Adapted from my essay CODEX LEGACY: The Caribbean Children’s Book
We are Caribbean writers, not through shared geography alone. Whatever we write, social realism or fantastic fiction, is drawn from a communal consciousness inherently invested with a unique point of view. And we need Caribbean readers who are equally immersed in the same possibilities, to validate us.
In Macmillan-Caribbean’s “tween” novella series, ISLAND FICTION, six different authors crafted works of speculative fiction uniquely varied by their individual styles and theme preferences. Yet each title crafts an imaginative New World borne of and deeply rooted in a shared Caribbean experience.
Finding a fair balance between communication and cultural sovereignty is vital for the development of all genres relating to Caribbean children and young adults.
As the series editor of ISLAND FICTION, and author of my own children’s stories, I am interested in the art of conceptualizing universal themes. I work to present plot and action against a backdrop of our specific “back yards”. I consciously assert my right to accept our diverse cultural context as the “norm”. I take my environment for character, use social realism as a visual storytelling device, but strive away from the fetish of folklore and ‘curio’ pieces.
So called "Caribbean Writers", who defend their right to an international audience by way of reaching for ideas that are in no way West Indian, have convinced themselves that this is a kind of freedom. I tend to hear this voice as someone denying herself far more even than our unique palette of texture and color. We each have access to proprietary ingredients because, not in spite of, our unique time and place of birth and upbringing. These flavors are specifically the key to enriching our craft and eventually results with originality. Further, our Caribbean muse has a life of her own, and may, like a butterfly, bless only the sincere devotee with her fleeting presence.
Whether we are crafting picture books, chapter books or novels, we ought not to be so willing to dissociate from our roots. It is not in being general, but in being more and more, highly specific, that we stand a chance of expressing universality.
The codex of children's and YA literature on the planet should be explored sufficiently for Caribbean authors re-cognize (sic) at least two important insights:
1. That we are each and all having many similar "good" ideas to any number of published books already on bookstore and library shelves.
This reveals that our ideas are "good enough". It also illustrates that originality depends on getting it down and out 'first'. Further, we realize that we are never going to be as unique as the ego believes itself to be, and this humility is the fertilizer for the kind of growth that adjusts us in a most helpful way. We begin to engage in the work of writing and all that that entails.
2. That there is a gap, something missing, and only I can fill it.
We draw closer to the possibility of actually crafting something that only "I" can, and we begin to identify and develop trust in our individual vision.
When these insights are not just known intellectually but real-ised (sic)in an organic way, we become interested in the local audience in an authentic way. Our immediate audience is immersed in the same pure potential that connects us to more than our geographic time and place. Even when finding ourselves traveling "Away", we may discover that our very cells are invested with this shared consciousness....and,
IT IS GOOD.
This is the model of a Walcott and a Naipaul and each of us has access to this technology of the Self. An author with a passion for children's book/ YA speculative fiction will not be endeavoring in the field of literary fiction or poetry, but finding and trusting one's own voice is work of the same ilk, no matter the genre.
It is then I think, that any of us stands a chance of actual-ising (sic) / manifesting the popularly sought after 'cross over' results.