"Soft" Writers?

Caribbean writers"Boy, you soft!" It's one of the worst things that you can say to a Jamaican male. "Softness" in Jamaican implies a lack of sexual potency or lack of masculinity which is a serious character flaw in the macho Jamaican world. But the word also carries the connotation of a lack of courage. I've used '"soft" several times in stories such as "Softers" (Uncle Obadiah and the Alien) and in "The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy," where the gangster says that Jesus is "soft" meaning that Jesus lacks courage. "Soft" is a word that has haunted me and that has been used against me from the time that I'd decided to become a writer, and the persons who said it were bolstering the stereotype that all writers were "soft."

But I beg to differ. Because the more I think about it, the more I read the blogs of my fellow Caribbean writers (Marlon James, Pam Mordecai, Nicolette Bethel, Tobias Buckell, Kwame Dawes, Nalo Hopkinson)--their ongoing narratives unraveling before my eyes--the more I realize their persistence to write poems, stories, and novels in the face death, rejections, ignorance, and racism while preserving a sense of freshness and hope, the more I know that these writers have the hearts of warriors.


This Friday (9/7/07) African American author and MDC Professor, Joe McNair, on his latest work, Oshe Shango.


Kelvin said…
Dear Geoffrey,
I remember Prof. Ken Ramchand of UWI in an article wrote that the phonetic spelling of the Trini pronounciation was much more descriptive of the meaning. It is 'sorf', eliminating the hard t at the end. So you ended up with a 'sorf man'.
Greetings & Welcome, Kelvin!

I wasn't aware of that, but it makes sense. In Jamaica, the phonetic spelling of it would be a squishy saaf that would also eliminate the hard t.

Leon said…
Writers are supposed to be expressive and in touch with their emotions, hence the "soft" stereotype.
Tobias Buckell said…
It's tough, because us young men are always taught that literature is about feelings and emotion and icky stuff :-) I found adventure and genre when I was young, I liked big ideas and big explosions, so I always felt it was an unfair appellation, someone had to write non-soft characters like James Bond, and that was a writer :-)

I try thinking of Hemingway as being 'soft.'
Dear Tobias,
Great to hear from you again.
Yeah, it's a great time to be a writer from the Caribbean, isn't it?
All this stuff plus the writing that we have to do. But as the great Burning Spear said, "Door peep shall not enter..."

Rethabile said…
I grew up in Lesotho where "hard" writers were stereotyped as writing mystery and spy stuff (James Hadley Chase, etc), or the tough colonial story (Achebe, Laye), or else the political thought (Biko).

The "soft" writer was the poet, because poems were erroneously judged to be weepy and womanish.

How I'd like anyone who thought so then to read your "Poem for the Innocents" now, Geoffrey, or any of the poems out there that take a stance and make a statement!
Give thanks, Rethabile.
I will also say that their was a curious disconnect in Jamaica when Bob put outKaya. Many said that Bob had gone saaf and he had to reestablish his revolutionary credits with Survival.

Tobias Buckell said…
"Yeah, it's a great time to be a writer from the Caribbean, isn't it?
All this stuff plus the writing that we have to do. But as the great Burning Spear said, "Door peep shall not enter...""

Indeed :-)
Professor Zero said…
Soft - but writing's hard.
Nalo said…
Maybe because I'm a woman (or maybe because my head is shaved!) I don't get accused much of being "soft." Likely it's just assumed that I'm soft because I'm female. And yeah, I guess *bits* of me are.

Geoffrey, yuh not sof' neither, you know!

Not that there's anything wrong with that... :)
Dear Nalo,


Nothing is wrong with being "soft"--not at all. But when you're young, you can be very foolish.


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