Authors read about Caribbean past to St. John’s community

Nhi Tong, Staff Writer

It was 1:40 p.m., 10 minutes before the Caribbean Writers Series event began. Only a few faculty members and students showed up. Yet, soon enough, at 1:50 p.m, no seat was vacant.

The event was a personal talk given by the authors about their Caribbean histories, journeys, belongings and races.

It featured Robert Antoni, a writer whose life story involves parts in Trinidad, Tobago, the Bahamas and the United States. It also showcased Gaiutra Bahadur, a Guyanese-American journalist who immigrated to the United States from Guyana at six years old.

Sophomore Brian Davis believed the event was educational towards his prospective career path.

“I am a government major, and I am actually taking a course in politics of Caribbean. [The event] was pretty informative,” he said. “It told me a lot about struggles of people who immigrate from Caribbean, where they came from and issues that they had.”

With a soft voice, Bahadur read three excerpts from her book to the quiet audience.

In “Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture,” Bahadur excavates the forgotten journey of a young woman who sails from India to Guyana as an indentured laborer working in sugar plantations in 1903. Alone and pregnant, that coolie woman is her great-grandmother.

Saara Nasruddin, a Guyanese student that gave an introduction on Bahadur, shared that the journalist’s speech helped her understand Guyana more.

“I grew up here so I don’t really know a lot about Guyana and I don’t really have a lot of connection to it,” she said.  “I really thought it was interesting because I could relate the story of Bahadur’s great-grandmother to my grandfather. He worked on the same sugar plantation that she talked about. It hit home.”

Antoni is the author of five books that have been translated into Spanish, French, Finnish and Chinese. His inspiration for writing comes from his experiences growing up in the Bahamas and his family’s history in Trinidad and Tobago.

Holding his 15-year-old project novel, Antoni read several parts of “As Flies to Whatless Boys,” a historical book that gives readers a look into Trinidad and Tobago in the 19th century. To deliver a read that stays true to his book, Antoni switched his voice in order to have a West Indian accent and sometimes stopped to show trailers of his book.

After E. Wayne McDonald, the artistic director of the Caribbean Cultural Theatre in Brooklyn gave a closing remark, the audience had a chance to taste some Caribbean dishes such as peas and rice, oxtail and jerk chicken, which were prepared by the St. John’s Caribbean Students Association.