Montreal, Canada of West Indian parents and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. He is Professor of Africana Studies and Chair of the Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre Department at Brown University. He has authored or edited eleven books on Caribbean politics, political culture and thought, including Caribbean Revolutions and Revolutionary Theory (1993 and 2000), Culture, Politics, Race and Diaspora: the Thought of Stuart Hall (2007), and Critical Interventions in Caribbean Politics and Theory (2014).

His novel Paint the Town Red was published by Peepal Tree in 2003 and is an extension of Meeks's concern with the theme of rebellion and the existential condition of Caribbean people. It seeks, through a series of fictional vignettes and flashbacks to tell the proverbial coming of age story, while capturing the flavour of the seventies - a profoundly important decade, which saw Jamaica approach the frontiers of civil war. Before coming to Brown in 2015, he served for many years at the University of the West Indies in the Department of Government and as Director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies and Director of the Centre for Caribbean Thought at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

"Meeks’s poetry was very much a part of the early Jamaican dub poetry movement of the seventies and is to be found in a number of anthologies, including Kamau Brathwaite’s seminal Savacou ¾, The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse (1986), The Anthology of Young Jamaican Poets (Savacou, 1979) and Wheel and Come Again (Peepal Tree, 1999).

'Writing Paint the Town Red was a cathartic experience,' Meeks suggests. 'There are so many painful, unanswered questions about Jamaica in the seventies, some of which may never be resolved by the historian or social scientist. The normal figure for the number of people killed during the political campaign leading up to the 1980 election is eight hundred, though I suspect that the real figure is significantly greater. Have these men, women and children who died simply been erased from the world, or are there many poignant stories to be told? By locating itself in history while avoiding the limitations imposed by traditional scholarship, Paint the Town Red seeks to address, if not answer, some of the persistent questions of that lost decade.'"

 

https://www.peepaltreepress.com/authors/brian-meeks

 

Kei Miller

 
Kei Miller was born in 1978 and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica.

He studied English at the University of the West Indies and moved to England to study for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2004.

His first book was a collection of short stories, Fear of Stones and other stories (2006), shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers Prize (Caribbean and Canada Region, Best First Book), and this was followed by two poetry collections - Kingdom of Empty Bellies (2006) and There Is An Anger That Moves (2007). His first novel, The Same Earth, was published in 2008.

His most recent books are the novel, The Last Warner Woman (2010), a further poetry collection, A Light Song of Light (2010), shortlisted for the 2010 John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize and the collection The Cartographer Tries to Map A Way to Zion.

In this new collection Miller dramatises what happens when one system of knowledge, one method of understanding place and territory, comes up against another. The cartographer, used to the scientific methods of assuming control over a place by mapping it (‘I never get involved / with the muddy affairs of land’), is gradually compelled to recognise – even to envy – a wholly different understanding of place, as he tries to map his way to the rastaman’s eternal city of Zion. As the book unfolds the cartographer learns that, on this island of roads that ‘constrict like throats’, every place-name comes freighted with history, and not every place that can be named can be found.

Kei Miller has been a visiting writer at York University, Canada; the Department of Library Services in the Britih Virgin Islands; Vera Rubin Fellow at Yaddo; and International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa.

He is also the editor of New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology (2007), and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. He lives in London.

 

https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/kei-miller

 

Pamela Mordecai

Pamela Mordecai’s first poem was written when she was nine, about a hurricane that hit the island of Jamaica in that year. She was born and grew up there, “going to the nuns” at age four and leaving them at age twenty-one. By then she had gone to the USA and had done a first degree in English at a small Catholic college in Massachusetts that she helped to integrate. Returning to Jamaica after college, she taught, became involved in theatre and modern dance, and began writing seriously. At the University of the West Indies she subsequently did two teaching degrees, and eventually a PhD. (It took her sixteen years to write.)

A bit of a hurricane herself, she has been a teacher, a trainer of teachers, a TV host, a writer-researcher, an editor, a book packager and a publisher. She has written newspaper editorials, dance criticism, textbooks, critical articles on Caribbean literature, studies on Caribbean culture, education, and publishing, poems and stories for children, poems and short stories for adults. In 2014, her “Caribbean Counting Poem” was identified in The Guardian (UK) as one of 10 top poems to remember and recite. https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/oct/02/top-10-poems-to-remember-and-recite-tony-mitton-poetry-day A play, “El Numero Uno,” commissioned by the Lorraine Kimsa Young People’s Theatre, had its world premiere in their 2009-2010 season. (See http://www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ElNumeroUno-SG.pdf) A prolific anthologist with a special interest in the writing of Caribbean women, she has edited ground breaking anthologies such as Jamaica Woman (with Mervyn Morris), Her True-True Name (with Betty Wilson), and From Our Yard: Jamaican Poetry since Independence. Her most recent anthology is Calling Cards: New Poetry from Caribbean/ Canadian Women.

