Ayanna Lloyd Banwo: opening the door | Snapshot

It begins, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo tells me, as do many stories: in Belmont.

When we were birdsher debut novel is at the top of the long-awaited list of international publications such as the UK Observer, Buzzfeed, Irish Timesi Good Housekeeping. Robert Jones, Jr., author Prophets, he calls it “a story that makes you spread your arms wide, embrace the sky and take off.” Auctioned to publishers in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada in 2020, the novel seems to have followed a gilded path to success, destined to win over voracious audiences: as Hamish Hamilton editor Hermione Thompson says when it comes to Ayanni Lloyd Banwo, ” resistance is futile – get ready to discover your new favorite writer. “

Let’s go back to Belmont first. As Lloyd Banwo reveals, this urban cultural center in the northeastern Port of Spain held her love of childhood storytelling. “I always wrote because I always read, someone always told me a story: my grandmother told stories like breathing,” she says, recalling memories of a fictional empire her grandmother invented, where fruits of all backgrounds magically grew to perfection. height for low-height eaters. Interwoven with fantasy empires were Grandma Yolanda Granderson’s very real anecdotes about one Belmont from antiquity: stories from the 1920s and 1930s, whose maps were often bigger than life. Returning from Diamond Vale Government Elementary School in Diego Martin led to Yolanda’s house, where the story was shared both as a reward and as a refuge, a practice as instinctive as breathing.

When she was eleven, at the house of her second grandmother, Patricia Lloyd, Lloyd Banwo discovered the novel by Earl Lovelace The dragon can’t dance. What followed, appropriately, was astonishment. “I was completely amazed that language could do that in a book,” she recalls. Other titles in her voracious reading life have certainly left their impressions – Blue Dolphin Island, Harriet’s daughter, Crick Crack, monkey – and Lovelace dragon ignited the entire territory of this creative imagination. In the stories she wrote herself, Lloyd Banwo would chase this freedom, this joyful audacity in which creative permission was not something you had to apply for: you just had to dare to become one.

Yet pragmatism, not literary passion, was typical of her early quest for career and education. Shortly after graduating from Bishop Anstey High School, Lloyd Banwo herself returned as a teacher, teaching her students geography and later English literature. Among the lecturers was an extremely positive undergraduate experience at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. “Maybe I wouldn’t have become a writer if I hadn’t gone to UWI,” she says, crediting the pedagogy of Professors Gordon Rohlehr and Paula Morgan, as well as the benefits of a strong university program in Literature in English. Writing as a career, however, has remained in the foggy distance as a hazy concept, too elusive for someone so firmly rooted in Trinidad. At the time, literary careers seemed to be largely created by emigration, a necessary eradication from the field. Instead, Lloyd Banwo cared about the peak of life at home, as a teacher and student, with careers that impacted corporate communications and advertising.

Yet writing, as almost everyone who has a pen in this world knows, often insists on itself. In the midst of her career, her education and rootedness, writing as an incentive has never disappeared. At about the same time that she started blogging seriously, Trinidad’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest appeared. Lloyd Banwo attended her first Bocas in 2012 and thus began another intrusion into this life: community empowerment. “Bocas was the first time I met real writers and I had a way to become better at writing,” she thinks, calling the workshop with David Dabydeen as one of her earliest and most important festival experiences. She also met and later attended Monique Roffey writing workshops at the festival, where she was a strong group of fiction and poetry writers – including Ira Mathur, Alake Pilgrim, Jannine Horsford, Desiree Seebaran, Hadassah Williams and the late Colin Robinson – who would exchange and criticize new drafts. .

If a free life allows a certain kind of life writing to flourish, then Ayanna Lloyd Banwo will be the first to tell you that so will death. The deaths of both her parents – first her mother Gail, and ten months later her father Ronnie – “shook everything”. The space cleared by the death of her parents “opened the door,” says Lloyd Banwo, “showing you that life is very sudden, very short. If you’re going to do this thing that you’ve always felt you should be doing, then, good God, you should probably take serious steps to figure out how. ” The detour but determined path she has intersected since then has led her to the British University of East Anglia, where she holds a master’s degree in creative writing and is currently a doctoral student in creative and critical writing.

When we were birds, formerly known in the iteration of the manuscript as “Guardians of the Gates”, has been making its debut for many years. As with most labors of intense imagination, power, and love, it is difficult for Lloyd Banw to pinpoint the exact moment when it blossomed in her mind. Long before her mother’s death, she knew she was dealing with Lapeyrouse Cemetery in the Port of Spain, where most of her family lineage is buried. Lapeyrouse is a symbolic fulcrum When we were birds, barely hidden under the alternative name Fidelis. Don’t be confused, however – while reading, you will be able to smell the remains of candles, read pale inscriptions on tombstones, walk through the network of cemeteries bordered by colonial mausoleums and proletarian earthen plots.

The art of the writer is both ceremonial and direct in this way, it acts on you like an ancient spell by which you know the words and ancient sounds beneath their language. The novel is both a love story and a genealogy of deprivation of property, a diary of death folded into the pages of the magically real Trinidad called Port Angeles here. The birds in this world are heralds of death and what is beyond.

“Somehow I managed to adjust to a kind of life: I don’t know how I managed to do that,” says Lloyd Banwo about his current situation. “It really seems like a great fortune, a supreme luxury.” She now lives in London with her husband and is able to devote most of her time to writing. Yet none of this, as in matters of survival and dying, came easily or out of its own rhythm. Lloyd Banwo compares the duality of his many states – between books, a citizen of one country residing in another, an emerging writer who is not necessarily “new” – to Eshu who is one foot in the living world, the other deftly positioned in the land of the deceased.

It depends, however: in Lloyd Banwo’s fiction, those who are dead don’t sleep. As for the writer’s view, he doesn’t crave the approval of foreign publishing markets where her hardcovers will dominate: she turns her fidelity home. “Is this Trinidad that my people will recognize?” Lloyd Banwo thinks aloud. The answer, as old as time and as fear, is yes.

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