Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » Trinidad http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 Trinidad and Tobago Newsday reports on EWWC Trinidad ‘A National Literature’ with Marlon James http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/trinidad-and-tobago-newsday-reports-on-ewwc-trinidad-a-national-literature-event/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/trinidad-and-tobago-newsday-reports-on-ewwc-trinidad-a-national-literature-event/#comments Mon, 13 May 2013 13:39:05 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4648 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.”…

Read more of this article in Newsday

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Blogger Shivanee Ramlochan reports on the “troublesome notion of A National Literature” from EWWC Trinidad http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/blogger-shivanee-ramlochan-reports-on-the-troublesome-notion-of-a-national-literature-at-ngc-bocas-2013/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/blogger-shivanee-ramlochan-reports-on-the-troublesome-notion-of-a-national-literature-at-ngc-bocas-2013/#comments Tue, 07 May 2013 11:51:34 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4530 marlon-james“Fifty years ago, a dynamic series of talks on literature emerged in Edinburgh. A gathering of writers from around the world brought pressing questions surrounding literature’s purpose to the fore, prioritizing these lively, oft-raucous debates and driving conversations that had resonances not just in Scottish letters, but in global discussion. The 2012-2013 Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference made its official stop at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest to continue the conversation, and found the stage primed for two explosive and engaging panels. The first of these took place on April 27th, and focused on the troublesome notion of A National Literature?. The panel was chaired by Marina Warner, and featured a keynote address from Marlon James, with Irvine Welsh, Hannah Lowe and Vahni Capildeo filling out the writers’ table….”

For more of this blog see the NGC Bocas Festival coverage

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James in Trinidad – Keynote on A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/james-in-trinidad-keynote-on-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/james-in-trinidad-keynote-on-a-national-literature/#comments Thu, 02 May 2013 00:43:24 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4466 marlon-jamesA National Literature

Keynote address given by Marlon James

First presented at The NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad

Marlon James keynote text: “A National Literature”

A soon as I heard what was going to be the topic of this discussion, I thought of two things immediately. Chimamanda Adichie’s groundbreaking TED talk on the danger of the singular story and an incident I experienced recently where after being asked to interview the Jamaican poet Mutabaruka, I was, without my knowledge then demoted to asking prepared questions from the audience. All because a Jamaican organization found me unsuitable, a too volatile voice to represent Jamaica in an international forum, which was sort of like me telling Bunny Wailer that you can’t hang with Peter Tosh because you’ve been known to smoke weed.

But what both instances reminded me of was the immediate pitfall, the danger in the term ‘national literature’, the same danger in terms like ‘black music’ or ‘women’s fiction.’ That this is a categorization and any attempt at categorization is reductive, like the library of congress reducing your novel to three words. Take away literature and substitute any other art and this is quickly apparent: a national music, a national painting, a national dance step, especially in this post-everything age where national boundaries are not only irrelevant but sometimes anti-art. Because at the core of categorization is an attempt not only to make something smaller, but also easily definable. Great art resists paraphrase, but isn’t ‘National Lit’ an act of paraphrasing?

And we’re already seeing this happening, a move certainly in my country Jamaica to decide what is acceptable and unacceptable national literature. At the core, this acceptance versus rejection is a moralizing; sprung from both religiosity and jingo-ism, an attempt to enforce the singular story. Sometimes with the delusion of diversity. So sure, let’s have a gay story as long as it fits an acceptable arc of sadness, but what if it involves actual gay sex and what if the two or more involved quite like it? Moralizing disguised as nationalizing rears it ugly head when we talk about violence. There’s an acceptable limit, which can be crossed if there’s an acceptable comeuppance. But what if you’re Irish playwright Martin McDonagh and you’re a master of violence, that your poetry is gore, guts and buckets of blood? And what if you’re totally amoral about the whole thing? What if you’re Jamaica’s Jean Genet, or even closer: an actual Jamaican who navigates queer space to international acclaim yet all but unknown in her home country, Patricia Duncker? Is Thomas Glave National Lit? Or what if you’re none of these things, but someone who simply wants to write about the middle class? You end up in that situation where your national lit isn’t national enough.

