Saint Lucian Writers and Writing edited by John Robert Lee is an indispensable author index of poetry, prose and drama available from Papillote Press. His other publications include Collected Poems 1975-2015, Canticles and Elemental. A new collection of poems, Pierrot, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in Leeds in February 2020.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I am Saint Lucian, lived there for most of my life, been involved with the arts, literature and media from the late 1960’s, from about nineteen. I attended the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados from 1969, finished off my degree at Mona, Jamaica in the early 1980’s, began work with the library service in St. Lucia in 1979 after working as a teacher, cultural officer and radio announcer and producer. Literature, theatre, literary journalism, media (print and electronic), libraries and teaching have been my main interests and occupations. I am a practising Christian and Bible teacher and preacher with my local Baptist church.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? My mother encouraged me to read and memorize poetry, my father bought me books; I read the usual Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, William and Jennings books, Enid Blyton, fairy tales and many of the classics. Comics of course. I had an early exposure to newspapers, principally the Trinidad Guardian which my father got daily. My father and mother were readers and encouraged reading. A year or so before I went to university, I took A-level classes in Literature and became introduced to the moderns – Eliot, D H Lawrence, Philip Larkin et al – read many anthologies and these have had a lifelong impact and influence.Continue reading Guest Feature | Leila Sackur interviews John Robert Lee (ed.) Saint Lucian Writers and Writing
This month’s top 10 reads come late since preparations for the hugely exciting #bookblast10x10tour have eaten up time . . . we bring you a sequel to the lodestar of Modernist writing, mind games, posh boys, big spenders and African dreamers, among other delights.
Listing in alphabetical order according to publisher @carcanet @HenninghamPress @maclehosepress @myriadeditions @noexiteditions @oneworldnews @papillotepress @saqibooks
Rough Breathing by Harry Gilonis (Carcanet) buy here
“Roland Barthes speaking of the ‘grain of the voice’ describes movement deep down in the cavities, the muscles, the membranes; the way the voice bears out the materiality of the body with its checkings and releasings of breath. Simple breath holds no interest; the lungs are stupid organs. That graininess, for Barthes, inheres in friction, that sign of resistance: the body made manifest in the voice. As also in the hand as it writes. Rough breathing, then, is where writing, as well as speech, begins. Words must be shaggy as well as combed smooth.” – from the Introduction by Harry Gilonis
Rough Breathing is the first substantial gathering of poems by Harry Gilonis whose work has previously appeared in small-press publications, or literary avant-garde magazines on both sides of the Atlantic; some are published here for the first time. He picks up and renews tradition with experimental forms and is radically open to poets, artists and thinkers across continents and across time, from William Carlos Williams to Li Shan-Yi, from Trakl to Zukovsky, Lorine Ledecker and Tom Raworth; from Klee to Wittgenstein. His use of language is meticulous and he delights in word play. The versatility and range of Rough Breathing makes it a fine collection – for readers, performers, teachers and students alike.
Amnesia Nights by Quinton Skinner (Fentum) buy here
“It didn’t take long to unearth an intimidating lore of mythology surrounding Karl. I found admiring portraits in back issues of Money and Forbes, a long listing in a brazenly ruling class fetishizing book called Sketches of the Lions of American Business, and various mentions in Time and The Wall Street Journal. Most of the straight business notices dealt with his banking interests and real estate development ventures; all regarded him as an imposing, powerful and, (reading between the lines now), shadowy figure. His family was from Austria, but they emigrated during the apocalypse of World War I for a life as outsiders in Britain. In Newcastle, Karl’s father, Jan, opened his own cobbler’s shop in the respite between the wars. The family’s business was arduous and demanding, and it was expected that young Karl would work in the shop and, one day, run it himself. Instead, surely to his parents’ frustration, Karl left his family when he was sixteen.”
Jack comes from a humble background however he is determined and ambitious, and leaves an alcoholic home in Indiana well behind him when he heads for Harvard University. There, he makes his first and only friend, and lands a beautiful and extremely wealthy girlfriend, Iris Kateran, who becomes his fiancée. Jack, Iris, and Jack’s friend, Frank Lee, decided shortly before graduation to move to Los Angeles. Although daunted by the presence of Iris’s overbearing father, Jack agreed to the move because the three friends plan to set up a small investment company backed by Karl Kateran.
