Lawrence Scott

On Memory and the Archives of Caribbean History

A Conversation with Lawrence Scott

Lawrence Scott is the acclaimed author of four novels—Witchbroom (1992), Aelred’s Sin (1998), Night Calypso (2004), and Light Falling on Bamboo (2012). He has also published two story collections, Ballad For The New World (1994) and Leaving By Plane Swimming Back Underwater (2015). He is the editor of Golconda: Our Voices Our Lives (2009), an oral history of life on a sugarcane estate in Trinidad. Born into a French and German Trinidadian family on a sugar estate in southern Trinidad, in 1963 Scott left the island for England to pursue a vocation as a Benedictine monk. He found his true calling as a Caribbean writer, however, upon returning to Port of Spain as a teacher in the late 1970s. Each of his novels has been short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, which Aelred’s Sin won (Best Book in the Caribbean and Canada) in 1999. It was also long-listed for the Whitbread and Booker Prizes in 1999.

The following edited conversation took place between October 2016 and January 2017. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Witchbroom, with an anniversary edition forthcoming from Papillote Press in April 2017.

Scott’s oeuvre reflects his deep interest in calypso and carnival, historiography, and the form of memory, and his novels have broken important ground in Caribbean fiction for their nuanced representations of queerness and performativity. Over two decades after its publication, Witchbroom remains one of the masterworks of Caribbean literature. Scott has crafted a moving and complex allegory of the postcolonial Caribbean nation that traces the vagaries of memory, the power of the imagination, and the impossibility of Caribbean historiography. But Witchbroom’s greatest heritage perhaps lies in the art of the carnival masquerade that provides a powerful metaphor for postmodern gender, sexuality, and identity on the one hand, and for narrative possibility on the other.

NH Exile has been a formative experience for so many Caribbean writers—George Lamming, V.S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon. You too moved to England at a fairly young age. How does exile from the Caribbean figure in your work?

LS I don’t see myself as being in exile. I am a fortunate traveller. My most recent short story collection Leaving by Plane, Swimming Back Underwater (2015) is held together by the themes of leaving and returning; at times harsh, at times embracing. I think that is what I have been doing myself since originally leaving Trinidad in 1963: living in Trinidad for longer periods, at times a number of years, but a greater number of short visits. I am very attached to London, but constantly drawn back to Trinidad, as my story “A Little Something” shows, but I have been formed just as much by London’s diversity and the light of the English countryside, as I explored in “That Touch of Blue.

NH So much of your work is very musical. What role did music play in your early self-fashioning?

LS I was brought up in a French Creole Roman Catholic household. I went to a Benedictine Boarding school, then a Benedictine junior seminary before going to England to join a monastery there after my secondary schooling. So music was therefore always there: Gregorian chant on the one hand, and calypso on the other. The Ave Maria and Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah, mixed with Elvis, and all the pop of a 1950’s teenager. I played Carnival as a child every year—dressed up by my mother as a number of bizarre characters! I always loved pan, and waited for the calypsos each year. Then there was the Indian music in the air on the sugarcane estate. I also remember being deeply affected by an introduction I had from one of my seminarian friends to popular classical music as interpreted by Mantovani, and loved the whole notion of the symphony.

I expect a lot of that experience has infiltrated my prose and the structural composition of my novels. I had this idea of Witchbroom as a symphony—the tales as different movements introduced by the overture with its fugues or repeated themes. Contrasted with the music there are the speech-givers, Pierrot and Robberman—so, many contesting voices, and different kinds of music. The black maid, Josephine, is a speaking and singing voice. But on the other hand it is a book about writing: narrators, points of view, first-person/third-person shifting, with Lavren writing himself writing the tales, and the I-narrator and Lavren being one and the same. So it’s a book about composing both a symphonic and a literary work.

Witchbroom

Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott

NH How did you get from the monastic calling to that of a creative writer?

LS Writing never really played a great part in my growing up. It was in the monastery that I began to write a journal and poetry, and this was accompanied by wide intensive reading from an excellent monastic library. My introduction to literature and psychology happened there: Freud, Jung, D.H. Lawrence—I was quite amazed that writing could do what The Rainbow did. I didn’t read any Caribbean literature at the time and I probably could have had access to Walcott’s early poetry, or Sam Selvon’s novels. This is probably in the early 1960s? Yes, because I left for England in January of 1963…

NH You hadn’t read any Caribbean literature prior to that? Did you cross paths with any other Caribbean writers who were living in the U.K. at the time?

