There are enough writers too, more of them
erupting into voice year after year, and a nascent publishing industry
in the Caribbean moving into its own in spite of direct competition
from American TV, videos, the internet and other high tech threats to
The rosiness of my immediate response to all this
is tempered somewhat by the fact that "bookishness" is largely a
middle-class phenomenon and that many many Caribbean folk, especially
the youth (who are our future practitioners and artists) were not
present in large numbers, save for those who were brought in by the
A number of writers live and work in this city -
in fact Toronto has been described as the city with the largest
concentration of Caribbean writers globally. But the bounty of their
presence is not really evident in the life of the Caribbean community
except on rare occasions such as that of Book fair week. A pity.
I say "week" because the build up to the Book
fair as well as the aftermath increased the overall intensity of the
cultural assertion that was taking place. On Thursday, June 26, the
Ontario Steelpan Association (OSA) honoured one of the foremost
innovators of the Steelpan, Dr. Ellie Mannette, at a function at the
Scarborough Civic Centre. And on June 27, at the Monarch Park
Collegiate, Ellie Mannette was also featured at a concert including
such accomplished steelpan artists as Mark Mosca and Talib Reid-Robinson.This
event also showcased rising stars such as Aaron Seunarine and Gareth
Burgess, and performances by the Bruce Skerritt Trio, building to a
climactic finish by the youth of the Afropan Steel Orchestra.
On Sunday June 22 at the Grand Baccus Banquet
Hall in Scarborough, nationals of Trinidad and Tobago gathered to
welcome to Toronto their new high commissioner in Ottawa, Mr. Arnold
Piggott. Mr. Piggott spoke of the continued economic progress of T&T
and its goal of reaching developed country status by the year 2020. He
exclaimed too at the capacity crowd that had gathered, their
accomplishments, their energy and their "rainbow" appearance.
Other Caribbean territories (14 altogether) also
staged their own country events in the lead up to the festival and
afterwards. Informal gatherings of writers with friends and family,
dinners, ordinary liming, media talks and author interviews added to
the buzz. One such interview was done by this writer with Kris
Rampersad, whose recent work, Finding a Place: IndoTrinidadian
Literature, was launched at a reception at the T&T consulate on
June 17. Krisís introduction states that this work "is about the
growth and development of literature and a literary consciousness
among Indo Trinidadians between 1850 and 1950, and more significantly,
how they came to English and what they brought to it over the 100-year
Here are some excerpts from this interview:
What prompted you to write this book?.
Well, there is much in the book thatís descriptive because the
material was disappearing, so I thought that I needed to record what
RE: How will this
material be made accessible? Are you thinking of a reader, something
like From Trinidad, maybe?
KR: Iíve thought
of that. Iím hoping that someone will come up with the funding or the
resources to reproduce the magazines and the journals that form the
raw material of the book because most of what we have in the Archives
are the only copies that exist and theyíre in pretty bad stages of
disrepair. In fact, some of them canít even be touched.
RE: What is the
real value of this work to you?
KR: It is a very
valuable social record. One of the reasons why people have been so
receptive to it - not just people interested in literature - is that
the raw material is so rich in terms of anthropology, sociology and
social and political development. It maps a process in the society
that people are unaware of. Much research has been done of the 50s but
this crop of journals that Iíve unearthed fills a kind of black hole.
There has been a general impression that Indians were not writing at
all until probably the 1940s. Also, one of the gaps in the
socio-political history is the belief that in all thatís been
happening in the development of Trinidad and Tobago, Indians werenít
participating. But what these records show is that they were very,
very active and that there was so much collaboration among the groups
that somehow the social analysis was ignored. Maybe this was not done
deliberately, because they probably werenít aware that the material
existed, but I think it can present us with a more holistic view of
RE: What do you
think of V.S. Naipaulís work?
KR: I think his
work is brilliant but its impact probably suffers because of his
personality...I donít think anyone can question what he has achieved.
I do think that the role of his father in his work has been largely
RE: I agree with
that. But what about Letters from Father to Son? Surely the
publication of that book paid homage to Seepersadís role in his
KR: Yes, it paid
homage but I wonder what is lost in the editing.
RE: You think
itís too sanitized?
is evidence of a wish-fulfillment on the part of his father but the
rest is pretty tame.
RE: What about
your personal view of Naipaul?
KR: Well, I donít
know him personally but I think that artists ought to be allowed their
little eccentricities because I believe that itís out of that they
create - itís an essential part of the whole creative process. But in
a place like Trinidad, with all of the divisions, itís easy to focus
on the negatives instead of the positives.
RE: The disdain
for Naipaul is enormous.
KR: I think itís
partly because there has been little understanding of the situations
from which he writes...I take real issue with what the film of The
Mystic Masseur has done to the book...the characterís evolution
from Ganesh Ramsumair into G. Ramsay Muir is watered down...they try
to make him into some kind of national hero.
RE: Instead of a
mock national hero?
KR: Yes. Because
itís what Naipaul was suggesting - that all these people we create as
national heroes are really mock heroes. There is a difference between
who the artist is, what heís trying to do, and what people are seeing
Finding a Place
is available at "A Different Booklist" (416) 538-0889.