Sir Howard Fergus Presents on the Creation of Disaster Literature
Montserrat’s foremost historian Sir Howard Fergus on Saturday afternoon presented an essay on Montserrat volcano literature during the Alliouagana Festival of the Word.
While we cannot reprint his entire essay as it is due for future publication we wanted to share a few thoughts from it.
Dr Fergus credits Montserratian author Archie Markham with coining the phrase “disaster literature” in his writings following the destruction wrought on the island by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
The historian notes that the term is fitting to describe the works that have been birthed since the Soufriere Hills Volcano rumbled from sleep in 1995.
“Montserrat has rapidly developed a writing tradition if only during the last half century. I know of no other 39 square mile country whose population at best never exceeded 14,000 with more quality writers – a posse that include Archie Markham, Edgar White, David Edgecombe, Yvonne Weekes and more.”
While Dr Fergus acknowledges the vast number of scientific literature that can be credited to the volcano’s revival, he focused on “imaginative writing” in his essay.
He did not exclude the writings by outsiders stimulated by the volcano such as Fire from the Mountain (2000) by British journalist, Polly Patullo and Graeme Knott’s Exclusion Zone (2005). He also mentioned the unpublished but important writings of Cathy Buffonge in helping to provide context to the human experience.
“This essay simply aims to demonstrate that a volume of creative work spawned by this cataclysmic eruption of 1995 and continuing deserves to be deemed literature and to be given the status of a genre, disaster literature,” Dr Fergus notes. “Wide-awake poets like Chadd Cumberbatch, Chanelle Roach Ad-Ziko Simba and Jacqueline Browne could not help being engaged. And while we are not focussing on the lyrical creations of Arrow (Alphonsus Cassell) and Randy Greenaway, they merit a passing reference. When the former sings “I just can’t runaway” it is precisely because there is a temptation to migrate, so what this calypso laureate is voicing is the tension between a rooted patriotism and the centrifugal forces created by the volcano.”
The prolific author of more than 20 books of history and creative writings acknowledged the new work of novelist, playwright and poet, Edgar Nkosi White. ‘Edgar has not produced a definitive work on the volcano, but in Deported to Paradise: Essays and Memoirs in his inimitable wry style, he writes about the vicissitudes, foibles and ironies of a people, aggravated by the volcano, as part of his wide-angled vision of the contemporary world.”
Connect with Sir Howard Fergus on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SirHowardFergus