And what are teachers supposed to do with a national literature? Teach art or nationalism? I was part of a generation where this was first enforced, not just nationalism but regionalism, clearly with good intentions, after all if you spend your early years with Enid Blyton you’re going to need all the cultural correctives you can get. But the result was not a national literature or the appreciation of it. It was a steady diet of simplistic poems, leaden dramas, and failed novels that caused, certainly in my generation, an unhealthy association of local literature with mediocrity, nostalgia and sentimentality. That these were works to consumed because it was your national duty, not because they had any inherent value. And another things happens, where in the midst of your own literature you disappear. Because there was no one in these books like you. You unfortunately came from neither bush nor ghetto so your voice is illegitimate. It certainly explains why in the discussion of Jamaican literature for example, John Hearne and Louis Simpson rarely appear. What if you just don’t look like a national writer? I remember when I was a student I was told that nobody in Jamaica writes about the upper middle class but John Hearne and nobody reads him. And lord knows the man should not be lionized, but he should not be ignored either. How do I get to be national enough? Who gets to define it? And will they be inclusive or restrictive, because that makes all the difference.

A good parallel example for this is hip-hop. Between 1981 and 1991, rap music had its most creative years, certainly it most expansive, driven by this unbelievable sense of possibility. A form that came out of nothing could now encompass everything. But growth makes us nervous. By 1993, there was a growing mood that hip-hop was too expansive, too inclusive and out of that came a new idea: What is  not hip-hop. The music started to define identity by drawing lines. You want to grow up? Sorry, not hip-hop. You’re neither bitch nor ho? Not hip-hop. Can’t keep it real and represent? Not hip-hop. Now an art-form had a gatekeeper, and not only that, it made gate-keeping the legitimate means for defining the culture. What’s the price we pay for this, of music, of literature becoming so easily defined because it is being protected? It becomes easily produced. Easily parodied. So take one small rural village, two grannies, a church sister named Dorcas, two wayward children named Lerlene and one Mas Joe, (because there must always be a Mas Joe) throw in some rivers, a mountain and a brush with obeah and poof, you have a Jamaican novel. No movement has ever survived categorization, not 70s’ style feminism that couldn’t figure out what to do with non-American women, or the Black Arts movement that couldn’t figure out what to do with James Baldwin. A national literature, if this is the way it goes forward, as it sometimes threatens to be, won’t get very far either.

This is a problem that will stunt art. Every few years for example we have a rash of ‘Britain for the British’ fever, which is just a cutely racist way of saying British lit does not look like British lit unless it’s white. You get a case of too many paintings and not enough mirrors. Even rebellion gets couched in a nationally approved way — always moralistic, never complicated. Sexuality if it happens is offstage. Poverty is always confused with simplicity and the past is always suffused with nostalgia. A national literature whose first duty is to promote tourism, not art.

Now, a national literature, if it’s supposed to happen, has to be so broad that it risks vagueness. Like Japanese literature it has to be constantly wrestled with and debated even at the risk of extinguishing the very idea of it. Like Indian literature it has to both accept and throw away the concept of Indian-ness and whether that has any bearing on literature at all. It has to include the next Beloved, but also the next Story of O. Criticism of it has to evolve as well beyond the petty sensibilities of critics and beyond the argument of whether a book should or should not have been published or whether or not it hurts the Brand. Japanese literature had to evolve from a very simplistic and jingo-ist idea of nationalism to something that celebrates both Murakamis: the one who writes dream-like fantasies and the one who writes sadomasochistic violence. Swedish literature is at once immediately recognizable and unclassifiable. It recognizes how essential it is, the contrary voice, the ambivalent voice, the deeply critical. Everybody of course knows of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but some are unaware that it’s Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women and it’s a scathing critique of Scandinavian society’s almost institutionalized brutality against women. And yet the book is held up as something to celebrate in a way that a book called ‘Men Who Kill Battymen’ would never be in Jamaica. At least not yet.

