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At Miami book fair, Caribbean writers will reflect on 50 years of independence from UK rule
MIAMI (AP) ' Almost 50 years ago, a loose confederation of Caribbean islands broke apart as two members established their independence after centuries of colonization.
At the Miami Book Fair International, which runs Nov. 13-20, novelists, poets and researchers from Jamaica plus Trinidad and Tobago will consider whether the nations' independence has lived up to the promise or changed the Caribbean identity.
Mervyn Solomon, who coordinates the book fair's "Caribbean Voices" program, organized a showcase of fiction and poetry from the English-speaking Caribbean and panels discussing post-colonial themes and generational shifts in the region's art and literature ahead of next year's 50th anniversary of the islands' independence.
The West Indies Federation, consisting of 10 British territories in the Caribbean, collapsed in 1962 when Jamaica withdrew to establish an independent government. The two-island territory of Trinidad and Tobago gained independence that same year.
Independence celebrations on those islands and in their diaspora communities should include questions about whether those governments represent the modern Caribbean's concerns or are still fixated on their colonial past, said Solomon, a Miami Dade College professor and poet who was born in Trinidad.
He said that younger writers from the United Kingdom's former Caribbean territories are addressing migration and social problems in a globalized world and may be best poised to ask those questions because their political concerns are broader than their predecessors'.
It's a discussion sure to resonate in Miami, where so many residents share Caribbean roots, said Shara McCallum, a poet who moved from Jamaica to Miami as a child.
"This is a place where you have an audience that really gets that experience of immigration, exile, discontinuity, questioning home and identity," said McCallum, who teaches at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. She'll read Nov. 19 from her recent collection "The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems."
The relationship of the exile to an island homeland can be experienced in the language Caribbean writers use, McCallum said. It's a layered language that's equally fluent in standard English and in the island quirks of vocabulary and grammar, which makes Caribbean literature sound different from any other.
"You're going to hear orality, and patois or vernacular or creole," McCallum says. "It's not just an accent."
U.S. or U.K. readers may lump all Caribbean writers together as having one voice, but the arts community in the islands isn't as unified, said Brenda Flanagan, a Trinidadian fiction writer who teaches Caribbean literature at Davidson College in North Carolina.
As an example, she points to this season's "Project Runway" winner, Anya Ayoung-Chee, who was a "Caribbean designer" on the reality show but when she won, Caribbean media identified her as only a Trinidadian designer. Similarly, Caribbean writers tend to explore questions of identity and politics island by island, instead of taking a regional view or as a Caribbean community.
"We only think of ourselves as Caribbean in terms of how we're described by others, but our writing is focused on individual countries," Flanagan said. She will moderate the panel on post-colonial themes on Nov. 19.
Other Caribbean writers and researchers participating in the Caribbean programs at the book fair include Angela Barry, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming, Eunice Heath-Tate, Le Roy Clarke, Ramabai Espinet and Brian Meeks, a political science professor at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. It has begun a yearlong research project called "Fifty-Fifty" to reflect on 50 years of independence.
"Perhaps 50 years is a very short time in making these questions, but we remain very small islands," said Meeks, who will also discuss post-colonial themes on Nov. 19. "I don't think we regret for a moment that we took that decision, but what is the price that we've paid?"
Separate events at the book fair, taking place at Miami Dade College, focus on works about the Caribbean's main newsmakers, Cuba and Haiti, including a presentation by Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health and author of "Haiti after the Earthquake" and a "cyber-presentation" in Spanish of a book by Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.
Miami Book Fair International: http://www.miamibookfair.com/