Meet PREE’s 5 young scholarship winners!

Part of PREE’s proposal to the Prince Claus Fund was that we would use their Next Generation grant to fund five talented writers under the age of 30 to attend PREE Writing Studio (PWS) and Calabash Literary Festival immediately afterwards, all costs covered. All five had to have contributed to issues four or five of PREE and clicking on their names will allow you to read their work. 

The response to PWS has been stupendous. Whereas we had hoped for 25-30 applications we received 45-50. This will allow us to partially fund a few more deserving participants who can’t afford the full fee. Keep checking in for more news on PREE’s exciting, one-of-a-kind writing festival!

Jovanté Anderson is a first-year student at the University of Miami, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature. His current research areas include gender and sexuality studies, theories of space and place, and diaspora studies. He is also the first recipient of the Poet Laureate of Jamaica and Helen Zell: Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry. He is originally from Harbour View, St Andrew. As a young poet and scholar, he is always trying to learn more about his craft and how he can use it to impact the world, or at least, make a mockery of it. He spends his everyday navigating always-interesting, mostly-amusing American spaces that do not always feel like home, but always feels like adventure.

Yashika Graham is a writer, visual artist and the 2019 recipient of the Mervyn Morris Prize for poetry from the University of the West Indies, Mona where she is a student of Literatures in English. The recipient of a 2018 Centrum Writers’ Residency and the 2019 Urban Wilderness Project Research and Teaching Fellowship, Graham’s work is published in The Caribbean Writer, POUI, Spillway magazine, Cordite Review, PREE, Moko magazine and Jamaica Journal. She teaches creative writing and has taught cross-genre workshops for the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference in Washington, USA.

Adam Patterson is a visual artist and writer based between Barbados, London & Rotterdam. They like telling new stories or rethinking old stories in new recuperative ways. Working across a variety of media including masquerade, video, critical writing, poetry and performance. Patterson’s works have been exhibited at the Live Art Development Agency and Jerwood Space, London; the Barbados Museum & Historical Society and Fresh Milk Arts Platform, Barbados; Roodkapje, Rotterdam; Ateliers ’89, Aruba and Alice Yard, Trinidad & Tobago. Their writing has been featured by Fresh Milk Arts Platform, ARC Magazine, Sugarcane Magazine, PREE, Mister Motley and Metropolis M. 

Kaleb D’Aguilar is a writer and filmmaker, currently completing his MA in Filmmaking, specialising in Directing, at Goldsmiths University in London. His interest in the arts started on stage as an actor, but after completing his BSc. in Anthropology at the University of the West Indies, where he graduated Valedictorian in 2017, Kaleb transitioned to writing and directing for film. He has currently completed three short films, all of which have participated in regional and international film festivals. His interest in ‘world building’ and ‘storytelling’ transcends the cinematic medium to literary text, most prominently poetry. He is also a recipient of the 2019 Poet Laureate of Jamaica and Michael Cooke Prize for Poetry. 

Tanicia Pratt is a content writer, poet, and performance artist from The Bahamas. Her writing is a form of memory, archived or unearthed, to depict the many selves of the Caribbean landscape. Pratt’s work has been published by the grace of Palette Poetry, PREE, POUI, Write About Now, Tamarind Journal, among othersShe has performed at Antiquities, Monuments & Museums, the Central Bank of the Bahamas Art Gallery, and the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. Pratt received her BA in Marketing from The University of the Bahamas and is studying her MA in Poetic Practice at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

Because Tanicia’s work will be appearing in Issue 5 of PREE, Ecocide, we’re unable to link to it but keep your eyes peeled for the new issue mid-April.

Queer Coolie-tudes (2019): a REVIEW

Nalini Mohabir

Note: Queer Coolie-tudes (2019) is showing at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami this Sunday, February 9 at 11 am as part of the Third Horizon Film Festival.

The Caribbean in its free-ness –multi-racial, creole mixing and sexual expression— has always been open to difference. Yet for a long time, the Indo-Caribbean was set apart. So I was excited to see Jovanté Anderson’s introduction to Pree’s special issue of the Queer Caribbean pose the question  “are we free or not?” through a bending of Naipaul’s phrase “In a Free State.”  In the unsettling story of the same name, Naipaul’s main character Bobby is alienated from his country of origin (Britain) due to his queerness. He takes up a position in a post-colonial African country where he finds an exploitative sexual liberation with “the native.”

