News Releases

UWI Lecturer Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw launches book of short stories; Four Taxis Facing North

For Release Upon Receipt - September 25, 2007

St. Augustine

Following a formal launch and series of readings in England, U.K., hosted by publishers Flambard Press, Dr. Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw will launch her first book of short stories at Queen’s Hall Lounge, St Ann’s, today (Tuesday 25th September, 2007).

Acclaimed writer Lawrence Scott will introduce Walcott-Hackshaw at the launch of the book of fiction, entitled Four Taxis Facing North.  A lecturer of French Literature at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Walcott-Hackshaw describes the book as one “that captures the contrasting landscapes of the Caribbean island of Trinidad…This is a country constantly threatened by violence.  The crime, drug abuse and corruption that form a part of everyday life in larger nations become magnified on a small island.”

Four Taxis Facing North was launched in the U.K. in May at the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission, Belgrave Square, London, by H.E Mrs. Glenda Morean Phillip S.C. High Commissioner.  A few days after the launch, Walcott-Hackshaw was invited to read at the first Coventry Festival of Literature and Liberty and at “A Celebration of World Literature”.  Other writers featured at the event included, Guyanese poet and novelist David Dabydeen, Professor of Caribbean Literature at the University of Warwick, author of novel Our Lady of Demerara; Guyanese novelist, Tessa Mc Watt, the author of This Body; Lebanese writer Hisham Matar, short-listed for the Booker prize in 2006 for the novel, In The Company of Men.  The book tour ended at The Literary and Philosophical Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, where Walcott-Hackshaw read from her book of short stories.

An honours graduate of Boston University, USA, where she gained Bachelor’s Degrees in English and French Literature as well as a Post Doctorate degree in French Literature, Walcott Hackshaw was born in Trinidad in 1964.  Her stories have appeared in several literary journals including Small Axe (Indiana University Press, USA), Callaloo (Johns Hopkins University Press, USA) and Spazio Umano (International Review of Art and Literature, Grennaio, Italy).  One area of expertise for Walcott-Hackshaw is francophone Caribbean literature, so it is not surprising that some of her work focuses on the island of Haiti. Recently she co-edited a publication on Reinterpreting the Haitian Revolution and its Cultural Aftershocks 1804-2004 (The University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, Jamaica, 2006) and is currently working on a forthcoming book with UWI lecturer Dr. Martin Munro on Echoes of a Revolution: 1804-2004.  She will also co-edit a special issue of the journal Small Axe with Drs Martin Munro and Charles Forsdick, which focus on essays from the Haiti Now! Art, Film Literature seminar (2007).

Lawrence Scott

Port of Spain 25th September 2007

Four Taxis Facing North

In these stories of Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw’s, the past is the stuff her characters are made of.  The terror from back there, their fractured lives; dead mothers, departed mothers, dead or missing fathers pursue these characters inner lives. This with the violence, which enters from out there around them, is the source of the fear, which eats their souls and infiltrates the most private moments of their relationships whether they are parental, with siblings, friends, lovers, or married couples. The personal is the political in these stories.

These stories we are just within that well known Caribbean tradition of first book stories of childhood and growing up, but with an acute difference, they are not at all as you have ever been accustomed to those kinds of stories. They are modern, contemporary stories in a modern, contemporary woman’s voice for the most part. These stories come with a strong understanding of psychology.

These were thoughts that immediately sprung to mind when I was completing my reading of Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw’s Four Taxis Facing North. Yes, think about it, that title, a quaint, amusing sign we all know which directs us into a vision of a place we both know and yet do not know enough of, and need to take another look at.

Back in 2004, I began to read Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw. I had heard her read at  Literature Week that year at UWI. My introduction to her stories therefore was firstly oral and aural. That may be why I immediately recognised the stories or felt the stories by their voice and began to think that this new writer had caught hold of, almost from the start, that enviable and elusive goal in writing, her own voice. Reading them off the page did not change my mind about that. This is a new voice.

The next thing, which struck me about them, was the form. I am a lover of form, what I call the architecture of the story, that narrative structure which is how the story is unfolded; how we are led in, detoured, held in anticipation, made to guess, sympathise with characters, see from the point of view of a particular narrator. For example, a drive out to the country to buy a car in The Longest Rope is charged with the sense that something is going to happen, something has happened and that is continuing all the while, is following Katie and then what you thought might be happening is not quite it. It was something else. None of this is done with any kind of fancy techniques. These stories often hold their tension by telling you several stories at the same time; the way films can. Yet there is that one story you’re being told. The achievement is in how all of this is held within a single consciousness, yet giving you a sense of the lives of others.

