One main reason I write fiction, is that it allows me to express myself -- without talking directly about myself. But now with my first collection, Sections Of An Orange, in print, you have posed a few questions to me, the writer: what's my approach to writing, how important do I find community, which writers influenced me, etc. What to do?
I'll start with one word, "permission". As a good West Indian boy, I learned early -- and perhaps too well -- to ask for permission. Before interrupting a "big-people" conversation, before having a piece of coconut fudge. Permission to ask for permission, sometimes! As a writer, I've needed permission at different steps along the way. I didn't get it in school. When we did our first creative writing exercises in Form One, my stories were not selected for praise by our Language and Literature teacher. When I took writing electives in college, no one said "you should be a writer". So the good West Indian boy, worked on being a good West Indian man and went to work in data processing.
A few years ago when a new publication at NYU, Calabash - A Journal of Caribbean Arts and Literature, published my story "On The Side", I gave myself permission to explore writing. I found my first writing workshop in Brooklyn, at the Nkiru Center. The very hip, multi-generational group of poets, teachers and essayists there said what I hadn't heard before: "write more". Their support was permission. I stayed up nights writing fiction into the wee hours of the morning, not yet brave enough to consider myself a writer. That came after a week-long workshop at VONA (Voices of our Nation). Permission.
And permission, too, from authors I admire. Permission from their work. Some of those: Earl Lovelace for brilliant prose about Trinidad; Randall Keenan for writing as a gay man about gay characters and straight characters and real life -- all together; Edward P. Jones, quoted as saying that he doesn't follow all the rules about process - I don't have to wake up at 7am to write; Thomas Glave for trail-blazing, and excellence and inclusion.
A few years ago, at a venue in Manhattan, I read the title story from my collection -- when I only hoped it would be a collection. There was a nice little audience -- other writers, friends, friends of other writers....my mother. It went well, there was lively response and positive feedback afterward. But most of all, the next day my mother sent me an email that said she was "proud" of me. My West Indian mother, a woman of a certain age. She's encouraged me and supported me throughout my life, but she is not one to boast or to throw around words like "proud". That's a level of permission, no Permission, that is invaluable.
Because, yes, it might be easier to write fiction that includes gay lives, while living in New York than while living in Trinidad, but West Indian families are still West Indian wherever they live. And my family, close and extended, matters.
So, now my job as a writer is to live up to the permission I've been given. And maybe the writing will give others permission in some ways I don't yet know.