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Speaking to history

Sunday, December 16, 2012
Ryan Durgasingh and Dr Giselle Rampaul, editors of the blog The Spaces Between Words: Conversations with Writers. Photo courtesy: Kenward Mitchell


An important stimulus to the development of 20th century Caribbean literature was the BBC broadcast Caribbean Voices, which became an invaluable outlet for writers from the region in the post-WWII generation—including Derek Walcott, George Lamming and Sam Selvon.
Fast-forward to 2011, when a podcast series called The Spaces Between Words: Conversations with Writers, began uploading audio interviews of contemporary Caribbean writers. Its interview subjects are among the most notable in the field: Eddie Baugh and Christian Campbell, Rabindranath Maharaj and Merle Collins, Nalo Hopkinson and Lorna Goodison are some of the two dozen or so interviews up on the blog.
LISA ALLEN-AGOSTINI spoke to its founder, UWI St Augustine Literatures in English (Lie) lecturer Dr Giselle Rampaul, about the project.
Lisa Allen-Agostini: Tell me about this project. What is it exactly?
Giselle Rampaul: The Spaces Between Words: Conversations with Writers is a podcast series coming out of the Lie section here at UWI. It features interviews with writers. Most of the writers are writers who visit for the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, so that’s where we get most of the interviews. We also interview writers who visit the campus for conferences, or if we go to conferences we try to arrange interviews with writers with Caribbean connections—writers who write about the Caribbean. We interviewed Joseph O’Neill, who wrote Netherland, which features a Trinidadian character. We also interviewed Patrick French, who wrote the authorised biography of VS Naipaul. We do have one or two other interviews with writers who are not writers of the Caribbean [but who write about issues affecting the region]. Our focus is creative writers but we have a couple of non-creative writers.
LAA: How did the project start and who are the people who were instrumental in starting it?
GR: The idea came about because I did an interview with Shani Mootoo, who was here as our writer in residence last year. I was asked by UWI Stan Magazine to do an interview with her for publication. Listening back to the interview when I had to transcribe it, I realised that it was really interesting just to listen to. A friend of mine then suggested I do a podcast series of that sort. I got an interviewing team; most of the interviewers came from the Lie section. Most of them were lecturers; some of them were graduate students. We didn’t have great equipment. We interviewed maybe 12 writers then. We taught ourselves how to use Audacity (an audio recording and editing programme) and edited it ourselves. Ryan Durgasingh, who is a technician in the department… he’s now one of the editors; he really has worked a whole lot on the project as well.
LAA: And the funding comes from…?
GR: The funding comes from love. I paid for the equipment myself. It was just a project that was exciting. The Lie department does give us some support. The department has paid for posters and bookmarks and promotional materials. UWI hosts the Web site; Ryan Durgasingh and I built it and we update it. This year we were also able to use department equipment. The sound quality is a lot better.
LAA: At the WI Literature Conference in Miami in October you were on a panel talking about digital archiving and the importance of a project like this.
GR: I think the idea of digital archiving is important. All our students are on the Internet, all the time. Having material so readily available to people—not just students but academics and anybody interested in literature and in the Caribbean—is important for the dissemination of ideas and knowledge.
It’s also important to promote our Caribbean writers. That’s something that the NGC Bocas Lit fest is doing a great job at. The podcast is contributing to that project, too. A lot of the writers we interview are new writers and having that information so readily available is good for promotion of their work and promotion of them and Caribbean literature as well.
Apart from accessibility I think it’s important for its contribution to academia, too. It’s free and the public can access it. People are always talking about the status of academic publishing, especially with new technologies coming in…
LAA: Twenty years ago when I was a student at UWI, you had to either go out and do interviews yourself or go and search for days in the UWI Library’s West Indiana section. The whole paradigm is changing.
GR: It keeps coming back to accessibility. All of this material is already compiled and edited, and there for anybody to access.
Writers [being interviewed] don’t just talk about their books; they also talk about other issues that might be related to their writing. Jane King talks about race; Mark McWatt talks about landscape; David Charriandy talks about history; Vahni Capildeo, in her interview, talks about what makes a good literary critic. You have all of these issues that are covered; it becomes a very rich archive for people who are interested in the Caribbean.
The Spaces Between Words: Conversations with Writers is on the Web site