LS Actually that’s what’s extraordinary. Trinidad is such a small island. Growing up, I was twelve miles outside of Port of Spain at The Abbey School, Mount Saint Benedict, and Walcott was putting on plays in Port of Spain and I was not even aware of them. I was in this kind of secluded world. My early childhood was really dominated by my white, Roman Catholic, religious world. So my reading wasn’t so much in literature but in all kinds of biographies of saints. I didn’t encounter any Caribbean literature until I was studying literature on my own. I remember trying to read Walcott’s In a Green Night and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea in the mid-sixties and found them both quite difficult and off-putting. So I didn’t go on with it until much later.

I didn’t encounter Selvon or Lamming, the pioneer writers, until the early 1970s when I became a teacher in comprehensive schools in London. I was teaching mostly West Indian students and wanted to introduce my white pupils to the background of their peers. It was in finding a literature for them that I found the literature for myself. Reading Selvon’s Ways of Sunlight aloud to my students, I regained the music of my own tongue. I realized that my accent had changed and that I had all of these voices inside of me that I had not been expressing. So through trying to make the stories livelier for my pupils, I rediscovered my Trinidadian accent. It was a major breakthrough for me. This to me is the challenge of Caribbean literature: how to be authentic but not exaggerating the dialect, while allowing my different tongues to find expression along the continuum of speech. You can see this, for example, in Theo’s narrations in Night Calypso. The mostly standard narrative is broken into with the creole voice, in a similar way to the Jordan narratives in Aelred’s Sin.

So, no, I hadn’t really encountered much Caribbean literature before that. I think that’s really why I didn’t write. I wanted to write. I’d left the monastery for about seven years by then, and in my first year of teaching I had started to write a novel and then abandoned it. It was set in England and I couldn’t really get on with it. Only when I went back to Trinidad in 1977 did I discover what I wanted to write—what I needed to write to understand all that had happened in these transitions from Trinidad to England and back again.

NH That’s fascinating. It seems that fiction in general, and Caribbean fiction in particular, stuck for you when you rediscovered your Trinidadian voice.

LS That is true. It became really significant when I was reading aloud Ways of Sunlight in that London classroom. I got really involved—all of us were, as young teachers in London—with introducing Caribbean literature into London schools, what was called multicultural education at that time. That was what took me back to Trinidad. It helped me rediscover Trinidad and made me want to return; to be in Trinidad, reading the history and experiencing the landscape, returning to my childhood sensory experiences, while reading the literature and meeting people. So in 1977 my wife Jenny and I went to Trinidad to teach, with much enthusiasm. Jenny was doing an MA at the University of the West Indies from 1977-1980 and I read all her books. My introduction to Earl Lovelace and his family in Matura while reading his work was also a very fundamental shift for me in inspiring my writing. Also working with Derek Walcott in the theatre, and meeting Ken Ramchand through UWI. It was an incredibly rich intellectual introduction and I was embraced by a Trinidad I hadn’t known before.

NH Is that what first inspired you to write Witchbroom, that first return to Trinidad?

LS Yes, Witchbroom came out of that rich accumulative experience of returning to live in Trinidad in 1977 and then in 1982. The Trinidad that I had lived in as a child had almost disappeared: class, race, culture were all changing radically. The writings and ideas of CLR James, whom I met at the time and the work of Wilson Harris became important to my self-fashioning as a Caribbean writer. I was working with Walcott as stage manager on Remembrance and acting in Marie La Veau. All of this led to a fundamental revision of my experience growing up in a white enclave of French Creole society.    

You see, I had returned from England a quite different person. I was no longer a Catholic; I was a socialist and a teacher. As a consequence of extensively reading Caribbean and Latin American literature and history—Márquez, Borges, Fuentes, Carpentier, Césaire, Rhys, Roumain—I began to articulate for myself ideas about music and novelistic narration, memory and history. This was inextricably linked with the landscape that I was re-experiencing so vividly and sensuously—a history written on the landscape, arising out of the landscape. But then finding it written in our literature—that combination was extraordinary for me! I was also reconnecting with the black women who had looked after me as a child, and meeting some of them as an adult after many years. So I began writing some stories, for example, “The House Funerals” in Ballad for the New World, where you’ll see the first appearance of the Monagas family, the Immaculata figure from Witchbroom, and the idea of the Gulf of Paria as a vault of history. At that time African American women’s writing—Alice Walker and Toni Morrison—had a great influence on me, as well as the poetry of the lesbian-feminist Adrienne Rich. They showed the way, making the link between the personal and the political. I have developed this idea in my use of the form of journal and letters in my novels.

