As the author of the national best-selling novels “Waiting in Vain” and “Satisfy My Soul,” and the novella “I’m Still Waiting,” Colin Channer believes the best is yet to come for Black writers around the world. Through his Calabash International Literary Festival, Channer wants the literary world to appreciate the quality of work that is coming from authors of color. Founded in 2001, the Calabash Festival has proven to one of the most pivotal annual events for Black writers.
“There were two things that I wanted to accomplish with Calabash,” explains Channer. “One of them was to connect with Jamaica. The other thing however was to create a space where a diverse range of writers, including writers of color, who were writing quality fiction, could showcase their work every year. Literary fiction and non-fiction from African Americans doesn’t have many spaces in America where it can be recognized. Calabash is a space for that work. I think that in the age of globalism, we’re beyond thinking of literature belonging within geographic borders.”
In 1998, Channer’s debut novel “Waiting in Vain” was selected as a Critic’s Choice by the Washington Post Book World, which described it as a “clear redefinition of the Caribbean novel.” Subsequent positive reviews and reprints ultimately placed Channer in the company of writers such as Russell Banks, E. L. Doctorow, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace. In January, Channer was appointed as an assistant professor of English and coordinator of the creative writing program at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. Today, Channer wants to use his name recognition to pass the torch to still yet-acknowledged writers in the latest book he edited (and contributed to) entitled “Iron Balloons: Fiction from Jamaica’s Calabash Writer’s Workshop” ($14.95, Akashic Books).
“The Calabash workshops are a kind of a communal experience,” said Channer. “And so the tutors are changed by the experience as much as the students are. So that’s why I wanted to have an anthology of work that conveyed the sprit of Calabash.”
The book has already spurred controversy in the story by Channer that tells of a 68-year-old Jamaican woman attending a New York City college. On the day she is to give a speech to her class, she intervenes an argument between a mother and daughter and recounts the incident to her class in a speech called “How To Beat a Child The Right and Proper Way.”
“She then tells the story of an incident that happened in 1972 when she stilled lived in Jamaica when she and her daughter got into an argument, explains Channer. “Essentially, she had to put her daughter down with an electric cord. But, all that being said, it’s a comedy.”
Channer says he understands the some of the outrage the story has sparked, but implores readers to look at both sides of this tale.
“I think most stories of children being beaten are sad stories of victimization where the reader is inclined to agree with the child,” said Channer. “This is comedic because you really want the daughter to get it, because you see how teenagers can push parents to the limit without realizing that parents can be crazy and can go off.”
The rest of the stories in the compilation span a diverse range of moods and genres from the hotel maid who gets a sexual offer that she can’t refuse to the schizophrenic singer who thinks he’s Bob Marley.
Marley is common reference in any interview with Channer, who was once described as “Bob Marley with a pen instead of Gibson guitar” by award-winning poet and critic Kwame Dawes. Channer who was born in Jamaica and lives in New York, acknowledges the influence Marley has had on his literary and artistic life as a bassist with his reggae band Pipecock Jaxxon.
“Bob Marley never had a top ten hit in the States during his lifetime. That happened after he was dead. The legacy of his work and his life is tremendous,” said Channer. “I don’t write necessarily for today. I write for the days to come.”