March 5, 2008

Uncle Obadiah and the Alien @ Barry University

Geoffrey Philp“It’s very rare to have a living writer talk to students who are reading his work,” said Dr. Evelyn Cartright as she introduced me to her Caribbean literature class at Barry University.

The students, some of whom were preparing essays on “My Brother’s Keeper” which was originally published in Uncle Obadiah and the Alien and anthologized in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, welcomed me, and in no time, we were talking about plausibility in fiction, creating characters, publishing in the Caribbean, and Caribbean-American identity.

We also talked about the necessity of criticism because feedback was part of the cycle of any healthy system. I challenged the English majors to think about careers as critics. I confessed that I had once thought about becoming a critic after several rejections (not that they haven’t stopped coming!) and after many professors whose opinions I'd valued suggested that perhaps becoming a critic wasn’t such as bad choice after all.

I told the students that I had no problem with criticism. As long as the criticism was balanced and was an evaluation of authorial intent, I welcomed any examination of my work that anwered these questions: How did the characterization, plot, or narrative either help or hinder the plot? Or how did the imagery, rhythm, or metaphors assist the reader in enjoying the poem? Effective criticism can actually help a writer in understanding her own work because most writers rely on an intuitive rather than an evaluative understanding of their work.

One way, I suggested, that the students could begin their careers in criticism was by blogging: writing about books they liked and spreading the word about these books, especially books by Caribbean writers because there are so few outlets providing information about Caribbean life, people, and literature.

Give thanks to Dr. Cartright for inviting me to speak to her students. And thank you students for asking such interesting questions about me and my craft. I hope our conversation will continue beyond the classroom.

For more photos of the event, please follow this link: Reading at Barry University.



Stephen A. Bess said...

Congrats on the honor below and thanks for the shout-out. I'm happy that my words and images can inspire.

I'm sure that the event at Barry University was a real treat. The students look engaged.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Steven, I'm looking forward to even more photos and stories about your grandfather...

The reading at Barry was one of the best... good discussion.