Interview with Geoffrey Philp, Author of Garvey’s Ghost

Geoffrey Philp is the author of Garvey’s Ghost,and his work is represented in nearly every major anthology of Caribbean literature. Geoffrey is one of the few writers whose work has been published in the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. He is currently working on a collection of poems, “Letter from Marcus Garvey.” Geoffrey teaches English at the InterAmerican Campus of Miami Dade College.

1. Why did you write Garvey’s Ghost?

Garvey’s Ghost, as Rastafari would say, is livicated to Burning Spear. Burning Spear’s “Old Marcus,” which has the recurrent line, “No one remember Ole Marcus Garvey,” was one of the inspirations for this novel, and when I was growing up–and it’s much worse now–no one remembered Marcus Garvey. So this is my way of remembering Marcus Garvey and I hope that by reading the novel other people will remember or begin to research Marcus Garvey.

2. But wasn’t Marcus Garvey, who was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to five years in prison, a criminal? Why should anyone be interested in the teachings of a criminal?

Marcus Garvey was not a criminal. Marcus Garvey’s only crime was that he was a proud black man who preached a message of freedom. This is why Garvey had to be stopped by the various governments, no matter where he lived and his name had to be erased from the history books. Garvey’s words are as true now as they were over a hundred years ago.

3. Miami seems an odd choice for a novel, which ostensibly, features Marcus Garvey. Why did you choose this setting?

Throughout the Caribbean, and I consider Miami to be a Caribbean city, we suffer from cultural and historical amnesia. We’ve forgotten our roots or we want to denigrate our roots, our African roots. But as Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” So, Miami was the perfect setting for Garvey’s Ghost because nearly every Caribbean nation state is represented here and the few remnants of Garvey’s presence here in Miami have been destroyed.

4. Is this why you chose to include so many phrases in Spanish and Haitian Creole?

Pete Tosh once said, “No matter where you come from as long as you’re a black man, you’re an African.” Language and nationality are two of the other ways that we define ourselves and when Garvey was trying to unite “Africans at home and abroad” he confronted this challenge. In the end, he came up with an interesting solution that he wrote about in The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: “Garvey is not an African name; it is an Irish name, as Johnston is not an African name, Garcia is not an African name, Thompson and Tobias are not African names. Where did we get those names from? We inherited them from our own slave masters, English, French, Irish or Scotch. So, if I was born in Jamaica, it was no fault of mine. It was because that slave ship which took me to Jamaica did not come to American ports…We were brought here, and so the question of birth does not enter into the question of the Negro. It was a matter of accident.” The question of identity that Garvey’s Ghost addresses is equally important for Anglophone, Francophone, and Hispanophone Caribbean

5. Is this why you told the story from so many points of view instead of using a single narrator?

I don’t believe any person, nation or religion has the ultimate hold on absolute truth. All we have, at best, are tentative answers. This is why I couldn’t have one narrator who knew what was going on in everyone’s mind. So, I decided to pose these questions to my characters: Who are you? Where have you come from? Where are you going? I wanted to see how they would respond to these questions that went to the heart of who they were or who they thought they were.

6. Although it’s not pronounced, I also saw a possible mythological reference in the naming of the club, Nesti, where Jacob and Kathryn have their first date. Am I right?

Wow! I never thought anyone would see that. It’s one of those “Easter Eggs” in the novel. Yes, it’s a reference to the Demeter-Persephone myth. In some mythologies, Persephone is associated with water, which is why Jasmine says she feels as she is “drowning.” Then, there is also a connection with the Yoruba Orishas in the colours associated with Jacob, Kathryn and Cristina, her best friend.

7. One of the main characters, Jacob Virgo, is a Rastafarian. What’s the connection between Rastafarianism and Marcus Garvey?

Rastafari were solely responsible for keeping the memory of Marcus Garvey alive in Jamaica. In fact, in some of the mansions of Rastafari, Marcus Garvey is regarded as a prophet. And the connection is obvious. Both Marcus Garvey and Rastafari were/are engaged in African redemption.

8. Is this the reason why the music of Bob Marley plays such an important role in novel?

Bob Marley was another of my heroes and has always played an important part in my development as a writer. The poet and critic, Kwame Dawes, coined the phrase, the “reggae aesthetic” to describe the work of Bob Marley. According to Dawes, Marley’s lyric combines the erotic, social, and spiritual. I hope Garvey’s Ghost lives up to that definition.

9. How does religion in general influence the plot?

Religion is one of the ways that we use to define ourselves. Sometimes a religion can assist us in our sense of self or sometimes it can destroy or undermine our self-worth. As with everything else, we need to choose wisely.

10. The novel opens with the disappearance of Kathryn’s daughter Jasmine. Why does she run away from home?

Jasmine runs away from home after the death of Trayvon Martin. She is trying to find out who she is and where she belongs. Her quest for an answer, however, leads her down a perilous path.

11. Garvey’s Ghost is a Young Adult novel, which is a departure from your other work. Why did you choose this particular audience?

In this era of Black Lives Matter, young people of African descent are asking some of the questions about freedom, justice, and belonging that Garvey’s Ghost raises. I hope that in their search they will see themselves in Jasmine and that they novel may stand as a cautionary tale, but also a story of hope. We always have to hold on to hope, right?

12. Is Garvey’s Ghost only for young people of African descent?

In an interview with Dermot Hussey, Bob Marley once declared the universality of his music by saying, “I speak to all the children.” Garvey’s Ghost is steeped in that tradition.


In Jamaica, Garvey’s Ghost is available at Sangster’s Bookstores in the Springs Plaza, Sovereign Centre, and Cross Roads branches. It may also be downloaded from Book Fusion: