I took the day off when I found out that Tiphanie Yanique and A. Naomi Jackson, two up and coming Caribbean writers would be sitting on a panel at Columbia University in honor of the “Year of Baldwin.” Yanique is a US Virgin Islander and Jackson is a Brooklyn-born writer of Antiguan and Bajan ancestry. I had the chance to speak to both after the panel about identity politics, writing, self, and womanhood.
As I have discussed before on this blog, I take the concept of identity and by default, identity politics very seriously because I am a first-generation American. In some circles, I am too American and not Antiguan enough and in others, I am not American enough because I am too Antiguan.
It’s dumb and painful.
For awhile I thought this dilemma was only something that people like me, born to two cultures, would have to grapple with. But in speaking with Yanique, a Caribbean woman born and raised on an island that also happens to be a US territory, I found that her Caribbean authenticity is also questioned. But her response to all of it is fabulous; she rebels and reclaims, making me a bigger fan. I am in the middle of her first novel Land of Love and Drowning and the powerful, problematic female characters exemplify so much of what I love about being a woman and the writing is exquisite. Click here to buy her book. You won’t regret it.
What do you do and why is it important?
I am a writer and a teacher. I believe the relationship between teacher and student is something sacred. I believe the classroom is secretly a Cathedral. Learning is one of the most important things we do as human beings and I take my role as a teacher very seriously As a writer I seek to write stories and poems that are true…even when they’re fiction. If my stories are emotionally true, psychology true; if I allow my characters the full expression of their humanity, then my writing becomes vital work.
What advice would you give to your 20 year-old self?
Stop worrying. Have fun.
What are three things that you know for sure?
Any positive work we do with flexibility and integrity is great work.
Human beings are gifts to each other.
Love is the work we are here on earth to do.
What is the best advice (financial, emotional, spiritual, health-related) that you have ever received? Why did that piece of wisdom resonate with you so much?
I am by nature a planner. I consider things many steps ahead. I examine the past for clues of how to live in the future. Given this, the best advice I have ever been given is to always appreciate the present moment. The future will bring it’s own pleasures, surely, but also, no matter how much I plan, the future will also bring its own challenges. Enjoy the present.
What is going on in your business/career that EVERYONE should know about now? Is there a product or services that we should ALL know about?
My first novel, Land of Love and Drowning, has just been published. I worked on it for eleven years, so I am overwhelmingly grateful that it is finally out in the world and getting into the hands of the readers who need and want it. It’s been on many best of summer lists and even some best of the years lists…and we’re only half way through the year! It’s very exciting.
What makes you a DreamGirl?
I am a dreamer. But I am also a hard and careful worker. I study my craft and I do my best to support others who do the same.
What rituals, if any, do you do on a daily, monthly, or yearly to keep you focused, positive, or centered?
I read the work of other writers, of other people who are doing the work I am. I allow them to motivate and inspire me.
How do you handle setbacks? What skills, support, or personality trait do you rely on the most to help you overcome adversity?
I am an artist and the life of the artist can often be one of rejection. I actually see setbacks as forward steps mindfully getting me towards my goal. Setbacks only help me think more deeply about the work I am doing so that I can make sure I am doing the best work possible.
Tiphanie Yanique is a professor at the New School where she teachers in the Masters program in creative writing. Yanique is from the Virgin Islands and is the author of the novel, Land of Love and Drowning. She is one of the National Book Foundation’s 5Under35 and is the winner of a Pushcart Prize and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award. www.tiphanieyanique.com