There can be no doubt there is such a thing as a national literature. And there is certainly a national literature of Trinidad and Tobago.
Though we may doubt whether some aspects of the idea of the nation state truly hold anymore in this increasingly globalised world, we may not doubt that we, as a specific nation of people – tied by history, blood, culture, landscape, memory and art – do exist. To suggest there is no such thing as a national Trinidad and Tobago literature is to suggest an erasure of Trinidad and Tobago. It is to achieve, at one fell swoop, what years of colonial dominance might have aimed to achieve: to instill a sense of self-denial.
The question of whether there is such a thing as a national literature came up at the Bocas Lit Fest held at the end of April. The issue was the subject of a panel discussion with Jamaican novelist Marlon James, Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo, Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh and English poet Hannah Lowe. From reports of this event, it is clear the panelists were wary of the idea of a national literature, even if some did not explicitly reject it. They warned that a “national literature” could be reductive and could exclude marginal voices.
James was quoted by Bocas blogger Shivanne Ramlochan as saying, “The danger in the term ‘national literature’ is the same danger in terms like ‘black music’ or ‘women’s fiction.’ It is a danger that this is a categorisation and any attempt at categorisation is reductive….At the core of categorisation is an attempt not only to make something smaller, but also easily definable.”…