Monday 15 February 2021


By Elizabeth (Betty) Wilson

The University of Maryland’s Latin American Studies Centre will host a virtual belated celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ground-breaking collection Her True-True Name: An Anthology of Women’s Writing from the Caribbean on Feb. 18. This is being spearheaded by Prof. Merle Collins, poet and prose writer from Grenada, whose work appears in the anthology. 

Published in 1989, near the beginning of the era of Gender Studies and Women’s Studies, Her True-True Name was the first anthology of prose writing by Caribbean women and the first to include non-English-speaking writers. The title is taken from an extract in the text by the Trinidadian writer Merle Hodge.

For the celebration, the renowned Guadeloupean writer Simone Schwarz-Bart - whose work also appears in the anthology - points out that sometimes it is not until the end of a person’s life that you discover who that person really is, her true-true name.

This seems to apply to the anthology as well. Although it was at the top of the list of texts chosen for the “20 Selected Titles List” in the UK for Feminist Book Fortnight in 1990 and named by the librarians of the New York Public Library as one of 100 books recommended for young readers in the same year, it is only in retrospect that we, the editors, recognized its historical importance.

There have been several excellent Caribbean anthologies since, and while Her True-True Name is now out of print, the attention and excitement generated by this virtual event attest to its importance and impact. 

Conceived as a response to our interest in having a Caribbean-wide publication of writing by women, the editors, my sister Pamela Mordecai and myself, set about trying to select the “tiny sample” which 200 pages would permit. We eventually found room for 31 writers from 13 countries, from Cuba in the north to Belize and Guyana on the South American / Caribbean mainland. 

The introduction to the text details some of the challenges we encountered in those days before “calls for submissions”, cell phones and the internet. We were both on the staff of the University of the West Indies, Mona, and blessed to know personally many writers and scholars at home and in the wider Caribbean - who spoke French, English, Creole and Spanish; their input was a source of contacts and encouragement.

We also knew the artist, Sharon Chacko, whose batik “Metamorphosis” (1986) appears on the cover. Sadly, the inclusion of writers from the Dutch-speaking Caribbean had to wait until 1992, when we were guest editors for a special issue of The Literary Review (Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, New Jersey), “Women Poets of the Caribbean”, where they were included.

The Feb. 18 celebration promises to be a full and rewarding day of readings by writers from the anthology, and presentations by scholars on the work of Caribbean writers from the different language areas included in the text. There will be interpreters for these papers and for the discussions. The organizers have tried to include as many writers as possible and have taken great care to preserve and honour the cross-Caribbean nature of the text.

We are so grateful to Merle Collins and her team, and I am excited to invite you to this free virtual event.

For more information:

Photos (top to bottom): The cover of Her True-True Name; Prof. Merle Collins (photo by A. McKenzie).