Looking for a good book to ease your mind during this summer of environmental, medical, and social unrest? You’re not the only one.
After Hurricane Maria devastated the infrastructure of Dominica in 2017, including the breezy, century-old building that was one of the last standing free libraries built by the Carnegie Foundation across the Caribbean, reading material has been scarce. Quick solution? Under the heading of charitable donations, publishing conglomerates in First World nations teamed up with NGOs to unload thousands of unwanted, unsold, and used books on the disadvantaged. Although seemingly well intentioned, this partnering was more about clearing out overstocked warehouses and reaping corporate tax benefits for publishers than quality, thus ignoring the literary health of prospective readers.
What overseas donors fail to realize is that the handout approach does more harm than good in Small Island Developing States like Dominica. When libraries, schools, and bookstores agree to become a kind of dumping ground for culturally irrelevant Eurocentric and Anglophile literature, local readers, especially children, suffer. So what if the books are free? They have little to do with building a positive sense of self-identity or preserving local language and folklore, plus cataloguing them takes valuable time. The result? Shelves and shelves of duplicate books that serve little intellectual or moral purpose according to grounded reality.
Élas. Even if accessible, the vast majority of children’s literature in the Caribbean is geared toward an alien mindset that minimalizes and devalues the home-grown worldview. Not reading about themselves and their culture only perpetuates the notion of inferiority in Third World readers. If the opportunity for Caribbean children and young adults to nurture awareness of their own community and history is glaringly absent in books, how will they know who they are and where they came from? When young people grow up without appreciation for their special place in the world, low self-esteem and further colonization of innocent minds take root.
Hello. Books matter.
The time is ripe for the Caribbean region to say no thanks to literature based on foreign privilege and restock bookshelves with nation-building material that celebrates innate uniqueness. The most important books to put in local libraries, schools, and bookstores are those featuring local characters written by local authors and published by local publishers. Once that is accomplished, all the rest can follow.
Almost three years have passed since Hurricane Maria. The Roseau Public Library, although now closed because of COVID-19, has been located in a cramped, windowless second-floor space of a concrete office building in the interim. The historic Free Library, with its graceful Victorian architecture, wrap-around veranda, and cooling sea breeze, still stands in ruins, roofless and forgotten. Unless we want Caribbean culture to disappear in an avalanche of computer-generated snow blown in from foreign lands, the time has come for governments, parents, teachers, and booksellers to find a way to get conscious literature back into the hands and hearts of local readers, young and old.
Click the link below to view River Ridge Press’ Recommended Reading (PDF)