Jammin’ in the Name of the Word

Jamaica's Colin Channer writes reggae-infused novels.

A reviewer once dubbed Jamaican novelist Colin Channer “Bob Marley with a pen.” But Channer plays guitar, too, in a reggae band. His latest, Satisfy My Soul (Ballantine, $19.95), is a multilayered love story in which a playwright meets his soulmate in a Kingston businesswoman who insists he’s the reincarnation of an African hero sold long ago into slavery.

For Channer, the act of writing has a dramatic terrain all its own. “The landscape of fiction is the soul — pools of anger, streams of consciousness, mountains of desire,” he says. “Fiction gives us a guided tour of the soul of a culture” and wields the power to “excavate below the surface.”

And excavation, literal or figurative, is never easy. “I enter a space of deep focus, a space of writerly devotion” in which “I am unaware of what is happening around me.” When writing about spirituality, “I often listen to music on repeat — very often Rastafarian chants. It is a place of peace.”

Having founded the Calabash International Literary Festival, the English-speaking Caribbean’s only such annual event, Channer is keenly aware of the differences between tourist-brochure images and real life, though that issue “is as relevant to New York or Dallas as it is to Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. When will we see an image of Rodney King in an ad for the state of California? Or a photograph of a disenfranchised voter or a murdered German tourist on the official Web site of the state of Florida? Does it matter to me that too many Americans think of the Caribbean in terms of holiday cruises and reggae records? Well, it could be worse. They could think of it in terms of cruise missiles and disco.

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