Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Color Me English



This year marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Though I remember where I was on that day and what I did all that week - mostly in a cloud of fog, I kinda cringe each year on September 11: it tends to bring out the worse kinda of nationalism. Including couples wearing matching American flag clothing. (This is also why I tend to avoid the 4th of July: a) I've done the LGBTQ float twice and been called a fag both times, buy people who stepped out of the crowd into the parade and into my face; b) Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless America" is my sleeper trigger and could lead to the deaths of those around me...sort of like Spike in the last season of Buffy.)

It was Joan Didion's essay "Fixed Ideas: America since 9.11" that I most agreed with: the attacks on the World Trade Towers could've brought the world closer together but instead we isolated ourselves, and clothed ourselves in symbols and hatred and the Tea Party.

So, it isn't surprising that it took a Caribbean-born (St. Kitts), British-raised (Leeds) author of color, who now lives in New York, to get me to pick up a book with 9/11 in it's subtitle.

(Kirkus Review) A collection of essays on the themes of race, the African diaspora, otherness and identity, from a Caribbean-born, British-raised, and United States–based writer with a sharp eye for the tensions of modern society.

In what could be seen as a sequel to A New World Order: Essays (2001), Phillips, who is better known as a novelist (In the Falling Snow, 2009, etc.), again explores issues of migration and shares his insights into writers and their role in shaping their world. Written over nearly two decades and seemingly for a variety of publications, these highly personal musings open with Phillips's childhood in Leeds, where for a time he was the only black child in his school. For a Muslim newcomer, Ali, the difference was culture and religion. Though Phillips found he was "being coloured English," he saw that Ali remained an outsider. "Distant Shores" contains six pieces on his perceptions and experiences in both Europe and Africa. Europe, he writes, is no longer white and no longer Judeo-Christian, and it never will be again. However, with the help of literature as a bulwark against intolerance, societies can make the necessary transition and transform themselves. The longest section, titled "Outside In," looks at writers in exile—e.g., James Baldwin in France, Ha Jin in the United States and Chinua Achebe in Canada. The four essays in "Homeland Security," written between 2001 and 2006, show Phillips' disappointment over the failure of America to live up to its image as a land of freedom and equality, but also his hope that storytelling will restore the spirit of the country. Profiles, movie and book reviews and autobiographical and journalistic sketches complete the collection.

Caryl Phillips is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. His novel A Distant Shore won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

From his website:

His novels are: The Final Passage (1985), A State of Independence (1986), Higher Ground (1989), Cambridge (1991), Crossing the River (1993), The Nature of Blood (1997), A Distant Shore (2003), Dancing in the Dark (2005), Foreigners (2007), and In the Falling Snow (2009). His non-fiction: The European Tribe (1987), The Atlantic Sound (2000), A New World Order (2001), and Colour Me English (2011). He is the editor of two anthologies: Extravagant Strangers: A Literature of Belonging (1997) and The Right Set: An Anthology of Writing on Tennis (1999). His work has been translated into over a dozen languages.

2 comments:

Kyle said...

With that introduction JP, how could I not read this one. Looks like one I should just buy.

Writer said...

Kyle, you should also check out The Submission by Amy Waldman! :)