With all our free-ness, how is the complicated condition of the queer “coolie” living outside the Caribbean experienced and perceived? In a troubled free state, where is the Queer Indo-Caribbean visible? Given the existence of “queer coolies” in Canada, where is their archive of queer sexuality? Not in the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives as Amar Wahab, one of the participants in film-maker Michelle Mohabeer’s documentary Queer Coolie-tudes (2019), tells us. Wahab is filmed sitting on a verandah, his being and conversation queering that quintessential Caribbean space of “old talk”.[i] He urges us to re-visit the archives to imagine an “ocean erotic archive” for queer coolies by sharing the horrifying case of Nobibux and Mohangu who were accused of sodomy on board a ship from Calcutta to the Caribbean (1898). As punishment for pleasure, Nobibux was put in irons and Mohangu’s penis was blistered by the ship’s doctor to prevent him committing sex again. Wahab has made a papier mache mask, plastered with key lines from the doctor’s colonial report: “I’ve actually thrown brown and purple paint on [this] face as a way of representing cum, the residue heat of this brown sex in which the white doctor has no part in that intimacy and therefore desires that intimacy.”  

This is what Mohabeer’s ethnographic documentary Queer Coolie-tudes allows us to see: the Indo-Caribbean diaspora in Canada, queerly and complexly visualized, for the first time. It is ground-breaking.

Born in Guyana, and living in Toronto, Mohabeer was recently recognized as the best female filmmaker for the 2020 film submissions by the Berlin Underground Film Festival, and has made a variety of feature essay documentaries and shorts. Building on her aesthetic style developed in Coconut/Cane and Cutlass (1994), Mohabeer traces a creative archive of queer Indo-Caribbean lives in Canada by asking how Caribbean people negotiate the freedoms and limits of queer life in Canada, attendant to the body through race, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, illnesss, pleasure and desire.

Two theories—coolitude and opacity—frame the film. The former re-contours the history of the “coolie,” foregrounding indentured humanity through an interplay between the perceptible and the imaginative, attending to the traditional archives, fiction, poetry, and spaces in-between.[ii] In conversation with Negritude, Coolietude also suggests entangled encounters between Indo- and Afro- peoples. Opacity pushes back against the Western need for visibility.[iii] For Glissant, opacity holds distance, it is “a right to not have to be understood on others’ terms, a right to be misunderstood if need be.”[iv] These twinned impulses— to document and imagine, to mask and reveal—underpin generative interviews with the seven participants in the film.

All the narratives are set against a layered visual poetics: the liminal shore of Lake Ontario, becomes a saturated colour, an inverse space, and accented presence; fresh waters in Toronto flood connections to a saltwater sea beyond.

Mohabeer’s own journey sets the scene. We see Mohabeer, as a dignified beti, in a frilly dress and little purse, arriving in Canada as a young child and then her shift to vintage leather coat and short hair as she recounts the ways her queer desire clashed with white supremacy. For Andil Gosine, “it never occurred to me that I had to act like a boy …[I had] a strong sense of human dignity in Trinidad.” In contrast, he was immediately confronted with the violence of the slur “Paki” when he reached Canada. Wahab too foregrounds that queernesss exists in the Caribbean, before arrival in any so-called “land of the free.” Wahab was always out “in a Trinidadian sense,” playing with his mother’s ohrni and jewelry, even though his behavior became self-censored in school. At the same time, he informs us “something was coming in, western cultural imperialism, if you want to call it that, also prying open space for different possibilities.”

Yet despite the queer possibilities in Trinidad, the “queer coolie” remains unseen in Canada, as the implications of cultural imperialism can also flow through state institutions. Official state multiculturalism in Canada produces discrete and broad categories of race (e.g., South Asian), without historical context, as Wahab points out. So the figure of the “coolie,” and even more so the queer “coolie,” becomes invisible. As Gosine states: “I’m not sure where the Indo-Caribbean is meant to fit. I think it used to fit within a Black identity category, a broad Stuart Hall notion of blackness that included Drupatee [but] … I don’t think it happens anymore. And in terms of thinking about people who are queer and Indo-Caribbean, it’s true, they disappear.”