Maybe we need to rethink the term, and it’s not just the literature that needs to evolve, but also the national. National literature should never be anything that follows the word  ‘should’. There is no such word as ‘should’ in art. It can be cultural despite having no flag waving purpose. Where speaking truth to power is a greater service than describing beautiful beaches and wonderful people, it resists a literary blackface. National Literature is worth fighting for, but also worth fighting over. That it should never confused with a national story; that’s an advertising agency’s job. A national literature wrestles with form but also leaves it alone. A national literature reckons with how people actually speak. It recognizes the fluidity and musicality of form and extends it. For a national literature to exist it must always be uneasy with the term ‘national literature’, distrusting it every step of the way.

Or a National Literature is none of the above, but rather a blank space and safe space, a sponsored space but also a free space where nothing is beyond imagining but anything can happen.

Copyright: Marlon James, 2013

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Why investigate the question of a national literature? Hannah Lowe blogs from EWWC Trinidad http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/why-investigate-the-question-of-a-national-literature-hannah-lowe-blogs-from-ewwc-trinidad/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/why-investigate-the-question-of-a-national-literature-hannah-lowe-blogs-from-ewwc-trinidad/#comments Mon, 29 Apr 2013 18:10:46 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4483 Credit: Maria Nunes

Credit: Maria Nunes

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad Saturday 27 April 11am

A National Literature? Keynote by: Marlon James. Panelists : Irvine WelshHannah Lowe and Vahni Capildeo,  moderated by Marina Warner.

The debate on national literature at the Bocas Lit Fest was opened by Marlon James’ keynote address in which he spoke against the idea of “a single story” and the homogenising tendencies that might be implicit in attempts to define a national literature. James’ speech was predominantly concerned with Caribbean literature, exploring the dangers of prescription, and in particular whose voices might be excluded. In the case of Jamaica, he cited the popular and institutional homophobia that might alienate queer texts from the national agenda as one example of the exclusionary practices of nation building through literature. James was not entirely opposed to the idea of a national literature, but insisted that for it to exist it must itself be uneasy with the term ‘national literature’ and distrust it.

The other speakers, including myself, had different but overlapping perspectives, all of us concerned with the ways in which the defining of national literature in the Caribbean and elsewhere  (in my case England) might exclude. We discussed how particular voices have been submerged in national literatures – those of women, the working classes and minority groups. We also emphasised the plurality created by diaspora. In the 21st Century, the nation does not necessarily concur with geographic nation space. The Jamaica of my mind, for instance, was formed in Ilford, Essex and Brixton, London.

Marina Warner chaired the event brilliantly after the opening introductions, asking whether the Caribbean nation might in some way be defined not be geographical space, but by a shared language, within the Caribbean and across its diaspora. There was some agreement, but again the emphasis fell on plurality with audience members reminding us that there is no one Caribbean creole, only creoles. Oonya Kempadoo, argued that creole languages have still not been embraced as national and are still referred to as dialects, a fact that doesn’t allow for the status of creoles to rise.

Irvine Welsh pointed out that culture is always contested, by governments, community groups and writers themselves and indeed, I imagined that this debate over a national literature at Bocas would be a contentious one.  In fact, there seemed to be lots of agreement in the audience, which was by and large composed of writers and critics. Our panel’s apparent dismissal of national literature was challenged by Pankaj Mishra who reminded the room that national literature has once been a kind of “aspiration” and asked whether anything might be harnessed or retrieved from the national. Similarly Richard Drayton urged us to remember how important Caribbean nationalism had been in the formation of a Caribbean literary canon. Yet, still, I didn’t hear any voices raised in strident demand of national literature – if they were there, they didn’t speak up.

Another audience member spoke about the rehabilitative work of writers such as Chinua Achebe and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in reconstructing events in colonial history from the African viewpoint, asking whether writers should feel a responsibility to record or retrieve history? This led into interesting responses about whether writers should feel any responsibility about their writing and its relationship to the nation, Irvine Welsh arguing “you write what you write”. He felt that there’s a danger in making writers too self-conscious about their work, something I agree with strongly. I know about literary critical and theoretical ideas, but these don’t guide my hand in writing. Afterwards, in reading, I might recognise them, but this, I would argue, is the remit of the critical reader. Likewise, relating to the broader debate, ideas about national literature and the nation might well be imposed on texts, not by writers, but by readers and critics. Surely a writer shouldn’t be expected to write nationally, or to necessarily be an expert on the nation.

