Readers of the World – The West Indies (Part Two)

After you were whisked off to the sunny climes of the West Indies a few weeks ago, why not return to explore some of the islands we couldn’t cram in last time?

Let’s start with arguably the most famous constituent of the West Indies: Jamaica. As a nation, Jamaica’s most famous individuals have probably been Bob Marley and Usain Bolt. But what Jamaicans have left their mark on the world of great reading? I hear you ask.

Thomas MacDermot’s Becka’s Bukra Baby’ was a literary magazine produced at the advent of modern Caribbean literature sold at cheap prices in a bid to make the reading material accessible and support the contributing authors.

Claude Mackay was a famous Jamaican poet, establishing himself at the age of 20 with his book Songs of Jamaica. Mackay flirted with communism before eventually moving to New York, where he was a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, an early movement promoting black literature.

Like many countries, Jamaica is trying to tackle literacy problems, with the Read Across Jamaica charity encouraging children to read, recite and enjoy books. The foundation’s mission is as follows:

to introduce creative and interactive methods of reading that encourage children to enjoy literature and aids the less fortunate in changing future disparaging lifestyles affected by illiteracy.

St Lucia is home to arguably the Caribbean’s most famous writer, Derek Walcott, who went to university in Jamaica. Walcott became the first Caribbean writer to be given the honour of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, two years after writing Omeros, a book inspire by Homer’s famous epics Iliad and Odyssey.

Reading Awareness Month has just finished on the island, with the government actively trying to promote reading in response to fears that the nation is one where being a reader is the exception to the rule.

Triniad & Tobago is a nation that also has fears over its ability to read, articulated by Paula Lucie-Smith, the founder of the Adult Literacy Tutors Association:

“Universal secondary school education was the worse thing to happen to our education system, because it is moving people through the system who are not able to read. Teachers who are unable to teach a child would pass them up and along to other levels, hence the reason there are children in secondary schools who are unable to read,” she [Lucie-Smith] said.

When this is discovered, she said, children are treated as if they are the problem when it is the education system at fault. This results in resentment and frustration which may bubble over and result in the child taking it out on people around them.

Government and private sector, Lucie-Smith said, were not doing enough to address the problem of literacy. She said companies were generally less willing to improve lower level staff and would seek to get rid of those they discover who are illiterate.

Although seemingly having ongoing problems with literacy, Trinidad & Tobago can boast about producing the second Caribbean Nobel Prize winner, VS Naipaul. Naipaul’s more famous works are the Booker winning In a Free State, A Bend in the River, A House for Mr Biswas and Half a Life. The Trinidadian is a somewhat controversial literary figure, ending up in intellectual feuds with Salman Rushdie, and fellow Caribbean, the aforementioned Derek Walcott.

But let’s not finish our exploration of the West Indies on a sour note, let’s hear some Dr Seuss read in the Jamaican patois, enjoy!


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