But even if you do not see yourself in the multicultural accounting for race and culture in Canada, you must not remove yourself from your own story.

We witness this impulse in the other interviewees and the questions they raise. For example, how can we find ourselves when Canadian categories of race, sexuality and place seem tilted towards erasure? Mars invokes a kind of Bollywood on the beach aesthetic, while also explaining that until recently they were not aware that Indo-Caribbean was a possibility, nor that the language of genderqueer was available. What does it feel like when your geography and body do not quite match place and history? For Lindsey Addawoo, who embodies a dougla queerness (she does not “live a monoracial straight life”), her  dougla-ness is often invalidated by those who seek  the comfort of essentialist labels.  For some, Addawoo does not fit the exotic role of a dougla: she appears more African than mixed, and moreover, she has lost her hair due to cancer. Vulnerability is not only due to racial and queer violence, can also be the result of unseen and unexpected trajectories of illness or disability (also explored through the narratives of activists Lezlie Lee Kam, and Anthony Mohamed). Another question raised by the film, is what are the identities of queer coolie desire? For Ryan Persadie it’s his soca-chutney drag queen, Tifa Wine— a drag persona that allows him to play with masculine and feminine forms as a way “to make room for [his] own Indo-Caribbeanness.” In the process, he is making space for a complex representation of diaspora— a visiblizing of the queer Indo-Caribbean that reflects his own life.

The film Queer Coolie-tudes greatly enriches our understanding— and questioning—of free-ness, pleasure, and desire in the Caribbean-Candian diaspora. To return to the idea of opacity, masking for survival, for liberation and culture, or for seduction (the desire to see behind the mask) have always been forms of cultural expression in the Caribbean and its multiple diasporas— across race, sexuality, and place. Naipaul might have chosen to live his life (and that of his characters) in alienation and exile. But for the queer “coolie” diaspora at the water’s edge of a free state, the seen and unseen are coming into being. 

[i] See Edward Baugh’s poem, “Old Talk, or West Indian History” in The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry (eds. Ian McDonald and Stewart Brown), Oxford: Heinemann, 1992, p.7.

[ii] Carter, Marina and Khal Torabully. Coolitude. London: Anthem Press, 2002.

[iii] See Edouard Glissant’s chapter “Transparency and Opacity” in Poetics of Relation, Trans. Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1997.

[iv] Cole, Teju. “A True Picture of Black Skin” NYTimes, February 22, 2015.

Nalini Mohabir is assistant professor of postcolonial and feminist geographies at Concordia University, Montreal. Her research focuses on diaspora and decolonization. Her writing has appeared in various academic publications including Small Axe, Journal of West Indian Literature, and Caribbean Review of Gender Studies.

PREE to the World!

For our first writing studio PREE is gathering together a Booker Prize winner, a Wyndham Campbell Award winner, an Oprah Magazine best of 2019 author, the 2018 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award and the 2017 winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, a winner of the Forward Prize for Poetry, and the author of How to Say Babylon which generated a 7-way auction won by Picador and offering them to the world in Kingston, Jamaica, this May. Read more about our outstanding line-up here

In addition there will be a non-fiction/essay writing workshop by Garnette Cadogan, author of Walking while Black, and two seminars on How to Get Published and The Craft of Editing by Sharmaine Lovegrove of Little, Brown and Dialogue Books. We will be posting more information about these sessions in the near future.

Between May 24-28, 2020, on the eve of Calabash International Literary Festival, we invite writers from the region and globally (Caribbean connection NOT required) to apply for a place at this exciting and unique writing studio. The Studio will be held on the verdant campus of The University of the West Indies, Mona. 

On May 25, 26 and 27 there will be panel discussions and talks by our line-up of award-winning authors at locations to be announced. These sessions will be open to the public for a nominal fee. 

For more information on fees to attend the Studio please visit this link. We are currently accepting applications to the Pree 2020 Writing Studio! To express interest, please email a short sample (500-1000 words, one to three poems) of your work to preewritingworkshop@gmail.comwith Pree Writing Studio 2020 in the subject line. 