Other questions arose about the nation vs the region, something I feel strongly about. Chick, my poetry collection, which reconstructs my Jamaican father’s life in England, couldn’t have come from anywhere but England, but its London and Essex that are the lynch pins. I’m interested in how other nations might be found in those regions – the Indian and Pakistani nations in Essex or the Caribbean nation in Brixton for example. If there are to be national themes, the transnational has to be one of them and the idea of a homogenous, fixed national culture must be turned on its head.

The view of readers matters as much as the view of writers, and it might have been good to have heard more from that perspective – to have had a reader or critic on the panel. The idea of a national literature was by and large dismissed from the perspective of the panel and our own agency emphasised when we defended our freedom not to assert national literature. I believe that the inclusive approach that I would demand from a national literature, at least in England (a place I feel I can speak about) would push the defining brackets so far wide it would be pointless to have them. And here I return to a question raised in the debate – why do the various forces (state sponsored, educational, market-driven or individual) continue to want to investigate the question of a national literature?

Hannah Lowe

Check out a photo gallery of the event here.

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OLIVE SENIOR – Should Literature Be Political? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/olive-senior-should-literature-be-political/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/olive-senior-should-literature-be-political/#comments Sun, 28 Apr 2013 18:18:07 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4171 The NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad
Sunday 28 April 11:00am AST Should Literature Be Political? Keynote by: Olive Senior. Panelists include Pankaj Mishra, Earl Lovelace and Courttia Newland. This event is moderated by Ifeona Fulani. ]]> Olive-SeniorThe NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad

Sunday 28 April 11am AST

Should Literature Be Political?

Keynote by: Olive Senior. Panelists include Pankaj Mishra, Earl Lovelace and Courttia Newland. This event is moderated by Ifeona Fulani.

Author biography:

Olive Senior was born in Jamaica, has been based in Toronto, Canada, since 1993. She has published several prize-winning books, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize–winning collection of stories, Summer Lightning (1986), three other books of fiction, and the poetry books Talking of Trees (1985), Gardening in the Tropics (1994, winner of the F.J. Bressani Literary Prize), Over the Roofs of the World (2005, shortlisted for Canada’s Governor-General’s Literary Award and Cuba’s Casa de las Américas Prize), and Shell (shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award).
http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/olive-senior-should-literature-be-political/feed/ 2 Senior in Trinidad – Keynote on Should Literature Be Political? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/senior-in-trinidad-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/senior-in-trinidad-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/#comments Sun, 28 Apr 2013 15:54:05 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4463 Olive-SeniorShould Literature Be Political?

Keynote address given by Olive Senior

First presented at The NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad

Olive Senior keynote text: “Should Literature Be Political?”

First, I have to take issue with the title which has the fussiness of Granny about it. It suggests an anxiety about written literature, the notion that literary production is something precious and should be protected somehow from the unwashed hordes who are political animals because they foment revolutions and overturn thrones. Mark you, the unwashed hordes have created literature too, though it’s been called folklore and folksongs. And now, woe, technology has opened the door to everyone calling him or herself a “writer”.

Okay, the question has been asked so let’s try to be serious about it, especially since it is asked in the context of literary festivals such as this one, which is celebrating the literature that is confined within the pages of a book.  Let us start by defining what is meant by our use of ‘literature’ here and – even more important – what we mean by ‘politics’.

I will use literature here NOT in its broadest sense of embracing all literary production. I am using it in reference to works of the creative imagination – fiction, poetry, drama, in whatever form these are expressed since technology now opens up so many worlds beyond the artefact we normally call a book.  So our concern here is with content.

We should treat works of the creative imagination as different from other forms of literary production. This distinction enables us to see and acknowledge that the writer who wants to make a statement has a wide choice of genres and that each genre has its place. Many writers like myself have engaged in a variety of these genres. But we must be clear in our own minds as to what we are doing. Non-creative literature operates according to a conscious mandate. Creative literature does not. Fabrication by a journalist is regarded as betrayal. Fabrication is what a fiction writer does.

