Monday, 3 March 2014

FIVE QUESTIONS: Trini-American author Robert Antoni on his love affair with literature

INTO THE BLUE: "Writing, I always say, is a vocation. It's a blessed curse."

There's nothing quite like savouring the sweet success of the writing life. Just ask Robert Antoni, winner of the 1992 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for the spellbinding debut, Divina Trace, and whose most recent work of fiction, the acclaimed As Whatless Flies to Boys (Akashic Books), was launched at Bookland on the weekend as part of the Kingston Book Festival series of activities. "It feels great. Happy to get a new book out and happy to think about what's next," the 56-year-old Trinidadian author and 2010 Guggenheim Fellow informs TALLAWAH mere minutes after amusing the fair-sized audience that turned up at UWI's Neville Hall Lecture Theatre on Sunday morning for this year's iteration of A Love Affair with Literature. 

TALLAWAH: Edwidge Danticat glowingly hails your latest novel, As Whatless Flies to Boys, as "an unforgettable and matchless work; a crowning achievement in an exceptional body of work." Are you surprised by that sort of response to your work? 
Antoni: Edwidge is my great friend. I've known her for years and years. We worked together in Miami, and I love her work and she's very supportive of my work. So it was great to get her support, and it's an awesome privilege to be in the same grouping with her for the Bocas Prize. 

Is West Indian literature dead? 
I think it's going through a new revival, for me, more than anything, in terms of language that embraces all different kinds of West Indian vernacular. And that's what I embrace in my writing, and that's what all the new writers that I am excited about seem to be embracing as well. So it's kind of a renaissance that's happening. And it's most especially happening among women writers in Caribbean literature. 

Congrats on being a recipient of the NALIS Lifetime Literary Award from the National Library in your native Trinidad & Tobago. How do you manage to stay in tune with your Trini heritage, given your busy teaching and touring schedule in the States? 
I travel there a lot. I go back for Carnival a lot. But in terms of my writing, my stories are really about the stories I heard growing up as a child, from my grandparents, people that I knew. 

What's the most challenging experience you've ever encountered in the publishing world? 
Every time it's difficult. Every book is difficult. It's never been easy, but you do what you have to do. And writing, I always say, is a vocation. It's a blessed curse. 

Your prize-winning success speaks volumes of your talent. What's the key to shaking things up as a storyteller? 
Humour. That's what I like to use. Also pathos. I like to include all of the emotions, but the energy probably comes from the humour. 

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