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PANORAMA MAKE IT NEW


If Trinidad’s literary landscape seems particularly fertile of late, it’s thanks to a bountiful crop of new fiction writers and poets telling unexpected stories and trying out unfamiliar voices. Photographer Mark Lyndersay captures portraits of eight emerging talents, while Nicholas Laughlin reflects on the cultural climate that may explain this profusion


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ew writers don’t just sprout up overnight. Hence the adjective “emerging,” now in common use: it implies process and progress, and a gradual germination of subject, style, and voice. Each writer moves at her own pace. Some start early, others late, some finish a first novel barely out


of school, others spend years perfecting their craft — there’s no standard “emergence” timetable. So if and when an observer thinks he discerns a sudden surge


of literary talent in a particular time and place, it may simply be a quirk of perspective. But it may also point to a real shift in circumstances, a coincidence of happy factors, a change in the cultural temperature that brings many budding talents into bloom all at once. Something of the sort seemed to happen in Trinidad in


the mid 1990s, a fertile moment across the artistic landscape. A generation’s worth of talented younger writers — such as Jennifer Rahim, Raymond Ramcharitar, Kevin Baldeosingh, Anu Lakhan, Lisa Allen-Agostini, Keith Jardim, B.C. Pires — began to make their voices heard in local journals and newspapers, readings and performances. Most of this cohort have gone on to publish books, many to win prizes, and also to influence a subsequent generation of literary talent. And for the past three or four years, for whatever reason,


stimulated by whatever catalyst in the real or figurative air, Trinidad’s literary landscape seems to be enjoying another season of efflorescence. It’s partly thanks to the hard work of institutions like the Cropper Foundation’s biennial writing workshop and the creative writing MFA programme at the University of the West Indies, which have helped find and foster new talent. And the NGC Bocas Lit Fest — Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, launched in 2011 — has a strong focus on emerging writers, including a carefully curated New Talent


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Showcase, in which promising authors yet to publish a debut book give solo readings. The festival also administers the annual Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, an award supporting an emerging writer in completing a book-length work. These and other initiatives have surely helped create a


nourishing environment for new writing, but the real bounty is the writers themselves. They come from a range of backgrounds. Some have been writing since childhood or adolescence, others first followed other career paths. A majority are women, reflecting a real shift in Caribbean literature’s gender balance. They tell stories no one has heard before, or tackle familiar topics in unexpected ways. Their distinctive voices weave new patterns into our literary tapestry. The eight writers whose portraits appear in the following


pages are among the most exciting recent talents remaking Trinidad’s literature, but they aren’t the only ones. The rich and observant fictions of Alake Pilgrim, Sharon Millar, Vashti Bowlah, Rhoda Bharath, and Barbara Jenkins, and the provocative poetic voices of Andre Bagoo, Danielle Boodoo- Fortuné, and Shivanee Ramlochan, are part of a lively literary conversation that also includes Kevin Hosein’s jaunty moral fables in his Littletown Secrets, Hugh Blanc’s bracing literary thriller Between Bodies Lie, Attillah Springer’s lyrical essays on culture and memory, a resurgent performance poetry scene, and more. They join the established contemporary voices of writers like Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw and James Christopher Aboud here at home, and a stellar array of others — Monique Roffey, Vahni Capildeo, Anthony Joseph, Amanda Smyth, Roger Robinson — in T&T’s literary diaspora. Whatever the reason for this generous crop of talent, the effect


on ordinary readers has been invigorating. If Trinidad seems like the literary capital of the Anglophone Caribbean these days, the writers in the following pages are part of the reason.


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