Politics. Anxiety arises from our narrow use of the term. We tend to think of politics exclusively in terms of partisan politics, electoral politics, political leadership and so on, with strife and confrontation implied, so a lot of people will try to disengage by saying: “I am not concerned with politics.” The bottom line is that the word ‘politics’ conjures up partisanship, divisiveness and a low threshold of scoring dirty points against an opponent.

But politics in its very first definition relates to the art of government. We might refer to that as ‘Big P’, because I want to make the case that Big P, the larger politics of the nation, inescapably shapes us in a trickle-down effect from the cradle to the grave. Politics determines the price of bread or the availability of guns or whether one lives in splendour or the squalor of a refugee camp. Closer to home, it might be a Caribbean mother having to choose between bread today and school fees tomorrow. Big P shapes the world into which we are born, our daily environment, and leads to what we might call ‘small p’ politics; that is, all those decisions of personal governance that we are forced to make, both externally and unconsciously, every moment of our lives.

We are all enmeshed in politics because we are all citizens of somewhere – even writers – and we cannot escape being shaped by political decisions, big and small. So instead of asking the question “Should literature be political”, I would rephrase it as a statement: Literature is political because we the creators of literature are political animals; it is part of accepting our responsibility of being human, of being citizens of the world.

Does this mean that I am advocating that literature as I have narrowly defined it should be in the service of Politics? Absolutely not. This is where creative writers must part company with those writers who operate out of a mandate that is overt and prescriptive. Consumers of each genre usually know what to expect. And “creative literature” works best if we do NOT know what to expect. Literature in this narrow sense is, above all, a product of imagination. The gift of the creative industries is to present the unexpected, to show the world in a different light.

Every author has a world view which reflects a political stance and shapes what we do, even unconsciously.  For example, as a child, I grew up in a world where I never saw myself or the people around me visually portrayed in the children’s books I read (though I took great pleasure in reading them). As a writer of children’s books now, I would say that I am simply concerned with telling a story that a child anywhere in the world that might want to read. But, I have to confess, I am very much concerned that the illustrations should reflect and express a multicultural world, for that is what I live in. Is that political? Can any of us escape the political? I would say no. Even romantic literature plunges us into the realm of political economy: does the potential suitor have a job?

The raw material of writers is the entire world that we live in; a world that continuously shapes us as we in turn shape it, through our poetry or fiction. The writer is someone who has no choice but to be engaged with society, which means political engagement. Nothing escapes the snare of the political, big P or small p –   it is about the price of bread, the paycheck you bring home, how you interact with neighbours or whom you choose to romance. You can rebel against the latter or hew your own path, but your choice will be shaped by political concerns, and those have always included religion, race or ethnicity, sex and gender. Today, perhaps, more than ever.

So what makes literature different then from the other arts of writing – journalism, history, political science, advertising  or party propaganda? To me, that is the crux of the matter. The difference lies not in what we write but in the how.  It is the difference between a journalist writing a story about, say, the shortage of public housing and the novelist inventing a character and a credible situation to demonstrate the impact of that situation perhaps down several generations, or how it leads ultimately to a revolution, or a suicide. It is taking the facts of the matter and then stitching them into a plot or a poem that illuminates it beyond the everyday experience.

The good thing is that in doing so, the creative writer has enormous resources that the fact-based writer has not. Literature is an art. It is about transformation. It is about taking one thing and making something else of it, changed but recognisable. So, politics might be the subject matter, but only as raw material. Literature does not need to employ polemics or confrontation. Nor is it about telling readers what they already know, but enabling them to contemplate what they didn’t know they knew.  It is not a question of avoiding issues but of being crafty in portraying them.

Literature is above all, storytelling. And, as Chinua Achebe has said, storytelling is a threat. Storytellers, poets, writers, have always found ways of confronting tyranny, especially in spaces where such actions are dangerous and deadly. Throughout the ages, writers have developed and employed myriad literary devices and explored the fullest limits of language through satire, magical realism, fantasy, fable and so on.  Writers over the ages have found ways of talking about issues – like politics – without seeming to talk about them. The function is not to present the world as it is, but to present it in a new light through the narrative power of art. Literature does not ask “what is it about?”  It asks “how do we tell it to make it real?”

