Robin, as he is called, says “I write because when I was young it was the only thing I felt that I was good at. I always sort of was curious about anomalies.” That is to say, he would notice things, particularly things that were different and would explore that difference through his writing.
Rabindranath Maharaj is writer in residence this semester at UWI St Augustine. Tomorrow he will give a feature reading as a part of Campus Literature Week 2013. Robin will share a part of his award-winning book The Amazing Absorbing Boy which has recently been optioned to be made into a movie.
This book is about an anomaly too, in that it defies the stereotype of the assimilating immigrant that capitulates whole-cloth to North American society. Set in Canada, Robin’s adopted country of residence, the Trini protagonist Samuel “absorbs” his surroundings as if he has a superhero’s powers, yet he also impacts upon his new community as much as it affects him.
The genesis of this focus on anomalies? As Robin was growing up in his hometown of George Village in Tableland, he initially was fascinated by the village eccentrics – people who became models for some of his characters later on.
As his career developed, he continued writing because there was a view he was interested in sharing about the travail of immigrants.
“Immigrants in Canada were trying so hard to fit in but there were so many stumbling blocks,” says Robin. “I wanted to pull back the curtain and show a little glimpse of how these people operate – that they were just like everyone else, all they wanted (was) to achieve.”
Robin usually begins his writing with a particular character in mind; a character who has a particular motivation or want. As a writer, he has a perspective and a sensibility that he would like to share with people who would not otherwise see certain things. Yet, he has to work through the writing, as a process, to work out and realise, as a vision made real, this purpose he wants to share.
He says, “Writing allows me to be able to make connections about things so I understand people better and my relationship with this world through this process.”
The Amazing Absorbing Boy, then, shows that the world is changing in terms of the role adopted by the immigrant. This book is (as so many novels are) a permanent record of that society, going beyond the bare facts and figures.
Robin says, “If I want to know about New Orleans in 1945, I would prefer to read a novel that fully captures the place – the odours, the feelings.”
Robin has come to an understanding of his work such that he notes that the reaction of people to change is one of his overarching themes. He realised this in retrospect, when, upon reviewing his work, he saw that his wrestling with this knotty issue was always present.
It is almost as if, much like his writing had chosen him before, this theme chose him, and he gladly fell in step and began to craft it, first intuitively and then, once recognised, intentionally.
He says, “In a conscious sense and a deliberate sense, I wasn’t sure that I was working towards this, but I try to explore the reaction of people to change…people who are put in unfamiliar situations…How do they respond to this situation?”
Robin continues to interrogate the matter. He says, “How do you negotiate this new journey? What are you willing to surrender and what are you willing to take on?”
Writing chose Robin, but he is no passive character in his own life and career. When Robin moved to Canada to pursue a Masters in Writing, he only had funds for the first year of the programme – so he redoubled his efforts and finished twice as fast as his classmates in exactly one year.
Even day to day, Robin is “constantly on the lookout for material.” He says, “Everything becomes grist for the mill.”
Furthermore, he advises budding writers that, “Equally important as talent is discipline. I try to write everyday.”
You also have to read a lot, he says, and look at the choices writers made in their novels and figure out why or if those choices worked. You can learn from bad writers (what not to do) just as much as from good writers, Robin advises.
Finally, Robin advises that everything the writer tries to convey has to be indirect without manipulating the reader. You hint, you evoke, you suggest (as a writer). Yet, very important is to “be as honest as you can about things for the integrity and believability of your novels. Be fair. Don’t take sides.”
Writing chose Rabindranath Maharaj. He reciprocated and chose it in turn, advocating an honesty and integrity in style and voice which has paid off with a well-respected, highly-acclaimed writing track record.
Rabindranath Maharaj is the feature speaker at Campus Literature Week which runs from March 18th to March 22nd 2013 at UWI, St. Augustine. During the week various writers will read from their work at the Alma Jordan Library at noon, culminating in a Gala reading by Robin at the LRC tomorrow night at 7 pm. All are invited. For more information please see the Facebook event page:
http://www.facebook.com/events/515845885132723/ or email email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabindranath Maharaj is the award-winning author of the novels The Amazing Absorbing Boy (2010, Knopf Canada; winner of the 2010 Trillium Book Award, the 2011 Toronto Book Award, and voted a CBC Canada Reads Top 10 for Ontario); A Perfect Pledge (2005, Knopf Canada; Farrar, Straus and Giroux US; a Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize finalist); The Lagahoo’s Apprentice (2000 Knopf Canada; a Globe and Mail and Toronto Star Notable Book of the Year); Homer in Flight (1997, Goose Lane Editions, a Chapters/ Books in Canada First Novel Award finalist); The Picture of Nobody (2010, Good Reads/ Harper Collins Canada) and the short story collections The Book of Ifs and Buts (2002, Vintage Canada), The Writer and His Wife (1996, Peepal Tree Press, UK), and The Interloper (1995, Goose Lane Editions; Nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book).
In November 2012, Maharaj received a Lifetime Literary Award, administered by NALIS (National Library and Information System Authority) as part of the commemoration of Trinidad’s 50th independence anniversary.
In January 2013, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, which honours significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.
(Courtesy Dara Wilkinson)