Jamaican voice aching to be heard
This article is from 2008.
In a famous sketch by Bill Hicks, the great comedian is stumped by the question, ‘What are you reading for?’ The enquiry – and its correlative, ‘What are you writing for?’ – are deceptively simple.
For Kei Miller, the Jamaican-born poet, novelist and teacher of creative writing at the University of Glasgow, the question is disconcerting. ‘What made me decide to write The Same Earth?’ he asks incredulously from his home in Glasgow. ‘That gives it such an overwhelming sense of import.’
He thinks for a moment before continuing. ‘I’m always interested in telling stories,’ he says. ‘The hardest thing for me is to find the shape of the story.’
The story in question is a collage of homely tales spun around the fictional Jamaican village of Watersgate with interspersed forays into England. The plots follow the inhabitants and village itself through events both petty and momentous over 40 years. A non-chronological structure and hints of ‘something more serious happening underneath all that charm’ avoid the tweeness trap.
If not why, then who does Miller write for? ‘I’m certainly not writing for myself,’ he says. ‘If you’re interested in telling stories you’re interested in telling it to someone.’
When that ‘someone’ becomes a live book festival audience the nerves can kick in. Not so for Miller, who claims his writing is ‘almost uncomfortable on the page in that it’s trying to pronounce itself . . . What is on the page and waiting to come off is kind of exciting to me. I actually really like readings.’
Surely that’s the only reason you need.
Kei Miller and Roma Tearne, Sat 23 Aug, 11am, £9 (£7).