From rain-forested volcanic islands, to low-lying coral keys, the Caribbean is a richly diverse region - geographically, historically, linguistically and culturally. And with Caribbean Literature Day being celebrated on 12th July, there’s no better time to showcase some of our most-loved writers from - or with deep connections to - this area in our Caribbean Writers Collection. These writers are the true “book-aneers” of the Caribbean, if you’ll excuse the pun - skilled swashbucklers of words and ideas.
Jamaica is blessed with an abundance of world-class contemporary writers, among them Nicole Dennis-Benn, whose novel Patsy explores immigration, motherhood and sexuality with shimmering power. Marlon James is another exceptional Jamaican writer whose work has boundless scope, from the women’s slave rebellion recounted in The Book of Night Women, to the Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings.
While Dennis-Benn and James are Jamaican-born and now live in the US, a number of Jamaican writers have UK connections. Take Kerry Young, who was born in Kingston to a Chinese father and a mother of Chinese-African heritage. Young’s Jamaica-set novels explore huge themes – oppression, privilege, political awakenings, revolution – with tremendous heart. And keeping with the Jamaican-British theme, mention must be made of the late, great Andrea Levy whose writing is populated by the most perfectly-formed characters. Who can forget Miss July, narrator of The Long Song?
Moving east of Jamaica we come to Hispaniola, with the Dominican Republic on its east, Haiti to the west, and both countries brimming with literary flair. Elizabeth Acevedo’s Clap When You Land is a personal favourite set in the Dominican Republic, while Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory is an outstanding novel of childhood and life in the Haitian diaspora. Shifting further to the east, Tiphanie Yanique’s magic-infused Land of Love and Drowning begins at the pivotal point the Virgin Islands moved from Danish to American rule.
Drifting down the Leeward Islands to the Windwards, we reach majestic, mountainous Dominica. Though small in size, Dominica boasts big literary talent, not least because Jean Rhys was born here. While she only returned to the island once after leaving in 1907, Dominica’s presence is tangible through much of Rhys’s work, especially in her tautly explosive classic Wide Sargasso Sea and the affecting autobiographical vignettes of Smile, Please.
Another Dominican writer of note is Phyllis Shand Allfrey, co-founder of the island’s first political party, and author of The Orchid House, a novel that explores crumbling colonialism. And we cannot forget the contribution Elma Napier made to Dominica’s cultural life. Though Scottish by birth, Napier devoted herself to Dominica, becoming the first woman elected to any Caribbean council after settling in there in 1932. Napier’s Black and White Sands takes readers on an absorbing autobiographical journey, while her novel of ill-fated love voices early environmentalist views.
Voyaging south to Trinidad, we meet Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul, and Monique Roffey, whose latest novel is perhaps her most ambitious yet – a sublime story of love and jealousy that melds myth with commentary on colonial legacies.
Read on to explore our Caribbean Writers Collection, and do keep checking back to discover new books. Lovers of Caribbean literature would also do well to investigate independent publishers Peepal Tree Press and Papillote Press, and excellent indie bookshop New Beacon Books, a true community pillar that’s been based in Finsbury Park since 1966.