Wednesday, 31 May 2017


“The garden is a space which is omnipresent in the work of Caribbean women writers.”

This comment by a scholar came at a colloquium in Paris earlier this month, highlighting the many complex forms that “gardening” can take in Caribbean writing, especially in the work of Antigua-born writer Jamaica Kincaid.

The two-day colloquium, titled “The Art and Craft of Grafting in Jamaica Kincaid’s work”, focused not only on Kincaid’s acclaimed range of books, but it also compared her work with that of Michelle Cliff, Olive Senior and others. (Senior’s most known collection of poetry is probably Gardening in the Tropics.)

Prof. Carole Boyce Davies, a keynote presenter.
But why is the theme of gardening or grafting so significant?

According to the organizers of the conference: “When transposed into the botanical world cherished by writer Jamaica Kincaid, the creolization that has long characterized Caribbean cultures can be reread as the art of grafting - an act of defiance in the face of a traumatic colonial history fraught with obsessive monocultures of cotton and (later and above all) sugar cane.”

Plant grafting can thus be read as “the subversion of unicity and as a practice of recycling, irregularity, re-composition and survival: the art of the survival of writing and of living forms”, they added.

Readers may find “medicinal herbs known to the slaves who survived the Middle Passage” as well as Wordsworth’s daffodils growing in Kincaid’s “largely imaginary garden - a space between and beyond the Caribbean and New England”, for instance.

The organizers also pointed out that gardening paradoxically “encapsulates the experience of uprootedness and drifting” - so common to Caribbean history.

One of the scholarly panels at the colloquium.
About 20 scholars from Europe, the Caribbean and the United States presented papers at the colloquium, examining themes of creolization, resistance and survival - as portrayed through literary gardening. Carole Boyce Davies of Cornell University, and Daryl Dance, Professor Emerita at Richmond University, gave the keynote lectures.

The event's organizing committee included representatives from Toulouse University, Paris 8 University and the Sorbonne: Corinne Bigot, Andrée-Anne Kekeh-Dika, Nadia Setti and Kerry-Jane Wallart.