As an aspiring writer residing in a place that is not my native land, I was pleased to recently come across the catchphrase Carib Being. It means, simply, a person who lives in the Caribbean. Aha! That would be me—the lucky lady who has inhabited the island of Dominica for the past twenty-five years and gets to write about it! And yet, three novels, three novellas, a novel and a collection of short stories for Young Adults, and plenty of snippets of poetry and pieces of short fiction later, there are still those who consider my work as outside the Caribbean loop.
It’s true: I am not an Amerindian, nor am I a recent descendant of European slave masters, or of African or East Indian heritage. I am an American—a baby boomer who grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s in the US. TV, Western movies, and miniature golf were my cultural icons. But just because I’m sometimes tempted to compare my upbringing to the ethos my adopted homeland, does that mean I’m incapable of expressing the hopes and fears of fellow human beings who exist beyond the end of my long, pink nose? Of course not. To me, the multiplicity of the modern Caribbean is much more fascinating than homogeneous 21st century America, and it’s the contrast between the two worlds that makes writing from down here so challenging.
Although gender and class are still qualifying factors in Caribbean society, there is no such thing as BME (Black Minority Ethnic). As far as I know, People of Color have always been in the majority. But what about those of us who find ourselves classed as WME? Are we to be left standing out in the rain as the Carnival parade passes us by? The legacy of slavery and indenture has understandably caused folks to be wary of strangers, to jealously guard their cultural truths from outside exploitation. Although I admire their sense of independence, it takes a good deal of patience for persons of my complexion to truly get to know West Indians. Unless, like expat authors of yore, I want to transcribe gibberish about the agony of my being so light and bright among others who are so dim and dark, I must constantly dig deeper in order to express something relevant from a local point of view.
At the beginning of my tropical adventure, I operated a seaside café on the edge of a magnificent marine reserve. The experience came complete with delicious local food, intoxicating rum punch, and playful dolphins and glorious sunsets in the bay right in front of the restaurant. But I also survived the assault of two hurricanes, an insanely macho West Indian husband, and a massive house fire in the meantime. Those were bittersweet times filled with colorful village characters and seaside wonders. Back then, paradise was a puzzle that I tried to solve by writing heartfelt poetry and nostalgic memoir about living in such a paradoxical place.
Now I dwell in the mountains on the edge of the rainforest where I have found the peace of mind to settle down to writing fiction full time. Here, in a hand-built house powered by solar energy and surrounded by the things I love—books, dogs, trees, flowers, artwork, rainbows and waterfalls—things are much clearer. Beyond the natural wonders of the landscape and the challenges of protecting the fragile environment, I have my down-to-earth neighbors to inspire me. Just like the larger than life characters that populated the village by the sea, these heroes and heroines are unique, complex, feisty and wise. They believe in God and folk medicine. They worship in the conventional church and practice a Creole version of voodoo called obeah on the side. Their cosmology is populated by mystical characters that delight in terrorizing both children and adults. One thing for sure, I’ll never run out of story lines while living in the bush.
Still, searching for a niche from outside the literary mainstream is often a lonely and soul-wrenching endeavor. Maybe I have yet to find the right formula, but the logistics of putting together telecommunications, transportation, and a team of support from such a remote location elude me. Just when I think I’ve cracked the code, everything changes. With food falling off the trees and crystal clear water flowing 24/7, it would be easy to become a recluse, to sit back and let the world go by unmolested. But I am a Carib Being and a writer; therefore I must express myself courageously from my home away from home in order to take my message to the world.