Prefiguring the 21st C in Caribbean writing

PREE was born out of the desire to be part of shaping the new, of providing an experimental, technologically savvy platform to elicit forms of writing emerging from the transformed scapes of the Caribbean, a postcolonial Caribbean not yet fully decolonized but one willing to participate in the global ebbs and flows that sometimes threaten to submerge us. Can we grab a passing wave and ride it with the dexterity and aplomb of the region’s musicians and athletes? Can we show that we are perfectly capable of following in their wake while surfing new Caribbean imaginaries built on the world handed down to us by earlier generations? What does the writerly gaze look like almost two decades into the 21st century? Is new writing illuminating the Creolescapes we occupy? Are there new horizons of readership and writership? Can the archipelago be written? In what tone of voice and in what accents do we write it? Can it be written as it’s spoken? These are some of the questions we hope to answer with each issue.

PREE started out with a few like-minded folk getting together in Kingston and deciding to undertake this editorial venture. Our intention was to expand the group when time permitted, to include others from the wider Caribbean and beyond and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce four new members to the editorial team: Anu Lakhan, a writer and editor from Trinidad; Ivette Romero one of the founders of the Repeating Islands blog; novelist and educator Donna Hemans and journalist and editor Yvonne Singh. More information about them can be found under The Team option in the menu. This is also a good point at which to thank Kei Miller, Jacqueline Francis and Lisa Outar for helping us review material.

The Caribbean literary landscape is fast evolving and we were happy to hear about the expansion of Bocas Litfest and its infrastructure from Nicholas Laughlin some months ago:

“The really big news from Bocas this year is that–as you may have heard–in March we moved to a new HQ in St. Clair, an entire building of our own, where we have a bit more working space but more important a dedicated event space for the first time. It fulfils a long-term master plan to establish a permanent writers’ centre in POS. We’ve done six or seven events there so far and are planning to work up to a schedule of three or four–launches, talks, performances, workshops–each month outside the festival season. So it’s a moment of great promise and challenge…. Exciting and daunting.”

These are exciting times indeed. As we await the launch of Marlon James’s new novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf, in February 2019, the region is poised to see one of its writers reach stratospheric new heights of critical and commercial success. The first in the Dark Star Trilogy, James’s new novel, billed as the African Game of Thrones, is likely to be sought after by major media networks for film and TV adaptations. Meanwhile the Norwegian publishers of A Brief History of Seven Killings hired 12 translators to work on the book giving each one a different character to translate. According to James, It was hilarious meeting all these people who kept introducing themselves by the “role” they played. “Velkommen, I am Josey Wales.”

As the world pressures the frontiers of translation to ensure they have access to good Caribbean writing we’re glad PREE is around to nurture future writing stars. Word is that one of the writers in CROSSROADS, our first issue, is being wooed by an agent who read her short story in PREE. 

The first issue of PREE was put together strictly by invitation so that we could establish a certain standard of writing that future issues would attempt to reproduce. Issues would be thematic, collecting writing that responded to themes that the editors collectively decided. The first issue responded to the theme of CROSSROADS; for the second issue we decided on the theme PRESSURE, broadly defined. The response has been heartening. A total of 53 submissions were received from a wide swathe of the Caribbean (Aruba, Barbados, Guyana, Grenada, Dominica, St Kitts, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad,  Barbados and even Belize), the diasporas and beyond. A little over half made it into this issue. Interestingly there were several submissions from the Bahamas which seems to generate excellent writing.  Pressure is explored from a variety of viewpoints. Several works dwell on last year’s devastating hurricanes, and sexual abuse. There are discourses of citizenship, Afrofuturism, of race, class, colour, religion, gender. crime and sexuality. The texts cover a wide range from ecological critique to transnational solidarity, stories, poems, essays and artwork probing the contingency of everything ’from the human vessel to the allegorical ship’, covering all kinds of subjects from atmospheric pressure to baking contests to spirituality, sovereignty, freedom and unfreedom.

“There is the cultural pressure to persist and the global pressure to give in,” wrote Isis Semaj-Hall in the theme note used to anchor this issue. Most of the writers in PRESSURE are new and young and negotiate these pressures with aplomb. The caliber of their writing bodes brilliantly for the future. The literary ecosystem may be wanting in some respects but it has nurtured an assured set of fiction and poetry writers who responded enthusiastically to PREE’s invitation to bring out their best. It’s hard to believe that Patrina Pink has never been published before. In Uncle Carlos’s Socks she poignantly captures the fears and anxieties of an adolescent girl struggling to cope with the massive changes taking place in her body and at home. Likewise Justin Haynes’s All That You Can Afford to Lose employs a casual but surefooted Trini vernacular to spin a strange tale of two men trying to buy a forest. Trinidadian writers are certainly doing something right with Kevin Jared Hossein winning the Commonwealth Short Story Award this year, the third year in a row Trinidadians have won this prestigious global award. Sharon Millar and Ingrid Persaud, the two earlier winners, were both in PREE’s maiden issue and we look forward to publishing something by Hossein in our next issue. Meanwhile Ingrid Persaud has also copped the BBC National Short Story Award for her Commonwealth award-winning story,  The Sweet Sop.