So, since I have to answer the question: “Should literature be political?”  I will say, yes, but not in an explicit way.  The purpose of literature is not to represent but to re-present, to hold up that mirror in a light that enables us to see reality both reflected and refracted. And that applies to politics or any subject that we choose, or in the best case scenario, in the subject that chooses us. As writers we live lives that are not navel-gazing but conscious, fully engaged with the world.

My favourite quotation is Gauguin’s statement:  “Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” So let me end by taking issue with the title of this debate, especially with the prescriptive should. Should the subject matter of literature be prescribed by anyone? I say no. So let’s end by revolting against those who would apply the word ‘should’ to art. Even in a question.  To young writers I say, ignore prescriptions. Don’t be left behind. Write on!

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MARLON JAMES – A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/marlon-james-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/marlon-james-a-national-literature/#comments Sat, 27 Apr 2013 18:12:11 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4167 The NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad Saturday 27 April 11:00am AST A National Literature Keynote by: Marlon James. Panelists are Irvine Welsh, Hannah Lowe and Vahni Capildeo. The event is moderated by Marina Warner.]]> marlon-jamesThe NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad

Saturday 27 April 11am AST

A National Literature

Keynote by: Marlon James. Panelists are Irvine Welsh, Hannah Lowe and Vahni Capildeo. The event is moderated by Marina Warner.

Author biography:

Marlon James is a Jamaican writer, currently a professor of literature and creative writing at Macalester College in Minnesota. He is the author of The Book of Night Women and John Crow’s Devil.

(Photo credit: Simon Levy)


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Literary Prizes Not the Kingmakers they Once Were – Irvine Welsh http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/literary-prizes-not-the-kingmakers-they-once-were-irvine-welsh/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/literary-prizes-not-the-kingmakers-they-once-were-irvine-welsh/#comments Wed, 24 Apr 2013 13:48:46 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4428 3.1-WelshIrvine Welsh – a name recognised the world over due to the phenomenal success, and ongoing resonance, of his debut novel ‘Trainspotting’. Welsh burst onto the scene in 1993 with his tale of heroin use and its associated victims set in a 1980s Edinburgh a long long way, figuratively, from the Royal Mile. His judicious and salty use of  Scots dialect, peppered with profanities and the trait-trailing ticks of his memorable protagonists, makes any page of his fiction almost instantly recognisable. To date he has published some 20 novels, short story collections and plays, including ‘Filth’ (1998) and ‘Porno’ (2002). Several of his novels have been made into critically acclaimed films, most notably Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting’ (1996) and ‘Filth’ starring James McAvoy, currently on UK general release. ‘Skagboys’ is his most recent novel, about which the Literary Review said “I’m not sure that in 2012 there will be a single novel, never mind half a dozen, with more verve or nous or life in it than Skagboys.”

Irvine answered a few questions for us en route to the Trinidad edition of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, where he will be taking part in a panel discussion on A National Literature this Sunday with Marlon James, Hannah Lowe, Vahni Capildeo and Marina Warner, which will be livestreamed here.

EWWC: You’re participating in the EWWC Trinidad event next week, on a panel of 4 writers from the Caribbean and the UK including a keynote speech from Marlon James. Do you have any connections with Trinidad or the Caribbean?

IW: I’ve no real connections at all with the Caribbean. I was only in Trinidad and Tobago once, in 2000, when Hibernian played a winter shutdown football tournament there. The Hibs midfield star, Russell Latapy, is a sporting hero in T&T. That said, I’ve a friend over in Tobago who I haven’t seen in a while, so hopefully I’ll hook up with her while I’m there.

EWWC: You gave a keynote speech on A National Literature in Edinburgh at the inaugural EWWC sessions in August 2012, and then travelled to Toronto to take part in a debate on the same subject at the Canadian leg of the Conference. The same question has been discussed at EWWC events in Cape Town, Krasnoyarsk, Jaipur, Izmir & Brussels, eliciting responses such as:

be bold, and proud of who are and where you come from. Express your culture, your concerns and those of your community and the voices within it, however movable a feast that is. Because if you don’t, the chances are that it might not be around in the future.” – Irvine Welsh, Edinburgh

“There is a constant war going on in every nation as to what constitutes its national literature. […] Keep the spirit open, keep the spirit wild!” – Ben Okri, Edinburgh

“Fiction is emissary to no embassy and child to no parent; a writer is not a soldier or Olympic athlete, flying a national flag. The only legitimate role of a writer, regardless of her community or nation is to tell the stories that are truly hers. – Miriam Toews, Toronto

“What I disagree with is the idea of a nation being incubated upon a literature – as once literature is made into a vehicle the population begins to be drawn into social engineering.” – Sema Kaygusuz, Izmir

“The idea of a national literature gives me a headache.” – Kapka Kassabova, Brussels.

