Searching for Identity in the Diaspora as an Afro-Caribbean
Toronto’s Little Jamaica finally gets its literary moment
The diasporic experience is one of give and take. It’s a stifling dance between not being quite like here or there, made even more complicated by the typical exhaustion transitioning from childhood to adulthood brings. But all this is perfectly illustrated in Zalika Reid-Benta’s debut, Frying Plantain (June 2019, House of Anansi Press).
Through a series of short stories, Frying Plantain offers a nostalgic dive into Toronto’s past as character Kara Davis desperately tries to navigate her Jamaican Canadian identity within the city’s now-gentrified Little Jamaica neighborhood. Frying Plantain stands out especially as it colors the overwhelmingly white literary discourse of what life is like north of the border.
In this interview, Sharine Taylor speaks with Zalika Reid-Benta exclusively for ZORA on writing complicated identities, intergenerational differences within Caribbean families, and why centering her neighborhood was critical.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ZORA: Outside of themes like growing up and navigating relationships, what else were you trying to showcase through Kara’s character?
Zalika Reid-Benta: I grew up watching a lot of movies about white girls growing up, like Now and Then, My Girl, and The Little Giants, and knew that I wanted to do that for Black Jamaican girls. We have first kisses, first sexual encounters, and fight with our parents, too. I wanted to showcase a day in the life of a particular third-culture kid. Obviously we’re not a monolith and have very different experiences, but there are some shared moments.
Some mothers don’t have the space to be soft or kind, and I felt that was true for Kara’s mom, Eloise. What was the process behind making her character?
Eloise turned out to be a pretty contentious character among readers. Not that I didn’t expect that, but she gets the short end of the stick in terms of…