NB: The deadline ends at midnight February 29, 2020. Successful applicants will be informed by March 3 and can then proceed to the payment portal which will be available by then.

Rollin’ Calf

Kedon Willis

First came the ball o’ blue fire bright like a Sunday morning sky. Then Massi realized she couldn’t move neither of her feet. She held on to a cane stalk and pulled hard at one leg, but it held fast to the ground. Massi looked over at her house on the rise overlooking the cane field; it burned like a brilliant dot from its distant mound. Massi could make out the light from the single candle burning in the window. Mamma, she wanted to say. But Massi couldn’t move her tongue. That’s when she knew, but for Jesus, she was gon’ get eat by a Rollin’ Calf.

Massi could remember when her mother used to tell her ’bout de Rolling Calf. But it wasn’t no calf; it was a big ol’ black bull, wit’ blood leakin’ from him mouth, and a chain ’round him neck

Some nights, sitting in her mother’s lap, Massi would ask: Why de Rollin’ Calf have a chain ’round him neck? The mother would be playing in the child’s hair. The crickets and cicadas blaring their night songs just outside the little square window. ’Cause a Jamaican bull is not no bull to be messed with. The mother would smooth the baby hairs at Massi’s temples or run her fingers through her fat braids. De owners used to think they could keep him tie down, the mother would say, but you can’t keep a bull tie down.

Rollin’ Calf, her mother would continue, only roam at night. Whenever you see blue fire in a field you should run, ’cause dat mean him on de hunt. You know him got you in him sights when yuh head start to swell like a tomato in de hot sun. You want to cry but yuh eyes gone dry. You want to scream but yuh tongue gone dead. You want to run but yuh feet can’t take you nowhere. The last thing you’ll hear is the rattling o’ de chain. The last thing you’ll see is him two eyes burning like coal from de stove.

This part of the story used to make Massi antsy. She would scratch her feet together or want to wriggle from her mother’s arm. She couldn’t understand certain things. Why him is de way him is? she would say. How him come to be? The mother did not like this line of questioning. She would let the croaking of the lizards outside pour onto the silence. It is what it is, she would finally say.

That was years ago now. Massi can’t tell the last time she sat on her mother’s lap. They’ve been quarrelling a lot lately; Massi’s been coming in way after the sun sets. Little girls not to be roaming outside at night, the mother would say, people will think unholy things. Is long time since anybody see me as little girl, Massi would say back. Ah doh share de same bed wit’ you no more.

Massi was looking at the light burning in the window of her wood shack home. Mamma, Massi wanted to say. But she couldn’t move her tongue. 

When she heard the distant rattle of a chain, she felt her palms get wet against her housedress. The sound was coming from behind, easing closer like a raking drawl. When she felt its breath, sweat dribbled down her thigh. She felt its breath for a long time against her back, sometimes barreling down in a sudden snort, billowing her dress, warming her thighs. 

She realized she could move her hand when she felt the bull’s wet nose in her palm. It was slick with leak, but she pressed her hand hard against the rubbery wet, digging into the hot nostrils. She ran her hand up the arch of his muzzle, careful not to get too close to the eyes; she was still afraid of his eyes. Breathing hard, he opened his mouth and ran a heavy tongue against the inside of her arm. She grabbed hold with her hand and dug her nails into the tongue’s marshy flesh. She still had her back to him, but she knew there was blood when she felt the warm stream ooze through her fingers.

Granny Nanny

My grandmother was a little thief; she could swipe a banana from de peel while it still in yuh hand. 

My grandmother was alone; her mother died when she was eight. 

My grandmother never had a family, but she say she never sleep on the roadside yet. She could sneak into anybody’s bed and rest her head on the same pillow and sneak back out before the cock crow.  

My grandmother never went to school but she could trace bible quotes in the black sand by the harbour. 

My grandmother never knew her father, but she got to know different men about town. That’s how she got pregnant with my auntie at fifteen. 

My grandmother was a soldier; she bared her breasts in the line of fire just like Bustamante did. 

My grandmother was a warrior; the morning she woke up and her husband was gone, she went to work anyway. When he stumbled up the dirt path a few moons later, she stood inside the front door with a machete. With my mother in her belly, she pointed the machete at him and dared him to take another step. 

