‘A new generation of Caribbean-American writers’: Author Naomi Jackson

| Senior Editor

Author Naomi Jackson came to Washington University to give a reading in Hurst Lounge on Friday April 19. Brought by the English Department and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), Jackson read from her debut novel “The Star Side of Bird Hill,” as well as her forthcoming book “Behind God’s Back” and an essay. She is currently an associate professor at City College in New York.

Naomi Jackson studied fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop after travelling to South Africa on a Fulbright Scholarship in 2015. While there, she changed her course of direction after discovering a dissertation on her proposed study topic had been submitted weeks prior to her arrival. After taking stock and changing her plans, she decided to pursue a master’s in creative writing.

Student Life had the chance to sit down with Jackson before the reading to discuss her work.

“I maybe started to think about myself as a serious writer for the first time,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s debut novel, “The Star Side of Bird Hill,” was published in June 2015. It was nominated for a host of awards, including an NAACP Image Award, an award to honor outstanding achievements in performances of television, film, literature and music. “The Star Side of Bird Hill” was also named an Honor Book for Fiction by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (ALA).

Of her debut novel, Jackson said, “I started this book in December of 2009 and for a long time I had just the first four or five pages of the book.”

“I really wanted to write a coming to the Caribbean story,” Jackson said.

“There are a lot of Caribbean coming to America stories. But, I felt there weren’t enough stories about second-generation immigrants coming back to the Caribbean and all the strangeness that comes with thinking you’re Caribbean and going back to the Caribbean and realizing you’re not as Caribbean as you thought.”

Her debut novel follows the story of two sisters who get sent to Barbados for the summer to stay with their grandmother, and “their life changes when they get [there].” Mental health in Black communities is also touched on in her book.

“I felt like I hadn’t read many smart portrayals of mental illness in Black communities–and the notable exception to that is “72 Hour Hold” by Bebe Moore Campbell– but I felt I wanted to add to that literature,” Jackson said.

Her upcoming novel, “Behind God’s Back” is a “multi-generational novel about three generations of a Caribbean-American family and it’s set in Brooklyn, Barbados and Grenada.”

“This novel really kind of takes on the coming to America story and I think what I’m trying to do is write kind of a Caribbean-American epic,” Jackson said.

As a black woman, Jackson sees herself within the larger framework of Black literature “As part of kind of a new generation of Caribbean-American writers– writers writing about Caribbean life here.”

“I think there is still so much to be written in Caribbean-American literature, we have just begun to scratch the surface.”

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