‘Queer Islands?’ symposium will offer opportunity to discuss gay, lesbian life in Caribbean literatureBy Jennifer Carnig
The University’s Lesbian & Gay Studies Project is holding a two-day symposium Friday, April 15, and Saturday, April 16, to explore the art and activism of queer Caribbean writers and artists. The symposium, titled “Queer Islands?,” is the first academic gathering devoted entirely to gay and lesbian literature from the region and will include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender poets and authors from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Martinique and St. Maarten.
The conference is motivated by the unprecedented blossoming of queer Caribbean literature over the past decade, said conference organizer Natasha Tinsley, a postdoctoral fellow in Comparative Literature, who earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley. “This should open conversation between novelists, spoken word artists, activists and singers who consider how their art and activism bring together Caribbean, queer and community identities.”
Tinsley said this conference serves a pressing need because the only public discussion currently taking place about the Caribbean and gays and lesbians usually focuses on homophobic lyrics in dancehall music, instances of violence against gay men in Jamaica or gay cruises being turned away from their vacation destinations. “This is all true, but there is much more to being queer and Caribbean than the high-profile press for those events suggests.”
Tinsley explained that many in the Caribbean see gay life as a North American import and something to be rejected. But that does not mean that gayness does not exist or that it is seen across the board as something to be shunned. “Naming oneself as lesbian or gay can be dangerous, but in some ways there is more space and acceptance for queerness there than in North America,” Tinsley said. “There are queer spaces in the Caribbean—they just don’t look like the queer spaces in North America.”
In an attempt to better understand what some of those spaces are and what Caribbean queerness can resemble, the “Queer Islands?” conference is bringing together artists from the Spanish, French, English and Dutch islands, as well as writers from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds. Among the artists presenting are:
“Queer Islands?” will open with a literary reading and book signing from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St.
The symposium will continue from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 16, in Room 122, Social Science Research Building. For more information about the conference, visit http://humanities.uchicago.edu/orgs/cgs/lgsp.html, call (773) 834-4509 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.