Then when I went back in 1982 I lived alone in my mother’s house in Chaguanas—this became the pink bungalow of Witchbroom, and the journal of the story of that stay was one novel I was writing, while finding I was also writing Lavren’s tales inspired by the literary experience I was having—had been having—for the previous four years. It was the history that enchanted me and that I wanted to write in my own, Marquesian style. Of course Naipaul’s The Loss of El Dorado had in a way already granted me permission to write in this way. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Graham Swift’s Waterland were also huge influences and helped me to extend these ideas of history and amnesia that came together the way they are now. Looking back, it is to my mother’s great capacity for ancestral storytelling that I attribute a great influence. While not a portrait of my mother she was an inspiration for the Marie Elena character of Witchbroom.

NH It sounds then as if writing fiction was for you a way of and grappling with your own memories of growing up in Trinidad.

LS Yes, when I went back to Trinidad in 1982, I lived in my mother’s house on my own and I was experiencing anew a lot of things that had disappeared, and witnessing the breaking up of the house. The house wasn’t the kind of family house it is in Witchbroom, and it hadn’t been a house I lived in as a child, but the things in the house—the furniture and memorabilia—were from my childhood. This was the archive I drew from when I returned to England and began to write the novel. So, yes, it was my own history and remembering that drove me, as well as my complete absorption in a lot of the early histories of Trinidad by La Borde and others. I got really taken up by the names like “Serpent’s Mouth” and “Dragon’s Mouth” and all the different names of the Gulf of Paria—“Gulf of Sadness,” “Gulf of the Whale.” I became interested in what I saw as a kind of fiction in the histories, histories that were themselves received like fictions. You have all these names of places that were erased and written over. It’s the idea of the palimpsest that you find in Witchbroom—that beneath each story is another story. And of course there are stories that are not told.

NH That notion of the absented and untold histories brings to mind Nourbese Philip’s Zong! and Walcott’s “The Sea is History.” I’ve often been struck by the similarities in how the three of you approach the task of reimagining Caribbean histories that are impossible to access, the way you all draw on memory and the sea as alternate archives. 

LS Yes, ideas of memory and erasure continue to be so important to me, and I am very interested in psychoanalysis and trauma. Walcott’s essay was seminal, and I recently saw Nourbese Philip’s performance of Zong! I do think that fiction is a way to redress some of the limitations of history through the power of imagination. There is that notion of the amnesiac blow in Walcott’s poem “Laventille,” and the salvaging of the past through music from Africa, customs from India, the carnival masquerade and so on. European, South American, African, Asian—this is Trinidad’s story. But of course in Witchbroom the history is the story that comes from both the Madam of the house and the servant—I wanted to show that both of them have a kind of forgetfulness as well as a kind of remembering. I’m still grappling with these ideas. One of the working epigraphs for my new novel is: “Memory is not false in the sense that it is wilfully bad, but it is excitingly corrupt in its inclination to make a proper story of the past” (Skating to Antartica, Jenny Diski).

NH That’s a fascinating idea—the fallibility or “excitingly corrupt” nature of remembering. Just now you were talking about how you went back to the house and discovered that so much had changed or disintegrated. I love that at the end of Witchbroom there is this move from the disintegrating family house to the nation at large. And then Night Calypso begins with the same metaphor and the notion that the national house has sort of fallen apart. What was going on at the time that precipitates the anxiety in your work about the state of the nation, about deterioration and disintegration?

LS Well, when I returned to Trinidad in 1977, everything seemed very exciting and new. But seven years before, in 1970, there had been the Black Power movement in Trinidad that had almost precipitated a coup. And then three years later there was the trade union march on the government led not only by people of African origin, but East Indians as well. Two of the largest ethnic communities had come together for a common purpose. That event resonated with me; it reminded me of the 1930s, which is why in Night Calypso you have the three revolutionary leaders as it was in the 1930s: an East Indian, an African, and a French Creole leader. I think that in Night Calypso I was working through my own hope that the exciting events of the 1930s were going to happen again and bring Trinidad to a more fundamental change than what independence brought about. Independence was a very hopeful time and I remember that very vividly when I was at the seminary before I left for England. Federation had fallen apart and Eric Williams came to power in 1962 and it was all very exciting and hopeful.

But when I returned from England, Williams had only a few more years to live, and he hadn’t really lived up to his promises. Instead, there was a neo-colonial government in place. So despite the oil boom and all the economic benefits it had brought, there was also a sense of decay, which to me was symbolized by these old, dilapidated buildings in Old Port of Spain. I would also visit these old houses on the sugar and cocoa estates to reconnect to my childhood, and they were all falling down. I remember talking to CLR James at that time, when the colonial building, Princes’ Building had burned down, and I remember him saying, ‘We need these buildings!’ That might be why I structured Witchbroom in terms of houses—great houses, family houses—and their decay. And in Night Calypso, Theo sees the decay of the leper asylum but he also comes to be an inhabitant of the house at the other end of the novel. There is hope for a reintegrated national house at the end of Witchbroom, but the last words of the novel also echoes a salient reminder of the new form of colonialism, with the population ‘working for the Yankee dollar’ as calypsonian Lord Invader sings. 

As a child I was always noticing the colonial geography: you would have the sugar estate and the big house on the hill, and there were the barrack rooms down in the gully, with the little church and the police station as well. That whole configuration was always there. That society had hardly changed since the nineteenth century, even down to the late 1950s. But when I returned in the 1970s it was all falling apart. The death of Williams was an anxious-making time. What was going to follow Williams? He had been in power for nearly thirty years. He had not been a tyrant, but he had stopped any other politics from happening in the country. So I ironically insert him into Witchbroom as the “Third Most Intelligent Man in the World.”

NH Who are the first and second?

LS Nobody knew. It was actually CLR James who said that.

NH I’ve looked that up. I couldn’t figure it out.

LS The alleged story is that Williams himself said he was the Third Most Intelligent Man in the World. And CLR remarked, ‘Well, nobody knows who the other two are!’ Of course CLR and Williams came to disagree profoundly about politics.

NH Listening to you speak it sounds to me that part of the anxiety around things falling apart is that this is the archive. The old houses are the archives of history.

LS See, the house, my mother’s house—what is called the pink bungalow in Witchbroom—was a very small house my parents had for their retirement. It wasn’t a great house by any means, but there were all these old things jammed in it that my mother somehow managed to keep which were part of all of these big old sugar estate houses that we had lived in as children. Nobody had brought anything new; they were all old things.

NH Wouldn’t you say that access to centuries-old houses, old linens and things, is part of the privilege of the French Creole that other ethnic groups in Trinidad don’t necessarily have? —I’m thinking here of Witchbroom’s black maid, Josephine, who only has her memory and her storytelling.

LS That is part of the erased history I was talking about. This is a way that I think fiction can redress history by giving Josephine a voice in the telling of history. In Trinidad, there are many places that have French, Spanish, and Amerindian names, but very few with African names. That is very significant. Judy Raymond, a journalist and former editor of the Trinidad Guardian has just published a book about the nineteenth century British artist, Richard Bridgens.  He came to live in Trinidad with his wife who had inherited a sugar estate. He illustrated life on a sugar estate and made drawings of the enslaved people whom he owned. There is a list of the names of the slaves who worked on the estate. I came across a similar list when I was researching for my novel Light Falling on Bamboo, about the other nineteenth century painter, Michel Jean Cazabon. In his parents’ Deed of Separation their goods and chattel are recorded and listed, right along with the furniture and everything else—twenty-six names—you know, of their slaves. But nowhere in Trinidad do you come across a monument of any kind, with like, you know, ‘these are the people who lived on this estate.’ There are no graves; nobody knows where the cemeteries are. There is a monument in Washington with the names of the victims of the Vietnam War dead, and you see yourself reflected as in a mirror—it is one of the most moving monuments I know. It would be so important if as you went around the island of Trinidad you could read its recorded history that would tell of the estates and all who lived there.

NH Is that why you primarily write historical fiction—to fill in those missing archives?

