Author of Callaloo
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t start officially writing plays and books until I was twenty-five. But I always kept a journal since I was about eight years old. I never told myself I wanted to be a writer because I didn’t know that was even a job. But I loved stories. I loved the arts. I knew I wanted to be a professional artist when I was thirteen.
What inspired your book?
What inspired this book was my mom and the Caribbean traditions that have been passed down in my family. My mom used to tell me scary stories about folklore characters from Trinidad and Tobago (where she was born) and I used these stories as the foundation of my children’s book. I did extensive research on the history of these oral traditions then combined this history with imaginary characters that were loosely based on my childhood.
What is the story behind selecting your title?
Originally, the book was a play. I could not figure out the title of the play for months. It wasn’t until I decided on the magical food that is featured in the book, did I decide it should be called “Callaloo” (and later turned into a book series, Callaloo Kids). I chose Callaloo because it’s the official dish of Trinidad and Tobago but it’s also a dish rooted in West Africa and has roots throughout the entire African Diaspora. Callaloo is symbolic for the mixing cultures of Trinidad but also throughout the entire Diaspora. Black culture is a mixing of many cultures that creates something beautiful. Callaloo is famous in the Caribbean, but made differently in islands such as Jamaica, Grenada and Barbados. In New Orleans and the Gullahs their Callaloo-like dish is called Gumbo or Collard Greens and in Puerto Rico it’s called Asopao. I love how beautifully connected our black culture is through our food traditions.
What advice would you give a child who wants to become a writer?
The advice I would give to a child who wants to become a writer is to take in
stories wherever you can. Of course, reading books is great, but you can also go to the
museum, watch movies, listen to music, look at visual art or play with dolls. Once you come
up with your stories, try to write them down in a notebook. Your stories will get better and
better the more you write them down.
What has been the toughest criticism of your book?
The toughest criticism of my book has been that it is too scary for children. I
feel like people have said this only because they don’t understand Caribbean folklore or look
at it as demonic storytelling but to me, these characters and storylines are no different than
the popular folklore stories of Europe.
Marjuan Canady Website: www.marjuancanady.com