Puneet Varma

Caribbean literature

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Caribbean literature

Caribbean literature is the term generally accepted for the literature of the various territories of the Caribbean region. Literature in English specifically from the former British West Indies may be referred to as Anglo-Caribbean or, in historical contexts, West Indian literature, although in modern contexts the latter term is rare.


Most of these territories have become independent nations since the 1960s, though some retain colonial ties to the United Kingdom. They all share, apart from the English language, a number of political, cultural, and social ties which make it useful to consider their literary output in a single category. The more wide-ranging term "Caribbean literature" generally refers to the literature of all Caribbean territories regardless of language—whether written in English, Spanish, French, Hindustani, or Dutch, or one of numerous creoles.

Territories included in the category "West Indian"

The literature of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Curaçao, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Martin, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos and the U.S. Virgin Islands would normally be considered to belong to the wider category of West Indian literature. Some literary scholars might also include Bermuda, though geographically Bermuda is not part of the Caribbean and cultural ties with the region are not very strong.

Development of the idea of West Indian literature

The term "West Indies" first began to achieve wide currency in the 1950s, when writers such as Samuel Selvon, John Hearne, Edgar Mittelholzer, V. S. Naipaul, and George Lamming began to be published in the United Kingdom. A sense of a single literature developing across the islands was also encouraged in the 1940s by the BBC radio programme Caribbean Voices, which featured stories and poems written by West Indian authors, recorded in London under the direction of producer Henry Swanzy, and broadcast back to the islands. Magazines such as Kyk-Over-Al in Guyana, Bim in Barbados, and Focus in Jamaica, which published work by writers from across the region, also encouraged links and helped build an audience.

Many—perhaps most—West Indian writers have found it necessary to leave their home territories and base themselves in the United Kingdom, the United States, or Canada in order to make a living from their work—in some cases spending the greater parts of their careers away from the territories of their birth. Critics in their adopted territories might argue that, for instance, V. S. Naipaul ought to be considered a British writer instead of a Trinidadian writer, or Jamaica Kincaid and Paule Marshall American writers, but most West Indian readers and critics still consider these writers "West Indian".

West Indian literature ranges over subjects and themes as wide as those of any other "national" literature, but in general many West Indian writers share a special concern with questions of identity, ethnicity, and language that rise out of the Caribbean historical experience.

One unique and pervasive characteristic of Caribbean literature is the use of "dialect" forms of the national language, often termed creole. The various local variations in the language adopted from the colonial powers such as Britain, Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands, have been modified over the years within each country and each has developed a blend that is unique to their country. Many Caribbean authors in their writing switch liberally between the local variation - now commonly termed nation language - and the standard form of the language. Two West Indian writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature: Derek Walcott (1992), born in St. Lucia, resident mostly in Trinidad during the 1960s and '70s, and partly in the United States since then; and V. S. Naipaul, born in Trinidad and resident in the United Kingdom since the 1950. (Saint-John Perse, who won the Nobel Prize in 1960, was born in the French territory of Guadeloupe.)

Other notable names in (anglophone) Caribbean literature have included Earl Lovelace, Austin Clarke, Claude McKay, Orlando Patterson, Andrew Salkey, Edward Kamau Brathwaite (who was born in Barbados and has lived in Ghana and Jamaica), Linton Kwesi Johnson, Velma Pollard and Michelle Cliff, to name only a few. In more recent times, a number of literary voices have emerged from the Caribbean as well as the Caribbean diaspora, including Kittitian Caryl Phillips (who has lived in the UK since one month of age); Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian immigrant to the United States; Anthony Kellman from Barbados, who divides his time between Barbados and the United States; Andrea Levy of the United Kingdom; Jamaicans Alecia McKenzie, who has lived in Belgium, Singapore and France, and Colin Channer and Marlon James, the author of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014) (as well as John Crow's Devil, The Book of Night Women, the unpublished screenplay "Dead Men", and the short story "Under Cover of Darkness"), Antiguan Marie-Elena John, and Lasana M. Sekou from St. Maarten/St. Martin.

