Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

A U T H O R   I N T E R V I E W
Sailing Home
m.   e l i z a   h a m i l t o n   a b é g ú n d é   n a v i g a t e s
c u l t u r a l   m e m o r y   i n   T H E   A R I A N ' S   L A S T   L I F E


BY TAMARA KAYE SELLMAN

FOR SOME writers, the experience of creating is an occupation separate from the rest of their lives. They have their "real life," their "working life," their "family life," their "writing life." It's one strategy that helps them to achieve balance, to maintain priorities.

Sometimes, the line between a writer's mundane, everyday world and her creative, imaginative landscape can blur, even resist separation. This might describe the life of healing facilitator M. Eliza Hamilton Abégúndé, whose novel-in-progress, The Arian's Last Life, has been, thus far, a 20-year commute between past, present and future.

"Writing this novel is an actual study of the many aspects of myself. The female characters are all me at some point," she says in a recent e-mail interview.

Merging her life as a healing facilitator with her life as a writer has also been a study in synergy. "Writing is the way I make sense of the things I experience as a Daughter of the Caribbean, granddaughter to West Africa and Brasil, born to people who dreamed and lived out of their visions. I get healed and make new discoveries as I write. So, they inform each other," she says. "The vision and the dream come and I begin exploring the life behind it. Sometimes it is my life. Sometimes it is part of the new path or road the Ancestors and Universe take me to."

Eliza feels it is the mandate of her Ancestors to write personal stories which reflect the transport of Africans to the Americas, to retell these histories through memory, from a previously erased point of view. "This life I write is more than a life... within the larger scope of history, my work and that of other writers is not just for fun and entertainment," she says.

For Eliza, the writing and healing aspects of her life continually serve each other: "The writing of the life becomes the story, the poem. As I write, the words and scenes reveal new things to me." Her stories well up from healing experiences, from memory and its critical link to identity and from the urgent return of a community voice. Putting all this into reproducable form is of primary importance to Eliza, who says that "the job for me as a writer is to craft my Truth into a truth that is accessible. When this is done well, it is amazing how it hits on the truth for other people. The craft is to bridge what is autobiography and memory through a love and nurture of the story."

The experience of retracing roots and committing cultural memory to the page has had an enormous impact, not only on her life, but on others who hear her read her work out loud. "Someone well-versed as a historian of slave narratives heard me read different excerpts from the book in public. 'Which slave narrative is that from?'" she asked. She had never heard any like the one I had read. It was quite frightening and real. 'My own,' I replied. She just nodded her head."

Eliza doesn't doubt that some will just assume her work is entirely imaginative and not the product of regular ancestral dialog, living memory and cultural recovery at the hands of contemporary Caribbean artists and writers. However, "after working with complete strangers the past few years and reading their lives, seeing their lives in detail, I know so fully to trust this knowledge that is my knowledge. The Universe provides so many things. Renee Davis, someone I work with, says her father always told her,'What you don't know could make another world.' And this is true.

"I am always challenging how we define memory, create memory. It is my belief from experience and hands-on working that for black descendants of Africans and Caribbean folk that our undocumented stories rest in our bodies. We are the walking histories of the Ancestors who did not survive long enough to be able to tell. Or those who simply could not speak of it."

In the following interview, Eliza details her passage across oceans in search of the lost voices of her Ancestors, the significance of one's dreams for survival and the importance of specific recurring themes in Caribbean writing. She'll also share what she thinks about the term Magical Realism and why it doesn't matter to her if others think she is strange.

With a prayer—"All praise to the Ancestors, and to the Universe, the forces the Yoruba call Orisas"—we begin our journey.—TKS, Margin


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Tamara Kaye Sellman: This question is a general one I ask a lot of MARGIN's contributors—what is your personal definition of literary Magical Realism?

M. Eliza Hamilton Abegunde: Since talking to you about my work in this light, I have had to think for myself about this question when trying to explain to someone what exactly it is. It has been difficult to even define it for myself. I've come to understand Magical Realism as the term used by those who do not—or cannot—co-exist in a culture and place that integrates and accepts realities that other cultures view as normal, what Western culture calls alternate, paranormal—magical.

In literature, it uses elements of these alternate and paranormal Truths to express the very thin line between worlds, the way in which the Veil is present and active and does not really separate us from the Other. The Other is anything or anyone that we consider to be different.

For me, all these things are normal and real. Does that make my work not Magical Realism? Or does it make me rather strange?

TKS: Please explain, for those readers who are unfamiliar with the concept, what you mean by the Veil.

