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Literary Patchwork of Jamaican-Chinese Experience

Hannah Lowe reads from Chick: the experience of her Afro-Chinese Jamiacan father

In the plethora of untold stories making up Jamaica’s rich cultural quilt are those of the Chinese-Jamaicans. On Sunday Morning (April 14, 2013) the Department of Literatures in English joined forces with the Confucius Institute to provide a patchwork of those experiences through poetry and prose from Victor Chang, Hannah Lowe and Courtney Hogarth.

The morning's readings peaked at the beginning and end with the offerings of Victor Chang and Hannah Lowe, but throughout was commendable in the diversity of perspectives it provided through the three writers. The readers were introduced by Professor Carolyn Cooper who also brought the morning’s welcome.

"Where the proverbial two or three are gathered in the name of culture, the muse is present,” Cooper said welcoming to the smattering of people present in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre. Prof. Lu Shaogang, Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute also brought greetings.

Victor Chang reads the wittily told short story 'My Brother's Keeper'Chang delivered what he described as the summarised version of his short story ‘My Brother’s Keeper’. He had been described by Cooper as “a rare academic” who willingly undertook administrative duties as well as a major force in Caribbean literature, largely through criticism.  The former head of the Department of Literatures in English explained that in the past few years he had begun pursuing more creative writing, and has published five short stories.

“If I putter away at it, I'll have 10 stories by the time I'm 80 and I can be hailed as a new writer," Chang said with a laugh.

‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is a wittily told story that speaks to the distance, even in a single family between, newly arrived Chinese in Jamaica and those who have been Creolised on the island. It is the story of two brothers separated by far more than the distance between Jamaica and China.

Chang interspersed his reading with talk about his own life, suggesting that although the work might not be autobiographical, it is based on personal truths. He had the audience laughing along as he detailed the exploits of the older brother, who, newly arrived with from Communist China and armed with no English attempts to set up a shop and later marry a Jamaican-Chinese woman resulting in a comedy of errors.

Dr Courtney Hogarth, Jamaican Director of the Confucius Institute, then turned the morning’s readings to poetry. His perspective however was that of a Jamaican living in China, which focused on his impressions of the country. Alas, it was rather un-engaging.

Hogarth began with 'Cicada Songs' followed by 'First Snow Old Memories' an extensive narrative poem about Beijing’s transformation as the city was stripped of some of its old architecture to make way for modern high rises. He ended his reading with '70 Soul Cycles' dedicated to his teacher and written for his 70th birthday.

The morning’s offerings brightened again with the arrival of Hannah Lowe, a visiting Creative Writing Doctorial Candidate from New Castle University. Lowe is the author of two collections of poetry The Hitcher and Chick. Most of her reading was taken from the latter, with a few more recent pieces.

Courtney Hogarth, Jamaican Director of the Confucius Institute“It’s interesting that I'm here talking about the Chinese Jamaican experience because much of that experience wasn't directly my experience,” Lowe explained. Lowe is British but shares Jamaican Chinese heritage by way of her father who was bi-racial (Black and Chinese). She explained that her father hadn’t spoken much about his Chinese heritage, but one thing he passed on was food.

As such, her first piece was 'Sausages' which through this simple dish, outlined the chasm that existed between a working class Jamaican and the working class Britons he lived amongst.

Lowe confessed that the Jamaica she writes about is often pulled from her imagination, which also resulted in a few faulty bits of information, such as not knowing that most Jamaican Chinese were Hakka and so didn't speak Cantonese, which she used in her poetry. Despite that inaccuracy, the poems remained beautiful and engaging.

Lowe delivered 'Grandmother', written about a grandmother she never met as well as 'A Short Biography of My Father' crafted from writings in her father’s note book which she found after his death. She also read 'Five Ways to Load a Dice', 'Poem with a Plantain in It' and closed her reading and the morning with 'Three Treasures'.