A Jamaican Childhood

Voices Across Borders

The Blog of the Race and Resistance Research Network at TORCH

Posted by: Monique Ewen

Date: 15 December 2014

A Jamaican Childhood – Thomas Glave

On November 27th 2014, as part of the Kellogg College Creative Writing Seminar Series, Professor Thomas Glave spoke on the topic, “Secretive Women, Taboos, and Dangerous Sex”.  Glave presented draft chapters from his current project, Scenes from a Jamaican Childhood, which explores themes now familiar in his work—of race and sexuality in Jamaica, and homo-erotic longing, desire, and memory—in an autobiographical context.

The central theme of these chapters was the role of colonialism in creating hypocrisies in Jamaican culture, particularly in the way relationships are structured, perceived, and spoken about. Glave dwelt on the time he spent as a child in the care of his grandmothers and older aunts.  ‘The words and stories of these women were a formative part of my imaginative landscape,’ he said. He noted that as a child he was not to make his presence felt, and yet it was in conforming to this instruction that he was able to listen to the stories he was not supposed to hear.

In this way he first learned about hypocrisy. He would, for example, hear his grandmother and her friends complaining about a woman who was sleeping with a man of darker colour than herself and then see them smile at the same woman, and ask her about her family.

Glave provided renditions (and translations) of Jamaican sayings from this time that had the Kellogg College audience in stitches. These simultaneously acknowledged and denied the existence of homosexuality and women’s sexuality, and were so shocking that he still remembers them decades later.

Glave gave a detailed and visceral account of his first sexual encounter, which was with a white English boy. ‘It wasn’t until that moment that I understood that white people were fully human,’ Glave said.

Jamaica had recently acquired ‘post-colonial’ status, although Glave said this meant very little at the time. It was only later that he linked it to the strict social policing of class based on skin colour, with fairer skin being seen as more valuable. Looking back now, Glave understands that for him it was the intimate, consensual contact with the white boy that began to break down otherwise endemic racial barriers. 

Monique Ewen is completing her MSt in Creative Writing and working on a travel book about couch surfing and local forms of resistance across Europe. 


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The viewpoints expressed in Voices Across Borders are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Oxford.

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