Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Twentieth Century Caribbean Women Writers

ENGL 260.401
TR 10:30-12

Caribbean folk culture inherits a vestigial West Africanism in the figure of the "market woman." In some West African cultures the market was the sphere of women and provided forms of autonomy for women. In the Caribbean, this social formation appears during slavery (and after) as the "market-day " (usually on a Saturday) the day plantation owners allowed slaves to sell their produce and create and participate in circuits of economic exchange. And of course, running alongside this there was the creation and exchange of cultural capital; what Caribbean sociologists will later claim as "folk culture." Curiously enough, the first generation of writers did claim this folk culture, but gendered it male for the most part. That tradition, some have argued, has exhausted itself; and indeed, the tradition of Anglophone Caribbean writing would have ended with this first generation, were it not for the explosion of the female voice in Anglophone Caribbean fiction. The now legendary gathering of women writers at the "Caribbean Women Writers Conference" held at Wellesley College in 1988 and organized by the noted Caribbeanist Selwyn Cudjoe was a public signal of what many had privately noted. We will read many, if not all, of the writers at that conference: Merle Collins (Grenada); Paule Marshall (Barbados/USA); Erna Brodber (Jamaica), Rosa Guy (Barbados); Beryl Gilroy (Guyana/England); Grace Nichols (Guyana/Canada); Marlene Nourbese Philip (Tobago/Canada); Merle Hodge (Trinidad); Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua) and others. Why the sudden silence from the male pen? How do these women writers write themselves into the (Caribbean) social contract? How do these writers engage with the earlier tradition? How do these women claim and (re)construct the lives of Caribbean women? If "the pen," as two of the key players in the elaboration of North American feminist criticism have argued, "is a metaphorical penis" which writes across a blank (female) page, what do Caribbean women writers encounter at their (metaphorical) blank pages?

fulfills requirements