MEHA: For me, the Veil is that invisible, opaque curtain that separates this world from the other; this dimension from other dimensions. Some of us are born being able to see through it. We know that the voices we hear are really voices; we know the shadows we see are really there.

I try to teach my students to not discount the shadows they see. That these shadows are, in fact, presences that move between worlds. I think the term Veil is truer than some other words. A veil implies something hidden, something that must be lifted. Something that is put on someone as a covering to maintain or hide a mystery. When lifted, one is never certain what one will see, or if one is fully prepared to view what is behind it.

The mysteries that were once closed are more available to some of us now. We have only to be willing to take the Hanged Man's position in the Tarot deck: to sacrifice our ego in order to see from a different perspective.

TKS: Is literary Magical Realism ever fantastic, in your opinion? If yes, how? If no, why/how would you categorize it differently?

MEHA: It can be fantastic. But that may simply be the experience and truth from which one reads the work. I think they are different because I think of the fantastic as a voice not necessarily always needing to be grounded in the Truth.

Science fiction is grounded in a truth and can be extremely frightening. Science fiction, I think, makes us look at the possibility or potential for our world through extrapolation of the reality we know.

Magical realism, for me, is grounded in the truth of the other side of the Veil and can sometimes appear totally normal and credible with just a touch of someone's fantasy.

TKS: One of the signature qualities of literary Magical Realism is its departure from the use of linear time to tell stories. Past, present and future do not take on separate threads, but seem to weave in and out of one another. How do you negotiate the shape of time in your novel?

MEHA: 'Time never dies. The circle is not round.' This is the beginning quote from the film, Before the Rain. I think of this often. When you watch the film you really understand the existence of parallel nonlinear time. (It is not Magical Realism, this film.)

In The Arian's Last Life, both stories begin after death. In many traditions, the dead are not dead. They are very much present as different energies, sometimes reborn as your children. Your mother could be reborn as your daughter ten years later to help you.

In my life, my Ancestors are always with me and make themselves known in various ways. So, both of the women in the novel have the perspective of Ancestor, telling their past stories in present time so you live it, while also knowing already their future and the future of even my great grandchildren who are not born.

When I tried to write my story in a much more linear way, I shut down. It was necessary that the story be told from this way in order to understand the impact Ancestors have on our lives and the way in which things larger than us create and shape us. The way in which Destiny creates us.

There is something in understanding the Spirit—the circular, nonlinear, way of time and events: you begin to free yourself from attachments to outcome. Sometimes, you have to walk through what you are going to walk through because it is the thing you were born to do.

TKS: I've been reading Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, and learning about the Caribbean cultural and geographical influences that inspired and shaped his own writing. His memoir reads so much like One Hundred Years of Solitude that I wonder about terms like Magical Realism in reference to fiction. García Márquez, Borges and other magical realists have all insisted there isn't fantasy and/or magic in their writings at all, that they're just writing the world as they see it.

When I was in Chicago at the AWP Conference, someone representing a publication of creative nonfiction smirked at the idea that Magical Realism could have any legitimate relationship to creative nonfiction.Yet, after reading dozens of works of Caribbean Magical Realism (poetry and fiction) these last few months, I now wonder if magical realism isn't meant to sometimes exceed literature's limits by also functioning as creative nonfiction.

While you have characters in The Arian's Last Life who are fictitious, they yet assume real parts of your self (the living self, the ancestral self) which give them tangibility in a visceral and spiritual way.

This leads me to ask several interrelated questions:

  • Is it troubling to have your work, based in deep reality, categorized as fabulist, supernatural, magical or fantastic?
  • Does it hurt to be told that what you understand as a personal truth is considered by others as the sole property of imagination?
  • Do you think there will always be those readers who will consider your ordinary truth as extraordinary, even strange?, as you've already suggested?

    MEHA: Magical Realism is not just fiction. My poetry carries elements of this as well as my memoir. Again, it's Truth to me, but to someone else, something different.

    Having my work categorized as these things is not troubling. Matter of fact, when you suggested it, I thought, now there's a clue: No wonder I'm having a hard time getting published. I'm submitting stuff as literature straight-up; maybe it is this. Perhaps this is the way to bridge the gap between the worlds. This went back to a message from the Ancestors when I was sailing closer to Brasil. It made sense. And, a whole world (including honorable mention and finalist awards for novel-in-progress) opened up.

    It doesn't hurt me that my reality is different than others. For all I know, I am someone else's reality. People tell me when they grow up they want to be like me. I caution: You don't know what I had to do to get here, or what I do to stay here, and what happens when I realize that I can't stay.

    The people who are open to that reality or live it in the same way: we find our way to each other. I try to be open to other realities. However, I need to live out of mine in order to be successful and balanced—honest, authentic—in all areas of my life.

    And, yes, there will always be people who see my ordinary Truth as extraordinary and strange. When my students come to me like this, I try to get them to delve into their own beliefs on why I am so different.

    TKS: There are some words and/or ideas in your chapters which might need some clarification or context for readers. Could you briefly explain the following references?

    MEHA: I work loosely with a Yoruba cosmology and expand from there. So while terms may be ones that are used within the tradition, they are not direct meanings, the way they are used in the book. I feel I was directed by Ancestors with this work to not name anything. To return to the elemental of all things.

    Mothers of the Night: Primordial female energy that can create, as well as destroy, all things in the world

    Iku: Death

    Oyinbos: White people

    Iya: Mother

    Adupe: Thank you.

    TKS: Themes in your writing seem to follow along a rich path of Caribbean symbolic tradition in literature. I'd like you to take a look at the following recurring themes (which appear not only in your writing, but in other Caribbean writers' works) and discuss your thoughts about why they are so intrinsic to the Caribbean identity in literature. Granted, some of the answers will likely be obvious (for instance, the themes of slavery and racial oppression are pretty straightforward)—for these, I would love it if you could deepen those discussions by explaining how they continue to be important insights into contemporary Caribbean culture, and/or why they persist.

    MEHA: I can't speak for other Caribbean writers. For me, water is everywhere. It is life. The things that you ask about are the things that make up the life of my family and people. The necessity to live close to and in nature informs many things.

    As a child I was aware of this through earthquakes and watching my first tornado spin at the edge of the island. But, I was also aware of the healthy respect we had for the water because of the stories of mermaids and children being snatched by waves. I was aware of the bounty of market when you got to touch and feel everything. No plastic then. Just you and the eyes of whatever you killed after permission.

    I grew up with a family of women who walked their own lands, did their farming, milked their own animals. I learned the power and beauty of everything around me. I come from a culture that is shaped by many things. Before we were transported so horribly, we had a culture. We were Human Beings. We, as Africans, brought these understandings and knowledge with us.

    birds and fish: Birds and fish have many meanings ranging from birth and death. Birds are message carriers. These are creatures which exist in spaces that we and the four-footed cannot.

    memory: To remember is a form of resistance. The enslavement of African peoples and their subsequently becoming Caribbean (and American and other people) was an attempt to eliminate memory—down to the cellular structure. I suspect that had we not been viewed as strong survivors and workers—valuable from an economic standpoint to the rest of the world (rice, cotton, sugar, tobacco, etc. )—our fate would have been like that of other groups who were simply exterminated. We are not the only ones who must remember to resist. ... However, because we are recognizable all over the world, we must resist harder. It is a horrible thing to live in a world that shows you how it will erase the memory of you—and make you accept it. Makes you study the history of your own erasure.

    Here we are living in the world, a different color of skin, and many not knowing why and never being taught why. Here we are, so much of the world forming because of our contributions. And here we are being systematically destroyed. Oh, yeah, I think memory is extremely important.

    My work is always in recovering memory. Recovering all the things we were forced to unremember or disremember as my friend and poet Angela Shannon writes about. It is about creating memory from deeper memory that appears in the forms of dreams and visions, gut feelings. And, for me, who is to say that the memory isn't real. We create entire worlds out of memory and it does not matter if the memory is real or not—only that it exists to help us survive. The land carries memory, and the Earth? She will tell you stories if you put your hand on her and ask gently to be told.

    In Brasil, the Earth was alive like that for me. A character in Linda Hogan's Solar Storms says something to the effect that in a place where the Earth speaks to a person that person becomes a Human Being. I believe that speaks to the opening to Memory in a way we never thought of before.

    slavery/racial oppression: I'm afraid I'm stuck in certain larger historical and universal wounds. I was raised by a father, an artist, who never let me apologize for being black and Caribbean. When I came to Northwestern I did not feel threatened by white students. I knew my history and knew that I was a co-creator in and of the world.

    To know Truths about yourself is liberating because you can then release them and be wherever and whenever you want. You can always return to the root or roots. That is the beauty of being grounded in the earth and land that is your people's beginning. You can go anywhere, color your hair anything you want, wear contacts, wear a kilt if you like it—the root of who and what you are, to the core, exists. You have no need to always make it known. And when you do feel the need, you don't apologize for it.

