N.D. Williams’ characters - who often address us direct, each in a uniquely distinctive voice - are invariably in motion or grappling with its temptations. They are returning to the Caribbean after long absences abroad, on the verge of leaving to make new lives or struggling to contain the frustrations of island life within their decisions to stay put. Though several of the stories focus with satirical sharpness on the pretensions of ‘The Republic’ (Guyana in its most self-consciously socialist imposture), Williams’ stage is the wider Caribbean diaspora, in the UK, Brooklyn or Toronto: the Caribbean that never leaves his characters’ heads.
His characters’ perspectives are often from the margins, anxious not to be swept away into the anonymous mass, though this stance is not unproblematic: the narrator of ‘Batty Bwoy, Divert’, for instance, has to deal with the contradictions between his attractions to Rastafarianism and his discomfort, as a gay man, over Rasta homophobia. What Williams’s characters want is the space to cultivate their sense of individual worth, though this can sometimes involve becoming trapped in an absurd or confining persona. At the heart of all the stories is the plea for a humane tolerance.
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N.D. Williams is Guyanese and lives in New York. In 1976 his novel Ikael Torass won the prestigious Casa de las Americas prize.
Published: 31 January 2004