She's ri-Freshing: Alexia Arthurs, author of How To Love A Jamaican
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Where do I start? Haha. I love a good pasta dish, books, journaling, and meaningful conversation. I have five tattoos. I have a cat—her name is Cous Cous. I turned thirty this spring. I was thrilled to leave my twenties behind!
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, since I was twelve. A middle school creative writing assignment was a moment of realization for me. After school, I would go to the library with my friend, Itisha. I imagine that I wanted to see my name on a library shelf.
Was there a particular event or defining moment that prompted the creation of How To Love A Jamaican?
The collection came slowly. During my mid-twenties, I was thinking a lot about my gender and sexuality, especially as a Jamaican person. Of course, this thinking inspired the stories I was writing.
Why did you choose to title the entire collection How To Love A Jamaican? Was it your favorite story to write or do you feel the title encompasses the collection as a whole?
I think that the title speaks to the collection, which to me is really interested in relationships between Jamaicans, whether romantic, familial, or platonic.
What is the general reaction you receive when people hear the title?
People have really embraced the title—I've spoken to lots of people who find it catchy, and others, particularly people of Jamaican background, think its funny and they're curious. Speaking of funny, I’ve seen some delightful commentary on social media—Jamaicans laughing at the title, wondering if its self-help or what.
How much of your collection reflects your experience as a Jamaican?
I write from a deeply personal place. I write about my anxieties, explored through fictional characters. Though, sure, some stories, like “Island,” are closer to my life than other stories.
Did you write these stories with a particular audience in mind?
I don’t think about an audience during the writing stage. I try to stay focused on the narrative because everything else is a distraction. When its time to publish, I appreciate every reader. Though because I write about Jamaicans, I hope that Jamaicans and other Caribbean people are able to read my work. I don’t think of fiction as separate from the world. I think of fiction as a mirror of our world, reflecting our realities, so yes, Caribbean readers are very important to me.
Identity is both simple and complex. How does immigration affect identity? What are your thoughts on assimilation versus trying to preserve our culture in a foreign place?
I remember, when I was in high school, I knew a girl from Haiti, who lost her accent in a very short time. She explained to me that it was better that way. Sometimes, immigrants feel forced to assimilate. For some, the desire to assimilate is calculated. We are told that there are opportunities of upward mobility and safety in not standing out. I think it’s a tragedy that who we are and where we are from is not good enough.
Do you have any advice for anyone struggling with identity, especially those of Caribbean descent?
I would tell such a person that they have to get to a place where they are choosing themselves everyday. I would tell them to do everything they can to get to this place. I don't mean to over-simplify hardship, but I believe that if we are choosing ourselves, this is a place to begin. This is a place of possibility. I can't tell you how much peace this has given me—this idea of choosing myself. I do it everyday. Also, I've gone to therapy—I suspect that everyone can benefit from therapy.