October 6, 2006

Five Questions With Colin Channer

Colin Channer is the author of the national bestselling novels Waiting in Vain and Satisfy My Soul, and the novella I’m Still Waiting. In 1998, his influential debut novel Waiting in Vain was selected as a Critic’s Choice by the Washington Post Book World, which described it as a “clear redefinition of the Caribbean novel.” Waiting in Vain was also selected as Book of the Summer by Time Out New York and excerpted in Hot Spots: The Best Erotic Writing in Modern Fiction, which placed Mr. Channer in the company of writers such as Russell Banks, E. L. Doctorow, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace. Described as “Bob Marley with a pen instead of Gibson guitar” by award-winning poet and critic Kwame Dawes, Mr. Channer was born in Jamaica and lives in New York. He is the founder and artistic director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, the only annual international literary festival in the Caribbean. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

1. You have recently started teaching fiction at Medgar Evans College. How is this different from teaching workshops?

I haven’t noticed a significant difference really. Writers are writers. Students are students. Well, I got ahead of myself right there. As a professor I have to maintain a greater social distance from the students. We can’t exactly go for a drink after class. In a college setting I also have to deal with grading and taking the roll and that kind of thing and making a big deal about absences and lateness.

2. In your story, “How to Beat a Child the Right and Proper Way,” you address the theme of child abuse. What has been the reaction to this issue?

Oh people love this story. Almost every review of Iron Balloons singles it out. It’s not so much a story about child abuse as you put it though. Very few people read it that way. They read it as a story about a clash of cultural values, parental anxiety about the social advancement of their children, mother-daughter tensions, and the peculiar way in which teenagers, especially girls are capable of pushing their parents to the limits of anger. Most readers side with the mother, even those who’d never take a belt to their child under any circumstance. The story allows them to see however, why this specific mother would beat this specific child this way on that specific evening.

3. The Calabash Literary Festival continues to be a success. Do you have any plans to expand or do you think, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”?

I don’t think we need to get any bigger. There are not many places in the world where writers read before an audience that can reach 3,500. I dismiss call calls to make the festival larger in the same way that I dismiss the penis enlargement ads that turn up in my inbox every day.

4. Strong women have always played a part in all your work and unlike many male novelists, you don’t shy away from female characters. What’s wrong with you?

I’m every woman. It’s all in me. I have found that I write male and female characters equally well and so I write a lot of female characters. I don’t make a real distinction between them. I know women as well as I know men, or at least I think I do. I am like a ball player who can kick and throw with either leg or arm with the same amount of power, accuracy and strength.

Every writer has a standard for vetting story ideas, or at least I think they do (or should). For me it comes down to this, an interesting person who wants an interesting thing for an interesting reason. Weak women are not interesting so they’re not worth placing at the center of a narrative.

5. Describe your experience in editing Iron Balloons? Do you have any other plans for more anthologies?

It was hard. I’d never edited an anthology before. But as always, when I have difficulty with anything I turn to Kwame. He helped me a lot. But I also have to say that I also got a lot of help from the publisher and editor in chief of Akashic Books, Johnny Temple. In the end I simply worked like a selector on a champion sound or a great reggae producer. I picked the best selections and put them in what I considered to be the best sequence.

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Next week: Michael Hettich, author of Swimmer Dreams.


Stephen A. Bess said...

Colin is a great guy! I really enjoyed meeting him when he came to DC. He's also very animated when he reads his stories. He also spoke highly of you, Geoffrey. Overall, I'm happy to have met him in person. Geoffrey, I'm sure that your readers (me included) would like to see you in a reading. Hit the road Geoffrey! :)

Geoffrey Philp said...

Stephen, I'll be reading at the Miami Book Fair with Colin and Marlon James. As far as "hitting the road," I have to be very selctive now. My job as chairperson of my department (3,000 students, with over 50 employees, full time and part time) keeps me pretty much bound to Miami Dade College. My time now is pretty much devoted to my family (my daughter just turned 18--went with her for her driver's test yesterday--she passed!), writing-including blogging, and work. This weekend, my eldest child is coming home for the birthday party--she turns 21 (I like to call them the tax-refund babies),so as you can see, the road will have to wait for a while.
Well, gotta go mow the lawn. Did I also say I do the yard work?


Stephen A. Bess said...

LOL! :)Yes, you are a busy man! Yard work too?! It sounds like you have a beautiful family. Your daughter will remember your being there for her driving test for the rest of her existence and beyond. That's beautiful.
Well, maybe I'll make it to Miami one day. I haven't been there since 1987. I was in the Navy and my ship pulled into Fort Lauderdale. I hooked up with some guys from Miami and we went to this club called, Strawberries. The one thing that stands out about that place was when I was whispering in a woman's ear while Glen Jones was singing, Show Me what I gotta do. Haa haa! :)Those were the days. I'm sure that Miami has changed a lot since then. That was 20 years ago when I was a young boy. Peace and enjoy your family this weekend.

Geoffrey Philp said...

I hope you can make it, my friend.
Miami is changing even as I type this.

the prisoner's wife said...

Colin Channer is one of my favorites. I loved both his novels & his short story collection. I also own Iron Ballons & love reading lit of the caribbean.

It's so good to know that he (and other) black authors are teaching writing at Medgar Evers. Brooklyn is lucky to have such talented & community-conscious residents.


neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Channerous is one great guy, very generous with his knowledge, and now I'm discovering you too, Geoffrey. See what I mean when I say Jamaicans are good folks?

Y'know, there's so much on your blog to dig into I get excited and can't concentrate...so what I do is wait for a Saturday or Sunday and, like someone diving into a book or movie, I just read.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Channerous, is my idren.
Blessing to you, my sister.

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