A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles
Edited by Thomas Glave
Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2008
408 pp. ISBN-978-0-8223-4226-7. $24.95
Reviewed by Georges-Claude Guilbert
Université François Rabelais – Tours
Thomas Glave teaches at MIT. He grew up partly in Kingston, Jamaica, where he was recently involved in social work, and where he co-founded the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG). He has published many essays and short stories. I particularly recommend his postmodern short story collection entitled The Torturer’s Wife (2008), which might puzzle some readers in the way it often steers very clear of short story writing conventions.
Obviously, the expression “gay writing” is intrinsically dubious. How can writing be gay? The old debate about écriture féminine can be applied here, as it works in exactly the same way. The two principal questions to be asked are: how do you determine that a piece of writing is gay? And how much of an essentialist is the speaker of the expression “gay writing”? If you could answer the first question with the contention that a piece of gay writing is a piece of fiction (or poetry, but that is another debate) which deals with gay characters, you would include a tremendous amount of writing by heterosexual writers; but, precisely, such writers are never included in anthologies like Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles. You are then tempted to answer that a piece of writing is gay because its author is gay. According to that logic, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a gay novel—a totally unacceptable proposition, of course. So you end up defining gay writing as writing by gay people about gay people, which is terribly limiting. “Lesbian writing” poses exactly the same problem. “Lesbian and gay writing” poses additional problems, of a political nature, which had better be avoided here. The second question brings to mind the old gay gene debate. Constructionists such as myself will cringe at the notion, whereas many essentialists believe that one is born gay, and might therefore be tempted to imagine that such a genetic trait directly influences one’s writing—in the same way as some differentialist feminists believe a woman writes differently from a man because of her chromosomes.
Indeed, Thomas Glave himself raises the issue in his excellent introduction. “What exactly […] is—can be—'lesbian and gay writing'? Is it writing with 'lesbian' or 'gay' or 'queer' content? Writing by those who consider themselves to be lesbian or gay?”  The verb “consider” here is all important, and in fact Glave lets us know that, interestingly, the two words “lesbian” and “gay” “in the title lost this gathering at least two writers.”  Glave does not shy away from a thought that will cross the mind of every reader: what have these writers got in common? He evokes, as befits such a project, the diaspora such writers are necessarily involved in (seeing the political regimes of their birthplace); and he explains his choice of English for the collection with convincing arguments. Some of the texts were written in Dutch, Spanish, or Creole languages.
Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles is actually an excellent collection. I was hoping to find Severo Sarduy, whose Cobra (1972) is utterly indispensable to me, and was disappointed, but Glave explains his absence. I was hoping to find Virgilio Piñera, author of the tremendous novel René’s Flesh (1952) and was pleased to see that an intriguing six-page text entitled “The Face,” dating back to 1956 was included. The one author everyone has read is also featured, obviously: Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls (1992) is excerpted to good effect, since the piece is judiciously chosen, dealing as it does with the fluidity of sexuality, the uselessness of definitions and the political / sexual repression that plagues Cuba. It is also brazenly graphic. The movie Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, 2000) helped make the book enter the mainstream, but it had a wide following, notably in France and the US, before it was filmed. I was expecting Audre Lorde, so often hailed by many feminist writers, and was glad to see she was given nineteen pages. But what is remarkable in this anthology is that some of the writers are in fact little known, and equally interesting. It is to be hoped that their reputation will grow as a result of their inclusion. All in all, thirty-seven authors are collected in this anthology, counting José Alcántara Almánzar, Aldo Alvarez, Rane Arroyo, Jesús J. Barquet, Mabel Rodríguez Cuesta, Ochy Curiel, Faizal Deen, Pedro de Jesús, R. Erica Doyle, Rosamond S. King, Helen Klonaris, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Shani Mootoo, Achy Obejas, Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Patricia Powell, Kevin Everod Quashie, Juanita Ramos, Colin Robinson, Assotto Saint, Andrew Salkey, and Lawrence Scott. They are from the Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Suriname, or Trinidad (in alphabetical order).
One of the most winning writers turns out to be Thomas Glave himself, whose short text “Whose Caribbean? An Allegory, in Part” (2005) cannot fail to engage the reader. In its sometimes convoluted but never indifferent lines, somehow evocative in their inbetweenness of Mestiza concerns, two-passported Glave addresses (among other literary endeavors) some sort of intersexual dream child:
A few pennies, a dollar here or there, and then I, whomever “I” was or will be this year or last, will return to my distant capital, to my own dreams of vengeance against the swarthy and those who, like you, child, threaten through wild breeding and proven savagery to overrun my peaceful pastures and geometrically ordained, merciless swept cities. I will think no more of you until the next time and the next, even though, in truth, I might live quite nearby you; but you will of course understand that you mean nothing to me; absolutely nothing at all; not even your shimmering blue breasts and magnificently green penis finally mean much to me, except during those passing moments in the darkness of unspoken illicit dreams and echoing silence that we share, have always shared—that darkness that is yours, yes, and mine. Darkness and silence shared for all time. For all time, I say, and I am gone, leaving you touched, possessed, not only by me. [178-179]
All in all, Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles is another crucial book published by Duke University Press, who are in the habit of churning those out.
Cercles © 2010