    We live in a world still unsure why we must study the history of the oppressed. One form of oppression—racial, sexual, gender—is oppression. To not understand one, and to try not to liberate one, is to condemn us all to one form of oppression or another. We don't ever see the connections. We don't see the larger connection in this country to race, class, gender.

    People think that because they fight gender oppression that they don't have to fight racial oppression. Well, hello! Within those gender issues are an entire set of issues that deal with race. Clear away the main focus and you find something else.

    I do not think we live in a time where we can completely and honestly talk about racial oppression and slavery. It seems easy, but if you have ever had this discussion with students, you know how hard it is. The first time it fully hits a black student how they really got here... And recently I had young white men ask me, How could this happen? and Why?. I told them to never stop asking these questions.

    These are questions we cannot answer because Human Beings have a need to devour all that is different and free—even as they seek to not be devoured and enslaved.

    One cannot discuss enslavement without discussing religion. This gets to some very personal feelings for folks. Yet, we must be able to talk about it all, including from where our basic philosophies of Other people arise.

    blood: Where has it not been spilt? And where does it not give us strength? Where is it not used in ritual? Where does it not happen before birth? Where does it not make us one people devoid of race and culture? And where do we not fight for it and kill for it, fear it?

    language/voice/words: I'm not sure what you are asking, Tamara. But I am thinking that we are a people whose language has been removed. Leaving us without tongues. The beauty and tones of spoken Yoruba I came to understand while learning and hearing people speak. These tones can open up dimensions in the world. Sound opens up levels of healing. Can you imagine? To reclaim a language is to reclaim and understand part of a culture and its geography.

    rivers/water/ocean: We are a people whose history is marked by our relationship to water from the beginning of time. Water is a sacred thing. This is not only for us. It is true for all people whose lives rely on this force. Yet, this sacred thing became part of the very thing that was used to enslave us. I am always wondering about the betrayal of the Universe from our eyes in terms of a larger context. We are a people, some of us, born from the depths of the ocean as we fought to stay alive in the ships. When sailing from Puerto Rico to Brasil a few years ago, I marked my time by grave sites and bodies, not by longitude or latitude.

    salt: Healing element, yet painful. Preserver. The thing that makes much of the world able to flavor, save, heal, cure, drive evil away.

    the ability for hands to reach inside flesh: As a Reiki practitioner and healing facilitator, there are many things I know the body allows for. This idea of direct transference of energy and memory would be simple by just sitting in front of someone. Yet, the idea of being able to feel inside someone's skin, to wear the skin and cells for a while has always been an interest.

    bridges/islands: Geography.

    circles/rings: Beginnings and endings.

    TKS: Tell me a little bit more about your sailing trip from Puerto Rico to Brasil.

    MEHA: This trip was the first leg of the Middle Passage Voyage with Bill Pinkney. I sailed with three classroom teachers: Scott Hadley, Loretta Adih and Gail Rumph. The trip was sponsored by IBM, the US Post Office and several other entities, including the Museum of Science and Industry of Chicago. Bill's purpose in creating this voyage—which eventually reached Senegal—was to retrace in a backwards fashion the routes used to take Africans from Africa to the Americas. We were returning home. He is an amazing man: the only African American to sail the world solo.

    We sailed on a 78-foot pilot house ketch. I had great support from my job and businesses in the area. The Skokie Marine shop helped me out by giving me a huge reference book on sailing. Community members who heard me on the radio made donations to help me out. It was a great thing. From my cosmology: my community sold me in the beginning to fulfill something in the world. Here they were, now, providing me with what I needed to complete (or begin) the journey of memory.

    Once I knew who my team would be, I called them, we had conference calls, we shared many things. By the time we got to Puerto Rico, we were a family. I told them from the moment they made the decision to go on the trip, their lives had changed forever. I had everyone, one day, choose a life on a slave ship. When things got bad for us (couldn't use the toilet, etc.) we thought about that life and were grateful.

    These teachers—those I sailed with and the ones I didn't—were incredible. I still keep in contact with most of the team, and one team member from a later leg. I knew from the moment I said yes that I could die. I didn't swim well. Didn't know a thing about sailing. Didn't even drive at the time. Had a horrible sense of direction.

    I had had a dream that the waves would take me. My first godmother showed up at my house late one night, unannounced, to provide me with protection. I was scared, but I didn't let my fear overwhelm me. Once on the ship—did I mention I am claustrophobic?—I couldn't sleep. There were the ship sounds. But then there were the other sounds.

