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date: 17 October 2021

Twenty-First-Century West Indian Fictionfree

Twenty-First-Century West Indian Fictionfree

  • Sheri-Marie HarrisonSheri-Marie HarrisonUniversity of Missouri


West Indian fiction in the 21st century continues a tradition begun in the late 1990s as the fourth generation of Anglophone Caribbean writing. Though West Indian writing dates back to the early 19th century, West Indian literature began coalescing into a discrete field of study in the 1930s, motivated in large part by the political imperatives of anti-colonialism, political independence, and decolonization. Much of the fiction published in the late 90s to the present continues to adhere to the realist mode of representing Caribbean life—both in the region and in diaspora—as well as thematic engagements with decolonization, cultural nationalism, migration, diaspora, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Historical novels, modernist narratives, coming-of-age stories, and neoslave narratives remain significant features of West Indian fiction, in ways that are geared toward negotiating sovereign realties for individuals and communities that share a history of colonial domination, slavery, indentureship, and more recently, depleted cultural nationalisms.

In the last decade, scholars in the field have begun the work of theorizing the recent fictional output as constituting its own discrete moment in literary development. What is distinct about contemporary writing is the way in which some authors have begun to ironically rework now-familiar forms, themes, and politics of West Indian writing. Some recent West Indian fiction produces atypical, often incomprehensible, and ultimately dissonant conclusions designed to complicate the political priorities of previous generations. This ironic approach typifies 21st-century West Indian fiction’s skepticism about the nation building and identity politics developed in previous waves—in particular, the conflation of identity with sovereignty. At the same time, this fiction doesn’t simply reject earlier modes: one of its defining aesthetic features is a re-inhabitation of the central forms and politics of preceding waves, in order to complicate them.

The central feature of the fourth generation of West Indian fiction, then, is a continued engagement with the region’s history of colonization, slavery, and decolonization that is also marked by critical and self-reflexive engagements with the Caribbean literary tradition.


  • Asian Literatures
  • Fiction
  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)

What Is West Indian Fiction?

For Caribbean writing, the term “West Indian” designates both a geographic location and a diverse colonially inflected culture. The phrase originates in the context of Christopher Columbus’s decision to sail west to find a new trade route to India. As Belinda Edmonds tells us, “Columbus thought he had sailed to India, and hence the islands he discovered became the ‘West Indies,’ their inhabitants, Indians. Regardless of his later understanding of his mistake, the misnomer remained and fixed the Caribbean in discourse as a permanent mistake.”1 Edmondson explains further that the Caribbean “did not concretely exist—indeed, could not—exist on its own terms: literally and figuratively. The West Indies, as the region was (and is still) called, was ‘somewhere else’: not Europe, not Africa, not India.” Indeed, the inability to define “somewhere elseness” in any other terms than the mistaken one, has become a central trope of West Indian discourses. Thus, “the space of the West Indies is more metaphorical than it is material, and indeed, what exactly constitutes the West Indies—the Caribbean, as many prefer to call it—has always been hazy.”2

The term “West Indian” gained its literary associations among a now-elite cadre of the region’s Anglophone writers, who migrated to London in the late 1940s. George Lamming says of this generation of writers, “no Barbadian, no Trinidadian, no St Lucian, no islander from the West Indies sees himself as a West Indian until he encounters another islander in a foreign country … The category West Indian, formerly understood as a geographical term, now assumes cultural significance.”3 This moment of mutual and communal recognition, enabled by a shared status as British colonial subjects and immigrants in metropolitan exile, facilitated a significant “boom” in predominantly male-authored writing that lasted into the 1960s. As J. Dillon Brown and Leah Read Rosenberg note in Beyond Windrush: Rethinking Postwar Anglophone Caribbean Literature, “this generation of male, exilic authors brought international acclaim and regional recognition to Anglophone Caribbean literature as a tradition, and the concepts and themes articulated in their work decisively shaped Caribbean literary criticism for over half a century.”4 Central to this body of writing are formal and thematic interactions with the Victorian literary tradition meant to instantiate the possibilities for sovereign subjectivity and nationhood within colonized regions. Though these visions of sovereign identity often differed radically among first-generation writers—V. S. Naipaul’s work in particular marked a departure from that of the others—this work jointly laid the foundations for a sustained relationship between writing and national sovereignty in Caribbean literature.

But with the international acclaim that placed West Indian literature on the global map came the authorization of a variety of masculinist, heterosexist, and nationalist biases. From the Windrush generation of writers, we have inherited a literary West Indies that is specific to those spaces and people previously colonized by Britain, decisively shaped by and through exile, and effacing of any narratives that did not fit these criteria—in particular those written prior to the 1940s.5 It is also in this Windrush moment that a privileging of cosmopolitan over more localized aesthetics took root in West Indian writing. Much of the revolutionary and resistant writing and criticism since then has responded to this particular male, heteronormative, and exilic literary historiography.

Twenty-first-century West Indian fiction continues a long tradition of resistant and revisionary writing that links political sovereignty to the fostering of indigenous cultural traditions, while at the same time offering correctives to the conceptualizations of previous generations. It diverges, however, in that it does not coalesce around a singular political imperative in ways previous work has. In the keynote conversation at the West Indian Literature conference in October 2012, author Kei Miller posed the question, “What does my generation have?,” in response to moderator Patricia J. Saunders’s question about the contemporary agendas of West Indian writing.6 The absence of cohesion Miller identified is especially pointed in comparison to the projects of anti-colonialism, decolonization, and feminism that characterized the work of earlier generations. Miller concluded that in light of this lack of cohesion, contemporary writers more often complicate than celebrate their literary legacies.

We can begin to get a grasp of this complicating work by considering how it operates in five particular sites—history, formal innovation, diaspora, gender, and sexuality.

The Muse of History

According to Derek Walcott, “in the Caribbean, history is irrelevant. Not because it is not being created, or because it was sordid; but because it never mattered.”7 What has mattered instead, he says, “is the loss of history, the amnesia of the races,” placing an emphasis in West Indian literature on “imagination, imagination as necessity, as invention.”8 Walcott encourages West Indian writers to approach their task of invention with gratitude for what the fusion of disparate people, cultures, and civilizations through captivity, exile, and slavery made possible for authors vested with the task of articulating the West Indies on its own terms.9 Whether subsequent writers perceive decolonization as a gift or remained uneasy about its far reverberating effects, Edward Baugh observes, “it is remarkable the extent to which all the major writers have addressed themselves to the problems that they see history as presenting for them.”10

Archival scholarship and recovery projects are ongoing in West Indian literary discourses and as such, fiction written in the 19th century continues to be unearthed and introduced into the canon. Verene Shepherd, David V. Trotman, and Paul E. Lovejoy recovered Busha’s Mistress or Catherine the Fugitive: A Stirring Romance of the Days of Slavery in Jamaica (2003), a novel by Cyrus Francis Perkins, a Jamaican of Canadian descent, written between 1850 and 1911 and published serially in local newspapers into the early 20th century. David Dabeydeen edited Edward Jenkins’s novel Lutchmee and Dilloo: A Study of West Indian Life (2004), first published in 1877, the earliest known novel of Indo-Guyanese life. Karina Williamson edited Marly; or, A Planter’s Life (2005), a novel written by an anonymous Scotsman who had firsthand experience of 19th-century plantation life in Jamaica. Finally, in 2010, Tim Watson and Candace Ward published an edition of the first known West Indian novel, Hamel, The Obeah Man (first published in 1827), which is also the first edition to attribute an author, Cynric R. Williams. Written from white perspectives, these recovered texts are more often than not sympathetic to slaveholders and openly hostile to any antislavery efforts. Nonetheless, they offer complex portrayals of plantation culture and resistance that are invaluable to the fullest understanding of the region, its history, and its people.

