Survey on the “hinterland” of West Indian literature
Oh my God
This is my meditation now, before I pray.
I think of Mozart,
at the heart of its civilization,
deserted, not even granted dignity
a decent burial.
I think of Christ crucified
Die in agony, crying aloud to his God –
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
I think of others,
others who are also sons of God,
despising their divinity,
alive and dying today in the slums.
I think of the strange and moving sight of the vanquished man
by the inanimate earth that covers it
or the deep waters in which he drowns
or the bullet that comes infallibly
travel through eternity to its ultimate destination.
The voices of the living pray to God.
Voices of the dead
precious in beautiful books in libraries
Men suffer and pray to God
and thus acquire a stature
like Jesus Christ and like Mozart.
They are waiting for the ultimate mockery
or the ultimate justification,
meanwhile, accumulating new and unknown tragic accents
about their human history, while they wait for God.
– Wilson Harris
On Thursday this week, most of the top West Indian literature scholars will gather in Georgetown for a three-day reunion as the University of Guyana hosts the 38th Annual Caribbean Literature Conference.
This brings more than 70 academics, writers, researchers, screenwriters and artists to Turkey from several universities and other institutions around the world. In total, it will be a meeting of around 100 participants, including members of the University of Guyana. Most will come from the US, UK, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Caribbean. These are people who are engaged in the writing, research and study of Caribbean literature as well as other forms related to it.
The theme of the conference is “Hinterlands: Journeys of the Imagination”, around which a wide variety of articles, which interpret, analyze and question literature from many different perspectives, will be presented.
There is an opening ceremony on Thursday morning at the Arthur Chung Conference Center, followed by three days of deliberations. These include reading articles on topics ranging from the study of many of the Caribbean’s most prominent writers in the fields of poetry, fiction and drama to a host of new and emerging writers. They also integrate different points of view on the critique of West Indian literature, its relations with politics, history, geopolitics, anthropology, linguistics and sociology, exploring the multiple ways in which the subject of “hinterlands” Can be interpreted.
This will result in the discussion of articles on an endless variety of topics and critical approaches, which will be very interesting due to the diversity of ideas and works of the imagination.
On the program, over three days, sessions on different artistic disciplines related to literature. Literature, of course, would never exist without the creative writers who produce it. There is a roundtable of writers who will form a panel to talk about their work, experiences and any other topic that will be suggested to them by the panel moderator.
There will be a featured writer in another session – a leading Guyanese author who will present and read excerpts from original works, talk about the creative process, experiences, real events and the imaginative energy that would have initiated, influenced and shaped the works.
In addition to this, a number of new and emerging Guyanese writers will read samples of their work during the lunch sessions each day of the conference. It will be a valuable exhibition for them, while giving academics, critics and guest writers a good idea of the contemporary face of Guyanese writing.
The main part of the deliberations will focus not only on interpretations of ‘hinterlands’ in Caribbean literature, but on some of the actual hinterlands that have developed as complements, extensions of, or artistic disciplines which have been included in the fields of Caribbean Literature. The concept has broadened over the many decades of literary development in the modern era, and much of what was not considered “literature” is now included, practiced, and studied.
The cinema is among the first of them. Cinema is increasingly being studied on Caribbean university campuses as a discipline in its own right, but in any case it began within and within literature programs. In addition, cinema in the region has developed and several works have been produced to the point that today there is a considerable body of Caribbean films, including short films. There is a session in the conference called “The Cinema Hinterland”. This will be led by the Timehri Festival of Short Films hosted by Romola Lucas.
In addition, one of the Caribbean’s greatest filmmakers and screenwriters will be making presentations at the conference. Yao Ramesar, who won the AN Sabga Caribbean Award of Excellence a few years ago, will present his work with a discussion of how he was influenced by Wilson Harris.
There is also “The theater hinterland”, since the study of theater and its performance in the theater is another branch of literature. There will be a performance of a new Guyanese play Laugh of the Marble Queen by Subraj Singh and the National Drama Company (NDC) during the conference. Other works from the NDC will also be featured, including their version of Ol Higue and an excerpt from their recent production of Ti Jean and His Brothers by Derek Walcott.
Another featured hinterland is the fine arts. Artists from the Creative Arts Division of the University of Guyana will present an exhibition titled “Hinterlands: Journeys of the Imagination” to match the theme of the conference. Academic staff such as Winslow Craig, Michael Khan and Elodie Cage Smith will present their work. Along with this, there will be another literature exhibition put on by the library of the University of Guyana. This is a famous exhibition known as Guyanese Literature Prize Exhibition and Guyanese Literature and Writers Exhibition. This was the most impressive exhibition of two Carifestas – in Haiti 2015 and Barbados 2017. It will now be reproduced for the conference.
Three panels are dedicated to Wilson Harris, whose work is very close to the concept of the hinterland, in particular this interpretation which plunges us into the heart of the Guyanese landscape and the imagination. The drama also recognizes the importance of Walcott, while other founding writers, such as VS Naipaul and George Lamming, will also be considered.
Yet, in addition, there are studies of more recent major writers of contemporary times. These include the very eminent and award-winning Marlon James, whose novels are in the spotlight, especially in the presentation of Michael Bucknor. With him is also another laureate, Kaie Miller, whose novels are the subject of other panels. And while these new talents are celebrated, there is an interesting study of a few writers who have all but gotten lost. Critics Alison Donnell and Evelyn O’Callaghan will present a study for a panel titled “Forgotten Hinterlands: Lost Caribbean Women Writings” in which they seek to salvage some past writers whose works are in danger.
This is the major conference on the theme of Caribbean literature in the world. It has grown to grandiose proportions since its inauguration in 1981 when it set itself the goal of generating criticism of West Indian literature. It arose from the three campuses of UWI and included the University of Puerto Rico, the College of USVI and soon incorporated the University of Guyana and the College of the Bahamas.
Eventually, the University of Miami and St Georges University joined. But since the 1990s, it has gradually become truly international, encompassing the US, UK, Europe and the world. A reflection of the global study and interest in Caribbean literature is where it is now, as will be seen in the latter part of this week.