My grandmother was Justice; when a street cock pecked after my mother, she snapped its neck with a sodden rag. She cooked it in browning and pimento seeds and gave my mother both breasts. 

My grandmother was uncompromising; she grabbed my Auntie by the throat and called her a whore. She pressed the machete into Auntie belly and asked who the father be. Auntie never did say, and to this day I’ve never met my Auntie. 

Grandma is a healer. When fever ’bout to kill me dead, she wrapped my body in blankets and doused it with white rum. The scent nearly choked me, but I woke up fine the next day. Grandma is a wicked woman. She grabs my hands when Ah cry for things sometimes. She lifts me in the air and asks if Ah know what life is about. She shakes me about and her hands burn like tar.

Image credit: Marinna Shareef. The God of the Underworld

Kedon Willis is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida. His research examines how queer Caribbean writers from different linguistic regions negotiate the politics of queer identity within their respective countries. His comparative work has appeared in English and French, and he has published both academic and creative works in publications such as the Florida Review and the South African journal Tydskrif vir Letterkunde.

La Belle Creole: The Shape-shifter of The Atlantic

Lisandro Suriel

Since the dawn of women, Creole has haunted the junctions between merging civilizations, changing her name and appearance to suit her circumstance. Who is Creole? What does she look like? Does she even exist?  Many think she is birthed from empire, however, that is only where she got her name.  Appearing in many guises throughout the ages of the Black Atlantic, her true form is enshrouded by ideologies about beauty, race, class, and gender. Creole is merely a name imposed upon her through the mythicizing gaze of others. Ultimately, La Belle Creole only appears to you by reflecting your own understanding of race, gender, and identity, casting her true ontology to the realms of Black imagination.

La Belle Creole is inspired by the cultural exchange of the medieval Black Atlantic that took place between the Caribbean, Mesoamerica and the flourishing Mandingo Empire. Many griots spoke of this time before Creole got her name, when there existed an emperor who was said to be obsessed with what lay on the other side of the Ethiopian Sea, known today as the Atlantic Ocean.  As the richest man to ever exist, the emperor called on the peoples of Kama (Africa) to fulfill his desire of traversing the vast ocean. Intending never to return, he set out with 200 ships and established an African presence in the Americas predating European expansion.  This was the last time the world and Creole remained unnamed and unchained by the dogmatic shackles of Western imperialism. One can imagine a time when people might have had entirely different conceptions about what constitutes borders, racial identity, gender, and sexual orientation.

Rather than shackles, the freedom of wealth and curiosity brought our ancestors across the Atlantic in waves of diaspora. Trans-model Jasmine Hassan in La Belle Creole represents a trans-Atlantic identity rooted In a Free State. La Belle Creole venerates forgotten histories, values, and peoples we must strive to remember. 

Lisandro Suriel is a Photographer and Artistic researcher born and raised in Saint Martin. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and received his Master’s of Art by research in Arts and Culture: Artistic Research at the University of Amsterdam.  As part of his Master’s thesis he analyzed early twentieth century illustrations of West-Indian mythology in relation to cultural aphasia. This research forms the foundation of his on-going artistic research project Ghost Island in which he visually deconstructs the New World-imagination of the African Diaspora. 

We will always run out of time if we keep trying to be what the world around us tells us who we should be

Marinna Shareef 

 I’m the type of person who would like to be the best they can be for everyone. The best friend, the best helper, the best person. I’m a perfectionist. I realised a while back that I was tired of spreading myself thin and giving pieces of myself to others that I couldn’t even give myself. From then on I’ve had to deal with not being the ‘best’ anymore, and being a selfish person sometimes. I’ve had to give myself the attention that I was giving everyone else before, and it’s left me in a state where I hardly go out or socialize. However, it’s been benefiting me in so many ways and I’m so glad that I began to do this. This was one of the bigger steps that I had to take in my mental health journey, and I’m lucky to say that my close friends understand this and give me space when needed.

Trinidadian multi-media artist Marinna Shareef has completed her Fine Arts degree at the University of the West Indies and has exhibited in the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago in the ‘UWI Degree Show,’  and in the “Emerging Artists” exhibition during Carifesta in 2019.