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Amatoritsero Ede Sits Down With H. Nigel Thomas

H. Nigel ThomasAmatoritsero Ede recently sat down with H. Nigel Thomas to discuss writing, homosexuality, Caribbean culture, and black literature in an interview entitled “Dreaming the Caribbean Body” conducted for the Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

When asked by Ede to “please give [MTLS] readers a sense of [his] literary background and influences”, Thomas explains how his childhood in St. Vincent had a profound effect on his approach towards writing. He states, “as soon as I was able to take books from the library, somewhere around age 8, I did. By the time I was ten, I was fascinated by the images and rhythms of the hymns we sang in the Methodist Church I attended”. Thomas goes on to explain why he started writing: “characters and their stories began to fill my head while I was in bed and sometimes kept me awake until 4 a.m. I had no choice but to get up and record what I was experiencing”.

On the topic of homosexuality, Ede refers to No Safeguards (published by Guernica Editions earlier this year) when he asks, “why the sustained focus on the subject as represented in characters from Jerome Quashee in the first to Jay and Paul in your most recent novel?” Thomas explains, “the aspects of Caribbean reality that Caribbean novelists overlooked were what seized [his] imagination”. Later in the interview, Thomas describes the brutal persecution of gays in Caribbean culture, pointing to various examples in recent history. The effects of this persecution can be felt in the literary marketplace, in which literature discussing gay themes is heavily discouraged, “West Indians have been instinctually programmed to stay away from anything that’s gay lest they too be accused of being gay. They’ve also been programmed to punish gays…The ostracism gays are subjected to extends to their art”. Yet Thomas also points out how positive change is happening, such as the first Gay Pride celebration to be held in the Caribbean that took place in Kingston three weeks ago.

Questions surrounding blackness are also persistent themes in Thomas’ work, in which he uses mental illness as an arch-metaphor for representing the effects of colonialism. In the context of colonialism, Thomas states, “it’s issues of identity that predominate in my first three novels”, which is especially true of Spirits in the Dark and Return to Arcadia. Thomas explains that the exploration of these questions is one distinguishing feature of black literature, “black writers explore themes like racial injustice and colonialism, themes that make white people uncomfortable. Such themes also make some black people uncomfortable.”

Ede concludes his interview with Thomas by asking: “apart from sexuality what other themes do you engage in your writing?” Thomas replies, “I would say that how power is wielded is one of my preoccupations. The oppressive and occasional beneficial nature of religion is another. It’s a major theme in the tetralogy, which begins with No Safeguards.”

No Safeguards is the first in a trilogy of novels focusing on Jay and his brother Paul from childhood to young adulthood. The book deals with the impact of fundamentalist Christianity on their family, the ways that this becomes even more poignant when they leave their grandmother’s home in St. Vincent to join their mother in Montreal, and the further oppression that the brothers encounter when it is revealed that they are gay.

Nigel Thomas was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and has been living in Montreal since 1986. He has written three other novels, Spirits in the Dark, Behind the Face of Winter, and Return to Arcadia, along with three collections of short stories, How Loud Can the Village Cock Crow, Lives: Whole and Otherwise (translated into French as Des vies cassées), and When the Bottom Falls Out and Other Stories. He has also written a collection of poems, Moving through Darkness, and two scholarly texts.

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