 So - is the concept of A National Literature obsolete?

IW: It’s hard to disagree with any of the points made, they are simply alternative truths. Everybody has a different experience of this depending on their own specific backgrounds. Nationality is obviously one of those variables like gender, race, social class, religion etc that people will find either extremely relevant or not relevant at all, depending on those experiences.

People from different socio-economic backgrounds will experience nationality and even trans-nationality in a different way. I have a writer friend who was educated at a private girl’s school, went to a Swiss finishing school, then on to the Sorbonne, did post grad work at Yale and took her first paid job in Sydney. I know another writer who is the daughter of Ugandan Asian refugees, who was raised in an outer London borough and who moved to Boston to work in her father’s bakery business. You talk to those women about how their (trans)nationality influences their writing, and you’re going to get very different answers.

In my own case, I see a thriving national literature in Scotland, perhaps ironically because of the country’s non (or quasi) nation status.

Overall, I think writers must value their independence and be very wary of being co-opted into anything governmental, whatever colour of flag is wrapped around it. Once that gets surrendered or compromised they cease to be writers and become something much less interesting.

EWWC: In your speech in Edinburgh you attacked the Booker prize as “based on the conceit that upper-class Englishness is the cultural yardstick against which all literature must be measured.” With that in mind, what do you think about the recently announced list of 20 Best of Young British Novelists?

IW: I haven’t seen the list and don’t know who is on it, so it would be unfair to comment. On the idea of a list itself, I think it’s probably a good thing if it gets people talking about books and writing. You can be on or off as many lists as you like, most real writers will tell you it’s pretty much irrelevant, you still have to produce the storytelling goods.

I think it’s become more benign and harmless PR, as I don’t think prize or list panels are kingmakers anymore. There was a time when being awarded the Booker was perceived to set a writer up for life. In our image-driven times, that role has probably been usurped by the successful film or television adaptation of the novel.

EWWC: “I’ve always felt that the book is both technologically and spiritually obsolete. Soon literature will be interactive. Writing on the Internet will be accessible to everyone… People won’t have others’ values imposed upon them. I hope the author will soon be dead.” Irvine Welsh, quoted in the Guardian, 2008

What questions do you think a World Writers’ Conference in 50 years’ time might address?

IW: I would die happy if I could be assured that there would be one in 50 years time. Our species is going to face great challenges over the next half-century, and if we had the luxury of debating our culture, that would be some sort of success in itself, irrespective of what was actually talked about.

EWWC: You have said that you are now living in “genuine exile” in Chicago. Do you consider yourself a permanent exile from Scotland? If you had to be exiled permanently to one of the EWWC cities – Edinburgh, Berlin, Cape Town, Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Cairo, Jaipur, Beijing, Izmir, Brussels, Lisbon, Port of Spain (Trinidad), St Malo, Kuala Lumpur & Melbourne – which would you choose and why?

IW: I think the notion of exile is a bit over romanticised. It’s a very different experience now with the net and social websites. I feel connected to Scotland and England in a way that wouldn’t be possible for somebody living in the States ten years ago.

Personally, I’ve never really thought of anywhere I’ve lived as permanent. I left my mum’s house when I was 17, but still felt a tremendous sense of violation when she removed my Bowie and Iggy posters to redecorate my room when I was pushing 40.

If I had to be in one of the cities, in that I couldn’t leave it to go anywhere else, it would certainly be Edinburgh as that’s always going to be home, wherever I am. Not to be able to go back would kill me.

Watch Irvine Welsh and fellow panellists debate A National Literature live from the Bocas Literature Festival, Saturday 27th April, 11am AST (1600 BST), at www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org.

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