How I Met Olive Senior

So if you’ve been following my scribbles and read the post about the Evolution of my Writing voice, you would know that Olive Senior is my favourite Caribbean writer. As soon as I heard that she would be attending Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad, I booked my ticket! I stated that:

“I hope to meet Olive Senior at BocasLitFest next month in Trinidad, and I will be try to stay calm, normal and be level-headed, and thank her for inspiring me so much with her novels. I will not scream like a groupie…I will not scream like a groupie…I will not.”

Sigh.

At least I didn’t scream like a groupie…for her to hear.

It all started at the cocktail party at the residence of the Trinidad British High Commissioner. I was all dressed up, level-headed, surrounded by great food and drinks in a lovely environment. Perfect time to meet your favourite author right? But fate would not have that. I found out Olive Senior was there hours later when I was home. To rub salt in my wound, I saw this picture online:

cocktail

Yup.

There I am – seemingly high on wine – yapping away to someone while the person I came to meet stood RIGHT BEHIND ME!

UPDATE: I only just realised the guy in the black shirt and grey jacket is Irvine Welsh, author of the very famous Scottish novel, TrainspottingHis session will have a blog post on its own.

UPDATE * 2: Here is the post!

The next day was the first day of the festival, and I spotted Olive Senior across the courtyard. I confirmed with a highly amused Shivanee (of Novel Niche) that it was indeed Olive Senior. She sat by herself in a corner, waiting on a session to start.

I swear I regressed into a teenager. I started to blush, my heart beat a little faster, and I felt VERY awkward. I stared at her, and smiled and fidgeted, until Shivanee suggested that I go say hello.

As soon as she said that I became totally self-conscious. What exactly do you say to a woman whose writings actually changed your life? “Hello it is nice to meet you?” Hell no. I decided that I would write her a letter, and print out a copy of Getting Marry for her to read. I would also be equipped with a camera so that I could get a good picture with her.

I had a plan.

And so I said a mental goodbye to Olive, and went along my merry way.

Later on in the evening, I needed a quick bathroom break. Inside the bathroom there was a line – two people in front of me – to use the one bathroom stall. One of those persons was…Olive Senior.

I was trying to decide if to run away or ignore her, but she turned around and said in this sweet, chirpy voice “Hellooo”.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

I’m not supposed to meet Olive Senior in a cramped bathroom!!!!

I stood there for a second, and then, as I have a lot of self-control, the first thing out my mouth was a remorseful cry of: “Olive Senior, we weren’t supposed to meet this way.”

She looked confused.

I wonder why.

I then rambled to her that I was a big fan, and that her story “A Boy who loved Ice-cream” changed my writing style, and how I flew from Barbados just to meet her.

All in that cramped bathroom stall.

To her credit, she did not visibly show it if she was freaked out, even when the door later became jammed and we were stuck in the bathroom together for a minute.

She was very nice, and told me (before I suggested it) that she would love to read my story, and to bring it for her the next day.

Then we parted ways, as we were in a bathroom stall, and I really needed to go.

The next day I gave her my letter, the story and my contact information. I also got my picture and my copy of Summer Lightning autographed.

Me and Olive Senior

Me and Olive Senior

She did remember me, even my name, and happily accepted my story. You’d be happy to know I held it together a lot better, although I felt a little tear pooling in the corner of my right eye.

It doesn’t matter if she reads my story or not. I am just so happy to have met her, and told her how much of an impact she has on young Caribbean writers. I got to listen to her read her poems, and discuss issues in the literary industry. Plus, she remembered the “H” at the end of my name!

The woman is amazing! Just look at her speech addressing “Should Literature be Political” (Taken from Andre Bagoo at http://pleasurett.blogspot.com/):

“It is not a question of avoiding issues but of being crafty, like the politicians, in portraying them. Literature is above all story-telling. And as Chinua Achebe has said, story-telling is a threat. Story-tellers, poets, writers have always found ways of confronting tyranny, especially in places where conditions are dangerous and deadly. Throughout the ages, writers have developed and employed myriad literary devices and explored the fullsomeness of language through, for example, satire, realism, magical-realism, fables, and so on. Writers throughout the ages have found ways to talk about issues like politics without seeming to talk about them. The function is not to present the world as it is, but to present it in a new light through the narrative power of art. Literature does not ask, ‘what is it about?’ It asks. ‘how do we tell it to make it real?’

“So if I have to answer the question, ‘Should literature be political?’ I would say, ‘Yes, but not in an explicit way.’ The purpose of literature is not to represent but to re-present: to hold up that mirror in a light that enables us to see reality both reflected, inflected and refracted. As writers, we live lives that are not navel-gazing but conscious and fully-engaged with the world. Gauguin said, ‘Art is either plagiarism or revolution’.

“Let me end by taking issue with the title of this debate. Should the subject matter be prescribed by anyone? I say no. Let us end by revolting against those who would apply the word should to art, even in a question. To young writers I say ignore prescription. Don’t be left behind. Write on.” – Olive Senior, 2013 Bocas Lit Fest

I’ll be writing more posts on Bocas Lit Fest in general, because I believe it is an event that EVERY Caribbean writer should attend.

Until then, I will sit tonight with my new autographed copy of Dancing Lessons by Olive Senior, and laugh at how I met her.

Things don’t always go as planned, but if they did, we would have fewer stories to tell.

18 thoughts on “How I Met Olive Senior

  1. Brilliant post Shakirah ( with an h *smile*)….I must admit that (an ashamedly so) I had never heard of Olive Senior..but I now leave this page and go to Amazon. Great Job!

  2. Pingback: On Dialect – How Caribbean people supposed tuh talk in a book, eh? | getWrite!

  3. Pingback: The Evolution of My Writing Voice | getWrite!

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  5. I had the chance to met Olive Senior in the University of Bordeaux in France. One of the Best encounter in my life. ❤ Caribbean Literature !

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