Archive for December, 2011

“The Narrative Is Not Written in Stone”

Friday, 16 December 2011

A Conversation with Caryl Phillips, Part I

Bastian Balthazar Becker

“Belonging is a contested state. Home is a place riddled with vexing questions,” [1]Caryl Phillips claimed in A New World Order (2001). These thoughts encapsulate the core of Phillips’s oeuvre. In the course of his extraordinary career, Phillips, who was born on St. Kitts, raised in Leeds, and educated at Oxford, has published nine novels, five works of non-fiction, and numerous plays for both the stage and the screen. He has received the 2004 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for A Distant Shore, the 2006 Pen/Beyond the Margins Prize for Dancing in the Dark, and his novel Crossing the River was shortlisted for the 1993 Man Booker Prize. Although the subjects of his books range widely in terms of time and space, the themes of displacement, migration, and journey run like a thread through his work. 

I met Caryl Phillips on 20 June 2011 to discuss the publication of his latest collection of essays, titled Color Me English. The interview took place in Midtown Manhattan, in Phillips’s apartment that overlooks Central Park. As attested by other scholars who have interviewed him over the years, Phillips’s personal courtesy and generosity, coupled with the depth and unusual candor of his thoughts, make him a rare interviewee. (more…)

Black Midas in Moscow

Friday, 16 December 2011

Conversations with Jan Carew

Joy Gleason Carew

Guyanese author Jan Carew is best known for his 1958 novel Black Midas. In 1964, Carew also published one of his most controversial books, Moscow Is Not My Mecca (US edition, Green Winter [1965]). And, as he learned much later, an unauthorized version of his book was circulated around the African continent as an “English language reader.” Carew’s novel was based on the stories of his cousin and other students from the Caribbean and Africa who had accepted scholarships to study in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Carew also drew on his own experiences as one of the first students from the English-speaking Caribbean to receive a scholarship to the Eastern Bloc countries when he went to Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s; and later, when he made two visits to the Soviet Union in the 1960s as a guest of the Soviet Writers’ Union. Following the publication of Moscow Is Not My Mecca, Carew was challenged by the Left and lauded by the Right, as each side tried to interpret his work from their often dogmatic and simplistic formulations. Carew, on the other hand, was exploring a complex set of relationships, which did not and still do not lend themselves to simple either/or divisions. Recognizing the potential of the Soviet experiment to provide much-needed support for the newly developing societies, Carew also felt he had a right to critique problems as he saw them and to call for reform.

Jan Carew is now ninety-one and in the process of writing his memoirs. This interview, conducted in Louisville, Kentucky, in July 2011, recounts aspects of his experiences as a student in Prague and, later, as a visitor to the Soviet Union, and his rising concern about the treatment of black students there. (more…)