6 classic novelists from Trinidad and Tobago you should know about

“The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.” Amos Oz

Trinidad and Tobago, located at the end of the Caribbean archipelago and very close to the South American continent, is a cultural hotbed. The birthplace of steelpan and calypso is also home to an established and incredibly diverse literary tradition. Many writers from these islands have excelled internationally, writing primarily in English, the nation’s official language. Others have experimented with other native languages such as Trinidadian Creole English with considerable success. Planning on traveling to T&T and want to get to know the culture inside out? Here are 6 classic Trinbagonian authors you should check out.

V.S. Naipaul

Naipaul was born in Trinidad when the island was still a British colony. He won a scholarship to study English at Oxford University and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. One my favorite books of his is A House for Mr. Biswas, his third novel. Partly inspired by his father’s experiences, the story is set in colonial Trinidad and traces the life of Mohun Biswas, who although “born in the wrong way,” perseveres to release himself from the crippling influence of his in-laws and to build a house for himself and his family. Naipaul’s writing is on point, offering acute and often witty observations of Trinidadian people, culture, and island life during the early 20th century.

Samuel Selvon

Sam Selvon is one of those authors who can write Trinidadian Creole English down pat. I discovered him in high school when I read A Brighter Sun. The Lonely Londoners is another one of his masterpieces, exploring Caribbean immigration to the UK during the late 1940s to the early 1960s, also known as the Windrush Generation. Selvon, a gifted though often overlooked Trinidadian author, like his protagonists, also emigrated to the UK to pursue his dream of writing novels. The Lonely Londoners highlights the humorous yet poignant adventures of Caribbean immigrants in a city plagued with a racism they cannot understand. 

CLR James

Although CLR James is well known as a historian, political activist, and cricket expert, he is also a great novelist. Written in the late 1920s, his classic, Minty Alley, like James Joyce’s Dubliners, tells the stories of working class people living in the cramped alleys and backstreets of Trinidad’s capital city, Port of Spain. This was also the first novel published in England by a black West Indian.

Earl Lovelace

Unlike other writers from Trinidad and Tobago, Earl Lovelace never really left Trinidad to pursue his dream to write fiction. One of his best-known works, The Wine of Astonishment, tells the story of Bonasse, a poor, Shouter Baptist community faced with religious persecution by the colonial government and plagued by the consequences of a cultural invasion by American soldiers during World War Two.  

Merle Hodge

Merle Hodge’s Crick Crack Monkey is a bildungsroman of Tee, a motherless girl who is caught between the worlds of two matriarchs, Tantie and Aunt Beatrice. The novel explores the flaws of the country’s education system and the cost of upward social mobility in postcolonial Trinidad.

Michael Anthony

Michael Anthony is one of those authors who put South Trinidad on the literary map. Born and raised in Mayaro, much of his work feature coming-of-age tales of young men living in the seaside community.  His work, particularly Green Days by the River and The Year in San Fernando, depict the pastoral beauty of the countryside and a loss of innocence of the protagonists.

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30 thoughts on “6 classic novelists from Trinidad and Tobago you should know about

  1. Thanks for the list. I am always interested in local authors and make it a point to try and pick up their books when traveling in the country. Recently when in Switzerland I discovered so much about its literary contributions and from your post it seems T&T has produced some great writers.

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  2. It’s always great to learn about new writers so I can buy some books ahead of my next trip. I enjoy reading to pass the time while on planes. Thanks for introducing me to new writers that I may not have heard of otherwise.

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  3. This is very interesting. I always like to find new authors to read. I had actually heard abuot Earl Lovelace, that he’s really good. So thanks for a reminder. Will lookup some of his work and pin othersfor ater as well. 🙂

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  4. I enjoy reading and hate to admit I’m not familiar with any of these authors, but I will have to put them on my list to read. Each of the stories sound interesting and would give a good feel as to what T&T is like. Reading a good book can transport the reader and in some ways like traveling when you can’t travel.

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  5. Really it is true that if you want to know the place then we should read the local literature of that place. You have put the list of great authors and I would surely save it for my book reading friends. Also I read local newspaper in English when I visit someplace to know the general affairs of that particular place.

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  6. I am not a general novel reader. So I was not aware about any of these. But since, now I came to know about them. I’ll ready their novels.

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  7. After reading your post, I am interested to read Samuel Selvon’s books. I am not knowledgeable about the Caribbean immigrants. I like history. It is interesting how people left to seek a better living in other countries.

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  8. We do not read as much but surprised that you have found a great list like that of authors all from this same paradise! A house for Mr Biswas sounds like an interesting book to try!

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  9. I love that quote “The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.” It’s so true – I make an effort to read a couple of novels from the country I’m heading to in the lead up to a trip. Really gives you a much deeper understanding of the cultural landscape. This is a fabulous list of authors for T&T – I haven’t yet made it to the Caribbean. I feel as though I’ve heard of CLR James though I can’t say I’ve read any of his work. Will have to change that, thanks!

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  10. It is really true that reading local literature gives you a much deeper understanding of the local culture. Everyone should pick up a book by an author from the country they are traveling too. I think it helps you get more out of the trip. I’m going to add CLR James to my reading list!

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  11. I’ve been wanting to Travel to T&T for some time (especially because I would love to experience Carnival there)! And I love to read literature from a place before I go, so this post is perfect for pre-trip prep. (Pinning for later reference!) Regarding the novel about Mohun Biswas, I’m curious what exactly you meant when you wrote “born in the wrong way.” I guess I’ll have to read the book to find out! 🙂 Do you think it would be difficult for someone not from Trinidad to read a novel written in Trinidadian Creole English? It sounds like it would be interesting! Thanks for the suggestions!

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  12. This is so true – The best way to know about a country is through its literature. The best part of travel is to experience the culture and heritage of a place and books give you a deeper insight on the same. A House for Mr. Biswas and Minty Alley have really piqued our interest and we are gonna read them soon.

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  13. I’m from Jamaica but I spend most of my time in Latin America! You’ve made me realise how much I want to go to Trinidad and Tobago with this post. The history is reminiscent of Jamaica. The book “The Lonely Londoners” is a book I’d like to read. I’ve already added it to my reading list. Thanks 🙂

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  14. That quote you shared on top of this post is very on point. And it also showcases the beauty of literature. You can navigate the local culture through the perspective and words of the local writers. I haven’t read any of their works but would be interested to now.

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  15. I must admit I don’t know much about T&T so I would love to read some books on the history of T&T from when it was still a British colony. I also love reading accounts of real people’s lives from back in the day. If I make it to T&T one day (or even if I don’t) I’ll be sure to check out some of these books.

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    1. Hey Diana, most of the books I’ve recommended also delve a bit into the colonial history of T&T together with the narrative so you get to kill two birds with one stone!

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  16. I so agree with Amos Oz – “The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.” Though I am yet to visit Trinidad & Tobago writers have always influenced my travel choices. Hopefully, i can soon visit this beautiful country.

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