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.
***Jamaican writers, Caribbean writers, Books, Authors, Caribbean literature, Calabash Literary Festival, Reggae Aesthetic
*Next week: Michael Hettich, author of Swimmer Dreams.