Local writer Keith Jardim is a very busy man. He is organising two writing workshops, completing his very first novel and also preparing a book of essays.
Jardim is hosting creative writing workshops, introduction and advanced, at Naipaul House at 26 Nepaul St, St James. It is being done in conjunction with Friends of Mr Biswas, an NGO which was granted a 99 year government lease in 2002 to develop the house to manage and develop Naipaul House as a museum and international study centre for education, local and international cultural tourism, and research on the writings of the Naipaul family, Trinidad and Tobago literature, and West Indian literature.
Jardim said Naipaul House was a great venue for writing courses as it was the home of three very well known writers: Nobel Laureate Sir V S Naipaul, Naipaul’s father Seepersad and his late brother Shiva.
They are looking at about 15 participants for each class and the age minimum is about 21. He explained the advanced course was for people with some experience writing fiction and who may not have been published professionally.
During the course Jardim will be speaking about his 2011 short story collection Near Open Water and they also plan to have visiting local writers, established and new. Also attending will be Friends of Mr Biswas chairman and noted West Indian fiction critic Professor Ken Ramchand, who Jardim described as a father figure. He said Ramchand has helped and encouraged him and has been “a real light.”
He said many Trinidadians can tell a story but to sit and actually write a short story and be successful in terms of craft and truthfulness is not an easy thing. He also said this country has more writers per square mile than any other place and there are so many things to write about with our many complex histories coming together.
Jardim said while a lot of people are writing, and quite a few have been published across the region and overseas, many are not at the level they should be. He added that while there is a lot of talent that is never enough as talent has to be disciplined, guided, reined in and developed.
The importance of literature
Jardim said not everyone can be a writer and if someone attends the workshop and finds out writing is not for them they will still benefit as it would teach them to be a better reader.
“What we need more in the world are more readers.”
From teaching in the United States, Caribbean and the Middle East Jardim has seen a decline in university literacy, especially in the areas of literature and languages. He said fewer students were reading and spending more time on social media. He said research shows reading fiction and poetry does something to the mind and develops it in ways that other types of reading, like texts and social media posts, does not. According to a 2016 Washington Post article a University of Toronto cognitive psychologist found that engaging with stories about other people can improve empathy and theory of mind.
Jardim, in an excerpt from an essay he prepared for an upcoming conference, reiterated that “reading and writing are the two most important things human beings can do, especially the first, for not everyone can be a writer; but everyone must have a story to be human, as (Nigerian novelist Chinua) Achebe said.”
He also wrote: “All of human experience is already contained in literature, in poetry and fiction. If you want to know who you were, are, and who you will become, you must read literature: you will come to know yourself and the multitudes of others who are here now, dead and long gone, and yet to be born. To be a writer worthy of the art of fiction, of literature, is to join the conversation and experience of humanity.”
Jardim said with the digital age he has seen in decline not just in reading but thinking and also a stultifying of the imagination. He said everywhere in the world there are those who would dismiss writing and say you cannot make money. He stressed, however, that a society needs an artistic community no matter what developmental level the society it is at.
“It needs its writers, its artists, its critics, its thinkers, its loud-mouths, it needs its calypsonians, (and) its musicians. It needs its artists. Because you can’t really have a healthy breathing society if you don’t have some kind of artistic community that is allowed in some way, shape or form to express itself. To thrive in some way.”
He said locally the artistic community is thriving in a way but maybe not connecting with enough people in the island and the region.
“We have a very vibrant artistic community in Trinidad. I think nobody would deny that. But how is it helping the wider community? I don’t think it really is helping the wider community as much as it could.”
Novel in the works
Jardim was born and raised in Trinidad and has lived away, including a seven year stint teaching literature in Kuwait, but has always come back. He has a sort of love/hate relationship with this country.
“It’s a very frustrating, dangerous place. But it’s still beautiful. And it’s always interesting. It can be overwhelming at times for a lot of people I know. I know people who live here and they are completely overwhelmed by the place and they just shut down, they shut off. So it can be overwhelming but it is never, ever boring. And for a writer that’s very good.”
Jardim is currently reading a collection of short stories by late Jamaican writer John Hearne who he described as one of the most “sexy” writers in English in the Caribbean. He said to write good fiction you have to understand something about yourself and people around you no matter where they come from or who they are.
“To be a good Caribbean writer you have to have a really good understanding of history and the various people who come to these islands and came out of that history and made this place. So it’s an exciting place to be in, the Caribbean. Especially an island like Trinidad that is so different from the other islands.”
He is currently finishing up a novel set in TT and Guyana, another collection of stories and a book of essays. He said he wants the novel to be entertaining fiction and he believes fiction should be entertaining.
Jardim writes during the day and most nights he is back at his desk writing. As he gets older he recognises the need to be physically fit so he can sit for three to four hours a day in a chair writing. He said it is good to write every day even if you have to take a break and go back at it; missing a day would mean falling out of the mood and rhythm and it would take a while to get back.
For his novel he writes notes on the computer and hand written notes in both black and blue ink. He advised that you cross out your “bad ideas” but not get rid of them as a bad idea can turn into a good one after writing 10 to 15 pages.
Returning to the workshop Jardim said he always wanted to teach a course like this in. He said he was now older, had travel around the world and it was interesting to come back and be doing this. The creative writing workshops will be held after Carnival 2018 at 6 pm once a week for two hours Mondays for 14 sessions. For more information email Jardim at email@example.com.