In selecting Caribbean writers who have impacted significantly on the literary landscape, Earl Lovelace was a unanimous choice.
The celebrated novelist, playwright and short story writer and six other authors were recognized with Caribbean-Canadian Literary Awards last week at the University of Toronto. The university’s Caribbean Studies Program and A Different Booklist collaborated to host the event.
Itah Sadu, who along with her husband, Miguel San Vicente, co-owns A Different Booklist, said Lovelace is firmly ensconced in the pantheon of Caribbean writers.
“Earl is interesting in that unlike most writers, he never left Trinidad & Tobago to write from another space,” said Sadu. “He felt he could write from home and still have that global impact on literature which he has. As a result, his work is deeply rooted in his society and is penned from the perspective of one whose ties to his homeland are firm. It’s not surprising therefore that many of his characters are largely working class people who he gives voice to.”
The holder of a Master of Arts in English from John Hopkins University, 77-year-old Lovelace has authored six novels, including Is Just a Movie, which was released in January 2011. His first novel, While Gods Are Falling Apart, was published 47 years ago.
He’s the recipient of myriad awards and honours, including an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Trinidad & Tobago Chaconia Gold Medal and the Professor emeritus Frank Birbalsingh, who taught post-colonial Literature at York University for three decades, made the presentation to Lovelace.
“I see Earl’s work as trying to define who we are,” said Birbalsingh. “The West Indies is such a place of mixture and complexity.”
The other award winners were Nalo Hopkinson, Dr. Carl James, Olive Senior, Dwayne Morgan, Jody Nyasha Warner and Ramabi Espinet.
Born in Jamaica, Hopkinson also lived in Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana before migrating to Canada three decades ago. The two-time winner of the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is currently working on a contemporary fantasy novel and an alternate history novel set in an imagined Caribbean. The science fiction and fantasy writer is an assistant professor at the University of California Riverside’s department of creative writing.
James, a professor in York University’s education & sociology faculty, has written and made contributions to several publications, including Seeing Ourselves: Exploring Race, Ethnicity and Identity; Race in Play: The Socio-Cultural Worlds of Student Athletes; Race and Well-Being: The Lives, Hopes and Activism of African-Canadians; Life at the Intersection: Community, Culture and Class and Jamaica in the Canadian Experience: A Multiculturalizing Presence.
Senior’s 13th book and first novel – Dancing Lessons – was launched last December. The former Jamaica Gleaner reporter won scholarships to study journalism in Cardiff, Wales and at Ottawa’s Carleton University. She started writing fiction and poetry in university and returned to Jamaica to work as a journalist before joining the UWI’s Institute of Social & Economic Research, where she edited the Social and Economics Studies journal.
She also worked at the Institute of Jamaica and oversaw the publication of several books on Jamaica’s history and culture before moving to Europe after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. She settled in Canada in the early 1990s and now divides her time between the Greater Toronto Area and Jamaica.
“The best awards are those that come from your own community,” said Senior in accepting the award.
Morgan is an author and spoken word artist; Warner authored Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged, which is used by Toronto District School Board Grade Seven students and was a finalist for the 2011 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s non-fiction; and Espinet’s first novel, The Swinging Bridge, was shortlisted for the Regional Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Sadu said the winners were selected based on their consistency over the years.
“They also brought a ‘newness’ to the mix,” said Sadu. “Nalo incorporates ‘Caribbeanism’ with science fiction, Carl writes about that Canadian experience with Africentric pedagogy and in terms of Olive it was the breadth of her work going from non-fiction with The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage and then challenging herself as a poet and short story writer.
“When you look at Dwayne, he not only self-published but was able to get his books translated into French by a publisher; Althea and Ramabai stand out as scholars and writers and Jody was cutting edge in introducing Canadian History in a picture book for children.”
Dr. Melanie Newton, the director of the Caribbean Studies Program, congratulated the winners.
“The Caribbean Studies Program is based on the principle that intellectual activity is most vital and relevant when it’s rooted in a connection with the wider community,” said Newton, whose research specialization is the social history of slave emancipation in the Caribbean and the Atlantic world.