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Kingston Noir (Jamaica)

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Following in the Caribbean footsteps of Haiti Noir and Trinidad Noir, now come dark stories from Jamaica’s capital city.

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Interview with Kingston Noir editor Colin Channer

So, what exactly is “noir”? You had to define it to anthologize it…

Noir writing looks at life from the point of view of bad girls and bad guys. Its territory is crime, sometimes from the perspective of the police and other kinds of investigators, but more often from the perspective of criminals and lowlifes. The central characters are often self-destructive. The mood is mysterious. The plots involve deep suspense. And it’s never shy about sex.

Is Kingston especially suited for the “noir” sub-genre?

Kingston is a complicated, charismatic city with some turbulent dynamics. It has all these strict lines that nobody follows. I’m talking about lines of color, class, race, gender, ideology and sexual privilege. Trouble always comes when these lines get criss-crossed. A noir writer sees the electric charge in this. It’s like being outside after a hurricane and seeing the sparks on the tangled power lines.

How did you go about pulling this anthology together?

My ambition was to produce one of the best fiction collections of 2012, period. For the best results, begin with the best ingredients, they say. So I began with the best writers. For this particular book “best” meant writers with exceptional voices, a deep understanding of the city and the kind of narrative intelligence that produces fresh scenarios or fresh takes on scenarios that are classics. There is a real buzz in the international literary world about the book. The buzz is that if you take the “noir” tag off you’re left with just an incredible collection of writing all set in one of the most charismatic cities in the world. But with the “noir” tag on you have a collection whose level of writing surpasses the standard expected of the genre.

How is the book organized?

Each writer chose a primary neighborhood in the Kingston metropolitan area as a setting. We have eleven stories, so we have eleven neighborhood or area. Here is the list: Portmore, Norbrook, Trench Town, Constant Spring, Downtown, New Kingston, Greenwich Town, Mona, Hughenden, August Town and Half Way Tree. Uptown, downtown and all around town.

There are Jamaicans here, but there are a few impostors like Chris Abani, how come?

Well considering that I was looking for the best writers it was a natural to ask Chris Abani, who is Nigerian, as you may know, but we consider him part of the wider Jamaican “fambily” and there is also Ian Thomson who is a Brit. All the other writers are Jamaican by birth or parentage. Widening the field of writers has widened the scope and range of the writing. Kingston is a cosmopolitan city. Kingston Noir is a cosmopolitan book.

This kind of anthology is a first for Jamaica, isn’t it? What does it say about fiction from the Caribbean today?

Well Kingston Noir follows Haiti Noir and Trinidad Noir. I think these books collectively suggest that there are more people from the Caribbean writing more fiction, more often, in more genres, than at any other time. What Kingston Noir says about Jamaican writing, specifically though is that it is finally becoming in what feels like a permanent way, as interesting as Jamaican music has been for a long time. All the writers in Kingston Noir are in literary terms young or younger, and as such, the writing in Kingston Noir displays a fluency in the sensibilities of popular culture. This has not always been the case.

What is it like to work with Akashic Books—this is not your first project with them?

Let’s begin with this—Akashic is a publishing house that was started by the bass player of a punk band. Its stated ambition is “the reverse gentrification of the literary world.” They pay attention to every detail, including design, and they are generous in their payments. They do a 50/50 split on all profits. This is my fourth project with them. The relationship began with Iron Balloons in 2006, and continued through The Girl With the Golden Shoes, and So Much Things to Say.

Kingston Noir will launch at Jubilation 50! Big excitement?

I can’t think of a better place for this book to be launched than at Jubilation! 50. There will be thousands of people there in Treasure Beach at the end of May and the Kingston Noir reading happens on opening night, Friday May 25th.