In My Own Words: Nicolette Bethel

Nicolette BethelI never thought I'd be a non-fiction writer. I grew up reading the fantastic. The more imagination, the better. It was my brother, the question-asker, who was fascinated by facts: he was the one reading The Guinness Book of Records, National Geographic, Time, The Economist. Reality never interested me; fiction was my element.

As I grew older, though, I came to realize that fiction is shaped by fact. The books I loved to read, whether they were traditional fairy tales, children's novels, classic works of fantasy like the Narnia Chronicles or Lord of the Rings, or between-the-wars-English mysteries, were not neutral by any means. On the contrary. Many of them were actually tools of empire, reproducing the fundamental principles that justified European domination of the rest of us. In the British novels that were my companions for the first fifteen or so years of my reading life were figures who helped draw impermeable lines between us and them — the golliwogs of Blyton's nurseries, the Southrons and Easterlings on Tolkein's Pelennor Fields, and the Calormenes to the south of Narnia, or, later, the less-than-admirable persons of colour in Agatha Christie's and Dorothy L. Sayers' mysteries. The more literature I read, the more I understood that fact and fiction were not, and could not ever be, separate.

It took the study of anthropology to make me realize that the opposite was also true -- that what masqueraded as "fact" was also partly fiction. For decades, anthropologists had made the mistake that ethnography was synonymous with reality -- that what was contained in the studies of specific peoples at very particular junctures in time and space was not truth, but a literary version of the truth. Post-modernism's reflexivity may have limited application to the study of literature which inspired it, but my studies of anthropology, it was radical. My understanding of life, fact, fiction, law, and society has never been the same since.

Essays on Life began in my head long before I had a reason to write them. My return to The Bahamas after almost a decade of living abroad set off a chain of thoughts about our society and our culture that were raging to get out, and I was already contemplating approaching a newspaper to feel out interest for a series of articles on society in general, and not on political events of the day, when Larry Smith, then the editor of the Nassau Guardian, invited me to write a column. Essays on Life are the result.

I could have never imagined how widely read -- or how widely appreciated -- these essays would be. I've been writing them for five years now, and they appear not only in the Nassau Guardian (, but they are also reprinted online at Larry Smith's Bahama Pundit (, at The New Black: Magazine (, and (of course) on my own Blogworld (, as well as being regularly selected for readings at the College of The Bahamas. I've been asked often when I'm going to publish them. Now I have.

For a woman who never liked reading non-fiction, I've come a long, long way.


Essays on Life is available from Lulu and will be available from online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Link to Lulu:


Nicolette Bethel was born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, where she currently resides. She has lived, studied and worked in the UK and Canada, and is currently apprenticed to the Bahamian Government for her sins and others’. She is a playwright, poet, fiction writer and anthropologist. She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, and is a researcher in the fields of Bahamian national identity and of Junkanoo. She is the editor of Junkanoo: Festival of The Bahamas (Macmillan Caribbean, 1991), excerpted from E. Clement Bethel's M.A. thesis on Bahamian music. Her 1990 play Powercut was made into an independent film and released by Plantation Pictures in 2001. Her fiction and poetry have been published in a variety of places, including the anthologies Junction: an Anthology of Bahamian Poetry and Prose; From the Shallow Seas; and The Oxford and Cambridge May Anthologies 1993; print journals such as The Amherst Review; The Caribbean Writer; Calabash; and Social Identities; the online journals The Paumanok Review and II; and the edited collections Managing Island Life () and Junkanoo and Christianity (Media Enterprises, 2003). Essays on Life are reprinted online on Bahama Pundit ( and The New Black: Magazine ( Since 2003 she has been a columnist for the Nassau Guardian.


Dave Lucas said…
Geoffrey, thank-you! You are one of a very few bloggers whose posts I actually PRINT out for safekeeping and later reference!

Popular posts from this blog

The Presidential Pardon of Marcus Garvey: A Recap

International Literacy Day: Free Ebooks