Pivotal moments and iconic figures in antislavery and anticolonial struggles continue to appear as significant sites of engagement in 21st-century fiction. Within this context of colonial contests and native encounters, is Fred Kennedy’s Huareo: Story of A Jamaican Cacique (2015). Whereas in Trinidad, Amerindians were not wiped out entirely from encounters with colonizers, because the island’s proximity to the South American mainland offered escape routes, in Jamaica, the entire population of Tainos was destroyed before the end of the 16th century. Huareo is the product of meticulous research in original source documents, including the journals of Spanish sailors stranded in Jamaica on Columbus’s fourth voyage, as well as consultation with historians and archeologists. This genocide and attendant historical erasure of some of the Caribbean’s original peoples make Kennedy’s narrative all the more relevant to Walcott’s emphasis on historical absences and the role West Indian authors continue to play in materializing the presence of those erased by colonial encounters.

If Kennedy’s depiction of Huareo restores the narrative of one of the region’s first heroes, his earlier novel Daddy Sharpe: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Samuel Sharpe, A West Indian Slave Written By Himself, 1832 (2008) attempts a similar recovery of one of Jamaica’s national heroes, a Baptist preacher and slave named Sam Sharpe, who fomented the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1831–1832. Also referred to as the Baptist War, the Christmas Rebellion, and the Christmas Uprising, this was the largest slave rebellion in the British West Indies. Kennedy’s account takes the form of Sharpe’s first-person narration as he awaits execution in prison, after what begins as a labor strike for freedom and a working wage develops into a rebellion and ultimately fails.

The Baptist War is also revisited Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel The Long Song (2010), but among its provocations is its resistance to some of the formal features, pieties, and proprieties that are commonplace in female slave narratives.11 The novel is a fictional memoir written by an ex-slave woman named July, that her son who is a printer wants to publish. Though the lead-up to the brutal Baptist War is a backdrop for the novel, it is surprisingly not grim but irreverent, shocking, and even funny. The editorial interruptions throughout the narrative that July’s son, Thomas, makes are reminiscent of the push and pull between another mother-and-son pair in Kei Miller’s The Last Warner Woman (2010), over how the mother’s story should be told. This conflict between July and Thomas on what July’s history should look like on the page, or between Adamine and her son, Mr. Writer Man, over what parts of her history are told truthfully, both allegorically reflects the sometimes tumultuous relationship between form and content, as well as among writer, publisher, and subject that continues to inform West Indian writing. In the novel, we learn that Thomas has a more romantic view of his mother’s story and his mother’s enslavement, one that would focus on nature and come between sugarcane-adorned covers. In contrast, July prefers to begin her narrative somewhat traditionally with a story of how she came to be: “It was finished almost as soon as it began. Kitty felt such little intrusion from the overseer Tam Dewars part that she decided to believe him merely jostling her from behind like any rough, grunting, huffing white man would if they were crushed together in a crowd.”12

July begins her narrative with this bawdy tale of sex between people we later learn are her parents in contrast to the traditional and chaste openings of more traditional slave narratives: “I was born at Brackish Pond” (Mary Prince)13; “I was born in Tuckahoe” (Frederick Douglass)14; “I was born a slave” (Harriet Jacobs).15 July further draws our attention to the anomaly of such an opening by invoking editorial interference. This is another aspect of the slave narrative form we are familiar with. “Reader,” she says, “my son tells me that this is too indelicate a commencement of any tale.”16 Though the novel is forwarded by her son in a manner that is reminiscent of all the prefatory material that needed to precede slave narratives, July nonetheless seizes autonomy over her story and rather than a pious and upright Christian narrator, July instead informs the reader that our “storyteller is a woman possessed of a forthright tongue and little ink.”17. It is easy to compare how The Long Song opens with how Thomas Pringle prefaces The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related By Herself: “the narrative” though “taken down from Mary’s own lips,” was first “written out fully, with all the narrator’s repetitions and prolixities, and afterwards pruned into its present shape.”18 Comparing July’s fictional account to other slave narratives thus begs the question of what might have been “pruned” because of “indelicacy.” Indeed the slave narrative form set a historical precedent for how slave women’s lives should and could be represented most sympathetically and successfully for antislavery cases. As we know from narratives such as Mary Prince’s or Linda Brent’s, these narratives worked hard to sanitize if not completely excise the realities of sex and sexuality from these women’s lives. Levy’s fourth novel thus invokes this deliberate and politicized shaping by multiple parties—transcriber, editor, the author herself—in ways that efface important details about slave women’s lived realities. Thus, July refuses to write something that will find company with “volumes whose contents will find you meandering through the puff and twaddle of some white lady’s mind” and instead encourages the reader to “stay if you wish to hear a tale of my making.”19 In this way, among the problems history presents for the West Indian writer are the various forms of circumscription that it has bequeathed, particularly to narratives about womanhood. In this neoslave narrative, Levy thus returns to one of the progenitive sites of Caribbean narratives—slavery and its attendant form: the slave narrative—to critique the limitations of this form, to demonstrate how West Indian writing exists in extricable relation to its history of colonial domination, and to rework how this legacy affects the ways women’s lives are represented and who gets to have a say in shaping West Indian fiction.

