Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Brodber talks Jane and Louisa, bulla and ice cream

Published:Friday | May 27, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Dr Erna Brodber, CD
Dr Erna Brodber reading at a previous staging of the Calabash International Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth.
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Day three of the 2016 Calabash International Literary Festival opens with a reading of Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, the groundbreaking novel by Dr Erna Brodber, CD. Between 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., Sheila Graham, William Mahfood, Floyd Green and Velma Pollard will read excerpts from Brodber's novel.

Dr Brodber is the recipient of the Order of Distinction, Commander Class, from Jamaica, the D.Litt. from the UWI Mona and the Musgrave Gold Medal for Literature and Orature from the Institute of Jamaica. She has taught internationally and held visiting positions across the USA and Europe and, most recently, was Writer in Residence in the Department of Literatures in English, UWI Mona.

Through her novels, Dr Brodber has emerged as one of the leading contemporary writers from the Commonwealth Caribbean. From Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home (1980), through Myal (1988), Louisiana (1994), The Rainmaker's Mistake (2006) and The World Is a High Hill (2012), Brodber has developed as a distinct voice with an acute appreciation of the social, cultural and oral spaces of Jamaica and other venues of the African Diaspora.

She answered six questions ahead of Calabash 2016.

Q: How do you feel about your book 'Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home' being featured at Calabash 2016?

EB: 'Feel' is difficult for me at this moment. How did I feel when I heard etc ... is the better question. I am not as often at Calabash as I would like, so I had to ask others what this activity of reading Jane and Louisa was about. The answer that came is "we usually feature dead writers whose work we feel should be noticed" in that slot. I was very honoured that my work was considered by Calabash to be so significant that I didn't need to die for it to be featured.

Q: Where the book 'Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home' come from?

EB: This work came from deep, deep, deep in my soul. There were so many social issues scraping the lining of my soul and needing attention if I was not to spit my soul in mangled pieces out of my mouth - woman liberation, black/Africa matters, the need for reconstruction of Jamaican society and personal issues. What kind of woman was I? Was I lovable and, if not, why?

Q: Why should someone read 'Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home'?

EB: I was teaching abnormal psychology to Social Work students at the UWI. Every year in about March when, according to my schedule, I am about to teaching schizophrenia, one of my students, usually female, would show signs of psychiatric disturbance. My exposure to psychiatry, which I got as a fellow in Psychiatric Anthropology at the medical school of the University of Washington, Seattle, USA, emphasised the social aspects of the malady. This is the approach I took in my teaching, but was stymied by the fact that there were no case studies. I would take Orlando Patterson and Roger Mais' work in, then thought these are men, why don't I, the woman, share my turmoil with my students and give them a case study by writing? Thus, Jane and Louisa was born. I think it can still do what it set out to do: look at and feel through issues related to growing up female in Jamaica. It can be data as well as a therapeutic tool.

Q: Favourite Calabash moments?

EB: This was not a moment; it was a day. My twenty-year-old son asked to come to Calabash with me. He was beginning to appreciate literary art and wanted to see if he could really approach the novel he had felt he had in him. It is this feeling - that 'anyone may' - that I like about the Calabash gathering.

Q: Top five books you would recommend to a book hungry 16-year-old?

EB: In no particular order:

Zadie Smith's White Teeth

Andrea Levy's Small Island

Vic Reid's New Day

Merle Hodge's Crick Crack Monkey

Simone Schwartz-Bart's Bridge of the Beyond

Q: Most unhealthy food choice?

EB: Bulla and ice cream.