This course fulfills post-colonial literature, Asian American Literature, Cultural Studies, and Literary Studies credits.
When scholars and anthologists of the South Asian diaspora consider South Asian diasporic cultural productions they favor communities of recent immigrants from the subcontinent and their children. They call this the “new South Asian diaspora” as their ties to the South Asian subcontinent have not been traumatized by a legacy of indenture. Unfortunately this means that Indo-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean American writers are often ignored and marginalized in South Asian studies as well as Asian American literature. But this is nothing new, even Gandhi, according to Marina Carter and Khal Torabully, was disparaging of the “coolies” in South Africa. This course attempts to illustrate the vibrancy and expose the poetic genealogies of Indo-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean diasporic poetry. With an attuned sensibility to the particularities of this post-colonial identity this course will help to increase the legibility of other Indo-Caribbean poets writing in the United States.
South Asians have been living in the Americas since 1838—in fact, the period of Indian indenture (1838-1917) exiled over 3.5 million Indians into the diaspora. The British used “coolie” labor for their sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Their descendants now populate countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. The people of the Indian labor diaspora have had little historical connections to the South Asian subcontinent after the period of indenture and formed identities based on localized varieties and interpretations of “Indian-ness,” by adapting their cultural ties to fit their various Creole landscapes. Contrary to V. S. Naipaul’s assertion that “nothing was created in the West Indies,” this course aims to show the trajectory of Indo-Caribbean poetry.
This brief course outlines a kind of historical development of an Indo-Caribbean poetic (Guyanese and Trinidadian, specifically) starting from the 1930s—as poems from the anthology They Came on Ships: an Anthology of Indo-Guyanese Writing begin—to the forthcoming collection of poems by Shivanee Ramlochan. We will examine the use of the word “coolie,” its history and re-appropriation by the poet Rajkumari Singh. The readings have been selected to show a post-colonial inheritance from the formal mimicry and poetry stylings of the early writers to the post-modern, fractured-diasporic hauntings of more experimental approaches. With an eye on poetry craft the supplementary readings and films will also contextualize and reflect feminist and queer poetics that invigorate the literary landscape of the Caribbean.
- They Came on Ships: an Anthology of Indo-Guyanese Writing by Ian McDonald, Joel Benjamin, and Lakshmi Kallicharan
- Coolie Odyssey by David Dabydeen
- Koker by Rooplall Monar
- A Leaf in His Ear by Mahadai Das
- The Predicament of Or by Shani Mootoo
- Redemption Rain by Jennifer Rahim
- Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo
- The Greatest Films by Faizal Deen
- Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting by Shivanee Ramlochan
- Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture by Gaiutra Bahadur
- Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought: Genealogies, Theories, Enactments by Lisa Outar & Gabrielle Jamela Hosein
- Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora by Marina Carter and Khal Torabully
- Articles by Elizabeth Jaikaran from Brown Girl Magazine
- Coolies: How the British Reinvented Slavery by David Dabydeen
- Doubles With Slight Pepper by Ian Harnarine
- Dal Puri Diaspora by Richard Fung
Winner of 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award and the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (2016), and recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, Rajiv Mohabir received fellowships from Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His second volume of poetry The Cowherd’s Son won the 2015 Kundiman Prize and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in May 2017. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY where he was Editor in Chief of the Ozone Park Literary Journal, and his PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i. In Fall of 2017 he will join the creative writing and English faculty at Auburn University as an Assistant Professor of poetry.