Soon after their engagement, Iris and John’s relationship deteriorates and the serpent of envy insinuates itself into their love nest. Jack flies into a jealous rage and tries to kill Iris, and she vanishes. The police never find her body. Jack remembers deadly violence but doesn’t specifically remember killing Iris. His mind plays tricks on him. He sees people he thinks he knows, but they are an illusion. His memory flickers in and out of focus. He leaves town. What became of Iris Kateran?
Moving between past and present, Amnesia Nights is a clever, skilfully plotted, sophisticated psychological thriller about money and class, love and fear, which will keep you hooked until the very last page.
Dedalus by Chris McCabe (Henningham Family Press) buy here
“His wet trousers clung to the back of the chair, slacklegs swinging. Seasand and airdew. Those trousers which were not his own. Bracken on his breks. Along the dawn blue bay he’d walked back from Bloom’s, and mishearing his name the name had stuck: Leonard. Stephen thought sleepily of the silent couple asleep in a double dream of catpurrs and silences. In the sourbreath of parental love.”
Friday 17th June 1904. Stephen Dedalus wakes up in a Dublin Martello tower, hungover but with winnings in the pocket of his borrowed trousers. Dedalus goes about his day. Settling scores and debts. Pursued by the ghosts of his mother, Hamlet, and now a man called Leopold Bloom who has woken up with plans for him. The young poet weaves hopes and ideas into burning wings of ambition. Can he elude death in the passages of books?
Dedalus is the debut novel of a respected and much-loved poet, and a sequel to the lodestar of Modernist writing. Chris McCabe’s iconoclastic tribute to James Joyce’s masterpiece gives right-of-reply to his self-portrait, Stephen Dedalus. Stephen and Bloom, cut from Joyce’s ego, become cultural types pasted into Digital Age storytelling.
Henningham Family Press, “a microbrewery for books,” is a collaboration that brings together the art and writing of David and Ping Henningham. Both artists and authors, they complete and represent writing through fine art printmaking, bookbinding and performance publishing shows which compress the creation of printed matter into hectic live events. Their handmade editions can be found in the V&A, Tate and National Poetry Library. Their fiction showcases authors who are reinventing the conventions of modern writing. Their books are beautiful; the production values are superb.
“Parts of this book will remain with me, and pollute my reading of Hamlet and Ulysses, forever. I also add it to my personal library of Great Books About Dead Fathers.” – Max Porter, author of Grief is the Thing with Feathers
The Tree of the Toraja by Phillippe Claudel, translated by Euan Cameron (Read the World Series, MacLehose Press) buy here
“We bury our dead. We burn them too. Never would we dream of entrusting them to the trees. Yet we lack neither forests nor imagination. Our beliefs, however, have grown meaningless and inconsequential. We perpetuate rituals that most of us would find very hard to explain. In our world, nowadays, we play down the presence of death. The people of Toraja make it the focal point of theirs. So which of us is on the right path?”
A middle-aged filmmaker visits Indonesia and becomes entranced by the Toraja custom of interning the bodies of very young deceased children in the trunks of trees. In time, the trunk heals, encasing and protecting the tiny bodies as the tree grows slowly heavenwards. On his return to France, the filmmaker receives news that his dearest friend is dying of cancer, prompting a reflection on the part death occupies in our existence, our inability to confront our mortality and our struggle to conceive of a happy life after a devastating loss.
Philippe Claudel will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival this August.
Redemption Song and Other Stories by various authors, edited by Chris Brazier andThe Caine Prize for African writing 2018 (Myriad Editions) buy here
The Caine Prize for African Writing is Africa’s leading literary prize, and is awarded to a short story by an African writer published in English, whether in Africa or elsewhere. The prize was launched in 2000 to encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally. The focus on the short story reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.
The 2018 judging panel comprises: Dinaw Mengestu, journalist, author and graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University’s M.F.A programme in fiction; Alain Mabanckou, prolific Francophone Congolese poet and novelist and Man Booker International Prize finalist (2015); reporter, columnist and poet Ahmed Rajab; Henrietta Rose-Innes, a South African author who won the Caine Prize in 2008; Lola Shoneyin, a Nigerian writer who has won the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize, among others.
This collection brings together the five 2018 shortlisted stories, along with stories written at the Caine Prize Writers’ Workshop which took place in Rwanda in April 2018.
