‘A list, a curriculum, a bookshelf, a publishing trend – they are attempts to anchor us, but the real joy is floating just outside of that’ writes Alana-Marie Gopaul of Bocas Lit Fest, as she reflects on crowdsourcing a list of 100 Caribbean Books That Made Us.
Commissioned for the International Literature Showcase.
In April, the Bocas Lit Fest wrapped up its 2021 virtual festival weekend with a special event – the reveal of the 100 Caribbean Books That Made Us, a list crowdsourced from our followers on social and digital media spaces, and then narrowed down by avid readers, reviewers and critics from the Caribbean.
In my role with data collection for this campaign since 2020, I expectedly have my own thoughts on the “final” 100. It was done as a response to BBC’s 100 Novels that Shaped the World, and any exercise that seeks to name names demands both playful and serious scrutiny and opinion-sharing.
However, for me, the final list is not what has captured me. It’s the process of compilation itself where feel the simultaneous expansive and restrictive nature of literature. I let myself be overwhelmed as the recommendations came in – 250 in the first week alone. Francophone and Hispanophone titles came in, a question about nominating Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked, a song book with lyrics by calypso legend David Rudder was included.
I suppose I have been thinking about limitations and vastness since my secondary school days, when I first read Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber. I felt fortunate that I had been witness to such a story, such creativity and imagination, amongst my classmates who had not read it. Here was a novel that transmuted Carnival, something I was intimately familiar with, into something I could dare to dream of, that did not ask me to know about the moors of England. How come this book was not on my school Lit curriculum?
As the list was whittled down into the last 100, I admit I felt a tinge of disappointment. I wanted more to be named, an indefinitely-open beloved books campaign! I’ve started non-methodically reading from the list, letting the titles and book covers jump out at me as they will. In a strangely serendipitous way, I’ve consecutively chosen translations from French island authors – Maryse Conde’s I Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Texaco and Maria Vieux-Chavet’s Haitian trilogy, Love, Anger, Madness. I cannot, by any stretch, say that these books were denied to me previously, but by the same token, no one told me that the ‘canon’ of Caribbean literature written by us, with our stories in our voice and tone, is so much larger than life itself, has always been, even as international prizes and publishing houses are currently recognising contemporary Caribbean authors more and more.
A list, a curriculum, a bookshelf, a publishing trend – they are attempts to anchor us, but the real joy is floating just outside of that, in the unchartered expanse of waters to be discovered. The Bocas Lit Fest’s intriguing discussions throughout the 2021 festival explored many of the nuances of what gets written, published and read, and we will continue to do so. For me, the narrow concept of listing has widened my literary landscape and I welcome the beautifully flawed human experience where more answers reveal more questions.
The 100 Caribbean Books That Made Us is available on the Bocas Lit Fest website, along with the wider list of 308 titles which were named by our followers.
Alana-Marie Gopaul is the Marketing and Media Manager at Bocas Lit Fest since 2021. Her professional experiences span the fields of Psychology, Human Resource Management and Marketing. She is passionate about the power of the written word to change attitudes and behaviours.