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Caryl Phillips


NYS Writers Institute Reading - September 28, 2005
4:00 Informal Seminar | Assembly Hall, CC
8:00 p.m. Reading | Recital Hall, PAC
UAlbany, Uptown Campus

West Indian-born novelist and travel writer Caryl Phillips wrote the screenplay of the new Merchant-Ivory film, The Mystic Masseur (2001), which is adapted from an early V. S. Naipaul novel of the same name. The film features Indian movie starlet Ayesha Dharker, whose American film credits include City of Joy (1992) and Star Wars: Episode II (due 2002). The Mystic Masseur recounts the meteoric rise of Ganesh Ramsumair, a poor Trinidadian schoolteacher who becomes a masseur for the rich, then a popular mystic, and finally an almost-English gentleman named G. Ramsay Muir.

Caryl Phillips' latest book, The Atlantic Sound (2000, Knopf, ISBN 0-375-40-110-5), is a brilliant, meditative piece of travel-writing that retraces the "Triangular Trade," a sea route taken by commercial vessels in the 18th and 19th centuries. The three corners of the infamous Triangle included Africa, a source of slaves, the New World, a source of raw materials, and Europe, a source of finished goods. Phillips, an Afro-British writer born on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and raised in Leeds, begins his journey on a banana boat that sails from Guadeloupe to England. His investigations and musings focus on three important cities in the Triangle: Liverpool, an important manufacturing center that grew rich from Atlantic commerce; Accra, Ghana, a major slave-trading center on the West African coast; and Charleston, South Carolina, one of the biggest slave markets in North America.

"A splendidly honest and vividly detailed venture into some of history's darkest corners--by a novelist who is also a superb reporter." - Kirkus Reviews

". . .an especially poignant and uniquely personalized history of the Atlantic slave trade." - Booklist

Phillips' most recent work of fiction is The Nature of Blood (1997), which is a multi-layered historical narrative that dramatizes the persecution of outsiders by Europeans in various times and places. The central story focuses on a Holocaust survivor and her failure to find peace and stability in England. Other threads follow the fates of Jewish moneylenders in 15th century Venice, and an Ethiopian Jew seeking acceptance in modern day Israel.

Phillips has written numerous scripts for film, theater, radio and television. Other books include the first novel The Final Passage (1985), The European Tribe (1987), Cambridge (1991), Crossing the River (1993) and The Nature of Blood (1997). He has received numerous awards--the Malcolm X Prize for Literature, the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Lannan Literary Award among them. Phillips received his B.A. from Queen's College, Oxford. He teaches currently at Barnard College where he is a Professor of English and Henry R. Luce Professor of Migration and Social Order.

"Like Jonathan Raban and the early V. S. Naipaul, Phillips can do truly live reportage. The honesty and detail force you to experience what the writer is going through. . .The stillness beneath his words is what makes Caryl Phillips such an exceptional writer and this book so compelling." - The Observer

Caryl Phillips was also a guest of the Writers Institute on October 25, 2001.

The Atlantic SoundCambridgeCrossing the RiverThe European TribeThe Nature of Blood

Previous Articles:
Sunday Gazette Article
Writers Online Magazine
Caryl Phillips Web site

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.