At the first annual Virgin Islands Literary Festival hosted on St. Croix in March of 2015, a multinational panel of Caribbean writers — Tiphanie Yanique, Joanne Hillhouse, Gillian Royes, and Sharon Millar — was asked what challenges each member had faced related to their literary production. The answers they gave were remarkably consistent. Again and again, even decades after the emergence of modern Caribbean literature as a global force, even despite the multiple Nobel Prize winners in literature the region has produced, our creatives often speak of feelings of invisibility, of the need to write themselves into existence.
We wonder; is it possible that this points not to the weakness, but to the strength, of the position of the contemporary Caribbean writer (or visual artist)?
If new experiences must be continually mapped here, if identities must find new expression and continual rebirth all around us, we at Moko welcome that. Our only agenda is to provide an open and accessible space for this sort of “map-making”, to encourage self-discovery through art and writing: the antithesis of the traditional “discovery” narratives that have long weighed down on our region’s self-image.
In our fifth issue, we are very pleased to present the work of several Caribbean artists and writers — living both at home and in the diaspora — who remain in dialogue with the region’s history of critical self-fashioning.
Shansi Miller of St. Thomas shares with us paintings that create and exalt an epic creole history of the Virgin Islands. Malcolm Friend explores Puerto Rican baseball hero Roberto Clemente’s process of becoming with an eye towards the tensions in his identity. Kavita Ganness gives an account of the dramatic subjectivity of an artist with a foot in both ends of the Antilles (Cuba and Trinidad). Mark James Cooper experiments with voice and point of view in a story about ethnic tension among factory workers in Trinidad.
In what may be the centerpiece of this issue for us, two Virgin Islanders, Hadiya Sewer and Daisy Lafond, speak from different perspectives on the awakening of a radical consciousness in the face of their islands’ experiences of racism and imperialism.
We sincerely hope that, wherever you may come from, you find something of your own journey in the “maps” these writers and artists have shared with us. Perhaps you will be inspired to make your own. Enjoy.
Congratulations also to Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, who was published in Moko Issue 1, and to our co-founder Richard Georges, who have both been selected for the longlist for the 2015 Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize.
– David and Richard
Paintings by Shansi Miller
“In this developing series of oil paintings, Miller represents her Virgin Islands subjects as protagonists in an epic creole history.”
Poems by Malcolm Friend
“We have to quiet the tune / of this skin, / this speech — /as if they aren’t music. /¡Pa’l carajo, / Maelo! / I swing my bat / for Carolina / and Cangrejos / and Loíza.”
Poems by Letisia Cruz
“Six dogs bark at sunrise / louder than any rooster on this island. Out here / canines patrol the patio. Seven descendants / of African wildcats roam the living room; / they growl beneath doors.”
Memorial Day by Reuel Lewi
“Grey veterans on parade like acolytes / in white surplices between processional pews. / A scrap of history this rite be / after crossing the dumb-bell of sea.”
“Isaac” by Kavita Ganness
“Though we have been married for over two years, I can not tell him how I am still being tormented by dreams of the tempestuous waters rushing over the Malecon, stirred to heights and spitting at me with cold, salty vapors. I can not tell him of my nightmares – filled with lurching, white-water giants whispering in Spanish and laughing like red, screeching macaws. It has been a month since we came back from our trip to Cuba but I am still living and breathing the scent of the hurricane.”
“Tomorrow Please God” by Mark James Cooper
“Somebody in a backyard buryin’ somet’ing between some colourful flags. Another somebody rockin’ in a chair wid dey eyes closed. D’floorboards on d’veranda creakin’ under d’chair as if dem feelin’ pain. Day gone and come back. D’sun, shinin’ down hard on the hill; is like God wanted to see everyt’ing, or he wanted we to notice how ugly we was. D’white people come to see ’bout dey burn up buildin’. Everybody watchin’ at dem. They lookin’ important but nobody know why. Somet’ing tell meh dis is not the tomorrow dey was hoping for.”
“Notes on being a Demonic Black Radical Feminist from St. John” by Hadiya Sewer
“I get the feeling that we are not supposed to exist. America’s narrative attempts to erase the possibility of the Black, Brown, and White Creole American colonial subject. We are living and breathing contradictions, a challenge to a neatly structured ruling apparatus.”
“I Could Have Been a Terrorist” by Daisy Lafond
“When I was a little girl I was sent to mass every Sunday, but I did not pay much attention to the mass, which was mostly in Latin. My interest was drawn to the ceiling of the church where there were hundreds of paintings of pink-faced cherubs, angels and saints. There was not one black face on that ceiling! I deduced that black people did not go to Heaven. I was a child, how was I to know that those paintings were some artist’s depiction of The Great Beyond?”