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The political struggles that delivered the first wave of independent Caribbean nation states are often retrospectively characterised under the banner of nationalism, but it is important to acknowledge the diversity of ideologies and affiliations that were involved in the transition towards non-colonial sovereignty. This chapter explores the role that writers and imaginative writings played in shaping alternative political imaginaries in the Anglophone Caribbean region from the 1920s to the 1960s. Its arguments expand the terrain of literary nationalisms beyond the now canonical fictions of male Windrush generation novelists writing at the mid-century. It attends to the nascent nationalism invoked by literary projects at the turn of the century, considers the role assigned to the writer in the short-lived project of Anglophone regional Federation between 1958 and 1962 that predated the constitution of nation states, and explores how Pan-African and Black Atlantic movements powerfully shaped the decolonial literary imagination in the early twentieth century. It also acknowledges the crucial role that women played in male-centred histories and politically engaged literary traditions.
This essay summarizes the renewed and expanded perspectives on Caribbean literature made possible by the three-volume critical project to which it contributes the final essay. It then addresses three of the most pertinent issues facing Caribbean literature and literary studies as it moves further into the twenty-first century: first, how the future of Caribbean literary criticism will be shaped as much by what we rediscover about its past as by what is yet to come; second, how critical models might evolve as we reach the limit point of cascading inclusions; and third, questions of accessing and preserving literary sources (past, present and future), with a cautious appraisal of the promise of digital humanities.
The period from the 1970s to the second decade of the twenty-first century has produced an extraordinarily rich and diverse body of Caribbean writings. During this half century, numerous important transitions have taken place in terms of creative opportunities for writers, as well as colossal shifts in reception and recognition. Whereas Caribbean literature was too often dismissed as a peripheral, political and/or exotic sub-branch of English/French/Spanish/Dutch Literature, there is now a much fuller recognition of its creative and imaginative brilliance, as writers from the region continue to sweep the major prizes of the twenty-first century literary world. While the scope and scale of Caribbean writings produced in the twenty-first century alone would merit a volume of this kind, tracing the historical arc of Caribbean postcolonial literary cultures from the independence era to the contemporary moment brings its own insights. In particular, it affords an analysis of how transition and change have functioned as a primary ethos of Caribbean literary production and allows this volume to chart multiple Caribbean literary (r)evolutions.
While the cultural memory of revolutionary movements has remained consistently significant within Caribbean literary traditions, the imaginative shaping of what constitutes revolutionary ideals and subjects has undergone meaningful transition across the decades of the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Literary works have continued to engage meaningfully with the Haitian Revolution of 1791, the Cuban Revolution of 1953, the Grenadian Revolution of 1979, the Rodney Riots in Jamaica in 1968, the Black Power Revolution of 1970 in Trinidad and the late 1970s cultural – and attempted political – revolution in Guyana. This essay traces three characteristic features of a range of literary works: first, a sensibility tuned to the excess of the possible over the actual; second, a commitment to narrating the punctuations of revolutionary time; and third, a move towards testimonial forms that foreground the direct voicing of previously peripheral and silenced subjects.
The period from the 1970s to the present day has produced an extraordinarily rich and diverse body of Caribbean writing that has been widely acclaimed. Caribbean Literature in Transition, 1970-2020 traces the region's contemporary writings across the established genres of prose, poetry, fiction and drama into emerging areas of creative non-fiction, memoir and speculative fiction with a particular attention on challenging the narrow canon of Anglophone male writers. It maps shifts and continuities between late twentieth century and early twenty-first century Caribbean literature in terms of innovations in literary form and style, the changing role and place of the writer, and shifts in our understandings of what constitutes the political terrain of the literary and its sites of struggle. Whilst reaching across language divides and multiple diasporas, it shows how contemporary Caribbean Literature has focused its attentions on social complexity and ongoing marginalizations in its continued preoccupations with identity, belonging and freedoms.
This chapter offers a critical overview of historical, cultural, and literary debates around ‘Windrush’. It revisits how the boat’s arrival in 1948 has come to represent the ‘beginnings’ of multicultural Britain and the consequent reshaping of the nation’s identity. It examines which factors influenced the writers and works that came to prominence and gained an enduring currency as Windrush narratives; it also attends to works that have been less celebrated. The particular focus of the chapter is on how the construction of the Windrush experience within literary works has aligned with wider political narratives to emphasise the ongoing challenges around the recognition and accommodation of black subjects within British culture and society. The chapter addresses two important blind spots within the literary framing of the Windrush experience: writings that emphasise transnational attachments and cultural mobility, as well as writings by women.
Derek Walcott, “The Schooner Flight,” The Star-Apple Kingdom, 1979, 8
The question of belonging has long preoccupied Caribbean authors and continues to haunt the region's globally acclaimed literary works. This concern with accommodation and place-making is not surprising given that Caribbean history has been characterized by displacements and diasporas. Cultural encounter and exchange has shaped the geopolitics of belonging to the Caribbean throughout its history: from the unfree migrations of Africans and then Indians whose forced labour sustained the plantation colonies, through the competing colonial regimes of rival European powers and economically motivated mass migrations to Panama and later to the global north, to the growing economic reliance on tourism into the region. Indeed the intensity of global compression experienced by the Caribbean region means that it is now often regarded as paradigmatic in terms of contemporary modes of belonging that more frequently display multinational sites of attachment in terms of familial, ethnic, and commodity cultures.
Given the commonplace patterns of transatlantic as well as intra-regional migration and diaspora that have shaped the majority of literary careers, the Caribbean region provides a highly productive location through which to examine how far the locations of literary archives map onto those of their associated writerly lives and careers, as well as what the various connections and disconnections between these two might suggest. This essay tells two interconnected stories about Caribbean literary archives. The first is about the multi-locational form of cultural archives from this region where migration has been an intrinsic pattern of human life throughout the twentieth century and since. This is a story about the politics of location as it is experienced by authors writing against colonialism, and the impact “place” has on the historical meaning and value that their archives accrue. It addresses the intricacies of identity, history, and place that influence the shaping and recording of literary authorship and the challenge this presents to a nationalist logic and its conceptions of belonging. This first story offers an example of how the Caribbean experience may enrich archival thinking in terms of the politics of belonging.
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