It’s not often that a book excites me so much that it makes me want to write a persona blog post on top of a review. It’s even rarer that a book makes me struggle to find the exact words I need to articulate what it means to me.
I thought that this would just be a short blog post, a one-draft thing. But the more I wrote, the more it flowed and the more it became an essay that blended memory, personal experience and hope. I look forward to what the Caribbean Futures Institute will be doing in the upcoming years, and I wanted to share why.
So, here goes!
Yesterday, the Stabroek News published my review of Reclaim, Restore, Return: Futurist Tales from the Caribbean, a free e-book anthology published as a collaboration between the Bocas Literature Festival and the recently formed Caribbean Futures Institute. I love that book so much, and the fact that it’s both free and online means that it’s a little more accessible across the region. I sincerely hope that for many readers across the Caribbean and our diaspora, it can serve as an introduction to our home-grown brand of speculative fiction. This anthology includes an essay, six short stories and one poem – both reprinted and new – that strike a balance between showcase and manifesto. On the one hand, it gives you a selection of appetisers which you can sample before you dive into the entrees that are published Caribbean speculative fiction. On the other hand, it’s a call to action, showing how the sciences (social, natural) can blend with science fiction and policymaking to further regional integration and growth. By including both reprints of previously published work and new content, it also shows that Caribbean speculative fiction isn’t something new, but a continuous process.
However, my review doesn’t cover the full range of my thoughts about this book, and the reason I’m personally excited about the potential the Caribbean Futures Institute may have in store our writers. To do that, I have to take you back to the summer of 2018.
Two years ago, I did a three-month-long internship at the CARICOM Secretariat’s Communications department. I was one of around 20 or so interns spread throughout the Secretariat. My fellow interns and I were thrown into the deep end, learning the ropes of our respective department while the Conference of the Heads of Government was in full swing.
It was hard work, and the learning curve was steep, but I loved it. Amid writing guided contributions to the CARICOM Today Blog (here and here ), helping to organise and tag photos and content on both on the CARICOM Flickr and main website, fixing information packages, writing a production script to simplify the complexity of CARICOM, and running all over the Secretariat and beyond to help to photograph events, I developed an intimate understanding of CARICOM’s scope and purpose.
Admittedly, there is still a lot more that I know I need to learn, but as I reflect on this time, I realise that my stint at CARICOM was my first lesson in worldbuilding. It takes a lot of brainpower – a radical collective imagination – to shape a region, and CARICOM is no exception. As I went through the swathes of information across the various platforms I was juggling, I began to understand the true scale of what CARICOM wanted to accomplish and the amount of work that was going into making this a reality. With all things, there were flaws and hiccups – some glaring and some subtle – but I can appreciate just how far CARICOM, it’s Member States and its Institutions have come over the years, and I know that it has a lot further to go to achieve all of its collective goals.
After the first month in that little cubicle, my storyteller’s mind began to take over. In my downtime, I started to daydream about what a fantasy CARICOM would look like. I still have those pages, and I hope to work on them someday. But I put them aside very soon after, intimidated by the sheer scale of such a project. Travel is expensive; research takes time. If I were to represent both Guyana and the islands, I would need to do a fair amount of both. The thought overwhelmed me, and I took the idea off the stove before it could even simmer.
The ideas haunted me, though, materializing in my mind in ways that made me feel both anxious and lonely. I was anxious because I wanted to write but didn’t know how, and lonely because I didn’t yet know that I – and every other writer across the region, in fact – had permission to write futurist tales of epic proportions. At the time, within my scope of experience, Caribbean Literature was all about grey-bearded men reminiscing about what I started calling “the bad old days when things were better”, featuring colonial and post-colonial angst and authorial voice so pompous that I would find myself laughing after just a few lines (I admire you, Mittelholzer, but I can make a drinking game out of every time I see a ‘By jove!”). I had very little exposure to our ongoing literary canons, and it made me believe that if I wasn’t writing the next Wine of Astonishment, then I was doing literature wrong.
Yet, even as I looked at the sliver of CARICOM’s inner workings that I was exposed to, a little voice in me kept asking, “Why hasn’t anyone written stories like this yet?”
