The words ‘grand-mother’ and erotic, you may think, are as close as you can get to a contradiction in terms. Let’s face it: soft, woolly grannies and hot sex just don’t mix. Add ‘folktales’ to this combo and you’ve got yourself an intriguing Iirile conundrum but surely not the title of a book? That is, until author Robert Antoni went and did just that.
Based in part on the tales told to him by his paternal grandma, Granny Mina – a real life, and by all accounts, utterly unique woman of her day Antoni’s new book, My Grandmother’s Erotic Folktales, is a collection of saucy stories that portray the spicier side of the Caribbean in a truly exciting way.
Widowed at an early age, Granny Mina was left to bring up six sons on her own. To augment her income during World War II she took in US servicemen as boarders in her house, keeping them out of trouble by telling them her unique blend of folktales with a sexual twist.
It is these same stories that Antoni remembers being told by his grandmother on long, sultry, Caribbean evenings.
Growing up in the Bahamas, there was no television, very little radio and no movie theatres. The evening’s entertainment was telling and listening to tales.
“Granny Mina was a great influence. When I was a young boy she was telling me stuff that would have outraged my parents and she often used the “wrong” language, which of course we loved.”
“She knew that the sexual aspects and bawdiness really made for interesting tales and kept the listener at the edge of his/her seat. You can imagine a grandmother talking to a young boy and saying words like pussy without blushing. We were thrilled.”
Although all his writing is based in Trinidad, where he can trace his own family history back 150 years, Antoni was born in the US, brought up in the Bahamas, studied in Canada and is presently living with his wife in Spain. This complicated and nomadic lifestyle, he says, is good for writing.
“I feel like a foreigner everywhere I go. This idea of sort of being able to put down roots anywhere and yet never quite having a place is a great position for a writer to be in. If you go back to most common theme for most writers, it’s the search for identity and the fact that identity becomes globalized.”
“I can use the Caribbean as a metaphor for anywhere. I think that’s a wonderful place for a writer to be.”
However, it’s family history and, by extension, the history of the Caribbean that keeps his work grounded. ‘I always have to have some touchstone of reality and experience and it may be the most insignificant detail but for me that can ground the whole piece of fiction.
That one fact that is true or appears to be true is enough to ground the whole work and just a phrase that I pull out of my grandmother’s mouth is enough for me to ground that voice and from there I can in my mind just speak. For me the act of writing is very much the art of listening.’
And for the most part, the voices that he is listening to are female. ‘For some reason, I speak more in a female voice than a male voice. I’m always attracted to personas or voices that are furthest removed from me.
“I’m interested in getting into other people and under other skins. I would really like to get behind the brow of my characters and get myself out of the way.”
Also, says the writer, the female voice in contemporary writing is in the ascendant. ‘I really do be6eve that in the Caribbean women are now coming to the fore and are now speaking out more strongly than before.’
Antoni hopes he has written a book that throws down the mantle for a new generation of Caribbean writing. ‘I think what the new generation of Caribbean writers are doing is reinventing their own fonns to speak for the Caribbean experience.
‘The things that are being done now with language and form are more interesting than any writing that’s happening anywhere else. So much of the early novels were really a conversation with colonialism: what does that mean, how do we define ourselves? But that’s been done. Now we have to talk about something else.”