Influences on West Indian literature

Indentureship and migration were key factors in shaping Caribbean literature. The migration of Caribbean workers towards the Panama Canal is often used as a foundation by many authors. For example, Maryse Condé’s novel Tree of Life (1992) discusses the involvement of family ties and working life within the Panama Canal. The idea of influence is further exemplified in Ramabai Espinet’s novel The Swinging Bridge, which explores the idea of Indian indentureship and the direct silencing of women.

The number of influences are not limited to those stated above, rather, the works within this canon often stem from independence, gender roles, and literary movements.

Literary festivals

Many parts of the Caribbean have begun in recent years to host literary festivals, including in Trinidad and Tobago the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, in Jamaica the Calabash International Literary Festival, in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten the St. Martin Book Fair, in Barbados Bim Literary Festival, in Dominica the Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair, Alliouagana Festival of the word in Montserrat, and the Antigua and Barbuda Literary Festival.


  • Casa de las Américas Prize
  • OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature
  • Grand Prize for Caribbean Literature, Association of Caribbean Writers (Guadeloupe)
  • Notable West Indian writers

    (Grouped by territory of birth or upbringing)


  • Marie-Elena John
  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • The Bahamas

  • Robert Antoni
  • Marion Bethel
  • Barbados

  • Francis Woodbine Blackman
  • Kamau Brathwaite
  • Austin Clarke
  • Frank Collymore
  • Geoffrey Drayton
  • Anthony Kellman
  • George Lamming
  • Paule Marshall
  • Andrea Stuart
  • Cynthia Wilson
  • Timothy Callender
  • Bonaire

  • Cola Debrot
  • Cuba

  • Antonio Benitez-Rojo
  • Alejo Carpentier
  • Nicolás Guillén
  • José Martí
  • Carlos Moore (writer)
  • Nancy Morejon
  • Emilio Jorge Rodríguez
  • Curacao

  • Frank Martinus Arion
  • Hemayel Martina
  • Tip Marugg
  • Boeli Van Leeuwen
  • Carel de Haseth
  • Dominica

  • Phyllis Shand Allfrey
  • Lennox Honychurch
  • Elma Napier
  • Jean Rhys
  • Dominican Republic

  • Julio Vega Battle
  • Raquel Cepeda
  • Junot Diaz
  • Julia Alvarez
  • Blas Jiménez
  • Freddy Prestol Castillo
  • Chiqui Vicioso
  • Grenada

  • Jacob Ross
  • Tobias S. Buckell
  • Merle Collins
  • Gus John
  • Guadeloupe

  • Maryse Condé
  • Saint-John Perse
  • Gisèle Pineau
  • Max Rippon
  • Simone Schwarz-Bart
  • Guyana

  • John Agard
  • E. R. Braithwaite
  • Jan Carew
  • Martin Carter
  • Cyril Dabydeen
  • David Dabydeen
  • Fred D'Aguiar
  • O. R. Dathorne
  • Beryl Gilroy
  • Wilson Harris
  • Roy A. K. Heath
  • Ruel Johnson
  • Oonya Kempadoo
  • Peter Kempadoo
  • Sharon Maas
  • Mark McWatt
  • Pauline Melville
  • Edgar Mittelholzer
  • Grace Nichols
  • Sasenarine Persaud
  • Gordon Rohlehr
  • A. J. Seymour
  • Jan Shinebourne
  • Eric Walrond
  • Denis Williams
  • Haiti

  • Edwidge Danticat
  • René Depestre
  • Marie Vieux Chauvet
  • Myriam J. A. Chancy
  • Dany Laferrière
  • Dimitry Elias Léger
  • Jacques Roumain
  • Emeric Bergeaud
  • Frankétienne
  • Beaubrun Ardouin
  • Emile Nau
  • Ignace Nau
  • Lyonel Trouillot
  • Jamaica

