Category: Literature

A (2017) Take on Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Much of the joy of reading is tied to the exposure one gets to purposeful, reflective stories and delighting in creative story telling. Now twenty-five, I find myself eager to read not only for enjoyment but also to find stories that enrich my spirit and mind as a Caribbean woman moving through the world. (And now that I am looking for any and everything to write about – because I just want to write and write some more… to hopefully one day be great at it) I thought a recent book I read made for a good challenge and topic. Below is a synopsis including my thoughts on a recent read but a 30 year old Toni Morrison classic.

Loaded. Important. Spell binding. Toni Morrison’s Beloved receives no stars from me because it defies the commonness of star ratings and exists outside the classifying lines of “fictional novels”.

Heavy with themes of slavery, race, home, guilt, love, community and identity, Beloved follows the story of Sethe, a mother of four in 1873, who was put in the position of sending her three young children (two boys, and a “crawling baby girl”) off in a wagon in order to have them escape the perils of “Sweet Home” and its slavery. Swollen with her fourth child still in the womb, Sethe later flees “Sweet Home” on her own, to reunite with her children and to live in freedom.

Following a set of events, including delivering Denver, her second daughter and last child in a sinking boat, Sethe eventually makes it to freedom; a two story house referred to as “124” on Bluestone Road in Cincinnati Ohio, inhabited by her mother in law, “Baby Suggs”, and Sethe’s children. In this corner of Cincinnati, the freed lives of blacks are full of tenderness, love, determination, and chants of hope, all the things Sweet Home was not Sethe realizes, but for her the joy of the place is short lived. A disturbing encounter leads Sethe to murder her first daughter in a desperate act of protection, marking the beginning of the demise of the once haven, 124, which later becomes haunted by the baby’s ghost. The house, which was once a hub for the community turns into a place of scorn.

Later, in various forms of abandon Sethe, Denver and Paul D, another sweet home runaway who wanders into the picture at the beginning of the novel become the only three inhabitants of 124, excluding the ghost. Paul D presents to Sethe a new opportunity for something other than the seeming alienation that has eclipsed her life, but this vision is seared when they come home one afternoon and find a young, ailing girl who goes by the name “Beloved” on a stoop infront the house. It is hinted throughout the story that the girl may be the ghost of Sethe’s dead baby in human form. This welcomed intrusion (oxymoron intended) sews, plants and rains uncontrollable things into 124 that leaves its members emotionally hypnotized.

Beloved is an uninhibited peer into America’s history. Stripped of flowering, the language is raw, simple, yet fluid in the way of the most intoxicating poetry. Nonlinear, the events of the novel are revealed as the plot moves back and forth from present to past tense effortlessly.

Additionaly, although Sethe is at the center of the story, the narrative moves freely from 1st to 3rd person between each character. Hence we are made to consider a difficult time and circumstance from various perspectives;

Sethe’s narrative forces us to face the realities of her experiences as a slave woman, the brutality she came under while working for her white slave owners, the traits of which were so dark, she preferred her children dead than to have them live through it. The way the guilt and aftermath of her actions rocked her own-better life at 124 with Baby Suggs, her children and their surrounding community shed light on the relationships and intricacies of Black communities held together by the willingness of its members to create lives worth living in a world designed to stump the very prospect of this out of the picture.

Sethe’s daughter Denver’s narrative invites us into the confines of the life of a first generation “free” African American. Having been with her mother “all her life”, Denver up until the age of 18 comes across a product of a grief stricken but in her own right resilient matriarch and her loyalty, loneliness and will prevail at various stages of the novel.

Paul D, an African American man’s fragmented journey sketches a map of hardship across America’s southeast. Here we have a male perspective, from his life as a boy, his humanistic desires contained to a cottage and field, a young man shackled and buried, then uncertain and lost once he is free, a grown man cold and hard, scouring for things he is not even sure exists.

Baby Suggs, an endeared woman even after facing the brunt of slavery in its varied forms; savage then lenient, folds into herself after witnessing white men with self-rightousness etched into their eyebrows, spread malice through and to the lives of “negroes” like an infection.

Sethe’s “crawling baby” a reminder of the innumerable, unlived, severed African lives. Children who were turned over into unconsciousness by parents who felt the life waiting for them in this world too filled with torture and violence, so death seemed a more desirable alternative.

