Being a writer in a country like Jamaica in which people don’t particularly like to read isn’t very easy. Most Caribbean writers tend to get somewhere only when they are at least partly abroad: Jamaica Kincaid (not Jamaican, by the way), and Lorna Goodison come to mind.
And even then, they tend to be put in a ‘Caribbean fiction’ box. In a publishing workshop I attended once, I was informed that Caribbean fiction writers tend to be published mostly in the literary fiction genre; not romance, not sci-fi, not fantasy, not mystery… It’s so very limiting.
Add to that our own language issues (because it’s impossible to write something outside of language) and things are further complicated. In that same workshop, one former literature tutor of mine said that her students can’t read Patois as written in Lionheart Gal. And, of course, many/some people believe it can’t truly be written at all. (Not true, but let’s not digress too much.)
It is into this heritage that I, Ken “Mr Multilingual”, have been coming into artistic maturity. We like to think of art as a kind of freedom; that the artist should be able to create as inspiration leads, exploring and creating. But in the real world, art is also influenced by the reader/viewer/consumer.
For example, I got an idea for a Yu-Gi-Oh!: Duel Monsters flash fiction piece written entirely in Japanese. I posted it on my Deviant Art page, but a friend requested an English version, so I ended up posting this Japanese-English parallel version online:
In a Jamaica in which our language is seen as lesser, for example, how many people will try to write in it? I have read many stories written by my friends and other people in such strange English that I feel would have been smoothly executed if they’d allowed themselves (or been allowed by society) to write it in Patois. And with so few full/purely Patois literature models for us who would decide to write in our de facto national language, what will we do except look down on it, and write the way we should: In the Queen’s (or the President’s) English?
I’m reminded of a story I wrote for my friend Robyn‘s 50 for 50 project. I was torn: Should I write it Patois at all? Should I use pure Patwa, or chaka-chaka English-based Patois? In the end, I decided to go with the standard way of writing, and then an English-based version under it to help the reader who didn’t know that writing system. The result was “Across this Land”. To me, it made no sense to write in some American- or English-esque English as I’ve seen in some published Jamaican stories; and while I wanted to push my political agenda (the Patwa writing system I’ve learnt and love), I wanted the reader who didn’t know that system to be able to appreciate it, too.
I wonder how far I’ve come from that… We’ll see…