literature, Caribbean


literature, Caribbean
   Many Caribbean writers have moved to Britain, especially in the 1950s. V.S.Naipaul and Sam Selvon came from Trinidad, Wilson Harris from Guyana and George Lamming from Barbados. Others moved in the 1960s and 1970s such as Joan Riley (Jamaica), Caryl Phillips (St Kitts), and Grace Nichols (Guyana). Many of these writers show an acute abiding concern with the journey from the Caribbean to England and the differences between the two cultures, for example in Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival (1987), Lamming’s The Emigrants (1954), Riley’s The Unbelonging (1985) and Phillips’ The Final Passage (1985). In one of the early seminal texts of the period, The Lonely Londoners (1956), Sam Selvon uses the character and friends of Moses to explore the experience of alienation, racism and poverty that greeted Caribbean settlers in the 1950s. Moving from fiction to poetry, other writers have focused on the West Indian legacy of slavery, as in Grace Nichols is a long memoried woman and Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968) and Islands (1969). Such work is concerned to mesh past history with the present reality of Caribbean identity in relation to Europe. In its reclamation of black history to rework present cultural identities, the Guyanese-born David Dabydeen’s poetry provides a good example. Respectively his three volumes, Slave Song (1984), Coolie Odyssey (1988) and Turner (1994), chronicle the domination and sadomasochism inherent in plantation life, rework the journey to the Caribbean of indentured Indians (who were ‘employed’ to replace slaves after emancipation in 1834) in a story of his mother’s more recent journey to a cold, unwelcoming England looking for work, and the role of black experience in English art, particularly Turner’s 1840 painting Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying.
   A further common theme is the role of women in Caribbean life, from Fred D’Aguiar’s poetry collection Mama Dot (1985) about the pervasive matriarchal presence of his grandmother to Jamaica Kincaid’s assertion of the unparalleled strength of motherhood in Annie John (1983). A final writer who should be mentioned is Jean Rhys, a novelist who resurfaced in 1966 after over thirty years of literary obscurity to publish Wide Sargasso Sea, a West Indian creole’s response to reading the procolonial and patriarchal Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea, like many of the other books discussed here, has become a key text in post-colonial writing.
   Further reading
    Dabydeen, D. and Wilson-Tagoe, N. (1988) A Reader’s Guide to West Indian and Black British Literature, London: Hansib.
   PETER CHILDS

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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