Where Levy’s novel engages history’s relationship to the form of narratives of Afro-Caribbean women’s writing from the perspective of slavery, Tiffany Yanique’s exploration of U.S. neo-imperialism in her highly anticipated first novel, Land of Love and Drowning (2015), takes a different, more mythical approach to historical fiction. Yanique’s novel is also noteworthy because she is among the first West Indian novelists to be recognized for portraying the unique colonial relation that exists in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Land of Love and Drowning spans the period from 1916, the year before the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark, into the 1970s, and addresses among other things World War II, Jim Crow segregation, and the 1960s civil rights movement. The novel chronicles three generations of a single family from St. Thomas, employing a narrative style that is a fantastical mixture of social and magical realism. One of the protagonists, Eona, has silver pubic hair; her father’s mistress, Rebecca, has a cloven hoof in place of one of her feet; the women of the Bradshaw family at the center of the novel originate on a Caribbean atoll populated by mer-people. Reviews have made the obvious connections to the magical realist fiction of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa and the U.S. southern gothic tradition identified with William Faulkner. To these influences can also be added Guyanese writer Wilson Harris’s capacity to create mythical and fully realized alternate origins and realities for Caribbean people. Yanique’s novel joins others like Marie-Elena John’s Unburnable (2007), Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (2000) and Mojo: Conjecture Stories (2003), and Kevin Baldeosingh’s The Ten Incantations of Adam Avatar (2005) that continue a rich tradition of plumbing the myths of West Indian folk culture to create enduring magical realist aesthetics.

Form and Radicalism

In his essay “Tradition and the West Indian Novel,” Wilson Harris offers a critique of the social realist dimensions of early West Indian fiction, noting that “it is one of the ironic things with West Indians of my generation that they conceive of themselves in the most radical political light but their approach to art and literature is one which consolidates the most conventional documentary techniques in the novel.”20 Indeed, for Harris, “the fact is—even when sincerely held, political radicalism is merely a fashionable attitude unless it is accompanied by profound insights into the experimental nature of the arts and sciences.”21 At the time Harris wrote, realism was taking the place of an experimental Caribbean modernist tradition that included Claude McKay, Jean Rhys, George Lamming, Samuel Selvon, and Harris himself. Other authors were abandoning modernism as derivatively European, although as Dave Gunning argues, the relationship between European and Caribbean modernism should be seen as a familial one.22 Gunnng cites Charles W. Pollard, who contends that Caribbean writers are “neither exclusively literary orphans, unrelated to [T. S.] Eliot and European modernisms nor exclusively rebel sons rejecting his and its authority; instead they are more like second cousins whose distinctively individual responses to modernity bear a common family resemblance.”23 Amid criticism of the eurocentricity of modernist experimentalism, Harris asserts that it is only a more radical approach to aesthetics that can properly articulate the trauma, disjunctures, alienation, and dislocation that are unique to the Caribbean’s experience of modernity.

We can think of Harris, who has been described by Simon Gikandi as “possibly the most self-conscious Caribbean modernist,” as one of the progenitors of recent experimental West Indian fiction (4).24 According to Sandra Drake, Harris’s writing features “unconscious psychic dimensions, nonlinear narrative structure, the awareness of a rupture in the correlation between languages and an accepted reality and a sense of cultural crisis … He radically undermines linear sequence, space, and time with a consequent alteration of conventional understandings of recollection, identity, and causality.”25 A number of his novels, decades out of print, have recently been reissued by Peepal Tree’s Caribbean Modern Classics series and Faber and Faber. This has enabled a reintroduction of Harris’s thematic, theoretical, and aesthetic experiments in ways that have arguably influenced the neo-modernist experimentation operating in 21st-century fiction.

As if in Harris’s spirit, 21st-century fiction sustains formal experimentation in West Indian fiction as a means of negotiating postcolonial Caribbean realities. Elena-Marie John’s Unburnable, for example, is set in contemporary Washington, DC, and post-World War II Dominica, and via folkloric figure such as the soucouyant, the novel weaves together West Indian history, West African mythology, and diasporic sensibility. The peculiar, or perhaps foreboding atmosphere of Dominica that some readers may be familiar with from Jean Rhys’s early 20th-century modernist fiction is also present in Unburnable, whose protagonist meets a tragic end that is reminiscent of Rhys’s tragic heroines. What is different in John’s heroine Lillian’s demise, however, is that she seems to willfully choose her own death, one that is inflected with the triumphant symbolism of African transposition. Lillian leaps to her death in much the same way that Elizete describes Verlia’s suicide in Dione Brand’s In Another Place Not Here (2000), but as Gisele Liza Anatol reminds us, the fact that their narratives require the protagonists demise suggests that “the time has not yet arrived when these women can display their wings.”26 Thus, though Lillian’s triumphant reclamation of her self through what resembles the flight of a soucouyant, what is essentially her suicide demonstrates how “a complete healing and empowerment of the female protagonist and a full recuperation of the soucouyant figure are not possible in contemporary society.”27

This begs the question of whether or not there is contemporary fiction that does represent possibilities for complete healing and empowerment for its subject. One might look to Erna Brodber’s recent novel, Nothing’s Mat (2014), for an engagement with such possibilities. The respected sociologist and renowned novelist’s fiction serve as examples of a West Indian neo-modernist aesthetic. Brodber’s debut novel Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home (1980), grew out of her frustration as a sociology professor with what she found to be unsuitable case studies for teaching students about mental illness in the Caribbean. Teaching material of this kind was few and far between in the late 20th century, and Brodber decided to create her own case studies through fiction. Within this vein of a dearth in social sciences research, as it relates to the specificity of the West Indian condition, fits Brodber’s third novel, Nothing’s Mat. If Jane and Louisa takes on sociological methodology, Nothing’s Mat takes on the suitability of anthropological methodology for elucidating the more unique facets of the Caribbean and its historical legacies. The narrative structure is as unwieldy as it is in her previous novels, in no small part because of non-linearity, multivocality, and various magical and spiritual elements. At the center of the text are the efforts of its protagonist, Princess—British-born of Jamaican descent—to research and chronicle her family tree. This work begins as an A-Level project that takes her to Jamaica to visit her father’s relative Cousin Nothing, who tells Princess her extended family’s stories that she subsequently weaves into a mat and submits as her A-Level project. Throughout Cousin Nothing’s stories of family and the continuity they are given through the mat, Brodber’s novel contests notions of a “proper” shape for Caribbean history and that it is only about inescapable trauma, reinforcing instead the ways Afro-Caribbean people have built-in coping mechanisms that have always been available to enact healing, both individually and communally.

Where Nothing’s Mat’s experiments with form probe the emotional legacies of slavery and indentureship as well as anthropological approaches to exploring these legacies, with twelve different narrators (fifteen if you count one narrator’s three different monikers), liberal—and for some impenetrable—use of Jamaican vernacular, and entire chapters written without punctuation, or in blank verses, Marlon James’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015) continues this rich tradition of formal experimentation in West Indian writing. As I have noted elsewhere, “[i]f the Victorian novel is the aesthetic model of the relationship between literature and nationalism consciously adopted and revised by first-generation Caribbean writers, the modernist novel’s imaginings of postwar Anglo-European ennui provides a model for contemporary writers like James, who want to signal a similar sense of diminishing returns in cultural nationalism.”28 But this reliance on traditional Anglo-European modernism is only part of the picture. Each of James’s three novels elicits a variety of formal and thematic frames of the Caribbean writing that precedes them, but not necessarily in a celebratory way. It is useful, for instance, to identify the formal resemblances between the chapter of A Brief History of Seven Killings that describes the assassination attempt on Bob Marley’s life and the moment in Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1966) in which the central character Moses expresses profound disaffection with his life as a Trinidadian immigrant in post-World War II London.