The shortlist comprises: American Dream by Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria) The Armed Letter Writers by Olofunke Ogundimu (Nigeria) Fanta Blackcurrant by Makena Onjerika (Kenya) Involution by Stacy Hardy (South Africa) Wednesday’s Story by Wole Talabi (Nigeria)
The workshop stories are: No Ordinary Soirée by Paula Akugizibwe Tie Kidi by Awuor Onyango Calling the Clouds Home by Heran T. Abate America by Caroline Numuhire All Things Bright and Beautiful by Troy Onyango Departure by Nsah Mala Where Rivers Go to Die by Dilman Dila Ngozi by Bongani Sibanda The Weaving of Death by Lucky Grace Isingizwe Redemption Song by Arinze Ifeakandu Spaceman by Bongani Kona Grief is the Gift that Breaks the Spirit Open by Eloghosa Osunde
The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise (No Exit Press) buy here
“This world is opening. Has opened. It’s not the closed little plant that my father built. It’s a different world, the one I’m going to be living in, and I don’t understand my place in it. A Jew. Is that what I am? I don’t know. Maybe I’m the schmuck who lost China. Who ruined everything. What does that even mean here in China. To be a Jew. I’m now a citizen of the world? We’ve always been citizens of the world. No, that’s not true. We’ve always been outsiders. On the run. But where to?”
Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in southern China, where his neurotic father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, but as he explores the plant’s vast floors and assembly lines, he comes to a grim realization: employees are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex’s own father is engaging in bribes to protect the bottom line.
Then Alex meets a migrant working girl, a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift to the Chinese workers who labour under brutal conditions, stitching, sewing and cobbling shoes for American companies. As her past resurfaces, it turns out that she is an embedded organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow workers. Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?
The Emperor of Shoes is a timely meditation on idealism, ambition, father-son rivalry and cultural revolution, set against a vivid backdrop of social and technological change in modern-day southern China.
“The public schools were founded to educate the poor and ended up serving the interests of the rich,” Robert Verkaik writes in Posh Boys, a trenchant j’accuse against what he calls the “apartheid education system” that perpetuates social inequality in modern Britain [. . .] Verkaik cites the career of David Cameron as a textbook example of old boy “chumocracy” at work – Tim Farron observed that Cameron’s resignation honours list was “so full of cronies it would embarrass a medieval court” – but his critical scrutiny is not restricted to the Tories. Jeremy Corbyn, he reminds us, attended the kind of prep school where a boy could be flogged for “having your cap at a rakish angle”; Momentum media strategist James Schneider was also privately educated, as were Labour apparatchiks Seumas Milne and Jon Lansman. Verkaik contends that the preponderance of “inflated egos” with “an innate sense of entitlement and . . . an almost pathological willingness to risk everything” accounts for the adversarial and polarising tendencies in contemporary politics.” – Houman Barekat, The Guardian
Imagine a world where leaders are able to pass power directly to their children. These children are plucked from their nurseries and sent to beautiful compounds far away from all the other children. They are provided with all the teachers they need, the best facilities, doctors and food. Every day they are told this is because they are the brightest and most important children in the world.
Years later they are presented with the best jobs, the grandest houses and most of the money. Through their networks of friends and family they control the government, the courts, the army, the police and the country’s finances. They claim everyone is equal, that each person has a chance to become a leader. But this isn’t true.
If such a world existed today wouldn’t we say it was unfair, even corrupt? With Posh Boys Robert Verkaik issues a searing indictment of the public school system and outlines how, through meaningful reform, we can finally make society fairer for all.
The Billionaire Raj by James Crabtree (Oneworld) buy here
“In the mid-1990s just two Indians featured in the annual Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest, racking up 3 billion USD between them. That number then ticked up slowly, reaching five by the time Ambani took over his family’s businesses after his father’s death in 2002. [His wealth at the last count stood at 38 billion USD.] But then an explosive expansion began, adding dozens more names over the remainder of the decade. Some transformed old family-run conglomerates into global multinationals. Others were first generation entrepreneurs accumulating billionsin sectors from softwsare to mining. Forbes ranked fort-nine Indians as billionaires by 2010. Today, India’s most exclusive club has ballooned to over one hundred, more than any in any other country bar America, China and Russia.”
Can one of the most divided nations on the planet become its next superpower? James Crabtree reveals the titans of politics and industry shaping India in a period of breakneck change – from controversial prime minister Narendra Modi, victor in the largest election in history, to the leading lights of the country’s burgeoning billionaire class.
While ‘King of the Good Times’ Vijay Mallya languishes in exile in Britain, other major ‘Bollygarchs’ prosper at home despite a series of scandals. Issuing jewel-encrusted invitations to their children’s weddings, these tycoons exert huge power in both business and politics.
