Dominica lies in the eastern Caribbean chain of islands. It is mountainous and rainy and rainforested; it has waterfalls, lakes and rivers. It does not have white sand beaches (well, only a few) or posh resorts (only very small ones) or an international airport. It is called the Nature Island of the Caribbean – a marketing slogan which is mostly true.
Dominica has always inspired writers and artists. In the past, colonialists and travellers wrote about Dominica – from their perspectives as outsiders looking in; now Dominicans are writing about themselves, from their own points of view.
Of the writers from Dominica who have made an international impact, Daniel Thaly was probably the first: a poet, he wrote in French at the turn of the 20th century. Jean Rhys was, of course, a Dominican; she left when she was 16 but the island’s voices and atmosphere never left her; more recently, Dominica can make some claim on Jamaica Kincaid whose mother was from Dominica.
For many decades there have been bouts of flourishing literary activity in which Dominican writers and poets have put together their own pamphlets and booklets expressing the world as they see it. Nowadays, there are new opportunities for everyone, even if they live far away from city literary hubs. The result is that there is a growing collection of books by Dominican writers who either self-publish or are taken on by traditional publishing houses. Look at this list of nearly 200 books by Dominicans or about Dominica. The impressive list, compiled by Celia Sorhaindo, also includes other relevant sites for local books.
More opportunities are needed for Dominicans so that they can be captivated by and relate to their own literature. It is particularly important for Dominica’s children that they do not always have to read about children who eat apples and play in snow but rather that there are books around about children – like themselves – who eat mangoes and play in rainforests. Recent books from Papillote Press, such as Look Back!, are trying to meet that need.
One recent development – started in 2008 – is the annual Nature Island Literary Festival. Over a weekend in August, the festival and accompanying book fair puts together a wide-ranging programme of readings, discussions and music. The great and the good of Caribbean literature such as Walcott, Lovelace, Lamming have all attended; but the Festival also celebrates Dominican writers, especially young poets. Papillote Press authors, such as Trish Cooke, Jane Grell, Joanna Skerrett, have all read from their work at the Festival.
We hope that future writers will emerge: best-selling authors perhaps or just writers who surprise and who dare to bring a new dimension to their work. All will make their contribution to the continuing story of Dominica’s literary landscape.