Both are climactic moments in their respective narratives, both span multiple pages, and both are written in unpunctuated vernacular. The difficulty of both passages reflects the narrators’ emotional states in their respective milieus. In each instance, the stream-of-consciousness narrative originates from a character who is traversing an urban landscape—James’s Demus is attempting an escape through Kingston’s inner city and Selvon’s Moses is leisurely moving through London. In James’s novel, the unpunctuated vernacular reflects not only the franticness of the escape but also the represented effects of a cognitively altered state produced by cocaine. In Selvon, it reflects a cumulative sense of despair about Moses’ lack of economic and social progress in all his years in London, and a general ennui about life passing him by. But unlike Selvon’s use of the vernacular, a literary strategy he developed in the 1950s “to enable the Caribbean subject to find a presence within the privileged spaces of literature,” James’s investment in self-reflexivity is less about constructing identities and finding an authentic narrative voice than it is a critique of the formal strategies developed by Selvon’s generation of “boom” writers.29

Since his first novel, John Crow’s Devil (2010), James has experimented with the forms that have come to typify West Indian fiction, and the ways these forms are imbricated with projects of cultural nationalism in the region. In all his novels, James elicits familiar formal structures: the national allegory in John Crow’s Devil; a combination of the historical novel, bildungsroman, and slave narrative forms in The Book of Night Women (2009); a compendium of modernisms in A Brief History of Seven Killings. His novels put these invocations of past literary models to the perverse and ultimately subversive use of critiquing Anglophone Caribbean fiction’s longstanding relationship with cultural nationalism. John Crow’s Devil, for instance, depicts a mid-20th-century rural community in Jamaica—a microcosm of the possibilities of independent nationhood—that is incited to unthinkable violence against itself by the inflammatory religious rhetoric of a syphilitic preacher. James’s novel presents readers familiar with nationalist narratives with a puzzle: How are they to understand its portrayal of pedophilia and bestiality normalized as part of everyday rural Caribbean life, the public corporal punishing of adulterers with a whip that was used during slavery, and a literal bout of syphilis that pathologizes homosexuality as a predatory disease? Likewise, in The Book of Night Women, the teenaged slave protagonist Lilith departs from the standard plot of the slave narrative by refusing to participate in an 18th-century slave rebellion. House slaves, who aspire to murder all the whites and establish an African-style village in Jamaica’s mountainous interior, foment the rebellion. What is the reader to make of Lilith opting to protect her Irish lover and white overseer father from the marauding slaves, even killing her half-sister in the process, instead of fighting for her freedom alongside the rebelling slaves? Most recently, A Brief History of Seven Killings redeploys modernist form to decenter the ideal (male) protagonist whose narrative is more often than not enlisted to homogenously represent the nation and its values. What should the reader make of the fact that the novel’s hero is in fact its anti-hero—a maniacally violent narcotics kingpin with allegiance only to himself? How does the reader make sense of the novel’s literal cacophony of narrators? Whose story is it and what are its politics? What (if any) prevailing politics can or should these narratives be reconciled to?

In the 21st-century, novels like James’s define their politics—indeed, the politics of the present—in large part through subversively inhabiting traditional forms of West Indian fiction. This is a continuation, with a difference, of the West Indian literary tradition, still ongoing, of subversively inhabiting classic European forms and texts like the Victorian realist novel and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Elizabeth Nunez’s Prospero’s Daughter (2006) is the most recent rewriting of Shakespeare’s classic colonial drama, and Geoffrey Phillip’s Benjamin, My Son is a rewriting of Dante’s Inferno that features a Rastafarian guide named Virgil. Writers like John, Brodber, and James continue this venerable tradition, but with the complication that they now inhabit and critique the Caribbean tradition itself.

Gender and Diaspora

In Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Madness in Anglophone Caribbean Literature, Kelly Baker Josephs describes the present “generation of writers, many of them children of various migratory movements” as occupying “more unsure, in-between spaces” between the Caribbean itself and its diasporic locations in North America and Europe (147).30 This current generation of diasporic writers includes Andrea Levy, Zaidie Smith, Shani Moottoo, Elena John, and David Chariandy, whose work Josephs suggests is shifting the Caribbean aesthetic “from a regional sensibility to a diasporic one.”31 For these writers who either migrated from the Caribbean or were born outside of the Caribbean to West Indian migrants, the region itself represents different things than it did for previous generations of writers. The ways the Caribbean signifies in 21st-century writing range from the distant, alien, yet beckoning ideal homeland depicted at the end of Zaidie Smith’s White Teeth (2000) and Elena John’s Unburnable (2006) to the menacing inhospitable place in Shani Mootoo’s novels Cereus Blooms at Night (1996), He Drown She in the Sea (2005), and Valmiki’s Daughter (2008).

Diaspora is not an uncontroversial facet of West Indian discourses, particularly as it relates to West Indian women writers. Since the late 20th century, West Indian women writers have been at the forefront of resistant critiques of an inherited masculinist and heteronormative literary canon and the version of cultural nationalism that it underwrites. Alison Donnell’s work in particular “describes how the demands of black diasporic criticism have shaped feminist scholarship on Caribbean women’s writing and draw[s] attention to what has been eclipsed as a result of this dominant methodology and its concentration on contemporary, diasporic, African Caribbean women writers.”32 Donnell’s 2006 study contests the purchase of the black diasporic discourses that were central to the 1990s moment when book-length studies like Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido’s Out Of the Kumbla (1994) and Belinda Edmondson’s Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority and Women’s Writing in Caribbean Narrative (1999) began to address West Indian women’s writing as its own discrete field. Donnell writes,

While the success of black diasporic studies of women’s writing published in the 1990s may be measured by the level of critical attention now afforded to writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Edwidge Danticat and others, the splicing in of African American history and theory into the narrative of Caribbean women’s writing has seemingly licensed the denial of a literary past and the invocation of the resonant trope of the invisible, voiceless ancestor.33

What is obscured in these accounts of the origins of West Indian women’s writing is not only writing by non-black West Indian women—women of Indian, Chinese, and European descent in particular—but also writing that is locally focused, and writing published before the 1970s. Donnell’s book does excellent work introducing authors of such writing into the canon. In this regard it has been invaluable to conceptualizing, in the 21st century, a far more expansive canon of West Indian women’s writing, as well as a fuller sense of the varied feminist politics at work in contemporary West Indian writing more generally.

