By Stephanie Fullerton-Cooper
I am excited about the plans that are afoot for a true celebration of Cayman’s most prolific writer! In my humble estimation, this is a move in the right direction as we acknowledge that our local writers are putting our small society on the literary map. I have interrogated the work of writers from Africa like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe; from the UK like Jane Austen and William Shakespeare; the USA like Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, and Lorraine Hansberry. I have delved into the pages of Caribbean writers from the English-speaking Caribbean including St. Lucia’s Derek Walcott; Jamaica’s Claude McKay, Orlando Patterson, and Louise Bennett-Coverley; Trinidad’s Samuel Selvon and VS Naipaul; and from Barbados – George Lamming and EK Brathwaite. I have equally explored works from the Hispanophone and Francophone Caribbean including Cuba’s Nicolas Guillen, Martinique’s Franz Fanon, Guadeloupe’s Maryse Conde and Simone Schwarz-Bart, as well as Haiti’s Edwidge Danticat. This list is not exhaustive, but I am happy to add to this impressive line-up, an impressive Cayman writer who has in so many ways stimulated my interest in local literature, JA Roy Bodden.
The Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF) and the Committee for the Promotion of Research and Cayman Scholarship have quite fittingly planned a symposium in celebration of “JA Roy Bodden: Public Intellectual”. On Thursday and Friday of next week, June 24 and 25, all roads lead to the Harquail Theatre. There, approximately 30 academic presentations will be made, all inspired in one way or other by this writer. Presenters will hail from right here in the Cayman Islands, but it is a measure of how much Bodden’s works have penetrated the interests of many, as there will also be presenters from Jamaica, Canada, USA, and the UK. Talk about putting Cayman on the map! I anticipate many interesting discussions as presenters will be “interrogating the Cayman Society” through detailed examination of Bodden’s fiction and non-fiction.
A glance at the line up shows that none of his works will be left out. The discussions will be historical, political, educational, and literary in nature. Bodden’s poems, short stories, memoirs, historical pieces – all will be under the lens of local and foreign interrogators and the intellectual discourse promises to be stimulating. What a wonderful way to promote Cayman beliefs and customs and culture! What a wonderful way to demonstrate that like the writers from the Francophone, Hispanophone and other Anglophone Caribbean countries, Cayman similarly has sufficient ‘stuff’ to grace the pages of great books – has sufficient ‘stuff’ to stimulate philisophising and theorizing and analysing. Imagine, our nation language, our Caymankind, our districts, and our belief systems, being celebrated and discussed by some of the leading intellectuals on island and from around the world.
Dubbed a cultural historian, Bodden has written a number of books, including The Caymanian Islands in Transition: The Politics History and Sociology of a Changing Society (2007), Stories My Grandfather Never Told Me (2007), Patronage, Personalities and Parties: Caymanian Politics From 1950-2000 (2010), and From Guard House to the Glass House: One Man’s Journey Through the Maze of Caymanian Politics (2019). My personal favourites are A Gathering of Old Men (2012) and Reflections from a Broken Mirror (2014). There is no denying that Bodden uses his experiences as a former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands, former Minister of Education, Human Resources and Culture, former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands, and his experiences as the proud son of the village wash woman, as the framework for the tapestry of writings that explore the Cayman society in its many forms. I am enthralled by the fact that whether fiction or non-fiction, whether poetry or short stories, Bodden’s works show a continuum in that he explores similar threads that all point to a diverse and complex Cayman society. He explores such issues as identity, historical and political realities, issues of class and culture, preservation of the Caymanian patrimony, the relevance of education, and the strength of family and community.
Commentary in each of Bodden’s works laud him for being passionate in his exploration of “classic Caymanian dilemmas” (Dr Paula-Grace Anderson). His work is said to capture “the very rich soul of Caymanianness of yesteryear” (Quincy Brown), and Dr Monika Lawrence believes “he graphically and vividly brings … characters to life and certainly commands the attention of anyone that seeks to gain further insight into the cultural ethos of the Cayman Islands”. Similarly, Dr Jennifer Williams believes Bodden’s work “chronicles and celebrates the heroic, pure Caymanian past, delights in the beauty of the island, its people and its culture”. For her, his work is also “a lament for the present plight of the poet’s beloved homeland and its people, and a call for all Caymanians to strive to protect their identity, culture, land and values”.
The words of these intellectuals and artists are but the means to whet your appetite for what is to come. Poignant as their expressions might be, they do not fully grasp the magnitude of what is likely to be explored and theorized when we, for two days next week, engage in intellectual discourse of Bodden’s complex Cayman society. As a foremost authority on the Caymanian landscape, as one who has grappled with the economical, political, historical, and social realities that have carved out an identity for the Cayman people, any exploration of Bodden and his works will be relatable, stimulating, and certainly thought-provoking. Will the symposium provide answers to our many questions about Cayman’s perceptions of itself, of its place within the region, and of its future as a small nation state? Or, will it raise even more questions? We do not know now, but we are anxious to find out. Join the event as we celebrate Caymanian writers and writings – “JA Roy Bodden: Public Intellectual Interrogating the Cayman Society”. I hope to meet you at the Harquail Theatre on June 24 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on June 25 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. It promises to be a pivotal event.