Anthology Focuses on Gay Caribbean Life

A new anthology gives voice to a part of the gay community that is sometimes seldom heard. Thomas Glave takes listeners through his unique collection material, featured in "Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles."

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We want to continue our conversation about books that reflect on the gay experience. A new anthology brings together stories from a part of the gay community that has been little heard from. It's called "Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writings from Antilles." It is believed to be the first such collection of its kind. Thomas Glave edited the anthology and he is with us now. Welcome to the program. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. THOMAS GLAVE (Editor, "Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writings from the Antilles"): Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: I want to spend a couple of minutes on exactly how this collection came together because that seems to me to be a story in itself. I mean, in your introduction, you wrote that as a young man you couldn't even imagine a book like this. Why not?

Mr. GLAVE: Well, completely, no. My background is Jamaican and for up until quite recently we had in the Caribbean and in my part of the Caribbean no real representation of ourselves. No sorts of visual images and certainly no discussion. So that there was a complete silence about all of these sexuality issues, and it's only quite recently that we've begun to hear more, and I hope that this book with contribute to that.

So the book was a way - an intervention, if you want to put it that way, to say, now we really need to hear our voices from across the Caribbean because we are actually having a conversation.

MARTIN: But you write that some of the writers you approached did not want their work included or objected to even using the terms lesbian and gay in the title. Why?

Mr. GLAVE: Yes, exactly. That's a political and social reality of our lives today, right? That living in a small country where people know each other and there are intimate connections, people run the risk, right? This is a fact of what we call the closet. But it is certainly a fact of homophobia, anti-gay and lesbian prejudice in society, so that people who feel that they are at risk to put their name - their actual name in a book like this and be recognized in their own societies, well, don't want to run that risk.

MARTIN: How did you choose the stories and essays for this collection? I should mention that there is fiction. There's all kinds of forms of work, poems, essays. How did you select things and for example, what constitutes lesbian and gay writing in this context? Is it the theme of same-sex attraction? Is it the author? Is it the identity of the author?

Mr. GLAVE: Well, I think it's really more in this book as it plays out the themes, because some of the authors actually play with that question, what exactly might be lesbian or gay writing. And as you said, because the book contains many, many different genre of writing - fiction, nonfiction and poetry and memoir, et cetera, right? We have a kind of broad range of writing from the region that shows not only the diversity of the cultures and the countries, the nations, but also the ways of writings about these experiences so that we are not just boiled down to one kind of thing.

You asked me about how I went about choosing the contents. This book took about five and a half years in total to work on and I was working on other things at the time, but I decided that I wanted to really have the book be a grassroots project. To reach out to people I knew and then just go on from there with recommendations. So that it would be people who didn't necessarily even consider themselves as writers but who had written or who wanted to write about the experience.

It's not a book of coming out stories. It's a book of complete, I think, different, a sort of wild salad of all the ways of being.

MARTIN: It is that. It is that. There's some pieces which I would consider very journalistic. Some pieces that are very impressionistic. It's quite a range, and also, I also want to mention that some of these pieces are published in English for the first time.

Mr. GLAVE: That's exactly right.

MARTIN: It's a wide range of languages that are represented, too, which is quite interesting. From reviewing the selections in the book you get the sense that although the Caribbean is so close to the U.S., physically proximate, that the culture and the experiences feel very distinct from that of...

Mr. GLAVE: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: Is that true?

Mr. GLAVE: Yes. Oh, yes, Michel, absolutely. I mean, I think one of the things I wanted to see in this book also for myself as a reader and I wanted to bring to other people, was that the Caribbean was much, much more - as we know, as you know - much more than a so-called paradise. It's much more than a so-called exotic place to go to go to get a suntan. I mean, for those of us who come from the region, we know that it is much more than that, much more complex.

And so I hoped that the book - I believe that it does show that this kind of - these realities - the realities that we occupy, particularly as people who are somewhat already invisible in our places of origin but not always invisible, right? That we complicate these landscapes, right?

MARTIN: What's important, do you think, to understand about the Caribbean experience, the experience of being a gay and lesbian person of Caribbean descent who lives in the Caribbean now?

Mr. GLAVE: Well, even Caribbean experiences, I would say, in the plural, because there are so many ways of being gay and lesbian - bisexual, transgender, et cetera, in the Caribbean. I think that one of the things - you talked about culture and the distinctiveness of culture as opposed to what you see in the U.S., for example, right?

I think that the diversity of the Caribbean is shown, for example, certainly in our language differences but also in the fact that we still, in many ways we still are dealing a great deal with agriculture, right? With a rural economies, in many ways, and poverty and what we call the third world economy reality in the era of globalization. That impacts on us, right?

For example, movement, migration is also very much a theme in the book for many people for lots of reasons having to do with family, the sorts of families that we have, the ways in which we live in our families, in our communities, right? These are some of the ways in which you see our difference exemplified. Racial differences, gender differences, self-perception about what constitutes maleness and femaleness, right? Transgender reality, et cetera. All these kinds of things.

MARTIN: It's such an unfair question, but do you have a favorite piece in the book?

Mr. GLAVE: Oh, if I did I wouldn't say.

MARTIN: Other than yours?

Mr. GLAVE: But no, but I really love - I really love everything. I mean, I am very, very proud of the book. I mean, I know that it was, as I told you, a five and a half year effort and it's been now for me a real joy and for other people, as well, from what I've been hearing. It's a real joy to be able to see these voices actually on the page talking with each other, as we have been, you know, for the longest time, but in some ways we've been separated by language and also by the sea, by the Caribbean Sea itself, by our island.

So this brings us together, in a way, and as you said in your introduction, this is indeed really the first book of its kind that does what this book does.

MARTIN: There's some funny pieces in the book. There's one funny, poignant pieces. There's one, we came from Cuba so you could dress like this?

Mr. GLAVE: Oh, yes, by Achy Obejas from Cuba, right? Yes, we came all the way from Cuba. Yes, that is very funny. There are a couple of other pieces, I think, that are really humorous that have humor and poignancy and some sadness, as well.

MARTIN: But one message that comes through, though, is that one can be in real danger because of sexual orientation in some of these countries, physical danger. That this is not just a matter of people being, you know, rude, or unwelcoming, but that one can actually be physically at risk and also the subject to some very overt discrimination based on orientation. Is that a - I wanted to ask, was that a hard message to want to include? You know, pride in one's country, yet airing - was there a sense of airing dirty laundry, in some way?

Mr. GLAVE: Oh, not for me, and I don't think for the contributors, either. I think that we see a similarity, then, to the United States reality in that because, of course, anti-gay and lesbian violence happened in the United States, as well, and we have some very infamous cases of that. So I think that it's important, and particularly in this month, in LGBT Pride Month, to speak about this violence and this danger that does threaten our lives all the time.

It's important not to forget, right? As far as I'm concerned, one death is enough. One anti-gay violent incident is enough. But no, I believe that people wanted to write - it was more important to write about what they had actually seem and experienced and to give voice to that, to bear witness to it, you know? As opposed to think about airing dirty laundry because if the laundry is dirty then about to be washed.

MARTIN: All right. Well what, finally, very briefly, what would you want a reader to take away from this book?

Mr. GLAVE: Oh, I think just the enormity and the complexity and the wonderful richness of the book, all of the things that the book offers. I mean, with 37 writers from 14 countries, you have enormous choices of what to enjoy and what to experience.

MARTIN: Thomas Glave is the editor of "Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles." He joined us from San Francisco. Thank you so much for speaking with us, and congratulations.

Mr. GLAVE: Michel, thank you for having me. Thank you so much.

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