Caribbean history is generally marred by its colonial past and unequivocal injustices, highlighting the crucial need for modern literary heroes who write from a meaningful and often forgotten perspective of African diasporic people. Social activist and novelist Erna Brodber is one such voice. Her books and literary articles shine a light on all aspects of Jamaican culture, including gender, parenthood, music, and history. Brodber, 77, was born in Woodside, Saint Mary Parish, Jamaica. After completing her education at the University College of the West Indies, she spent time as a teacher and sociology lecturer at the Institute for Social and Economic Research in Mona, Jamaica. During her career in civil service, Brodber’s interest in the oral tradition of her Jamaican elders deepened, inspiring her future novel, Louisiana (1994).
Notably, Brodber also spent time studying in the U.S. during which time she was introduced to the Black Power and Women’s Liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s . Inspired by these diverse movements, her pieces of journalistic study like “Reggae and Cultural Identity in Jamaica” (1981) and “Perceptions of Caribbean Women: Toward a Documentation of Stereotypes” (1982) brought Brodber into the world of literature. Brodber published her first novel, Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, in 1980 which dealt with topics of postmodernism, post-colonialism, and language within the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Her second novel, Myal (1988), dug deep into the ways we remember our past and garnered much acclaim including the Caribbean and Canadian Regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989.
Recently, Brodber was one of eight celebrated writers to receive the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize by Yale University including a gift of $165,000 meant to further the author’s rich writing career, this prestigious prize is one of the richest in the world. Brodber was awarded this prize in recognition of her “distinctive polyvocal narratives [that] echo sources as diverse as the folk tales of Anansi the spider-god and the modernist novels of James Joyce.”
Today, Brodber is a Writer in Residence at the University of the West Indies and still lives in her childhood home of Woodside. Her most recent work is the novel Nothing’s Mat (2014)