By AMBER ALEXANDER
Three Caribbean women writers discussed the influence of their culture on their writing and the complexity of their Caribbean identities at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Flatbush Branch for the latest Women Writers Literary Roundtable Series last Thursday.
“Are we a diaspora or are we our own thing and how does this idea of Caribbean-ness inform your writing?” asked the moderator, Jamaica-born poet and author Keisha-Gaye Anderson. “How does it factor into your art?”
Haitian American author Ibi Zoboi, who grew up in Bushwick in the 1980s, said that for her, “it’s more of a Haitian-ness more so than a Caribbean-ness.” Haiti is Caribbean, she said, “but there’s an added layer of language. In writing about being Haitian American, I have to play around with language.” Zoboi’s short story, “Old Flesh Song,” is featured in the award-winning anthology “Dark Matter: Reading the Bones,”; a collection of science fiction and fantasy works by black writers.
“That’s the only voice I can write,” said writer and theater producer Nandi Keyi, born in London to Trinidadian parents. Keyi is the author of critically acclaimed novel “The True Nanny Diaries,” which focuses on an immigrant nanny’s life in New York City, as well as the producer of “Flambeaux: A Caribbean Musical,” a play set in 19th century Trinidad.
“That Caribbean voice is such a beautiful, musical, sort of voice,” Keyi said.
Victoria Brown, a writer from Trinidad, added, “The Caribbean-ness remains at core and … it is fundamental to my outlook, to my way of being in the world and of understanding how … as Caribbean people, we fit into this relationship that we have with America being from another space.” Brown is the author of multiple books including “Minding Ben,” a novel based on her experiences as a nanny in Manhattan. She came to America during the 1990s, resided in Flatbush and now lives in Park Slope.
Zoboi, Keyi and Brown took turns reading passages from their latest works and discussing them with a group of about 15 people.
Questions focused on identity politics, the importance of expressing Caribbean culture through creative outlets, and what it means to be a minority within a minority in America.
“We need to tell our stories, because we need to take command of our narratives,” said a woman from Puerto Rico in the audience, “It’s contingent on us to explore and to insist on the complexity of our identities, of our lives, of our contributions because we do come from an area that is multilingual and one of the things that I see in all of us is the notion of transition.”
Brown said being a woman, Caribbean and a writer in the United States meant having “not just a double consciousness but a triple consciousness.” Caribbean immigrants in the United States are fortunate because they enjoy many of the privileges that African Americans had to fight for. That privilege “is one to be embraced but also examined,” she said.