As it turns out, I was asking the wrong question. My ideas weren’t as novel as I believed them to be. In fact, various writers before me like Karen Lord, and Tobias Buckell (who edited the Reclaim, Restore, Return anthology) and Nalo Hopkinson have been pondering these questions in both fiction and nonfiction since I was a toddler. The better question would have been “Why have I, as a citizen of CARICOM, been underexposed to Caribbean speculative fiction?”
I don’t think I’m alone with this questioning.
A part of it has to do with me and my own ignorance, which is something that I have been unpacking almost daily since I discovered the genre two pandemic decades ago in February 2020. I didn’t know what to look for and how to look for it because I was blissfully unaware of its existence. Another part of it has to do with publishing and promotion, which I won’t even begin to try to unpack here. But at least for me, it was quite telling that I had to attend two writing workshops that I only had a chance of getting into in order to develop the vocabulary I needed to search for the fiction that I wanted to read!
In many ways, the pandemic and the opportunities it provided for connection and interaction helped to break me out of my ignorance, and I hope that these new connections will help carry Reclaim, Restore, Return far and wide so that authors like myself, who didn’t know that they had permission to write speculative and futurist tales about themselves and people who look like them, get an introduction to this fantastic world so that they too can begin writing. I also hope that non-writers will also take inspiration from these stories so that they can use it as a framework for their own crafts, studies and careers. The region will be better for it.
And now comes the part where I tell you why I’m excited about the Caribbean Futures Institute.
Toward the end of my stint at CARICOM, one of my fellow interns – an environmental science graduate – complained to me about something one day. He had observed that almost all of CARICOM’s outgoing public communications, he noted, centred around politics and economics. He had a good point. Just a year prior, the region saw its worst hurricane season in remembered history, and CARICOM didn’t seem to have adjusted its focus.
While he had a valid complaint, I admit that it was a little unfair to CARICOM too. The communications department was understaffed and thus had to publish the Secretariat’s priorities. It just happened that the priorities during and after the Conference of the Heads of Government were politics and economics.
Furthermore, while CARICOM and its institutions have been working on promoting developments and science and technology, the organisation would need a team of specialised writers and content creators in order to make the coverage more holistic. The CARICOM Today Blog, I believe, would be flexible enough to support such an initiative.
Outside of CARICOM, we as a region also need to mainstream and support our dreamers, giving them the resources, time and space that they need to let their imaginations run wild while they can still make a living from it. Slowly, as our dreamers influence content creators (writers, filmmakers etc.), scientists, policymakers and students, the lines between the disciplines will begin to blur, and soon they will be influencing each other. I predict that when we hit this point, our development will spiral out across the islands, like a nautilus shell.
Think of the ways that western countries have blended science, science fiction and policy. The example I keep coming back to is Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. He was an author, architect and futurist and his dome design not only influenced chemistry (C60 is called Buckminsterfullerene, after all), the biome design of the Eden project’s domes and have also been featured in some science fiction.
So, at last, I can tell you plainly why I have so much hope for the Caribbean Futures Institute. From what I read on their website and from what I remember from the Back to the Future panel during Bocas, not only with the Caribbean Futures Institute publish more collections like Reclaim, Restore, Return in the future, but it will also provide a space where policymakers, scientists and writers can meet, exchange ideas and influence each other. This, I think is huge! Imagine a room filled with Caribbean people who understand their region and their needs, and who want to not only drive development but tell stories about the potential of such a development. The very thought of it makes my heart sing because I know what can happen when disciplines merge, like “flint striking iron, to spark new ideas, new stories and new approaches out of old tinder.” as Karen Lord put it in her essay “Our Sanctuary Sea”.
This first anthology really touched me. It showed me that my 2018 dreamings weren’t crazy, and that I was never alone in this dreaming. It showed me that other writers have been thinking about this as well and that in the future, there will be a space where the region’s thinkers can come together and make something beautiful. It also gave me hope that young people – whether writers or non-writers – can read these works and take inspiration from them for their own careers, so that we can continue snowballing this tradition of regional development.
Because, really, if we don’t imagine our own futures, someone else will.
Read my review in the Stabroek News or on my Blog, and download your copy of Reclaim, Restore, Return from the Bocas Lit Fest Website. Also, keep your eye out on the Caribbean Futures Institute Website for updates.