New Book: The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins

From the 1930s to the new century, Doux Thibaut, one of Merle Collins’ most memorable characters, negotiates a hard life on the Caribbean island of Paz. As a child there is the shame of poverty and illegitimacy, and there are the hazards of sectarianism in an island divided between Catholic and Protestant, the rigidity of a class and racial system where, if you are black, your white employer is always right—and only the ladies live upstairs. Doux confronts all such challenges with style and hidden steel.

We leave Doux as an old lady moving between the homes of her children in Boston and New York, wondering whether they and her grandchildren really appreciate what her engagement with life has taught her.

In these tender and moving stories, Merle Collins demands that we do not forget such lives. If ghosts appear in several of the later stories, they are surely there to warn that amnesia about the past can leave disturbed and restless spirits behind.

In addition to the Doux stories, this collection restores to print an earlier ‘Paz’ story, “Rain Darling”, and their juxtaposition contrasts two very different responses to the hazards of life.

Merle Collins is Grenadian. She is the author of two novels, a collection of short stories and two previous collections of poetry. She teaches Caribbean literature at the University of Maryland.

About Merle Collins

Merle Collins was born in 1950 in Aruba to Grenadian parents, she was taken to Grenada shortly after her birth. Her primary education was in St Georges. She graduated from the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, where she took a degree in English and in Spanish. After graduating in 1972, she returned to Grenada, where she taught History and Spanish for the next two years. She has also taught in St Lucia. In 1980 she was awarded a Masters Georgetown University in Latin American Studies.

She was deeply involved in the Grenadian revolution and served as a coordinator for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean for the Government of Grenada. She left Grenada in 1983.

Her first collection of poetry Because the Dawn Breaks was published by Karia Press in 1985. At this time she was a member of African Dawn, a performance group combining poetry, mime and African music. In 1987, she published her first novel Angel, which follows the lives of both Angel and the Grenadian people as they struggle for independence. This was followed by a collection of short stories, Rain Darling in 1990, and a second collection of poetry, Rotten Pomerack in 1992. Her second novel, The Colour of Forgetting, was published in 1995.

She is currently Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the University of Maryland. Her critical works include "Themes and Trends in Caribbean Writing Today" in From My Guy to Sci-Fi: Genre and Women's Writing in the Postmodern World, and "To be Free is Very Sweet" in Slavery and Abolition.


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