Pamela Mordecai Interviews Dr. Keith Ellis

Keith Ellis (Jamaica, 1935; B.A. University of Toronto; M.A., Ph.D, University of Washington) is Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. He is the author or editor of some fifteen books and many articles dealing principally with Spanish American literature and culture. Among his numerous publications are El arte narrativo de Francisco Ayala, 1964; Critical Approaches to Rubén Darío, 1974; Cuba’s Nicolás Guillén: Poetry and Ideology, 1984; José María Heredia: Torrente prodigioso, 1998; Nicolás Guillén: nueva poesía de amor, 1994; y Nueve escritores hispanoamericanos ante la opción de construir, 2004. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Havana, an honorary member of Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists; and a corresponding member of the Cuban Academy of the (Spanish) Language. In 2004 he was given the Award for Excellence in Academia by the Association of Black Students and Alumni of the University of Toronto.

1. Professor Ellis, congratulations on the collection you've just compiled, POETAS DEL CARIBE INGLES. Is it the first anthology of its kind, or have there been previous anthologies like this one?

Well, thank you, Dr. Mordecai. This indeed is the first anthology of English Caribbean poetry to be published in Spanish translation and in a bilingual form. I should tell you that the editor of the Venezuelan publishing house has said that this anthology "has come to fill not a lagoon but an ocean of ignorance.” The only previous publication in this vein that I know of was a special issue of the journal Casa de las Américas in 1975 that was devoted to English Caribbean writers and that included some 20 poems. My anthology has more than 160 poems by 69 poets.

2. What prompted you to put the collection together?

The real origins of a project like this go back to my high school days in Jamaica, when I used to argue in vain for the inclusion in our curriculum of Spanish-American and Spanish-Caribbean writings. And I have always looked for opportunities to know more about the Spanish-speaking Americas and to have them know more about us. So that when, during a conference in Cuba, Rei Berroa, a friend from the Dominican Republic told me that he had a request from the editor I have just mentioned to do an anthology of Spanish-American poets writing in the United States, I told him that an anthology such as this one that I have just published would perhaps have a great welcome in the Spanish-speaking world. And so we proposed the idea to the editor who first accepted it as a monolingual anthology in Spanish. I later made the request that it be bilingual and he agreed. This is the first time that this publishing house has published in English, and they have done a really fine job.

3. How many poets are represented in the anthology, from what countries, and how did you select them?

There are some 69 poets, as well as an outstanding prose writer, the novelist, my friend, Austin Clarke, who kindly agreed to write the /Preface/, that blends well with the /Prologue/ written by Rei Berroa and with the /Introduction/ that I wrote, in which the two literary histories--the Spanish-American and the English Caribbean--are compared. I believe that all the English-speaking Caribbean countries are represented in the anthology, in addition to Aruba and the Bahamas. The selections were made on the basis of poems that I found to reflect well the themes that are vibrant ones in our Caribbean.

4. Did you do all the translations yourself, or was there a team of translators?

There was a team of translators, mostly Cuban friends, many of them poets. I also did many of the translations and, of course, was responsible for the quality of all the translations.

5. Why did you choose a Venezuelan press?

The Venezuelan publishers, El Perro y la Rana [The Dog and the Frog], came into being in 2005 with a mission to make world literature available to Venezuelans and to Latin Americans in general. The mission has integrative and popularizing aims. In the short period of its existence that House has published about 40 million books, including a million and half copies of a version of Don Quijote. The book also fits well into the ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean] concept of uniting and making the hemispheric countries more aware of each other.

6. What plans are there for marketing and promoting the anthology?

The Venezuelan Ministry of Culture is planning another in its World Poetry Festivals for May or June 2010. This Festival will feature English Caribbean poetry, and this book will be the focal point. I hope that many of the poets will find it possible to attend. Besides, at the recent launching of the book in Caracas, a keen interest was expressed in it by one of the principal Cuban representatives of ALBA, who spoke of desiring a Cuban edition. The idea is more to have people have access to the book than to see it as a commercial success, so that in Venezuela, for example, the two volumes of the anthology--a total of 674 pages--sell for less than five dollars. I am making arrangements for the book to be available in the English-speaking Caribbean and even here in Toronto when transportation difficulties can be overcome.

Pamela Mordecai is a Jamaican writer, teacher, and scholar and poet. She attended high school in Jamaica and college in the USA, where she did a first degree in English. A trained language-arts teacher with a Ph.D. in English, she has taught at secondary and tertiary levels, trained teachers, and worked in media and in publishing.

Mordecai has written articles on Caribbean literature, education and publishing, and has collaborated on, or herself written, over thirty books, including textbooks, children’s books, and four books of poetry for adults. She has edited several anthologies. Her poems and stories for children are widely known and have been used in textbooks in the UK, Canada, the USA, West Africa and the Caribbean. Her short stories have been published in journals and anthologies in the Caribbean, the USA and Canada.

Pam Mordecai has lived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada since 1994, but the Caribbean experience continues to be the focus of her writing.



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