Arts & Culture

Channer experiments with language, plurality of culture

Author reflects on Jamaican heritage, conflicting identity during Wednesday reading

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2016

“I see friends here, … and I see newly made friends here,” said Colin Channer, a 2011 transplant to the local Providence community, as he surveyed his audience in the McCormack Family Theatre to begin his reading Wednesday.

Channer was born in Kingston, Jamaica, a heritage that is reflected in his work, particularly in his novels “Waiting in Vain” and “The Girl with the Golden Shoes.” He is fascinated with a “plurality” of cultures and what he calls the “accidental genius” of Creolization in the Americas.      

Channer read from “The Girl with the Golden Shoes,” his 2007 novel about a runaway girl named Estrella. The novel is set in 1942, on an imagined Caribbean island called San Carlos that Channer based on his Jamaican roots. Combining the 1940s local voice of Jamaican patois with the southern Caribbean dialects as a means for linguistic modernism, Channer said constructing the world of the island was one of the most exciting parts of writing the novel.

Thus, Channer decided to write the story and imagine the characters in the novel as a means to preserve 1940s Jamaican culture while maintaining a more modern dialect. He imagined himself translating that Spanish dialect into English, a process that would render his story into a more accessible form of Jamaican patois.

Channer also read from his most recent book, “Providential,” a 2015 collection of poems spurred by his move to Providence in 2011. Channer said that before moving to Providence, he did not write poetry. His move to the city, colleagues at Brandeis University, and changes in his personal life, such as becoming a single father, led him to experiment more with the genre, a shift that he says he is happy with.

“Every prose writer wants to be a poet deep down,” Channer joked.

He explained that “Providential” was inspired by the idea of the proliferation of New England culture in the Caribbean colonies as well as his conflicting New England and Jamaican identities.

“In a sense I am from New England,” Channer said, adding that since New England’s founding, the region has colonized a large portion of the world, particularly the Carribean. This colonization left a large impact on the island, as colonizers have a longstanding “habit of making every place New England,” he added.

Channer closed with advice that he had given to students in the Literary Arts  program earlier in the day by saying that “the most important aesthetic is bum in chair — sit down and write and try to make something of it.”

Jennifer Davis-Allison ’73 said that she was drawn to the Channer’s reading because, as a Jamaican, she was intrigued by the idea of being able to see a Jamaican poet at Brown. She said she felt particularly connected to Channer’s “blend of background in terms of Jamaica and (Providence). There’s this real power in hearing this author.