PEN 2013: Workshop: Earl Lovelace on Reclaiming Rebellion

Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 1:00pm The Library at The Public Theater 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003

An intimate gathering in The Library at The Public with Earl Lovelace is not something one would expect from a public event in New York City. The workshop-turned-seminar, which centered around rebellion and recognition of the "landscape" around us, brought editors, students, writers, and professors face to face with the celebrated Carribean writer to discuss what it means to rebel and to recognize that not only must we rebel against, but often it is the case that we must also rebel on behalf of a particular cause. It is a brilliant new event format for PEN's World Voices Festival of International Literature that hopefully, says Director László Jakab Orsós, incites "small revolutions" through offering personal and accessible ideas that might trigger changes in our lives.

Asked soon after a brief introduction to the topics of rebellion and landscape by Mr. Lovelace to discuss our own personal thoughts on rebellion and what had driven us to attend the day's workshop, our collective nervousness was soon sated with a strong bout of Carribean Rum, compliments of The Public Theater.

To explain Lovelace's notion of the landscape perhaps it will prove useful to recount a brief story he shared with us: he once visited a set of old and crumbling walls near the sea. People who lived near the walls had integrated the walls into the structures of their homes, fortifying and melding themselves and their homes with the landscape. "We are not coming anew," stated Lovelace and through forging a new relationship with the landscape, we, in Lovelace's view, reclaim responsibility for the world that we live in.

Reading from pieces entitled, "Engaging Our Landscape" and "Rebellion Against, Rebellion For," the notion of landscape for Lovelace became clear: it is more than a physical space but additionally encompasses the story behind space(s), the emotional landscapes, dreams, hopes, fears, history, and all that has impacted us. Lovelace's landscape is a slippery term that falls nicely within Martin Heidegger's notion of dwelling in "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" from Poetry, Language Thought and offers us the much needed challenge of reconnecting with our surroundings, not through a nostalgic longing for an illusory past but rather, the possibility of a new present and perhaps, if we are so lucky, a reconfigured future.

Against this nostalgia, I asked myself why the workshop had been called, "Reclaiming Rebellion," as reclamation, or the act of reclaiming, is too often defined as a recall or rescue from an undesirable state and is this not exactly what Lovelace warned us against ("These landscapes that have been distorted for us," the false stories and myths bandied about a false past)? Indeed the workshop, even after innumerable entries into and through the notion of rebellion by workshop attendees, left me feeling as though we had skirted the issue of rebellion (personal or political) altogether and had instead focused on a metaphysical query regarding what it means to simply live. Rebellion, one must wonder, is not as boisterous as some would make it out to be. Perhaps it is instead a calm and tireless ebb and flow just under the surface that needs no followers, no grand pronouncements. Perhaps a rebellion closest to its very nature simply is. And so I wondered what openings we had forged, if any.  I sat back, listened to Lovelace read a selection from Salt, and let the Carribean Rum carry me away.

Further Resources

Event listing on PEN website

Participants

Earl Lovelace: born in Toco, Trinidad, and has lived most of his life on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. His books include While Gods Are Falling, winner of the BP Independence Award, the Caribbean classic, The Dragon Can't Dance, and Salt, which won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize. For Is Just a Movie, he has won the Grand Prize for Caribbean Literature by the Regional Council of Guadeloupe and the Bocas Literary Prize.

Follow JK on Twitter @JKFow

J. K. Fowler is an adjunct professor in the sociology and anthropology department at Rutgers University Newark, the founding and managing editor of the nomadic sojourns creative collective based in Oakland, CA and Brooklyn, NY, a full-time editor, and a doctoral candidate at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.