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Jamaican writers draw long bench in Canada

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2011 | 12:00 AM
President of Arts and Culture Jamaica, Cherita Girvan-Campbell (centre), with Jamaican writers Olive Senior (left) and Pamela Mordecai following a Black History Month presentation at the Toronto Public Library. - Contributed


Lorna Goodison, Olive Senior and Pamela Mordecai, three Jamaican writers who now call Canada home, among them have published hundreds of fiction and non-fiction stories and poems, and won a plethora of awards for their writing skills.

It is because of their achievements why the world's busiest public library system, the Toronto Public Library (TPL) with its 99 branches, included them in a special series during Black History Month, called 'In Conversation with Donna Bailey Nurse'.

Bailey Nurse, a writer and critic, sat down with the writers and actors, to speak about their lives and careers, trying to gain an insight into their psyche. The authors read from their books and members of the audience were able to ask questions.

Another Jamaican writer, award-winner, Rachel Manley, was also slated to be part of the series but came down with bronchitis.

Commonwealth Writer's Prize

Goodison, who has written eight books of poetry and has won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for her book, I'm Becoming My Mother as well as the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-fiction for her book, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People, read excerpts from her new book of short stories, By Love Possessed.

She shared with the audience that the most important thing for her when writing is to capture the voice.

"The thing that makes us respect a book is the voice. If you really want to have a convincing work, then you have to speak like the person. If the voice is not true, I cannot read the book," she said.

All the authors said that their Jamaican upbringing influenced their writing styles. Senior noted that she was influenced by two types of Jamaica which she grew up knowing - one where she was a poor, barefooted girl in the country, and the other where she lived with affluent relatives.

Another common thread among the authors was that they are or have been teachers in Jamaica - at St Andrew High School, Jamaica College and the University of the West Indies; and in North America - at the University of Toronto, University of Michigan, Humber College and Barnard College in New York.

President of Arts and Culture Jamaica, Cherita Girvan-Campbell, praised the TPL and Bailey Nurse for showcasing this aspect of Jamaica's culture.

"Jamaica has so many accomplished writers, I am heartened to see them sharing their works and their views with the Canadian public," she said.

The organisation, which was created to showcase the unique arts and culture of Jamaica, has collaborated in the past with all the writers.

As part of Black History Month, the TPL also featured 'Haiti, One Year Later', highlighting the tragic earthquake of January, 2010 and a presentation on Caribana, exploring the roots of African oral traditions.