A persistent feature of contemporary West Indian fiction is the exploration of the relationship between gender and sovereign citizenship—especially in ways that complicate the tropes of woman as nation or woman as mother of the nation. Twenty-first-century fiction negotiates the politics of sovereignty in the postcolonial present via a complex array of thoughtfully rendered female characters, written by men and women alike. Alongside James’s Lilith in The Book Of Night Women, there is Lowe/A-Yin in Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda (1999), a Chinese woman who cross-dresses as a man in 19th-century Jamaica, and Sabine Harwood, a French expatriate who arrives in Trinidad with her husband in 1956—the same year Eric Williams and the People’s National Movement win Trinidad’s first general election—in Michelle Roffey’s The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (2011). In Oonya Kempadoo’s Tide Running (2001), the protagonist Bella is a wealthy Trinidadian woman who initiates the threesome that is central to the novel’s exploration of the politics of desire and responsibility in postcolonial Tobago. Unlike in earlier West Indian novels, these female protagonists do not exist primarily to explore women’s previously unacknowledged roles in national projects. On the contrary, these books treat the roles women and womanhood have played both in fostering and critiquing the politics of biologically determined nationalist stories, as sites freighted with confusion and perplexity.

From DeLisser’s Jane in Jane’s Career (1914) to Lamming’s Fola in Season of Adventure (1960), early to mid-century representations of the birth of Caribbean nations inadvertently locked female subjectivity in a tightly scripted, biologically determined national story. Anticolonialist and nationalist writers often conflated women with the land in order to symbolically imagine the birth of new independent nations and citizens. Second- and third-generation writing, beginning in the later 1970s, worked to reshape this restricted vision of Caribbean womanhood by transforming the patriarchal heteronormativity of the imagined nation into a more inclusive space or alternately challenging its narrowness. According to Donette Francis, “insofar as first wave [women’s] writing sought to fit women into the nationalist narrative, the second wave of Caribbean women’s writings, which surfaced in the 1980s and early 1990s demonstrates the painful experiences female characters endured in their attempts to fit into the nation-state.”34 Such novels frequently imagined diasporic spaces as refuges for women who felt constrained by the nationalist narrative and their role within it.

Twenty-first-century West Indian feminist fiction reinhabits the way preceding generations have negotiated the gendered terms of Caribbean citizenship and nation building by reinhabiting tropes like the relationship between female reproduction and nation building, deploying these tropes in ways very different from those readers have come to expect. For instance, fourth-generation depictions of marginalized and excluded subjects don’t privilege diasporic spaces as alternative locations of refuge (or even asylum) for non-heteronormative Caribbean subjects. Though 21st-century writing is inherently critical of the nation, it often features a renewed insistence on the Caribbean local.

In contrast to canonical first- and second-generation narratives like Miguel Street, In the Castle of My Skin, and Annie John, which end with their protagonist on the cusp of migration, many of these contemporary narratives leave their protagonist(s) in a static position, more often than not in a Caribbean location, with no notion of what comes next. The Book of Night Women ends with Lilith still living on the slave plantation after the rebellion she in fact helped to forestall. Oonya Kempadoo’s Tide Running ends in a profound sense of stasis that is even more intense when contrasted with the book’s opening. The novel begins with the working-class character Cliff observing the breath-like movement of the tide: “the sea rolling and swelling up itself down by them rocks on Plymouth Point. Breathing out, sucking’e belly back in.”35 At the end of this novel, after he falls out of the good graces of the wealthy couple who drew him into their sex life, we find Cliff in a “box” of a prison, where he observes that “the sea ain’ stirring. No sparkling, no li’l white chips. No rash’a silver jacks jumping. Cat paws ain’ scratching ’e surface today. Not a current shift on ’e face. Sea stop today.”36 In 21st-century West Indian writing, such stasis figures the retrospective inspection of earlier, now-standardized versions of progress. Kei Miller sums up contemporary writing’s retrospective preoccupation in this way: “We [West Indian writers and critics] who were against orthodoxies had inadvertently created our own—a Caribbean orthodoxy. And so, in the very spirit of what our Literature has been, we had to turn around and challenge ourselves.”37

Incoherence, dissonance, and confusion regarding the more traditional politics formalized in Caribbean discourses over the second half of the 20th century thus provides the identifying markers of contemporary writing’s challenges to Caribbean literary orthodoxies. These challenges are often posed within texts that are concerned with matters of migration, gender, and citizenship. Contemporary writing’s self-reflexive strategies draw attention to this history in order to reinhabit and rewrite the future- and past-oriented strategies for establishing cohesive nations and communities that preceded it. Thus, one of the priorities of contemporary West Indian literature is an evaluation not only of the last half-century of political sovereignty in the region, but also the fostering of skepticism about the future- and past-focused mechanisms that were put in place to achieve and articulate that sovereignty.

Sexuality and Citizenship

In contrast to previous generations of West Indian writing that relegated queerness to the margins of fiction or deployed it as an otherness against which West Indian communities could define and distinguish themselves, 21st-century fiction is among the first bodies of writing to represent queer subjectivity as a lived facet of Caribbean life. Moreover, a proliferation of novels and short stories as well as critical works that engage the embattled realties of queer subjects who exist in Caribbean societies that still have anti-buggery and other kinds of sexually discriminatory laws on their books, makes the expansion of queer thematics a definitive feature of 21st-century Caribbean writing.

M. Jacqui Alexander’s “Not Just (Any) Body Can Be A Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality and Postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas,” published in 1994, marks a significant moment in West Indian discourses’ consideration of the ways citizenship within Caribbean nations are legislated to render heteronormativity compulsory.38 In Trinidad, this legislation takes the shape of the Sexual Offences Act of 1986 and carries a prison sentence of twenty years for the crime of lesbianism. In Jamaica, the criminalization of homosexuality dates back to the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, which calls for a punishment of up to ten years of imprisonment with hard labor for those convicted of the “abominable crime of buggery.” The realities of discriminatory legislation, inherited from colonial constitutions, criminalized non-procreational sex of any kind—gay and lesbian as well as sex outside of marriage—functioned to normalize postcolonial West Indian nations as exclusively Christian and heteronormative spaces. Subjects that fall outside of state-sanctioned forms of sexual activity fall outside of the protection of the law and are rendered criminals. This reality of sexual persecution, seeded in the colonial era and inherited by postcolonial nations, is taken up by novels like Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda (1998) and Lawrence Scott’s Aelred’s Sin (1998).

The Pagoda is set in the 19th century, a few years after slavery is abolished. Its protagonist, Lowe/Lau A-Yin, is a Chinese immigrant who cross-dresses as a man, largely because at that time it was not yet legal for Chinese women to immigrate to the Caribbean. By setting the novel in the immediate post-emancipation context and placing a cross-dressing Chinese woman at its center, Powell situates queerness as a feature of colonial society rather than a contemporary phenomenon. She demonstrates how colonial hierarchies and the laws that govern them function to ascribe queerness to some subjects based on their race or gender, and the ways this queering continues to inform national projects in the years beyond colonization.

