Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Do we write people?



Emancipation Park in Jamaica


Listening to Oprah and Tyler Perry discuss his writing on tv, yesterday, I came away with the impression that he was saying that African American writing (and by extension writing from oppressed  people) tends to focus on themes of oppression at the expense of character development."We don't write people"

I had to think about that for awhile. Probably this extends to ex- colonials also. Then I started thinking about writing from the Caribbean. We are mostly ex-slaves and ex – indentured and ex-colonial people. Do we spend 'too much time' and place 'too much emphasis' on the themes from oppression at the expense of developing our characters?

Is our (best) writing mostly protest, in one form or another? Would that mean that our characters are merely mouthpieces, rather than being individuals, in their own right?.

Something to think about. I am wondering if so many of our most endearing characters are endearing because, despite, the 'oppression' they can see the humour in life. Our comedic characters are mostly really funny, as opposed to the serious characters whose stories we can discuss, at length, for their success as social commentary.

Whew! I am by no means a literary writer, but I thought I would look at some of my own writing in light of the above.

My favourite story comes to mind -. Emancipation Park in my ebook, My Darling You. I consciously set out to write about a girl, Melissa, totally repressed by her controlling mother. It should have been a sorry- for- herself, weepy sort of story which would have women readers clucking at the misguided mother stifling the daughter because the father had seduced her and disappeared. She didn't even give Melissa her father's surname, and was determined that Melissa would constantly be aware of how 'evil' men were..No man was going to take advantage of her daughter. .Oppression, no?  Too common in our societies; something women complain about a lot. (I don't think runaway men are necessarily unique to 'oppressed' people. I just like this story.)

Perhaps it was the setting in Emancipation Park which shifted the focus. Somewhere after the introduction, a male character introduced himself into the story. Honestly, I don’t know where he came from. He just jumped into the story and turned it completely around - no more weeping. Melissa learned to laugh.. As, I have said elsewhere, I find him delightful. I would have liked to meet up with him, in my younger days, in real life. I like it when characters write themselves. 

What I am looking at, and will now become more aware of, is strengthening my characterization even if  my theme comes out of my colonial  'oppressive' experience.

DISCLAIMER
If the above does not make sense, I was writing at three a.m. In any case a long paper could be written disputing this idea (emphasis on 'protest' themes and social commentary over characterization) with reference to writing from the Caribbean. My first candidate would be Naipaul's House for Mr. Biswas. What a character he was!

When Times are Strange http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EEAWWCG
My Darling You  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007U78HEC
Mr King's Daughter http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ESEWI6I