Interviews

Interview with Colin Channer

Written by Karlene T

Colin Channer is the author of two novels, a novella and many short stories. His first novel “Waiting In Vain” was selected as a 1998 Critic’s Choice by the Washington Post Book World. It was also excerpted in Hot Spots: The Best Erotic Writing In Modern Fiction. His novella “I’m Still Waiting” was published in the best-selling volume ‘Got To Be Real’, which includes short novels by E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey and Marcus Major. Ballantine published his most recent novel, “Satisfy My Soul”, in February 2002. Set in contemporary Jamaica, South Carolina and Ghana, “Satisfy My Soul” is a deeply spiritual and lushly erotic story that gives a new meaning to the idea of eternal love.

K: So what makes you Jamaican? Do you have a ‘speng’ in your step? Swirl ice in your glass? What’s your ‘J’canism’?

CC: I am Jamaican because I was born there and because I grew up there till I was 18 and because I am in constant connection with Jamaica directly and with the Diaspora in the US and the UK and through artistic expressions of Jamaican culture. What’s my Jamaicanism? I have a few; they are most evident though when I play in my band or when I dance.

K: When did you leave and do you still have family there?

CC: Left Jamaica on July 24, 1982 on Air Jamaica flight 017, which landed at JFK at 10 pm. I have no immediate family there. I have uncles and cousins and aunts, etc.

K: Do you visit Jamaica frequently? What effect does being there have on you, if any?

CC: I go to Jamaica a lot. Especially over the last three years. Calabash keeps me there a lot. Jamaica grounds me. But more than that I just have a kind of freedom there that I don’t feel anywhere else in the world. Which is funny because Jamaica is a dangerous place.

K: What led you to your choice to become a writer? Anyone inspire you to write?

CC: I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. I liked reading a lot. I didn’t have a role model as a writer when I was growing up. I was turned on by reggae. I studied journalism because it was a kind of writing I could relate to. I decided to become a journalist when I came across a novel by Caryl Phillips. It struck me that he was young, black and from the West Indies (St. Kitts). That was in 1988.

K: How did you first get published? What were the challenges?

CC: I got an agent and the agent did all the work. I didn’t have a really difficult time, I was lucky. I think I came along at a time when publishers were interested in work by black authors but just before the interest extended itself to writers with little integrity or skill.

K: Who do you read?

CC: Interesting question. I rearranged my bookshelf lately, so I can tell you what I noticed. From one shelf I have gathered that I read much more fiction than nonfiction. I read a lot of poetry apparently … Braithwaite, Walcott, Dawes and Neruda seem to be favorites. Fiction-wise there is a lot of Marquez, Hemmingway, Miller, Phillips, Amis, Naipaul, Morrison, Mahfouz, Gordimer, Kennedy, Atwood and Ondaatje.

K: What are your thoughts on Jamaican manhood and how do those get expressed in your work?

CC:I think that Jamaican men are as complicated as any other kind of men and that their lives are worthy of literary exploration.

K: What are your views on relationships between Jamaican men and women?

CC: Relationships between men and women are always difficult in slave societies. You see the same thing in the United States, the men develop a hyper masculinity to compensate for their lack of economic power. Jamaican women are very complex … but at their core very sweet. They are doers. They do for self and they put their men on a pedestal that they sometimes don’t deserve.

K: What is it about Jamaica women? What’s that appeal we have? C’mon tell the truth and make us feel good…

CC: Jamaican women have a way of making their men feel like princes. That is something on the order of magic, they take the sexual satisfaction of their men as something of a royal charter. They know how to handle money–theirs and yours.

K: Where are you based?

CC: Brooklyn, New York.

K: How has your work been received by different audiences? Any surprises about who you reach?

CC: Generally speaking people like the work. Most of my audience is American. Well, America is the largest book market in the world and I am based here. Jamaican people respond particularly well to the work because they feel that I represent their complexity in an accurate way. People say I am a reggae writer, that the work resonates with them like Jamaican music.

K: Tell us a little about Calabash Festival and your passion for it. What led to its conception, birth and goals for its future? Anyone slated yet for next year and why the decision to make it FREE!!!!! Wow to attendees.

CC: Calabash is the greatest little festival, in the greatest little district, in the greatest little country in the world. The festival is put on by the Calabash International Literary Festival Trust. The Trust has three products–the festival, writing workshops and publishing seminars. I founded the Trust for a simple reason– to create more readers and writers in Jamaica. Art is a tool of development and making the festival free and open to the public is a way of giving more people from more backgrounds a chance to have the kind of close up and personal experience with art that will inspire them to create it and consume it. For more information visit calabashfestival.org

K: So, you actually have a band. What kind of music do you play? Do you play an instrument?

CC: I play bass in a reggae band. We don’t record. We play covers.

K: Your writing is often rhythmic, poetic and lyrical– do you listen to music while you write?

CC: I do. Mostly instrumental music. Lyrics distract me. If a song has lyrics I put it on retreat until it fades away and I just feel it.

K: How much time do you spend writing?

CC: Not enough. It depends on whether I have an upcoming deadline. I do not write every day.

K: My strangest/funniest interaction with a reader was…

CC: A woman who brought me cooked food at a reading after hearing a radio interview in which I mentioned my favorite meal. Is me she did waah ketch wid stew peas.

K: If I weren’t a writer/ musician I’d be…

CC:An architect/hotelier.

K: Advice for young talented creative sorts?

CC:Study hard. Learn the rules then take a chance on breaking them.

K: What are you working on now?

CC: A NEW NOVEL.

K: Many, many thanks for your time!!!!!

NUFF LOVE.

To learn more about Colin Channer and his books, please visit his
website http://www.colinchanner.com

About the author

Karlene T