My name is Marina Salandy-Brown and I organise a literary festival.I was born in Diego Martin, like a good Salandy, because all Salandys apparently started there, but I come from everywhere in Trinidad. Although I was a town girl, my father ran government experimental (agricultural) stations and we were lucky enough to also live all over rural Trinidad.I lived in Maracas, St Joseph, when you had to go down into the river five times before getting to our house at the end of the road. When we lived in Matelot, the road wasn't properly paved. I'm very old. It was 14 miles of rough road and cars weren't what they are now. When it was raining, there was no internal ventilation, the car was all steamy. Horrors!
The quality of education I had here was spectacular. Our syllabus had 17 or 18 subjects-Latin, physics, chemistry, music, geography, history. We put on plays, we painted, we played tennis, we cooked, we dissected frogs! In Trinidad, we had this idea that the British were better educated but, when I went to live in Britain when I'd just turned 17, I realised we had a new kind of old-fashioned education here that was superior to England!I loved school. If I was ill, I'd pretend to be well so I could go to school. We had fantastic teachers. One came in, wrote on the board, "Which is mightier, the pen or the sword? Discuss." And he left the room! And left a bunch of 16-year-olds looking at one another. But that was exciting! We had to think in a way we had never before, for ourselves.
I was about five or six years old, lying on a Morris sofa in a lovely old gingerbread house in Diego Martin and I remember this most incredible sound coming out of this box-I think we called it, "the wireless" in those days. It made me want to cry, it made all my hair stand on end. Later I discovered it was a part of "Scheherazade." My love of classical music was born out of that single moment.My mother's a great opera singer. She's nearly 90 now but, if she were young, she would have had a brilliant career ahead of her today. I can't sing for toffee myself. I know what I should do but I can't make my voice do it.
I think I was lucky to go away at 17. I would have come on stream at a very difficult time in Trinidad's history. I don't know if I'd have been able to achieve the things I have in my life in a society that didn't afford me a free university education. I never had to fight to get anywhere or do anything in England. I've been a very lucky person. The education I got here catapulted me into a world in which I could hold my own.I came back because of my mother, who is like my super-super best friend. We were always very close. I wanted to spend some good time with her before she really got to her dotage.
A lot of Trinidadians don't want to question the status quo. I became a very senior manager in the BBC. What was rewarded in the largest, most successful, most respected media organisation in the world was thinking out of the box. Nobody had any care for anybody who didn't have an original idea. If Trinidadians aren't allowed to do that, they won't be able to punch above their weight, as so many Trinidadians of my generation were able to do outside.Wherever I travelled all over the world, and I travelled widely, and saw somebody doing something differently, it was nearly always a Trini. We didn't understand that you had to be constrained.
In Britain there are a hundred and how many literary festivals. Little Dominica, which is so poor and so tiny, has a literary festival. Jamaica had one for ten years, the Calabash. I think Antigua has one. Why didn't we have one, when we've produced so many great writers? Sam Selvon and these people really made an impact on the world stage.Earl Lovelace is treasured, but not treasured enough, because we don't have prizes. There's been no accolade of Earl's writing since the 1970s. It's important to reward creative effort! We created a literary festival but we also created an international prize for Caribbean writing.
Most artists are poor. Until you get to be a big, big writer, you don't earn a lot of money. It's important to reward people who spend so much of their time and heart shedding light on our realities for us, explaining ourselves and our world to us.This is a prize, judged by Caribbean writers, for Caribbean readers. We've hung the prize on the festival. The festival is a forum for bringing writers together. We're going to do that every year. And I think that's worth doing.
We had nine judges for the long list, three in each category of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Some of those judges, themselves writers and literary academics, hadn't heard of some of the writers they were judging! That's because we are part of a diaspora. I'm relatively well-read but, because many Caribbean writers in America were not necessarily published in Britain, and vice versa. I discovered Edwidge Danticat when I came to live in Trinidad and I think she's an incredibly fantastic writer.The best thing about organising the festival has been the response.The worst thing about the festival is that it's only four days long.
When I was abroad, people would say, are you black? Are you Thai? Are you coloured? Are you Egyptian? And I'd say, "I'm a Trinidadian!" You have all these influences that came together and clashed to create this particular kind of person. I'm a Trini; don't ask me to tick a box.
Trinidad and Tobago is my anchor, my roots. I feel this very strongly because I spent so many years away. I wanted to be buried in the same ground as my ancestors who have been here since the 1700s. Those people, my ancestors, came from all over the globe. I came from here.Read the full version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com