This is a question I have asked before. When you are writing from a small country with specific cultural differences to the world’s leading countries, who are you writing for? Your own children or all the children of the world? A tutor once told me – when you write for everybody, you write for nobody.
Eventually, I interpreted that to mean, write from the heart about the things you know and feel and share with your own people. Write out of your culture for your culture. If your work is true, others will come to appreciate it, even if the gatekeepers try to keep you out.
As I like to tell my writing class, and this is my own viewpoint, when Bob Marley and his cronies started writing songs about the things they knew and felt, I don’t think they sat around saying — ‘them gwine love this one in Germany or Japan. This one will wow them in England.‘ I suspect that if they had passed the lyrics of some of the songs by the international gatekeepers they would have been scoffed at – Who in the rest of the world wants to hear about cooking cornmeal porridge in a government yard in Trench Town? Of course, songs have the additional benefit of the music and the singer’s voice and personality to convince and woo, but the principle is the same. They were writing/composing out of their own experiences.
So, should we be unduly worried about the voices from abroad who say our writing and illustration styles are too ‘different’? Our language and illustrations too parochial? The work won’t attract anybody abroad, including our own migrant population ( who now judge us by 'big' world standards) OR, should we continue to write for our children, illustrate for our children, interpret even other people’s realities from our own unique way of looking at things, from our own experiences and most of all from our hearts. We don’t dance like North Americans. Our music is identifiably Caribbean, so too is our cuisine.. Shouldn’t our writing and art be also? Does this make our books inferior?
I don’t think any of our writers, at this point, especially the writers of children’s stories in the Caribbean, expect any of the great financial returns that being ‘accepted’ by the ‘big’ countries might bring. So what are our rewards?
For me, it is reading for a group of youngsters and watching them get excited as the story expands their imagination and reveals things about themselves and their environment they might never have thought of.
I once watched a little boy about eight years old sitting before me with his eyes literally opening wider and wider as the story drew him in and filled his mind with new possibilities. On another occasion, it was a mother saying that her daughter would not go to bed until she had finished reading one of my books. Fortunately, it was not a very long one.
So, to come back to my initial question - who are we (who should we be) writing for? My answer is — our own children. The rest of the world writes for theirs, who will write and illustrate for ours if not us?