    The children laughing. The chains. The stories being told. At times, I was sure my mind was unraveling. Bill would find me some mornings balled up, crying, in a tight space. I stopped talking for a while. The stories were left everywhere on my body. This is how I marked the gravesites.

    There was the night Bill dropped anchor off the coast of Barbados. We didn't know he was doing this. It sounded like we hit something in the middle of the night. I was jolted up. I remember thinking: if we hit something, water will come this side first. Then, I simply said: I am not ready to die today and got up.

    For various reasons—illness, insurance, punishment—Africans were thrown overboard ships in the middle of the Atlantic. And there were those who jumped. There is no way to document just how many. Even as more data is produced to document the number of Africans moved over centuries, who will ever really know the numbers lost? In the end, it doesn't matter. What matters is that there were any at all who were captured and enslaved. Period.

    I find my work goes to the bottom of the water. I want to know what those voices are. The ones who did not survive. The ones who are sand now. I want to know what they took with them and what knowledge never got passed on. Part of what I try to do is recover that memory through the body and through the writing.

    There are films called Family Across the Sea and The Language You Cry In. They document the return of a family from the US to Sierra Leone, to the village of their Ancestors. I cannot—even now—write about it or talk about it without sobbing.

    In 1930, African American linguist Lorenzo Turner worked cataloguing names and words of African origin with the Gullah people. From a five-line song he learned from a woman, and with the help of a graduate student from Sierra Leone who recognized the language, he was able to trace this woman's ancestry back to the village. I remember reading the article in the Chicago Tribune when the family, after many years of work, were returned to the village for the ritual that accompanied the song. This was done with the help of Joseph Opala. I had opportunity to meet and speak with him a number of years ago about this work. The song was about Death. (The entire history of this event is worth reading. I have not done it justice.)

    My own aunt shared with me lines she remembered hearing as a child. They were lines from a song to Eleggba, one of the Yoruba Orisas. But, can you imagine, these songs being passed down till there was no meaning that anyone knew, only to be rediscovered?

    What would have happened if that woman's ancestor did not make the crossing? How would this entire body of work in social anthropology, linguistics, literature have changed, perhaps not existed? You see, we think only of things in isolation. I think how grateful I am for someone crossing. Yet, I want to know what is lost. So, I write to find out what is lost. While this may seem futile to some, I find it liberating. What we teach now is based on what we know. What of the things we don't know, but still have time to discover?

    If five lines could change a discipline and the lives of generations... The people in the village said of that family coming to Africa: it was like the Ancestors returning home. You have no idea how, every time I hear that or say it, a flood overwhelms me. The possibilities of bringing our Ancestors home. We have no bones. We have no skin. We don't even have the language. Yet, it exists. We are the proof that even those who drowned or were drowned survived.

    TKS: Do you think it's possible, as Earl Lovelace suggested in his famous novel, that one can eat too much salt?

    MEHA: Yes, one can. There are the medical reasons: high blood pressure, etc. But, in some traditions, salt keeps spirits away and also can keep you from flying. It is possible that people who have too much—literally and figuratively—are unable to rise above the bitterness of their own lives. They are unable to use the gifts they have as seers. When one thinks of food rationing on plantations, of food preservation, makes you think hmmm.Years of salting and curing: what did that do to blind us, to keep away spirits within and without? What did that do to make us unable to fly back home?

    TKS: I get the sense that dreams, as they are discussed in both of your chapters, are perceived very differently in Caribbean literature than they are in literature from a North American perspective (where dreams are psychological, separate from the self). I don't mean that dreams are different in content, but that they take on a more sensory, tangible role. Your thoughts, as a writer from North America but with Caribbean roots?

    MEHA: I think all people who remain connected to their root cultures understand the importance of dreaming, of being connected to another world. Western culture intellectualizes everything. And within that intellectualizing there is no connection to Spirit—however one identifies that.

    I grew up always looking twice at things. Did I really see the mermaid at the river? Or was it simply a big fish? I opt for the mermaid because I heard the old people talk of them all the time.

    There is something about warmth, fresh mangoes, limes, turtles, flying fish, sand, water the color of sapphires and cobalt that makes all these things possible. Something about being able to watch, year-round, the growth of nature that makes all things possible.

