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White girls rock Caribbean culture

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Monique Roffey, the primum mobile of this column, is not a girl, she’s a woman, I just couldn’t resist the headline. Literary punters would know her novel Archipelago, won the OCM Bocas prize last year. Of her earlier novel, White Woman on a Green Bicycle, I’ve made disapproving comments in this space, but she and the book did pretty well notwithstanding—shortlisted for the Orange Prize and all that.

In July Ms Roffey published a blog post for Waterstones (the UK bookseller), titled The New Wave of Caribbean Writers. A subsequent article by Matthew Hunte, summarising the responses to it, was published by Global Voices Online. It was titled: Why some Caribbean authors are accusing Trinidad-born novelist Monique Roffey of being a “Latter-day Columbus.”

Ms Roffey was accused of being the “British correspondent for the region,” and “discovering” it, redundantly and naively. My Facebook-savvy informants report that exchanges got quite nasty, but have subsided. But through the smog, the outlines of a couple of persistent issues are visible: what is “Caribbean?” Who has more right(s) than whom to re/present it? And why attack Ms Roffey, who is well-intentioned, and who was born here, for a single blog post?