LS Absolutely. I like the idea of fiction and poetry and theatre as ways of redressing either written histories—colonial histories—or writing as fiction the history that hasn’t been written.

NH Doesn’t Lavren say something like that? “I cannot remember; so I imagine”—something to that effect?

LS That’s right. I think that is what fiction is at its profoundest level: that use of the imagination to imagine the real. There is that contestation about the term magical realism, which has become a very overused and misunderstood phrase. I think Márquez himself said, ‘This is the reality of Latin America.’  There is nothing magical about it. In fact a more accurate translation maybe  ‘the marvels of the real.’

NH Or as Carpentier calls it ‘the marvellous real.’ In terms of historical periods, I’m particularly struck by the synergy in Night Calypso between the World War II period—the moment when the recording industry takes off—and calypso’s heyday. Could you talk a little bit about why you chose that period in particular for Theo’s story?

LS That’s a fascinating fact that I did not think of before—sung calypso and the recording of it electronically. How extraordinary! I wish I had made something of that. Of course there is Theo and his crystal set getting the news. There is Wagner on the gramophone. There is jazz, blues—Billie Holliday in particular. The calypsos are live from the fishermen, from Theo, and from the narration. But of course all of that is influenced by my own experience of the recorded calypso: radio, record, and written lyric. I chose World War II because it was a tumultuous time in the world and a political watershed in Trinidad, as I mentioned earlier. There’s the trade union movement with Butler, Rienzi, and Cipriani—a moment of trauma, and of possibility won and lost.

NH In both Witchbroom and Night Calypso, although they are historical novels, the actual present is in the 1980s. What was happening in that time that prompts a return to earlier historical moments in your fiction?

LS The 1980s—this is a profound question and observation! Of course it is Eric William’s death in Witchbroom. Interestingly, Aelred’s Sin is also set in the 1980s. It’s relevant because for that book the present is the time of the emergence of AIDS. … You know, the 1980s is what formed me as a writer. I have not thought about it quite this way until now. In Witchbroom and Aelred’s Sin there is a historical reason for the 1980s; for Night Calypso it is, I now think, an unconscious connection with an iconic time that I was personally coping, as Theo does, with history both personal and public.

NH Turning from history to the present, this year is a major milestone for you. What do you want this twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Witchbroom to accomplish?

LS When Witchbroom was first published, it was pitched very conservatively. The first go around I was very inexperienced. The book was propelled really by the enthusiasm of Marina Salandy Brown, a Trinidadian journalist at the BBC, now Artistic Director of the Bocas Literary Festival. It was a Trinidadian collaboration—Marina produced it as a BBC ‘Book at Bedtime,’ Margaret Busby abridged it, and I read it over eight episodes. This and the Heinemann paperback helped the novel to be better known. But it had always been difficult for books outside the British mainstream culture to gain an audience. I think this may have affected how it was presented to a popular audience the first time. Even Salman Rushdie, who was just breaking in with Midnight’s Children at the time, when sent the book, asked why it had been overlooked. I think one of the problems British editors had with Caribbean publications is that they are understandably so embedded in a specific language, history, and culture, which a lot of editors don’t understand and thus are not confident to introduce to the British public. It was a challenge. But my hope is that this new edition will reach a wider audience. I always remember Alice Walker saying to a critic on British television who asked, “Don’t you think people are going to have difficulty with your work?” And she answered, you know, in that inimitable voice of hers, “I never had any trouble with Charlotte Bronte!”

NH That’s quite brilliant! Twenty-five years ago you were writing about gender-non-conforming, cross-dressing, queer characters. It seems that this new edition comes at a time when there is now a community of other Caribbean writers dealing with similar themes: Shani Mootoo, Marlon James, Thomas Glave…

