The seed for Dr. Cecil Foster’s first novel in almost 12 years was planted while vacationing in his native Barbados a few years ago.
“Leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, everyone was talking about how well the Caribbean was going to do which they did,” recalled Foster prior to a book reading last Saturday at Spur, Canada’s first national festival of politics, art and ideas at the Gardiner Museum. “Driving around Barbados, I sensed there was a spirit that I didn’t even know existed when I left. To me, that was the fulfilment of what it means for a people to be independent.”
Foster’s new book, Independence, is the deeply moving story of the coming of age of a country and a boy at the time of Barbados’ independence from Britain in 1966. Neighbours and best friends since they were born just a few months apart, teenagers Christopher Lucas and Stephanie King were raised by their impoverished grandmothers after their parents went to Canada and the United States to find work.
An acclaimed novelist, essayist and scholar, Foster said the book is a continuation of his first novel, No Man in the House, when he looked at the island as it approached independence.
“Independence is a continuation of the dreaming and the aspiration we talked about in the first novel,” he said. “It was also a moment of discontinuity where, for the first time, the characters couldn’t appeal to outsiders but in fact had to take full responsibility for them. In that sense, independence for me is a sense of personal responsibility in addition to political achievement.”
After working in the media in the Caribbean, Foster migrated to Canada in 1979 and wrote for several media outlets, including The Globe & Mail and Contrast before serving as an Ontario Ministry of Culture special adviser in the mid-1990s.
He also authored Where Races Does Not Matter that explores the potential of multiculturalism in Canada and expands on some of his earlier work that delves into issues of race in his own life as well as in Canada’s history.
Foster completed his doctorate, which is an exploration of Blackness in Canada, in 2002 and served as a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph before joining the State University of New York at Buffalo transnational studies department last year as director of graduate studies and associate director of Canadian studies.
He plans to produce more works of fiction.
“I hope this is the beginning of a new run,” Foster added. “I was doing some academic stuff and I hope now I have nailed down that aspect of my career that I can spend the latter part of my life writing fiction.”
Independence was released by Harper Collins last January.
Overall, Foster has published five works of non-fiction and four novels.