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Caution Writer at Work

Caution! Writer at Work

On Friday evenings when I draft my Sunday’s blog post, I usually don’t have trouble switching from writing fiction to non-fiction. This weekend was different. I had originally planned to write an article on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s official visit to the United States on June 29-30, 2015, but my head was in another place and time.

I’m trapped in the head of Sister Barbara, Guyanese protagonist of my second novel. It’s Saturday morning June 14, 1980, washday in the Amerindian village of Santa Cruz (fictitious name) in Guyana’s northwestern tropical rainforest. Already in a depressed state due to growing animosity with Sister Frances, the novel’s American antagonist, Barbara is numb after learning of the assassination of Walter Rodney in the capital, Georgetown, the previous night. Their leader is dead. Their hope for revolutionary change detonated.

Standing near a creek, Barbara watches the children splash around in the water. At the water’s edge, their mothers beat dirty wet clothes with small wooden bats. The sounds of flogging and squealing drown Rodney’s battle cry: People’s power! No dictator!

Like so many Guyanese during that period, Barbara did not publicly support Rodney’s political party. To do so could lead to retribution from the dictatorship government. His death is a terrible blow for her.

To write this emotionally charged scene and the one that follows, I have to return to that night and to Rodney’s last days as leader in the peoples’ struggle against oppression. I spent Friday afternoon and evening re-reading personal recollections of individuals who were close to Rodney, published in Walter A. Rodney: A Promise of Revolution, edited by Clairmont Chung. After posting this article, I’ll also re-read Eusi Kwayana’s book, Walter Rodney: His Last Days and Campaigns.

Martin Carter’s poem, “For Walter Rodney,” sets the tone of the scenes.

Assassins of conversation
they bury the voice
they assassinate, in the beloved
grave of the voice, never to be silent.
I sit in the presence of rain
in the sky’s wild noise
of the feet of some who
not only, but also, kill
the origin of rain, the ankle
of the whore, as fastidious
as the great fight, the wife
of water. Risker, risk.
I intend to turn a sky
of tears, for you.

And now I must leave you to mourn with Barbara. I am ready.