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Chancy Wins an Inaugural Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award 2010

University of Cincinnati Professor Myriam J. A. Chancy was flown to Georgetown, Guyana, to receive the inaugural Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award 2010, Best Book of Fiction for her recent novel.

Date: 9/21/2011 4:30:00 PM
By: Ryan Varney
Phone: (513) 556-4190
Photos By: Myriam Chancy
Department of English Professor Myriam J. A. Chancy received the Guyana Prize for Literature Award 2010, Best Book of Fiction for her new novel, "The Loneliness of Angels." Dr. Barrhat Jagdeo, the president of Guyana, personally bestowed the prize at an official ceremony in Georgetown, Guyana, Sept. 1, 2011.

Myriam J. A. Chancy receives a Guyana Prize for Literature; (Inset) Chancy
Myriam J. A. Chancy receives a Guyana Prize for Literature; (Inset) Chancy's book "The Loneliness of Angels" along with her award.

You were recently in Georgetown, Guyana to receive the inaugural Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award 2010, Best Book of Fiction. How would you describe the experience?

It was quite an honor given that I was more or less stranded in Haiti (due to Hurricane Irene) when the stewards of the prize informed me that they wanted to fly me directly from Port-au-Prince to Georgetown. What I didn't know was that the President of the Republic of Guyana was to hand out the awards and that I would meet all the members of the jury who had selected my novel as the winner against fairly tough competition. When the chair of the jury, Stewart Brown, read a reflection composed by them about the merits of my novel, I was blown away by what they'd appreciated in the work. There were actually trumpets and drum rolls. I finally understood the true meaning of "pomp and ceremony." It was a very formal occasion and I was very honored and proud of the work at that moment. At the end of the ceremony, all of the awardees were then given five minutes to read from their works and I dedicated my reading to my family members in Haiti whom I had just left, for their perseverance and grace pre- and post-earthquake, and to a woman's collective called Atis Fanm Matenwa, located in the mountain range of La Gonav, the main island off the coast of mainland Haiti who had provided the artwork for the cover of the novel.

Your book, "The Loneliness of Angels," delves into the role of spirituality in Caribbean life and culture. What inspired you to explore this particular topic?

Haiti is a very spiritual place and Haitians are particularly spiritual. I've had interest in spirituality and religion from a young age--probably because my father studied to be a priest long before I was born. I studied world religions, including Haitian Vodou, and the Bible as an undergraduate in Canada and continued on my own since. I'm not religious but I do explore what I would call a healthy, eclectic spirituality with a core interest in Taoism. I believe that spirituality is what ultimately binds us together, whatever our beliefs, and this is what the novel explores--cross-cultural manifestations of mysticism as they are experienced by the main character who is a multi-ethnic Haitian, as am I.

Has your experience writing this book changed your perspective about Caribbean life or life in general?

I've written several books about the Caribbean and about Haiti in particular; this is my third novel and my fifth book. It hasn't changed me particularly but I sense from responses to the work that it has changed others' perceptions of the Caribbean and of Haiti, especially with regard to finding commonality across difference. One reader, who also happened to be a judge for the award, told me that he found that a truly original part of the novel had to do with delving into the Jewish legacies in Haiti, something I was interested in because my maternal grandfather's family is said to have been descended partly from Spanish conversos (Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity after 1492). For the novel, I focused more so on the Syrian Jewish heritage still in evidence in Haiti, essentially to make the point that nothing is as it seems there and that the culture is more complex than might be assumed. I would imagine that most readers would find these inter-cultural aspect of Haiti, as depicted in the novel, worth discovering.

Where can readers buy a copy of your book?

Readers can buy the novel online directly from the publisher, Peepal Tree Press, from Amazon.com, or have it ordered through their local bookseller.

According to Peepal Tree Press, your author proceeds from the purchase of "The Loneliness of Angels" will be donated to the Haiti Relief Funds. What led you to support these funds?

All of my proceeds from "The Loneliness of Angels" and, since the earthquake, also from my last novel published with Peepal Tree, "The Scorpion's Claw," have gone to relief aid. My books are published with independent presses so we are not talking about huge dollar amounts but I wanted to make a public statement to signal that it doesn't take a lot to make a difference. I'm Haitian; Port-au-Prince is the city of my birth; I have a great deal of family still in Haiti. Giving my author royalties to Haiti aid is just one gesture among many, but the point was to do something visible that might encourage other to do their part. Every bit helps.

After a natural disaster of the magnitude of Haiti's earthquake, people often feel that whatever little bit that they can offer won't make a difference. That is simply not true.

Read more about Myriam Chancy:
Professor Finds Home in Cincinnati, Keeps Heart in Haiti


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