But India’s explosive economic rise has driven inequality to new extremes. Millions remain trapped in slums and corruption is endemic. Reformers fight to wrest the nation from these dark forces, leaving its fate poised between that of a prosperous democratic giant and a saffron-tinged version of Russia.
Home, Home by Lisa Allen-Agostine (Papillote Press) buy here
“Summer in Edmonton is not hot, but it’s not cold. Unless, that is, you’re used to living in a furnace. I was. I am from the Caribbean, where an average day might easily be twice as hot as an average Edmonton summer day. What is sixteen degrees when you’re really built for thirty-two? [. . .] Aunt Jillian and Julie laughed at me all the time. They couldn’t understand why I was always kitted out like a bag lady in sweater, shirt, long underwear, jeans and sneakers.”
Set in Canada with a Trinidadian backdrop, Home Home explores mental illness as any other kind of illness and the LGBT family as another kind of family.
The story unfolds through the eyes of a troubled and lonely fourteen-year-old girl sent by her mother to Edmonton in Canada to live with her lesbian aunt. With the help of a handsome boy, her Skyping best friend ‘back home’, and her aunt, she begins to accept her new family and her illness. Then her mother arrives and threatens to take her back to Trinidad. Where then is home?
Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela (Saqi Books) buy here Longlisted for The People’s Book Prize 2018
“Elsewhere, Home is a rich and poignant reflection of a Britain built – as ever – from multiple perspectives and starting points. Fragile, curious, human voices blend, lose themselves, redefine themselves. The emigrant and immigrant experiences have always been part of our storytelling; these beautifully focused tales of Khartoum, Edinburgh, London, Cairo and beyond are a delight.” – A.L. Kennedy
Leila Aboulela’s Elsewhere, Home offers us a rich tableau of life as an immigrant abroad, attempting to navigate the conflicts of assimilation and difference in an unfamiliar world. One of our finest contemporary writers, Aboulela’s work has been praised by J.M. Coetzee, Ali Smith and Aminatta Forna
A young woman’s encounter with a former classmate elicits painful reminders of her former life in Khartoum. A wealthy Sudanese student in Aberdeen begins an unlikely friendship with a Scottish man. A woman experiences an evolving relationship to her favourite writer, whose portrait of their shared culture both reflects and conflicts with her own sense of identity.
Shuttling between the dusty, sun-baked streets of Khartoum and the university halls and cramped apartments of Aberdeen and London, Elsewhere, Home explores, with subtlety and restraint, the profound feelings of yearning, loss and alienation that come with leaving one’s homeland in pursuit of a different life.
“When has anyone official in this country ever told the truth? I’ve been alive for nearly eighty years and I’ve never seen it. Not once. There are people missing . . .”
We know about how Fidel and Raúl Castro Ruz overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista during the 1953–59 Cuban Revolution, and that Cuba became a communist thorn in the side of America under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Moscow’s communist ally in the United States’ back yard. But what was it like living day-by-day through the revolution, that moment in time when history altered its course?
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and lived in Gurabo until I was five. After that, my mother moved to Maryland so I spent a lot of my time both there and in my father’s house in Puerto Rico. (And in airplanes. Lots and lots of airplanes).
What sorts of books were in your family home? I’m not sure actually. I know my mother has several boxes of children’s books somewhere in the basement, but I don’t really remember those. Most of my books growing up were from the library. I’d go once a week, stick my nose in the corner of the fantasy section, and come out with an armful. I know it took several years of rereading before my mother finally gave me the Harry Potter box set for Christmas.
Who were early formative influences as a writer? Sandra Cisneros — she was the first (and only) Latina writer I ever came across in a classroom growing up. After that I think came the epiphany of “Oh, I can use Spanish in my writing?” Also I still credit my fiction teacher at Brown University, Michael Stewart, for teaching me not only how fiction worked, but how to think about writing for myself.
Our April top 10 indie reads take in Albania, Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Balkans, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with the Best of British crime, poetry, and experimentalism.
Negative Space by Lulketa Lleshanaku trs. Ani Gjika (Bloodaxe Books) buy here Winner of an English PEN Award
“At night the voice of the river is totalitarian
like his alcoholic father’s breath
that blows against his neck after a haircut.
And he doesn’t dare look back at what he did.
His vision doubles, two pasts,
two version of the truth,
two women to fall in love with,
two lives to escape.
But which of them is real? Which an illusion?”