A woman is stuck at the carrefour in a traffic jam with her young daughter whom she is driving to the airport to send her off to her father in the US. That is the story we are reading, a story of inner terror. It is called Here.  But the three boys walking along the side of the road, who open the story and who preoccupy the narrator is another story of terror, which builds to a dark epiphany, throwing a sombre light onto the whole of the story. And those two stories are infiltrated by the parental stories of this woman: burying a father, a mother’s three marriages, and the imagined life of the estranged father of her daughter. These are all going on in her head while we are dramatically drawn into these lives and characters as we climb Sans Souci Hill and make for the airport; held up at the carrefour with life vividly buzzing around outside the window, giving you the island in all its frenetic splendour: the commerce of poverty, its entrepreneurs of deprivation. Still, the three boys are walking alongside the road into their future.

You can read these stories as individual stories, each has a life of its own, but either because of the way they are arranged and/or because of the time scale in which they were written, they connect and speak to each other. This is a nice added quality to this collection of stories so that as you read you get ideas and landscapes reinforced, explored differently; each time some subtle shift in point of view, some bubbling up of a feeling you had three stories back, builds a larger world, a deeper insight.

Economy of language and variety of character mark these stories. I would read them right through the first time if I were you. They read easily though they are not stories to put you at ease. They are meant to disturb us, to disturb us morally. They do disturb.

Mostly, as I have said, these are stories in the voice of an ‘I’ narrator, a woman. There is a male narrator who tells one story and when there is third person narration we are in the consciousness of a woman mostly. But these are not stories just for women. Women’s stories were never just for women. 

There is a realism about theses stories that is disturbed by the unusual as in The Ward and Killing Moons which take us into a different world where the stories seek metaphors and analogies for poverty, alienation and deprivation. The old enemies of race and class are snakes in the grass of this modernity and ‘development’ the characters are besieged by on their island. But, nothing is overdone as they speak of and to our time.

In all of these stories you are in a language of grounded clarity whose tone is one you know and speak but is not fussed over to indulge any cult of the dialect. There is wit, irony, and the speaking voices are authentic. There is a truth about these stories. You find yourself smiling wryly with the author/narrator. This is a world that this writer knows well. Colour, smell. taste, touch and the sounds of this familiar world are sensuously apprehended and rendered with out any indulgence. Moments of beauty can turn harsh and lead you back to the dark visions of many of these stories. The beauty of place is there, while the inner and outer terror keeps its own pace.

This is a dark Trinidad. As the blurb so aptly puts it: ‘The crime, drug abuse and corruption that form part of everyday life in larger nations become magnified on a small island.’ Yet, this is not an issue book. It is more a map of the heart but without sentimentality.

The title story Four Taxis Facing North again gives you the familiar and yet you’ve never seen it in quite this way. Here there is a shift in genre. This is a visionary story, a hard one to do. But even here the grounded quality of the real helps the flights of the narrator to be credible once you can suspend your disbelief. There is warmth, despite the darkness and there is a love for the place which you feel might have been destroyed for other narrators. There is humour and comfort from one who perceives more than we do.  

My very favourite story back in 2004 was The Dolphin’s Smile and it remained so on more recent reading. This is a powerful orchestration of a large number of characters at different times in their life, in different places, living out different events which interconnect and shape the lives we are introduced to at the event, the funeral, which is the setting of the story. I think this is a very filmic story. This is part of the contemporariness of these stories. So many moments of the past brought back into this one moment build and build to the irrevocable conclusion which you had suspected from the beginning but you did not want to happen, and yet you knew it had to, because you are made to feel, with the narrator, from the start, the sadness of that fact way back in Robby’s life.

A child’s birthday party in The Party is another of these stories of entrapment: a woman trapped in a marriage, in a house, in a family, on an island. It’s the dry season, a terrible dry season. We all know those moments of preparation for a celebration which seem to be going wrong from the start and the myriad inner and outer occurrences which conspire to create terror in the heart. And the dogs have arrived!   Those things we put in place for our safety, which may never make us safe.

In Pine Hill a moral dilemma and a consequential guilt creates a disjuncture in the story. It takes a shift into another point of view, which reveals truths, which the characters should know if they are to live in their world with responsibility and not be victims of a fear born of prejudice and bigotry. They must act. This story offers a sense of the greatest possibility of hope. We must understand in order to act. Of course, the hope lies in the writing, in the very language that has been shaped by the author, she shaped by a world of paradoxical beauty and fear. This is how the catharsis of the stories works.

These are deeply moral stories, but not stories with morals. They are not religious. They hint at some characters’ religious solutions. But there is a sense in which those solutions are part of the moral miasma that creates the terror that entraps the characters.

Four Taxis Facing North is a strong first book to be proud of. It is one, which I think will find many readers who will want to read and reread these stories and tell their friends to buy this collection. Then they’ll say, is there anything else by her?

We look forward to this author’s next book, as we offer her the very best wishes for the success of this one.

Congratulations Lizzie, if I may be allowed the familiar at the end. Many thanks for inviting me to speak for these stories at such a special moment for you, as you offer them to us. 

Thank you.