    African people brought with them their understandings of the Universe and the Earth. We survived because we understood the balance and transformation of these things themselves to survive. It is another form of resistance. And we were successful at it in many ways. So successful that the world recreates what it thinks is black, African—then renames it. It is a form of reshaping and eliminating memory. So we are forced to always transform ourselves. I believe that the way we continue to transform ourselves will bring us back to the beginning of the Universe, the world, where the world was born out of Africa. The circle is not round.

    We could not bring our Ancestors with us or even our pots to cook in. So, our dreams came with us as guides.

    TKS: It's interesting that you always look twice at things. You have dual personalities in The Arian's Last Life—Abiodun and 'Dele. Can you point to a larger tradition of dual identity in Caribbean writing, or do you think that duality is a literary trait that transcends specific cultural histories?

    MEHA: I think that duality transcends life period. I am studying nondualistic tantra right now which gives me an opportunity to review and expand my thinking. Yet, I think that there is a dual nature to all things. African and Caribbean traditions, as well as others, know this. You will find deities who are both male and female, or who exhibit heightened senses that can come only if they are in a particular form.

    Seeing things in this manner, some might say, allows people to make excuses for things, to not ever really make a decision about anything. I see it as a way to review the world through as many different perspectives as possible. It allows me to see under and between the surface.

    TKS: Describe your experience as a Cave Canem and Sacatar fellow in relation to your writing life.

    MEHA: The first year I went [to Cave Canem], I discovered I could step outside the little box I had built for myself: writer of slave trade and women's issues. Tim Seibles asked us to write a shadow poem as an outside activity. Well, did that not tap into a place of anger for me to create a poem he uses as a teaching tool now? It was frightening to many. But it was so liberating for me and made me begin thinking of other things I wanted to write, could write. Other ways that I could use my poet's voice. That actually led me back to writing fiction because the poet's voice needed more room.

    The Chicago arm of CC is very active...having other black poets—from different cultures—has been such a pleasant joy. To hear young Caribbean-born poets write and read in the voice of their history and the melodies of their lands...Well, I feel that I don't have to explain what I am doing. I show up and what is important is whether or not the poem is good. Not whether or not my voice is valid.

    I had early validation as a child. I did not know what it was like to not have that validation. I seek to pass that on to every student I meet, particularly girls, because it was a gift to me.

    I receive this gift also from other poets who were my teachers: Judith Barrington, Naomi Shihab Nye, Janice Gould, Elizabeth Woody. Elizabeth Woody, especially, gave me the gift of using my sight in my poetry. Cave Canem gives me this gift and it has fed me when I didn't realize I needed to be fed. I think writers and other artists get used to feeding themselves all the time. You forget what it is like for someone else to cook, clean, feed you—then wash the dishes—so all you have to do is Be. The Sacatar Fellowship gave me the gift to BE.

    TKS: Was there a singular source of inspiration for your novel?

    MEHA: The discovery of a lost part of myself over 20 years ago. I was participating in a journal writing workshop for women done in a very specific way. The exercise from the psychologist was to close our eyes, relax, visualize a time when we were happy, etc. I expected that it would be a time of getting ice cream, or some other such childhood pleasure. Instead, the image that was sharp in my head was that of a young girl sitting on a ledge, an anklet on her left ankle. There were ships with big red crosses on them. I had no idea where it came from. I knew only that I was overwhelmed with it and I understood I was seeing something that was not planned, that had been given permission to rise.

    Since that time, I have been writing the same story in poems and longer pieces. I knew it was mine and knew I had to be able to tell the story one day. This young Yoruba girl watching death come into her land. This is the beginning scene of The Arian's Last Life. It was so clear and I have never forgotten it.

    TKS: If you were to credit the voice of any one Caribbean artist (any medium, male or female) for being the most inspiring to you as a writer, whose voice would that be?

    MEHA: This changes depending on where I am in life and what I need. And certainly the range is across cultures and races. But right now, I have to say it is Nalo Hopkinson. Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber, and recently, The Salt Roads.

    I read those for my own pleasure and love. She is so wonderful at weaving the culture into everything else. And to make it accessible to everyone. Those books helped change my thinking about many things in my own work.

    It is important to me that people read. Reading literature, no matter what it is, opens the mind to possibilities. That my writing is really my Truth is of no matter or consequence to the reader. What do they care? What does matter is that my writing introduces them to the possibility of something different. And that is what we hope for as educators, writers, healing facilitators. We hope that one day the work we do will have opened a road for someone to know something different outside themselves. In doing so, we sometimes learn how much we are each other. And the first time we discover that we are and can be the Other, life is never the same.

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