Where The Pagoda focuses on history and gender, Aelred’s Sin takes up the role of religion in relegating queer subjects to the margins of society, or as in the case of the protagonist Roberto de la Borde’s brother Jean Marc, into exile from home, family, and self. This particular struggle, among sexuality, family, and religion, is also taken up in Patricia Powell’s earlier novel A Small Gathering of Bones (1991). But whereas the stakes in Lawrence’s novel are limited to a personal familial quest toward reconciliation, Powell’s novel implicates the church and the family in the silent and deadly spread of a disease that resembles HIV among gay Jamaican men in the 1970s. Thomas Glave’s short story “Leighton Leigh Anne Norbrook” portrays the internal reflection of Leighton at his sister Leigh Anne’s funeral. Buried with her is the secret of his affair with the family’s gardener, which is all the more illicit, disgusting, and taboo within the frame of the story: “Saw, yes. She saw, having walked in on them. Four years ago. Him and the nasty-dutty black bwoy in their parents’ house.”39 Not only is the same-sex affair abhorrent, but also the traversing of racial and class lines. Leighton’s meditation betrays relief rather than grief at his beloved younger sister’s violent and tragic death, because the secrets of his same-sex desire remain safe. Both Powell and Glave thus offer scathing indictments of the family’s complicity in maintaining an alienating and dysfunctional heteronormative status quo.

The theme of exile central to West Indian fiction during the Windrush generation also takes on more complex iterations in early 21st-century fiction that explores queer subjectivity. Literally and figuratively, the theme of exile in contemporary fiction signals a state of being barred not only from a geographical space of origin but also from the self, as well as from family and various other iterations of community. North American or other metropolitan locations often appear in contemporary fiction as safe havens for queer Caribbean subjects. We see this in novels like Shani Mootoo’s deeply tragic Cereus Blooms at Night (1996), and subsequently, Bernadine Evaristo’s deeply funny Mr. Loverman (2013). Much like Powell’s A Small Gathering of Bones, however, contemporary West Indian fiction also explores the more localized forms of exile for those queer subjects who have no option of escape, or those like Lowe/Lau A-Yin who stubbornly refuse to leave a place that excludes them.

There are also narratives of those who return after years in exile to see long-missed loved ones, but who suffer horrific violence at the hands of the community before they even make it home, like Mark in “Walking on the Tiger Road.”40 The opening story in Kei Miller’s collection Fear and Other Stories (2006), “Walking” climaxes when a small group of men begin to stone Mark—an action ironically initiated by another homosexual man, Idle Bwoy, in order to deflect the community’s attention from his own queerness:

Idle Bwoy picked up another stone and flung it hard into the center of Mark’s back. “Nasty man!” Mark flinched in pain. The other men picked stones along the roadside, then pelted him some more, bruising him as much as they could. It was as if each man was doing the same as Idle Bwoy, looking for his own sin, his own private world of frustration and throwing it at this scapegoat … A well-aimed stone finally opened up his skull and blood dripped into his eyes.41

In this way, violent expulsion of the queer subject from the community functions as a scapegoating practice, performed by men who are variously frustrated by their own complex desires and marginalized positions.

Thomas Glave’s Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing From the Antilles (2008) assembles all of these concerns together in the first collection of fiction, nonfiction, and criticism written by queer Caribbean authors. As Glave explains, despite the imposition of secrecy and violent expulsions, the collection exists to demonstrate the presence of gay and lesbian writers and their work, and to acknowledge these writers as having legitimate claims on West Indian literary discourses. Cumulatively, Glave’s collection and the writing that precedes it demonstrate how contemporary fiction continues to push for representation as well as reformation within Caribbean societies in the region and the diaspora. This has occurred in ways that have liberated queer subjectivity and desire from the margins of texts, as in fiction as early as Claude McKay’s Banana Bottom (1933).

If homosexuality could barely be named and thus represented in pathologized terms in books like H. Nigel Harris’s Spirits In the Dark (1993), 21st-century fiction thus far has offered not only correctives but a far more expansive and inclusive field for queer Caribbean realities. Nowhere is this more obvious that in James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, which offers one of the first explicitly rendered, nonviolent, and consensual representations of homosexual sex in West Indian writing. Whereas representations of homosexual sex in Caribbean fiction up to this point have been fraught with anxiety, violence, and even trauma, the mutual desire and sensuality depicted in James’s novel are a first for West Indian fiction. Pointedly, this scene does not—or perhaps still cannot—occur in the Caribbean, but rather takes place in a four-floor walk-up in New York City.

Self-Reflexivity as Ethos in 21st-Century West Indian Fiction

Kei Miller’s The Last Warner Woman (2010) takes a self-reflexive approach to thinking about the writer in relation to his or her subject that intertwines all of the other sites. Miller’s first narrator is Mr. Writer Man, a character who claims authorship of the narrative, but in this case his narrative is contested within the book itself by the title character, Adamine Bustamante. Adamine and Mr. Writer Man alternately narrate a nonlinear story of Adamine’s birth in a leper colony and her move from the colony to a revivalist camp where she discovers she has the gift of “warning” and becomes a Warner Woman. What this alternation mimics is the relationship between the West Indian writer and his subject—one in which the subject gets to talk back to the writer. Like a Cassandra, a Warner Woman is a revivalist prophetess who foresees and warns of impending disaster.42 She is alternately regarded with fear or disregarded as strange or mentally disturbed. After Adamine migrates from Jamaica to London for an ill-fated marriage, she is committed to a mental asylum, because the authorities perceive a warning she gives in Victoria Square as the actions of a mad woman. Adamine’s life, much like the history of the Caribbean, is characterized by one catastrophic event after the next: her mother dies while giving birth to her, she lives among lepers until her guardian dies when she is fifteen, she is a victim of domestic violence in Jamaica and in England, and she is raped repeatedly while committed to a state-run asylum.

We learn in the last quarter of the novel that Mr. Writer Man is Adamine’s son, a child born to her after she is raped while in state custody in England. In the present of the novel, however, Mr. Writer Man is an adult and he and Adamine live together in a London apartment. They spend mornings with Adamine telling him about her life, while he tapes her, transcribes her account, prints it, and covertly leaves it for her to read. He reconstructs Adamine’s past in his writing, for her, so that she will read it and remember him. A part of his successful strategy is to prod her memory with disagreeable half-truths. The first time she addresses the reader, Adamine says, “I need to talk what I talking soft. I mus not wake up the samfie man who I discover is writing down all manners of lies for you. I going set the record right. I going to unbend the truth so listen close.”43 Thus, Adamine is a familiar feminized version of a the West Indies itself, and Mr. Writer Man quite obviously is the writer who has the task of helping her confront and sort through her traumatic history, so that she can finally recover knowledge of what she gave birth to: the writer. Her insistence that he is a “samfie man,” however, registers skepticism about the work of the writer that contests the traditional triumphant accounts of the writer’s ability to give the region and its subjects back to themselves. Moreover, the use of the phrase “samfie man” (Jamaican vernacular word for trickster or con man) registers a critique of some of the deliberate ways the earliest historiographies of West Indian writing have strategically crafted in not fully accurate ways what the region and its literature are.

This particular allegorical relationship does not resolve in the expected denouement of Mr. Writer Man giving Adamine back her self, however. Instead, The Last Warner Woman’s final images of a book as a warning and writer as warner demonstrate how Miller’s novel and fourth-generation writing is not necessarily invested in the re-valuation of marginalized identities and indigenous religious culture in the interest of expanding the reader’s understanding of the nation or any other brand of collective imagination. As the novel ends, the narrator brings the reader’s attention to the object in her hands, the book, with the following:

In its final moments it may feel as if the book is holding you open. It may feel as if the book’s arms are spread wide, as if to embrace whoever has been holding it. Or maybe the book would simply like to say something, to look its reader in the eye, and then look just beyond. And the book will say. Do you see what is coming toward you? Can you see over your shoulders? Warrant, the book always does.44

The book’s ability to “see” what is behind the reader, over her shoulders, resonates with Adamine’s ability to see simultaneously into the past, present, and future, and by extension her son, the writer’s, ability to do the same. In the novel, Miller grafts the trope of warning unto the work of writing not to celebrate previously marginalized and derided indigenous religious traditions but to lend to the work of the writer the clairvoyant urgency of a warner in the throes of a warning.

Though Mr. Writer Man wants his mother to remember her past, in particular the violent events that led to his birth, this remembrance remains resolutely personal, and recovering memory doesn’t resolve the ongoing disasters of her history. The rapist who preyed on Adamine and other inmates is never apprehended. The state is never brought to book for this negligence. Her husband, who committed her to state custody because he simply didn’t like her, is never made to reckon with his cruelty. What seems significant is that once his mother remembers him, Mr. Writer Man connects his own Warner lineage to his work as a writer. He explains to his mother how their shared gift manifests in the contemporary and diasporic context in covert ways. He says,

The Warner people is still here, Mama. We is still here […] But things is different now. We take the pencils down from behind our ears and now we writing. We been writing one whole heap of books. And guess what, mama? There is people who go into bookshop and they buy the things we write, and they put them on their shelves. And plenty time they don’t know that all of these things they been reading was not no novel, was not no poem, was not no history book. It was a simple warning.45

In framing books as a “simple warning,” the novel locates the writer’s work within an indigenous Jamaican revivalist frame. But more importantly, it emphasizes the difficulty of putting a shape on history: a warning, unlike a prescription for a progressive future, does not offer a narrative frame that resolves the continuous piling up of rubble that Walter Benjamin claims history to be. What The Last Warner Woman brings to the fore is that, like Benjamin’s angel of history and like a Warner Woman, the writer is powerless to stop the larger historical catastrophe that she sees, and can only issue warnings. Miller’s final image of the open book thematizes the obsession with the past that is central to West Indian writing. Twenty-first-century fiction does not convey a shape history should have but rather a fascination with and respect for its illegibility, and an insistence on fixed retrospection in contrast with future progression.

In sum, the haziness surrounding the existence of the West Indies, a place that entered modern imaginations through a 15th-century European mariner’s mistake, remains a central characteristic of Caribbean fiction in the 21st century. In its retrospectively trained glances that almost obsessively negotiate the region’s history; in its formal inventiveness put to the service of social, economic, and political justice for the variously marginalized; and in its traversing of all the transnational roots and routes that characterized Caribbean realities, 21st-century fiction evades taxonomic homogeneity. Moreover, with the enabling legacy of an almost century-old literary tradition, much contemporary writing is self-reflexive in its rewriting of the subversive politics of Caribbean literature. It rewrites them in ways that convey not only more expansively conceptualized West Indian realities—ways that sometimes transcend the geographic locatedness of the region itself—but also the exhaustion and diminished relevance of cultural nationalism as a frame for organizing equitable and just political sovereignty in postcolonial contexts. With one eye trained on the past and one eye trained on the future, 21st-century West Indian fiction obsessively interrogates inherited forms and politics in the service of trying to imagine new realities for Caribbean writing and life.

Review of the Literature

Critical discussions of 21st-century West Indian fiction as its own discrete moment of literary formation are emerging slowly and organizing themselves primarily around how sites of post-postnationalism, diaspora, and globalization are mediated by gender, sexuality, and race. Nadia Ellis’s entry in The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature, “The Eclectic Generation: Caribbean Literary Criticism at the Turn of The Twenty-First Century,” offers one of the first overviews of the critical conversations and debates surrounding the 21st-century’s literary output thus far.46 Likewise, the final chapter of Jamaica’s Difficult Subjects: Negotiating Sovereignty in Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Criticism, “Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Nation: Queering Twenty-First Century Caribbean Literature,” presents another early analysis of 21st-century Caribbean literature as a discrete period of literary development.47 It suggests that Marlon James and Patricia Powell are among a new cohort of Caribbean authors—indeed, representations of a distinct fourth wave of Caribbean writing—whose work explores problems of sovereignty that go beyond anticolonial struggles and nation building. In keeping with the interplay of gender and sexuality that is often central to twenty-first fiction, Donette Francis’s Fictions of Feminine Citizenship: Sexuality and The Nation in Contemporary Caribbean Literature (2010) examines fiction by contemporary diasporic women writers, such as Patricia Powell, Edwidge Danticat, Elizabeth Nunez, and Angie Cruz. This book examines of the mobilization of Caribbean women’s sexuality within a variety of imperialist and nationalist projects from the 19th century to the present.48 Elena Machado Sáez’s Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction, like Francis’s book, also focuses on contemporary diasporic writing within a comparative and pan-ethnic framework.49 Sáez’s focuses on established authors such as Edwidge Danticat, Junot Díaz, and Julia Alvarez, alongside emerging writers like David Chariandy, Marlon James, and Michelle Roffey, and reads them comparatively as a part of a larger transnational literary trend that Caribbean and Caribbean descended writers are participating in. On a more specifically thematized scale, the epilogue of Kelly Baker Josephs’s study Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Madness in Anglophone Caribbean Literature, “Madness and Migration in the Twentieth Century,” examines 21st-century diasporic West Indian fiction, to discuss the utility of madness as a trope for exploring the Caribbean diasporic imagination.50 As with any other literary developmental period, the publication of 21st-century West Indian fiction far outpaces critical discourses’ ability to remain in step with it. Nonetheless, over the last decade or so, critics have begun to think about this contemporary body of writing as its own distinct epoch of literary development, and much of this work continues to unfold in the present.

