Caryl Phillips by gdf57j



  Caryl Phillips
  filling in the gaps

   “I want to leave an open space
  for the reader to feel outraged.
  I want them to fill in the
  emotional gaps.”

       aryl Phillips has a large body of work   fact, reportage and fiction. It follows the       Johnson      in   the
       behind him and shows no signs            stories of three black men who struggled          eighteenth century.
       of becoming any less prolific. The       to find a place in English society at different   Barber had intrigued
author, playwright and journalist was born      times in history. Phillips had been fascinated    Phillips since he was
in St. Kitts and grew up in Leeds. He read      by all three characters for a long time when      a student at Oxford:
English at Oxford University and began his      he wrote the novel: “It seemed that they all      “Dr Johnson went to
writing career early on, gaining a Booker       kind of spoke to each other and the voices        the same college as me and when I found out
Prize nomination in 1993 for Crossing the       echo across the centuries.”                       he had a black servant. I was very interested
River. His new novel, Foreigners: Three           The first story focuses on Frances Barber, a    to find out more.” The second story centres
English Lives, is a combination of historical   slave who was “given” to the writer Samuel        on the boxer Randolph Turpin. Phillips saw

a documentary on Turpin over 20 years ago          the characters interested the author. The        foreigner in England: “When I’m in America
at the National Film Theatre: “Everyone was        characters may have lived in different           I don’t have an expectation to fit in, but
talking about this story of a boxer’s fall from    decades or centuries, but their experiences      England is the place where you most expect
grace and nobody was talking about the             and the book’s common themes tie together        to feel at home; the place which you should
real issues — class and race.” Growing up in       perfectly.                                       understand intimately.” He does, however,
Leeds, Phillips had also been aware of David         Caryl Phillips has never shied away from       feel very fortunate to have the opportunity
Oluwale, the protagonist of the book’s final       the issues of race and identity. His novels      to travel so much, resisting becoming
story, who faced a series of obstacles in the      are not about these issues as such, but they     accustomed to it or taking it for granted:
form of the racist police. “All three characters   cannot be ignored when tackling the lives        “Travel comes across as a great luxury for
had been living in the back of my brain.           of people oppressed for centuries. “Class        people working nine-to-five jobs. I’m very
They are all grappling in different ways with      is also an important issue. It’s very hard to    lucky to travel as part of what I do.”
the notion of home.”                               discuss issues of race without discussing          Phillips’s play, Rough Crossings, a collab-
  Phillips uses different narrators to tell each   issues of class. As long as people know          oration with Simon Schama, opened in
story. The Oluwale section is characterised        how to hold a knife and fork properly, I’m       September. It seems he never stops writing
by its use of polyphonic narration, with           interested in the way in which class has         in one medium or another. He is the author
several different characters giving their          affected the lives of the people.” Phillips’s    of eight novels and three works of non-
perspective on his life. All the stories hold      writing often deals with horrific situations,    fiction. He has also written for television,
their own value as warnings from history,          yet he maintains a calm, understated style       radio, theatre and cinema and won various
but it is Phillips’s decisions on how to tell      even when describing the most disturbing         awards including the Martin Luther King Jr.
them that make the novel so involving. As          circumstances. “It’s just how I’ve always        Memorial Prize. Phillips says he is unsure of
well as holding the reader’s attention, the        tried to write; avoiding melodrama. I want       what he will focus on after Rough Crossings:
style helped to keep the author interested         to leave an open space for the reader to feel    “I’ll see what’s most pressing.” With so many
in his own book: “I didn’t want to impose ‘me’     outraged. I want them to fill in the emotional   different genres and media at his disposal,
on the story too much.” The combination of         gaps.”                                           Phillips hardly needs to plan ahead. It seems
unusual narrative techniques and inventive           Foreigners engages eloquently with             that no matter what he does, where he lives
use of fictionalisation makes Foreigners a         the idea of home. Phillips is certainly          and whether or not he feels like a foreigner,
very unique book, though Phillips claims           an authority on feeling like a foreigner,        Caryl Phillips will always be at home in
that: “To some extent you always think every       growing up as one of the few black faces in      the business of writing eloquent, original
book you’re writing is unique.” However, it        a working class English town and travelling      and affecting books. For more information
seems that this particular book was crying         extensively with his writing. He now lives       please see
out to be written, given the extent to which       in New York, but says he feels most like a                                    Alexis Somerville


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