Nodding, as if to himself, Earl Lovelace said, “Now is the time for it, I think.”
The Sunday Express visited the celebrated novelist, playwright and short-story writer at his home in Cascade, to talk about his decision to serialise The Dragon Can’t Dance, the novel which many critics consider to be Lovelace’s best work, though it has had, over the years, to contend with Salt and to a lesser extent, The Wine of Astonishment. Starting tomorrow and continuing over the next few weeks, the entire novel will be published, passage by passage, in the Express newspapers.
A former journalist himself, Lovelace recalled how he immediately agreed several months ago, when Express editor-at-large, Keith Smith, put the suggestion to him to serialise the novel.
“I think that, now, people are starting to look to themselves here,” explained the 69-year-old artist. “Whereas before we were caught in the colonial period, I think that now, from all the signs that I see, that people are beginning to become more self-conscious, more self-confident. And I think the literature, in a way, has been responsible for that.”
This growing self-consciousness, Lovelace said, can be seen in things like our positive response to the emergence of local cable channels and it can be heard in the proliferation of native voices on the radio.
“If the native aesthetic was put on the defensive by colonialism and by the colonial order, I think more and more it’s been finding its own way, you know. It’s beginning to affirm itself,” Lovelace said. As evidence of this surge in “self-awareness and self-confidence,” he called attention to the tendency of the newspapers to promote local art and artists.
“The native art is no longer on the defensive,” he said, using the integration of Caribbean authors George Lamming, Vidya Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Derek Walcott, Patrick Chamoiseau and Merle Hodge into the school and university curricula as further evidence of what he called our “moving from the authority of the colonial order.”
is itself a call for that crucial movement toward genuine self-affirmation and away from that dependence on external validation which is symptomatic of our colonial heritage. The novel is set around the time of the PNM’s rise to power, in a place called Calvary Hill, a poverty-stricken suburb of Port of Spain, where Aldrick Prospect, the novel’s central character resides. For Prospect, playing the dragon at Carnival time is the only opportunity to express a right to personhood in spite of his poverty. In the end, however, he must weigh the cost and decide whether he will continue to dance the dance of the dragon.
Infused with the poetry of Calypso and the imagery of Carnival and richly inlaid with spiritual significance, the novel weaves its gripping plot through the inner lives of Prospect and other residents of the Yard, exploring many realities of Trinidad society, including the African-Indian relationship within the Creole experience. Its fictional world depicts the feel and flavor of the Laventille of that era but speaks, almost prophetically, to the angst of modern-day Laventille. There, Lovelace today sees “people struggling for personhood, for visibility, in very difficult circumstances that have not really changed very much.”
The Dragon Can’t Dance
is a triumphant celebration of the culture and creativity of these people, whom Lovelace calls the “ordinary people” of Trinidad.
“All the things that we have created here–the language, the steel pan, the characters in the traditional mas, the heroic figures, the stick-fighters, the bad-johns–all of these things that we generally live by, things that represent all of us, have come from the ordinary people. And yet these people have not been accorded, I think, the dignity that is necessary,” said Lovelace.
“So [the novel] is about seeing people again,” he continued. “I think it celebrates what people have achieved, what they do. It celebrates their art and their energy and creativity and resolve to be human and to be accepted as such.”
Lovelace, whose short story, “Jobell and America,” was recently made into a film, hinted at plans to bring Dragon to the screen. He couldn’t, perhaps wouldn’t, say if or when this project might be completed. For now, we may just have to content ourselves with the written version, available in all its original glory, starting tomorrow in the Express newspapers.