Further Reading

  • Barnes, Natasha. Cultural Conundrums Gender, Race, Nation, and the Making of Caribbean Cultural Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006.
  • Brown, J. Dillon, and Leah Reade Rosenberg, eds. Beyond Windrush: Rethinking Postwar Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015.
  • Bucknor, Michael A., and Alison Donnell, eds. The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Reprint edition. London: Routledge, 2013.
  • Dalleo, Raphael. Caribbean Literature and the Public Sphere: From the Plantation to the Postcolonial. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.
  • Davies, Carole Boyce, and Elaine Savory Fido, eds. Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. 1st ed. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1994.
  • Donnell, Alison. Twentieth-Century Caribbean Literature: Critical Moments in Anglophone Literary History. New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Edmondson, Belinda. Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority, and Women’s Writing in Caribbean Narrative. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.
  • Edmondson, Belinda. Caribbean Middlebrow: Leisure Culture and the Middle Class. 1st ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009.
  • Ellis, Nadia. Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2015.
  • Francis, D.Fictions of Feminine Citizenship: Sexuality and the Nation in Contemporary Caribbean Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Harrison, Sheri-Marie. Jamaica’s Difficult Subjects: Negotiating Sovereignty in Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Criticism. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2016.
  • Josephs, Kelly Baker. Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Madness in Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013.
  • Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.
  • Lee-Loy, Anne-Marie. Searching for Mr. Chin: Constructions of Nation and the Chinese in West Indian Literature. American Literatures Initiative edition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010.
  • Ramchand, Kenneth. The West Indian Novel and Its Background. London: Heinemann, 1984.
  • Rosenberg, Leah Reade. Nationalism and the Formation of Caribbean Literature. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
  • Sáez, Elena Machado. Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015.
  • Saunders, Patricia Joan. Alien-Nation and Repatriation: Translating Identity in Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007.
  • Scott, David. Refashioning Futures. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • Walcott, Derek. What the Twilight Says: Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.


  • 1. Belinda Edmondson, Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority, and Women’s Writing in Caribbean Narrative (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 1998), 20.

  • 2. Ibid.

  • 3. George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 214.

  • 4. J. Dillon Brown and Leah Reade Rosenberg, eds., Beyond Windrush: Rethinking Postwar Anglophone Caribbean Literature (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015), 4.

  • 5. The term “Windrush” refers to the vessel the SS Empire Windrush, that brought over one thousand West Indians immigrants to London in 1948.

  • 6. Miller’s remarks were made at an October 2012 meeting convened to mark both the fiftieth anniversaries of Jamaica’s and Trinidad and Tobago’s independence and the collapse of the West Indies Federation.

  • 7. Derek Walcott, “The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry?,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 16.1 (1974): 6.

  • 8. Ibid.

  • 9. Derek Walcott, “The Muse of History,” in What the Twilight Says: Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999), 36–64.

  • 10. Edward Baugh, “The West Indian Writer and His Quarrel with History,” Small Axe 16.2 (2012): 61.

  • 11. Levy’s third novel was awarded the New York Times Book Review “Notable Book of the Year” and was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.

  • 12. Andrea Levy, The Long Song: A Novel (New York: Picador, 2011), 11.

  • 13. Moira Ferguson, ed., The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, Revised ed. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

  • 14. Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave/My Bondage and My Freedom/Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, ed. Henry Louis Gates (New York: Library of America, 1994).

  • 15. Harriet Jacobs, By Harriet Jacobs—Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (New York: Penguin, 2000).

  • 16. Levy, The Long Song, 11.

  • 17. Ibid.

  • 18. Ferguson, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself.

  • 19. Levy, The Long Song, 10.

  • 20. Wilson Harris, “Tradition and the West Indian Novel,” in Selected Essays of Wilson Harris, ed. A. J. M. Bundy (New York: Routledge, 2005), 150.

  • 21. Ibid.

  • 22. Dave Gunning, “Caribbean Modernism,” in The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, ed. Peter Brooker et al. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 910–925.

  • 23. Ibid., 924.

  • 24. Simon Gikandi, Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 4.

  • 25. Sandra E. Drake, Wilson Harris and the Modern Tradition: A New Architecture of the World (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1986), 4–5.

  • 26. Giselle Liza Anatol, The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 155.

  • 27. Ibid., 166.

  • 28. Sheri-Marie Harrison, “Excess in A Brief History of Seven Killings,” Post 45.

  • 29. Gunning, “Caribbean Modernism,” 921.

  • 30. Kelly Baker Josephs, Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Madness in Anglophone Caribbean Literature (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), 147.

  • 31. Ibid.

  • 32. Alison Donnell, Twentieth-Century Caribbean Literature: Critical Moments in Anglophone Literary History (New York: Routledge, 2005), 130.

  • 33. Ibid., 137.

  • 34. Donette A. Francis, “Uncovered Stories: Politicizing Sexual Histories in Third Wave Caribbean Women’s Writings,” Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire 6.1 (Fall 2004): 68.

  • 35. Oonya Kempadoo, Tide Running, 2d ed. (New York: Beacon, 2004), 1.

  • 36. Ibid., 215.

  • 37. Kei Miller, “In Defense of Maas Joe,” Under the Saltire Flag, May 17, 2013.

  • 38. M. Jacqui Alexander, “Not Just (Any) Body Can Be a Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality and Postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas,” Feminist Review 48 (1994): 5–23.

  • 39. Thomas Glave, “Leighton Leigh Anne Norbrook,” in Kingston Noir, ed. Colin Channer (New York: Akashic Books, 2012), 197.

  • 40. Kei Miller, Fear of Stones and Other Stories (Oxford: Macmillan Caribbean, 2006).

  • 41. Ibid., 12.

  • 42. For more detailed accounts of Revivalism in Jamaica, See Edward Seaga and Olive Lewin, Revival Cults in Jamaica: Notes Towards a Sociology of Religion (1982); and Barry Chevannes “The Revival Past,” Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews (1998): 3–9.

  • 43. Kei Miller, The Last Warner Woman (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2012), 33.

  • 44. Ibid., 272.

  • 45. Ibid.

  • 46. Nadia Ellis, “The Eclectic Generation: Caribbean Literary Criticsm at the Turn of the Twenty First Century,” in The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature, eds. Michael A. Bucknor and Alison Donnell (New York: Routledge, 2011), 136–146.

  • 47. Sheri-Marie Harrison, Jamaica’s Difficult Subjects: Negotiating Sovereignty in Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Criticism (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2016).

  • 48. Donette A. Francis, Fictions of Feminine Citizenship: Sexuality and the Nation in Contemporary Caribbean Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

  • 49. Elena Machado Sáez, Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015).

  • 50. Josephs, Disturbers of the Peace.