  • Lindsay Barrett
  • Edward Baugh
  • Louise Bennett-Coverley
  • James Berry
  • Erna Brodber
  • Margaret Cezair-Thompson
  • Colin Channer
  • Michelle Cliff
  • Kwame Dawes
  • Jean D'Costa
  • Herbert de Lisser
  • Ferdinand Dennis
  • Gloria Escoffery
  • John Figueroa
  • Honor Ford-Smith
  • Lorna Goodison
  • Richard Hart
  • John Hearne
  • A. L. Hendriks
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • Marlon James
  • Linton Kwesi Johnson
  • Roger Mais
  • Una Marson
  • Claude McKay
  • Alecia McKenzie
  • Anthony McNeill
  • Mervyn Morris
  • Mutabaruka
  • Rex Nettleford
  • Orlando Patterson
  • Geoffrey Philp
  • Velma Pollard
  • Patricia Powell
  • Claudia Rankine
  • Barry Reckord
  • V. S. Reid
  • Joan Riley
  • Trevor Rhone
  • Leone Ross
  • Andrew Salkey
  • Dennis Scott
  • Olive Senior
  • M. G. Smith
  • Mikey Smith
  • Anthony C. Winkler
  • Sylvia Wynter
  • Martinique

  • Nicole Cage
  • Marie-Magdeleine Carbet
  • Aimé Césaire
  • Patrick Chamoiseau
  • Frantz Fanon
  • Edouard Glissant
  • Montserrat

  • Howard Fergus
  • E. A. Markham
  • Puerto Rico

  • Giannina Braschi
  • Lola Rodríguez de Tió
  • Rosario Ferré
  • Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia
  • Eugenio María de Hostos
  • Luis Palés Matos
  • Aurora Levins Morales
  • Manuel Ramos Otero
  • Luis Rafael Sánchez
  • Esmeralda Santiago
  • Mayra Santos-Febres
  • Ana Lydia Vega
  • José Luis Vega
  • Francisco Arrivi
  • René Marqués
  • Carmelo Rodriguez Torres
  • St Kitts and Nevis

  • Caryl Phillips
  • Carol Mitchell
  • Jewel Amethyst
  • Cyril Briggs
  • Vincent K. Hubbard
  • St Lucia

  • Kendel Hippolyte
  • Jane King
  • Vladimir Lucien
  • Derek Walcott
  • Saint Martin

  • Lasana M. Sekou
  • St Vincent and The Grenadines

  • Shake Keane
  • Suriname

  • Clark Accord
  • Albert Helman
  • Cynthia McLeod
  • Soecy Gummels
  • Gail Eyck
  • Gerrit Baron
  • Ismene Krishnadath
  • Micheal Slory
  • Bish Ganga
  • Robin Ravales
  • Rappa
  • Trinidad and Tobago

  • James Christopher Aboud
  • Michael Anthony
  • Robert Antoni
  • Kevin Baldeosingh
  • Dionne Brand
  • Lennox Brown
  • Wayne Brown
  • Vahni Capildeo
  • Ralph de Boissière
  • Ramabai Espinet
  • Albert Gomes
  • Cecil Gray
  • Rosa Guy
  • Errol Hill
  • Merle Hodge
  • C. L. R. James
  • Anthony Joseph
  • Roi Kwabena
  • Harold "Sonny" Ladoo
  • John La Rose
  • Earl Lovelace
  • John Lyons
  • Rabindranath Maharaj
  • Ian McDonald
  • Alfred Mendes
  • Shani Mootoo
  • Shiva Naipaul
  • V. S. Naipaul
  • Lakshmi Persaud
  • M. NourbeSe Philip
  • Jennifer Rahim
  • Kenneth Ramchand
  • Roger Robinson
  • Monique Roffey
  • Lawrence Scott
  • Samuel Selvon
  • Frances-Anne Solomon
  • Eintou Pearl Springer
  • Eric Williams
  • Virgin Islands

  • Alphaeus Osario Norman
  • Jennie Wheatley
  • Tiphanie Yanique
  • West Indian literary periodicals

  • The Beacon (Trinidad)
  • Bim (Barbados)
  • DIALOGUE (Trinidad)
  • The Caribbean Writer (U. S. Virgin Islands)
  • Focus (Jamaica)
  • Kyk-Over-Al (Guyana)
  • The Caribbean Review of Books (Trinidad)
  • Savacou (journal of the Caribbean Artists Movement, London)
  • Moko - Caribbean Arts and Letters (Virgin Islands)
  • References

    Caribbean literature Wikipedia

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