I love telling stories. I grew up on sugar cane, mangoes, curried crabs, marbles, and stories. They were an essential part of everyday life. Every night on our veranda, with my brother and cousins, we would be telling stories – about ghosts (duppies), Anancy the spider, Big Boy, Obeah (voodoo), and all kinds of things. I listened to them, I told them, and I wet my bed at nights sometimes because I was too afraid to go outside and pee after hearing them. (By the way, when the canes rustled at night evil spirits were often roaming…)
When I was growing up it was very hard to tell the difference between stories and reality. For example, all the things you heard in stories about wicked duppies (evil spirits) doing harm to people, you also heard about in real life. As soon as Mr So and So became sick and started losing weight you would hear even the adults talking about what kind of duppy was ‘riding’ him and sucking him dry.
I think this is the reason so many of my childhood stories stuck with me – they were part of my fears and superstitions. Just the way today I have cousins abroad who go back to Jamaica once per year to have an Obeahman (voodoo man) give them a special ‘bath of protection’, and return to their jobs in metropolitan London and New York, so too I carry with me the stories and superstitions of my youth.
I also still love listening to stories. Indeed, one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me are the New York Times short story podcasts. They are short, intense, and packed with delights. Not only are they specially selected from the works of some of the best story-tellers of our time, but they are also read by famous writers. One of my all-time favourites is a short story by Junot Diaz titled “How to date a brown girl, black girl, white girl…” (There is an extract in the video below, but do sign up for the podcasts – see link below also – and listen to the full story.)
If you know another source of good short stories, whether audio/podcasts or written short stories available online, please feel free to suggest.
Sign up for the NY Times Short Story podcasts here: