Статья «An embodiment of conflict» (на английском языке)


Lisa Allen-Agostini
Sunday Guardian
March 12, 2000
Page 19

Jamaican writer Olive Senior

“I would describe myself as a conscious Caribbean person, even though I’m based somewhere else; my primary area of interest is still the Caribbean,” says Jamaican author Olive Senior, now a Toronto-resident. Sitting upright in a chair on the downstairs verandah of the St Augustine guesthouse where she has stayed for the past week, Senior looks crisp and official in sensible shoes and a brown jacket. Then you notice the metal frog, complete with long, swaying red tongue, pinned to her lapel. She couldn’t possibly be severe, not with a broach like that.

Senior, 59, is the author of two books of poetry, four of non-fiction and three of short stories. It is her short story collections – Summer Lightning and Other Stories, Arrival of the Snake-Woman and Other Stories, and The Discerner of Hearts – for which she is best known, since she won the inaugural Commonwealth Writers Prize for her first collection in 1987.

In Trinidad at the invitation of the Faculty of the Humanities and Education at UWI’s St Augustine Campus, last week, Senior says she is pleased to have the opportunity to answer questions from students on her work. As the guest of honour at literature Week, she’s been taken to undergraduate and graduate classes, and has sat in on readings every lunchtime on campus. “I’m interested in communication. I love to meet people who are reading my work. I love to hear what they have to say, so it’s been a wonderful experience for me,’ she says, peering out from behind her oval-framed glasses. As she speaks, every now and then she runs her hands through the back of the thick salt-and-pepper curls, which frame her face, mussing her hair slightly.

Like this, she is the embodiment of the conflict her stories revolve around: order and disorder, town and country, imposed structure and unleashed nature. In fact, that conflict is intrinsic to Senior herself.

“I was born in rural Jamaica, deep rural, really in the bush, and I went to school in Montego Bay. After school I went to live in Kingston, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a Kingstonian, ever. Home for me is the mountains of Jamaica.”

The daughter of peasant farmers, she grew up with well-off relatives whose lifestyle was the opposite of what she had known as a child.

“It meant a shift. I grew up in two households, sort of two different Jamaicas, not just because of material things, but also how people behaved,” she explains quietly, as if thinking the thing through as she says it, although this dichotomy is the substance of a great many of her earliest stories.

Her most recent work becomes less about her and more about the society, she says. The method is visible in “The View from the Terrace”, a dispassionate third person narrative about race and class in Jamaica, from her second story collection, Arrival of the Snake-Woman.

“That story to me is where I’m going, off in that direction. It’s writing about society and it’s a critique of certain things in that society but at the same time standing outside of it,” she says.

Her writing is intrinsically a critique of this region, Senior says; a sociological effort underlies it because stories without that kind of purpose are the product of places like the US where writers can afford that luxury. In a region still working out a definition of its own essence, writers have a duty to do more than just tell amusing stories.

She is in the process of completing a revision of her non-fiction book, A-Z of Jamaican Heritage, an encyclopedic tome on the natural and social history of her homeland.

The revision, she says, is a labour of love. “It’s also because I’m so concerned about what’s happening in the Caribbean with young people and the fact that we have become so caught up in the ‘satellite culture’ that our true indigenous cultures – which just began to be explored at the time of independence – are being swept away or ignored. And you wonder, who are we going to be down the road if we don’t have something of our own to cling to?”

It’s a concern that comes through in her fiction as well, where protagonists battle the lure of “foreign” with varying degrees of success. Now that she lives in that very “foreign”, she sees too a different slant on the issue: not how we see ourselves, but how others see us. “One of the things I want my writing to do is to paint to the world a picture of Caribbean people as real people, because a lot of people, the images they have of us are real stereotype images.” The Caribbean, for those outside the region, conjures up the predictable images of beachcombers, rastas, carnival players and young, male delinquents.

“I want my writing to present Caribbean people as real people, with dreams and hopes and fears and courage, the same as anybody else in the world,” she says.