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Author Tanya Shields Explores Caribbean Heritage

Author Tanya Shields Explores Caribbean Heritage

Posted by Shanelle Weir on September 10, 2014

As a Caribbean woman, Tanya Shields said she’s always wanted to understand the circumstances of generations of women in her family — some of which are still present today.

In her new book, “Bodies and Bones: Feminist Rehearsal and Imagining Caribbean Belonging,” Shields, a women’s and gender studies professor, said she tried to focus on Caribbean women who are often impacted by government policies but are seldom involved in making them.

“I was born in Guyana, and I am very interested in the lives of people in the region and the ways in which they confront difficult histories and still manage to create a world full of possibility amidst often punishing economic and increasingly dismal environmental circumstances,” Shields said in an email.

Shields will be discussing her book at Bull’s Head Bookshop today. She said the book helped her combat her own biases, prejudices and early dismissals.

“I wanted to understand how those biases shape and inform my intellectual pursuits, but also how biases — historical and personal — influence how people belong to a place, specifically in the Caribbean.”

Shields said she was particularly inspired by the famous story of Solitude, a woman from the Caribbean island Guadeloupe, who is regarded as a national hero after she was executed for fighting Napoleon Bonaparte’s re-imposition of slavery.

But Shields said recent research shows Solitude was not executed. Instead, Solitude died in prison after being held for more than 40 years.

“The reaction to the second possibility was very disruptive to the story that most Guadeloupeans held dear. There is a way in which Solitude as a prisoner, which I still think is powerful, is not as sexy or intriguing as Solitude as a martyr,” Shields said. “So digesting the possibility of this story was deeply unsettling to the people I spoke to about it.”

Kyle McKay, marketing and events manager at Bull’s Head Bookshop, said the store has an open-door policy for any UNC professor to come and do readings.

“We’re always really excited to be a platform for any UNC faculty to come and to share from the work that they’ve recently done and had published,” he said. “To see that we have such world-renowned professors that are experts in their fields and to hear a little bit more about the work that they’re doing is a great opportunity.”

Merle Collins, an English professor at the University of Maryland and Shields’ mentor, said Shields has always had an interest in exploring what it means to be Caribbean.

“In this book, she’s looking at nationalism, women’s place in the struggle for a Caribbean sense of self and folk branding of gender,” she said. “She has always been interested in looking at what women in particular have to contribute to the stories of nations.”

Shields said in addition to attendees learning more about the Caribbean, she hopes readers learn to challenge themselves and recognize that other perspectives have legitimacy.

“I hope they work out the hard questions that confront us all and the deep misconceptions we have about each other,” she said.

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