11 August 2010

Restorying & Imagining in The Bahamas

31 July 2010 || Nassau, The Bahamas

I spent most of July at home in The Bahamas teaching for BWSI's second year (Bahamas Writers Summer Institute) - which is a Caribbean-centered creative writing program - founded by Bahamian writers Marion Bethel and Helen Klonaris. I have been honored to be a part of the BWSI faculty for the past two years. It was an incredibly rich and moving experience to teach, read, and reason with fellow Bahamian writers. I taught a course on Caribbean Literature titled The Caribbean Literary Imagination. We delved into Caribbean history and culture, the intersections among race, gender, class, and sexuality, and how we define the Bahamian literary imagination within the larger Caribbean. The theme this year was "Restorying the Bahamian Imaginal Landscape" - and in addition to seminars and workshops for participants, BWSI also hosted the Writers in Community Series which included readings and panel discussions open to the public.

I was on the panel titled "Writing from Away" with Helen Klonaris, Ian Strachan, Maria Govan, and Nakia Pearson moderated by Marion Bethel. We each read some of our work and then had a conversation about writing abroad. It was an intense and heated discussion about the politics of home and feelings of exile while having and sustaining a deep commitment to home. Each of us defined home and what it meant to leave and return - some of us on the panel are still away and some have returned - and what it means to write both at home and away. I have been long fascinated with how Caribbean writers engage with home while being abroad. There are so many variant degrees of longing and desire for home represented in the works of our most beloved and famous writers across the region. How we imagine and define home helps us to define ourselves no matter how long we have lived away or whether we return or not. And through the various and at times difficult relations to home (from George Lamming in Pleasures of Exile to Michelle Cliff in If I Could Write This In Fire), it is clear - home is always in our blood, in our pens, and in our hearts & minds. I struggle with this often - my relationship to home... but no matter the years that go by... I remain a migrant soul deeply connected to home in all ways... I continue to define and make home(s) & homespaces wherever I live... but yet & still - home for me is always The Bahamas. I take my roots with me and lay them down through my words, my work, my light.

I believe that we must build and nurture community wherever we live. And as a writer and community worker, I also believe in sustaining rootedness to/through/in home. For me, this has meant returning home to visit and spend time as often as possible. It has also meant for me - writing about home, keeping connected and finding ways to do work on the ground in spite of the distance. This is why BWSI has been such an important experience for me. And I look forward to many more years and being a part of all the growth that will surely happen with BWSI.

We ended the BWSI's Writers in Community Series with a conversation about "The Shape of Things to Come" and it was an important way to wrap up the series. I moderated this panel which included Marion Bethel, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming, Obediah Smith, Philip Armbrister, Thea Rutherford, and Travolta Cooper. I asked each of the writers in their introductions to say briefly what they saw as "the shape of things to come" - and each offered provocative and insightful comments about the future of Bahamian writing. We discussed at length the state of Bahamian literature and culture, the potential and rise of Bahamian film in terms of culture, and how to fuel and sustain the Bahamian imagination. Manoo-Rahming said that we must think about "the thing we are going to shape" - that is the question - "what is the thing?" - and we all exhaled and pondered her deep question. Rutherford said that since so many of us don't learn about our Bahamian cultural producers, we must start there --educating ourselves and the youth about all that we did not know about ourselves and our history.

Caribbean writers and intellectuals have long said this in many different ways--from Marcus Garvey's famous quote about roots to Erna Brodber's re-writing of history to understand the present in order to create a better future. These all resonate with the West African Adinkra symbol - Sankofa - which means in order to move forward you must know your past. M. Nourbese Philip says that since as we have lost our history and our word that we must take control of creating our own images and words. Therefore, our writing must not only be decolonized but also create annd re-create our histories/herstories. We must be in a constant battle to take back our imaginations and use them to inspire and sustain our subjectivity. Searching, defining, building... the thing.

In the meantime, I'm working on restorying and imagining from far far away... still dreaming of home--summer fruit, the ocean, moonlight nights, sunsets, and time with my people.

No comments: