Campus News

Caribbean Authors Offer a Challenge to Their Readers

Story posted March 09, 2000

The current boom in Caribbean writing, particularly among women authors, provides a new form of narrative that may require readers to "retune" their thinking.

Patricia Saunders, assistant professor of English, used "Louisiana," by the Jamaican author Erna Brodber, to illustrate this point at a recent faculty seminar.

Brodber is part of a second generation of Caribbean woman writers who migrated to England and the United States between 1970 and 1990.

The protagonist in "Louisiana," Ella Townsend, is a graduate student of anthropology who is sent to Louisiana by the WPA to collect an oral history from an old Jamaican woman named Mammy King. Two weeks into the project, which is not going well to begin with, Mammy dies.

That leaves Townsend contemplating her options: Does she return a failure, or does she try to glean some useful history from the curt responses and silences she has tape recorded from Mammy.

Every time Townsend turns on her tape recorder, she finds more than was there before, more from Mammy as well as voices from other dead members of the community who believe they have finally found someone who will "translate" them.

The author asks the reader to consider, "In science, how do you make space for dead people talking?" Townsend decides that these voices must have a say in her "scientific" research.

Saunders said this is one of the dilemmas of the new millennium: How do you read the dead in Bosnia, in Rwanda, in the United States?

Brodber presents a bizarre form of narrative, like Toni Morrisonís "Beloved," which has no direct master from which to draw its form, according to Saunders.

"Itís not about giving voice to womenís experiences," Saunders said. "I argue that theyíve always had a voice. Itís just not in a frequency our ears are in tune to."

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