LS I think so too.  I’ve read two of Marlon’s novels and I think he’s really opened up the possibilities for Caribbean fiction, and his winning of the Booker was a remarkable achievement that raises the profile of Caribbean literature for a broader audience. A number of Caribbean poets are also breaking through the glass ceiling, Kei Miller, Claudia Rankine, and Vahni Capildeo, for example. There is now a community of writers as you say who are exploring sexuality in ways that I did in Aelred’s Sin. But when Witchbroom was first published, nobody wanted to talk about Lavren’s hermaphroditism. Have you seen the new cover? This is how I would have wanted the book pitched the first time with Lavren’s hermaphroditic nature foregrounded. People wanted to talk about all the other themes but not the prism through which you were seeing these themes. I think the novel is even more relevant for the present time with all the global agitation for LGBTQ rights. It’s almost as if the age has really caught up with the book in some ways—I don’t want to say this too arrogantly. I think some people recognized that… Kwame Dawes and Curdella Forbes, for example, were pioneers in recognizing that Witchbroom had opened doors in talking about some of these untold stories, and a number of academics like you explored these aspects of the novel more explicitly. So I am very grateful for the very creative scholarly responses to it. It is always a great privilege to be read and understood. I think contemporary interest in sexuality and transgender issues, our view of the carnivalesque in our culture, have created a new audience for the book in which its other important themes, such as its take on history and race, can be viewed. That’s quite exciting!

NH What are some other exciting things you see happening in literature right now? Who’s on your bookshelf?

LS As I mentioned, I think Marlon James has opened up the novel form creatively, as I think Earl Lovelace has been and continues to do. I do at times avoid my contemporaries if I find the territory is too similar. I have been very taken with the wonderful storytelling of the American writer Kent Haruf, and some of new collections of stories coming out of Trinidad today—so many exciting writers, it’s hard to name just a few. But people like Barbara Jenkins, Elizabeth Walcott-Hacksaw, Keith Jardim, Sharon Millar, and Rhoda Bharath, among others, are doing really phenomenal work with the short story form and in narrating Trinidad. Elsewhere, I think Damon Galgut, the South African writer’s Arctic Summer is a marvel of redressing queer history. And most recently I have been reading German and French novels in translation, like Patrick Modiano, who explores the Jewish Holocaust and its historical repercussions. I think with my German background I am very attracted to researching that era. Connected to that is work of the late Walter Kempowski, All for Nothing, and his extraordinary archive Swansong 1945. There may be a new novel to come out of this interest.

NH Oh, lovely! I’ve always thought you are one of the Caribbean’s most prolific writers. What is your writing process like?

LS Prolific? I have been lucky to have a good framework in which to combine teaching and writing, which gives me time and means to write. But I have to set my writing room on fire! I have for some time thought of my writing room as a swan’s nest, that vast nest that swans create, picking at things from here and there, building layers in which to lay their eggs. It looks like a pyre. Recently I have thought of it as a bowerbird’s nest, magpie-like collections: with many influences from my reading, from talisman artwork, to my father’s desk that I write on, bringing it all the way from Trinidad and having to cut off its legs to fit into my room. I do research, but start writing quite quickly. I try to get an early draft as soon as I can. My usual time span for a book from beginning to publishing is four to five years. I don’t let anyone know what I am writing until I have a draft I am fairly confident with. Jenny, my wife, is now my first reader. Then maybe my agent and one or two other trusted readers. But it is in the bowerbird’s nest, a book-lined, small room where I wait and brood and my stories incubate. I heat it up with the reading of poetry, in order to invite my muses to come in. It is struggle that combines frustration with delight.

NH What can we expect from you next?

LS I want to return to the short story. My first two collections have been mined from a particular seam, now exhausted; my writing for the radio has mostly influenced their form. I want to write longer stories and possibly interlinking short stories, a bit like what the Sri Lankan writer, Romesh Gunesekera’s does in his delightful new book, Noontide Toll. It is in my stories that I tend to write more about the contemporary in an immediate way. In my novels I have kept to quasi-historical novels because I don’t feel I am located immediately in Trinidad to write about the contemporary, and I’ve never felt utterly confident about writing about England. I don’t feel in touch with England in my gut. I’ve been here a long time—longer than I’ve lived in Trinidad—so I should be connected that way; I am, though, when I write poetry. That’s another form I want to write more of and possibly work towards a collection. But right now I’m working on a new novel. It’s still too soon to talk about it, but I’m very excited about it at the moment!

Interview by Njelle W. Hamilton.

Njelle W. Hamilton is Assistant Professor of Caribbean and African Literatures at the University of Virginia. Her research, teaching, and fiction interrogate the cross-pollination of oral and print cultures in contemporary Caribbean literature. She is currently completing her first monograph, Phonographic Memories, which attends to the ways that Caribbean popular music forms like the calypso, reggae, bolero, and gwoka allow traumatized characters to record, retrieve, and replay personal and cultural memories, and to restructure fractured identities.

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