This was my vain attempt at summarizing a work of Art with complexities that have been analyzed for 30 years now, the resulting variety of ‘conclusions’ conflict in so many ways that an attempt to put a finger on one true meaning would be futile. Nonetheless, Beloved is laden with meaning and story. The events of the plot are precise but it captures the essence of a time when the definitions of life and living were violently distorted. All in all, my rating of Beloved is that Everyone should read this book at-least once in their lifetime.

5 Caribbean Art Festivals To Look Out For

For years Caribbean Artists have ploughed the fields of creativity in order to bear works that adequately reflect the region’s unique stories and perspectives. Interestingly, with each passing year, the margins of artistic platforms widen (a feat perhaps of the rapid technological advancement characterizing this age), allowing for increased opportunity and audience interaction; more places and spaces where artists can share their work. Yet, many still express that there is a lack of respect shown towards their craft. Nonetheless, several Caribbean Artists refuse to be pushed beyond despair into a place where they are made to abandon their beliefs in their work and their purpose.

In the hopes of one day having a more than thriving Art culture here in the Caribbean, I went searching for consistently held regional Art Festivals, ones which serve as platforms for both new and seasoned, regional writing, filmmaking and performance talent. Below are five that everyone should look out for.

 

1) The Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival

In 2016, some 26 films were featured at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival; an annual event held in Port of Spain to showcase the work of Trinidadian, Caribbean and international filmmakers, and to highlight projects that appeal to the Caribbean Diaspora. Among selected and screened projects are feature length films and documentaries, as well as short and experimental films.
Actual screenings are put on for about two weeks in September, however entries are accepted as early as February of the same year.
The committee behind the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival encourages Caribbean Filmmakers to submit their work for free via their website http://ttfilmfestival.com/ where more information regarding the festivals history as well as submission regulations can also be found.

 

2) Calabash International Literary Festival

One of the longest running Art Festivals in the Caribbean, the Calabash International Literary Festival was founded in the year 2000. Held in Treasure Beach, Jamaica the event is hosted on a benial basis, on even years.
This event attracts book lovers, authors and anyone willing to bask in a downpour of reggae, relaxation and literary prowess, in a quaint South coastal Jamaican village. The Calabash International Literary Festival Trust which operates the event also provides publishing seminars and writing workshops throughout the duration of the festival.

For more information visit: http://www.calabashfestival.org/.

 

3) Carifesta – The Caribbean Festival of the Arts

‘Carifesta xiii’ is slated to be held in Barbados with the theme “Asserting Our Culture, Celebrating Ourselves” from August 17th to August 27th of this year.
With a name most Caribbean nationals are already familiar with, this event stages a number of creative Caribbean “music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture, folk art, photography and literature” talents.
The festival which comes around every few years, aims to highlight the kaleidoscopic vibrancy and diversity of Caribbean and South American cultures and artistry.

For more information visit www.carifesta.net.

 

4) GIMISTORY; The Cayman Islands International Storytelling Festival

Storytelling is rooted in tradition and is one of the world’s oldest art-forms.
From November 25th to December 3rd story tellers from all over the world travel to each district of the Cayman Islands as well Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, to perform stories some of which meant to reveal details of ancient “myths and legends”, as well as to evoke “laughter, drama and wonderment”.

The event, which began in 1997 and is held annually, serves as a canvas for the imaginations of audience dwellers. With its storytellers as the brushes, each word strokes the assorted colours and layers of the world’s heritages.
Through an application process the festival’s founders and operators welcome anyone to its stages.

For more information visit http://www.artscayman.org/gimistory.

5) Caribbean Youth Film Festival

A fairly new festival aimed at creating opportunity and a platform for precisely younger filmmakers, The Caribbean Youth Film Festival is a four day event held in Saint Lucia. This year the festival, which is held annually, will run from August 7th to August 17th making it five years now since its inception.

The Caribbean Youth Film Festival committee invites anyone ’35 and under’ to submit his/ her work (short films only) which will be screened to local and international audience members.
In the spirit of cultivating the Caribbean’s film landscape, the committee adds to its roster workshops and seminars held around the time of the festival as well as throughout the year, for persons of all ages and backgrounds, whether new to the art of filmmaking or seasoned.

For more information visit facebook.com/CYFFestival.

Some say, ultimately, it really depends on a person’s will and dedication to his/her craft to determine whether they can build themselves up and together as an Artist. Knowing that there is an audience ready and willing to bare witness to ones work however, can serve as motivation, especially in a culture where emerging Artists may feel invisible.