“Good police and good criminal have the same ingredients; they bright and they devious,” writes Grenadian Richie Maitland in his adeptly crafted noir tale of crime, corruption and domestic violence. “First time I’ve done a writer’s bio. Hardest thing I’ve had to do in a while,” he confessed privately. Maitland had attended a Commonwealth-organized writing workshop in Barbados, facilitated by Jacob Ross and Karen Lord, but otherwise had little experience as a writer. Grenada-born Jacob Ross, whose crime fiction novel, The Bone Readers won the inaugural Jhalak Prize (awarded for the best book by a British or British-resident black, Asian or minority-ethnic author) in 2017 has had a big influence on Maitland who says: “his ghost has been the  editorial voice in my head, telling me what to cut and cussing me for trying to do too much with a sentence.”

Coincidentally one of the founders of the Jhalak Prize, Sunny Singh, also has an essay in this issue. Titled “The Gait of the Elephant,” the essay ruminates on the commonality of vision, outlook and worldview that can bind human beings together despite huge cultural, linguistic and other differences. The solidarity expresses itself like a shudder that passes from skin to skin of animals herding together. We hope in future issues to have more writing of this kind, expansive commentary about our humanity, our worlds, our states of mind. 

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Wicki Wacki Beach

Poetry submissions outnumbered all other genres and we’re happy to publish a selection  of these. The Caribbean already has a grand tradition in poetry having produced the likes of Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, Martin Carter and Lorna Goodison. Now several younger poets are attracting critical attention, Vahni Capildeo, Loretta Collins-Klobah and Shivanee Ramlochan among them. We hope they will publish with us, even though we know they don’t have to. Part of the remit of PREE is to publish established writers along with new ones whose work stands out. In PRESSURE Roland Watson-Grant obliged by sending us another excellent story, Cursing Mrs. Murphy, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Award. We hope others will follow suit in future issues. 

 In the current issue Young Jovanté Anderson, who co-won the Poet Laureate of Jamaica and Helen Zell: Young Writers Prize for Poetry with Lauren Delapenha, writes eloquently of gangsters who use embalming fluid to kill and hurricanes that leave us ravaged. In an unusual prose poem Adam Patterson ponders what independence means after fifty years of dormancy. “Everything trembles in the sun, while our bodies decline to act. Another fifty years and we will have anchored to the bottom, held beneath boots of dead masters and the failing of our feet.” Along similar thematic lines Sonia Farmer’s three poems repeatedly plumb the shallow depths of the tourism product that has enveloped the Caribbean as surely as the sargasso that now invades it. Commodification reigns supreme, “even the way I think is a product.” 

One of the most powerful pieces in PRESSURE is also probably the shortest. “I know full well English is criminal. The thing is, though, Spanish is too,” writes Beatriz Llenín-Figueroa in her denunciation of the life empire has made for its colonial subjects. How to flee the plantation? “…Fleeing that cannot be understood as such because those who care insist on the violence of fellowship as much as on the fellowship of violence.”

We are proud to include in PRESSURE visual work by Nadia Huggins, Joshua Lue Chee Kong, Rodell Warner, Peter Dean Rickards and others. In the ART-icles section David Frohnapfel’s review of the last Berlin Biennale featuring a number of Caribbean artists raises interesting questions. We’re happy to make a link to the groundbreaking exhibition Relational Undercurrents (RU) through Ramabai Espinet’s response to Andil Gosine’s work, Coolie, Coolie Viens. Tatiana Flores and Michelle Stephens, curators of RU, have articulated an archipelagic model or framework for curating and discussing visual art that can also be extended to the literary output of the region. 

The revisit section of PRESSURE dredges up a treat that is four decades old. Forty four years ago a novel was published that founder of Banyan Limited, Christopher Laird,  deemed the novel of tomorrow—Yesterdays—by Harold Sonny Ladoo. In a review originally published in Kairi and republished here Laird observes that to fully understand the novel you have to grasp the significance of shit, for much of the novel revolves around shitting and latrines. Savagely scatalogical and satirical, Yesterdays is a working class novel par excellence and Laird ends his review of the book by observing that Ladoo’s writing was “capable of ferocious energy which should blast the way for a third generation of Caribbean writers.” 

This issue of PREE features the fourth or fifth generation of writers since then and although there has never been another Ladoo, who died tragically the year before Yesterdays was published, we hope you enjoy the fresh energy of the offerings in PRESSURE. 

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