Novelist Earl Lovelace found it fitting to use personal experience when he spoke on behalf of 22 authors who received Lifetime Literary Awards from the National Library and Information System Authority (Nalis) during a ceremony at the Central Bank Auditorium in Port-of-Spain on Thursday night.
The awards were presented in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Independence and Lovelace was also a fitting recipient. In his remarks, he noted that he was "very much a writer of the Independence era," since his first work was published in 1962.
The crux of Lovelace's reflection on writing, however, came through his discussion of the contribution authors make to the social and cultural imagination. He is one of a few Caribbean writers who has not migrated to the US or Europe.
"What being here has meant is that I have been present to witness the Caribbean unfold, to see in intimate detail the struggles between the forces that have been organised to suppress our imagination and those who have been concerned with freeing the imagination to envision and yield a better world," Lovelace said.
Through the evolution of fashion, he added, one can evaluate success. According to Lovelace, the clothes that once represented "expressions of our unique selves," such as the dashiki and Nehru jacket and the outfits imitating John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart, have been replaced by tuxedos and sagging pants like those of dancehall star Vybz Kartel.
"We have to question whether we are losing them both to a lack of imagination or if what we are witnessing are the rehearsals of a badly scripted play...This is where our writers come in, to help us to see that imagining a better future lies exactly in front of confronting the present," he said.
And while Lovelace observed that the number of Caribbean writers interrogating the present has grown considerably since his early days, he hoped they would be appreciated appropriately.
"I wish that we grasp how important they are to us and that we pay attention to their development at least as much as we pay attention to the development of cricketers and athletes, unless we believe that the ideas of what the world should look like are to be provided, like the tuxedos, by others," he said.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, Nalis executive director Lucia Phillip, Bocas Lit Fest founder Marina Salandy-Brown and Heritage Library acting director Marguerite Anne.
Lifetime Literary Awards
Ralph de Boissiere
Dr Merle Hodge
Shivadhar Srivinasa Naipaul
Sir Vidia Naipaul
Dr Lakshmi Persaud
Marlene Nourbese Philip
Dr Elizabeth Nunez
Prof Kenneth Ramchand