Pamela has published numerous textbooks, many co-authored with the late Grace Walker Gordon, her writing partner for 25 years, as well as five books for children. Storypoems: a First Collection (Ginn & Co. 1987), Don’t Ever Wake a Snake (Sandberry Press, 1992), Ezra’s Goldfish and other storypoems (NCB & Nat’l Book Dev. Cttee, 1993),The Costume Party (Oxford U Press, 2000) and Rohan Goes to Big School (Oxford U Press, 2000.)

Journey Poem, her first collection of poetry, was published by Sandberry Press in 1989. de Man: a performance poem, an eyewitness account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ written in Jamaican Creole published by Sister Vision Press in 1995. A popular verse play, it continues to be performed in Canada and the Caribbean to enthusiastic audiences. The most recent performances were in Norris Point, Newfoundland in 2012, Kitchener, Ontario in 2014, Kingston, Jamaica in 2015 and Rock Hall, St Andrew, Jamaica in 2016. The 2015 costumed performance in Kingston took place on Good Friday at Sts Peter & Paul Church and was directed by Eugene Williams, former Director of the School of Drama at the Edna Manley College of the Performing Arts.

Certifiable: Poems, was published in 2001 by Goose Lane Editions. In 2001, Greenwood Press also published the reference work, Culture and Customs of Jamaica in their Culture and Customs series, edited by Peter Standish, which Pamela wrote with her husband, Martin. The True Blue of Islands which appeared in 2005, is a collection of poems dedicated to her brother, Richard, who was murdered in Jamaica in 2004.

Pink Icing: stories, a collection of prose fiction, was published by Insomniac Press in 2006. It received rave reviews in Canada, the US and the Caribbean. Subversive Sonnets was released by TSAR Press in September 2012, and in 2015 TAP Books, the literary imprint of Dundurn, published her first novel, Red Jacket. Also in 2015, Mawenzi House published de book of Mary, first in a trilogy about the lives of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. (de Man, about the crucifixion, is the last book.) Pamela has begun work on “de book of Joseph”, second book in the trilogy, as well as on “Cotaban’s Complaint,” a YA novel. She hopes shortly to complete “Goat Mouth”, a second collection of short stories, and “The Tear Well”, a novel.

Pamela has received many awards for her writing. In 1998, her short story, “Limber like Me” was shortlisted in Prism International‘s annual short story competition. In 2000, her short story, “Once on the Shores of the Stream, Senegambia” was shortlisted for the James Tiptree Award for Speculative Fiction. Her poems have been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Award for Poetry (Canada, 2007) and The Bridport Prize (UK, 2008). Other awards for her writing include the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary Medal for Services in the Field of Writing (1980), Jamaica’s first Vic Reid Award for children’s writing (1993 – for Ezra’s Goldfish and other 

Pamela has received many awards for her writing. In 1998, her short story, “Limber like Me” was shortlisted in Prism International‘s annual short story competition. In 2000, her short story, “Once on the Shores of the Stream, Senegambia” was shortlisted for the James Tiptree Award for Speculative Fiction. Her poems have been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Award for Poetry (Canada, 2007) and The Bridport Prize (UK, 2008). Other awards for her writing include the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary Medal for Services in the Field of Writing (1980), Jamaica’s first Vic Reid Award for children’s writing (1993 – for Ezra’s Goldfish and other storypoems), and Burke Bookstore’s Burla Award (2005) for her contribution to Caribbean literature. In 2013, she was awarded the Institute of Jamaica’s Bronze Musgrave Medal and in Spring 2014, she was a fellow at the prestigious Yaddo Artists Community in Saratoga Springs, upstate New York. http://yaddo.org In spring 2015, she video-recorded all her books of poetry up to that time at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) in St John’s, Newfoundland. They are online at CITL <http://www.mordecai.citl.mun.ca/ The collections are also available via the Digital Libraries of the Caribbean (DLOC).

Pamela’s novel Red Jacket was one of 5 books shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award in 2015. She has also received grants from the Toronto Arts Council (6), Ontario Arts Council (Works in Progress) 5 and Canada Council (4) in support of her writing.

Pamela and her husband and three children migrated to Canada in 1993. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario.

https://pamelamordecai.com/biography/