Nicole Dennis-Benn On Who Owns Jamaica

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn conversation with FBC members

In collaboration with Kaymara at Decentered Lit, Feminist Book Club read the book Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn as our pick for March’s Read Caribbean theme. Here Comes the Sun is Dennis-Benn’s debut novel about different Jamaican women who reside in River Bank and how each of their lives are impacted by the deep drive to survive through the tourism industry, environmental impacts, homophobia, and colorism.

Nicole Dennis-Benn so graciously answered members questions with beautiful responses that made you want to hang onto each of her words. Inspired by her own life and the women she has known, Nicole Dennis-Benn responded to many questions a few of which are detailed below.

What does it mean to be feminist?

Nicole Dennis-Benn has always thought of herself as a feminist even though she grew up in a society where there was not a word for it. Dennis-Benn notes that the strong and independent women that raise children are also the ones who run the businesses that you see in Jamaica and keep the tourism industry afloat with their hard work. In both of her books, Dennis-Benn has sought to answer the questions “what do we lose or gain when we choose ourselves as women?” and “who owns Jamaica?” The former question is answered in her sophomore novel Patsy, while Here Comes the Sun seeks to answer the latter.

How did you decide on the cover of Here Comes the Sun?

Although Nicole Dennis-Benn did not have a great deal of say in the cover of the book, she felt great love for the cover when she saw it for the first time because she would see the different characters, Delores, Margot, Verdene, and Thandi represented in the people illustrated. Additionally, Dennis-Benn was drawn to the Rastafarian colors that are tied to Jamaica and what you would see for sale to tourists in an area like Montego Bay.

The title, “Here Comes the Sun” utilizes the symbol of the sun to show the darkness and desperation that is on the other side of tourism and what Jamaica is trying to be sold as. The characters in her book are darker skin Jamaican people and were taught to fear the sun because of darkness being equated with less opportunities. Additionally, the sun was written as a symbol to illuminate the other side of “paradise” and to give names and faces to the women who are helping the tourism industry survive.

How are the themes of mother-daughter relationships and queer identities present in your novels?

Inspired by Toni Morrison’s quote, “write the books you wish to read,” Nicole Dennis-Benn took this to heart and wanted to write books that she can feel represented in. Specifically, Dennis-Benn wanted to read books about Jamaican women who are lesbians and she is not afraid to be defined by her queer themes and characters because she is writing first for herself.

What are your thoughts on unlikable characters?

When reading this book it becomes apparent that Delores, Margot and Thandi’s mother, is not a very likable woman. She does not have the loving or coddling nature about her that readers so often expect from a mother character. Nicole Dennis-Benn says that this is because of her upbringing in Jamaica and the need to be strong and independent for survival. Likewise, Delores was taught from such a young age and it was passed onto Margot that “nobody loves a black girl, not even herself.” The women in this novel were raised to believe that no one is going to be put on a pedestal for the work that they do and that it is their responsibility to work so that someday in the distant future, a better life may be attained.

What inspired you to write this book from multiple characters perspectives, and how did these perspectives contribute to the themes of sexuality, the environment, and capitalism?

Nicole Dennis-Benn knew from the beginning that this book would be told from multiple perspectives, however, she was not completely aware of how defining Margot’s role would be in this novel. Dennis-Benn was inspired to write this book in 2010 after a visit home to Jamaica and wrote primarily from Thandi’s voice to channel the angst that she felt when she went to school as a teenager and how she was an outsider at her school due to class differences. That being said, Margot is like Dennis-Benn’s alter ego as she has a great deal of anger due to feeling like an outsider because of her sexuality and also her drive to have “a piece of the pie.” Interestingly, Delores was the last voice that Dennis-Benn wrote and Delores was written as the voice of the post-colonial scars in Jamaica and how the intergenerational trauma is passed on throughout families. With all of this in mind, although Verdene was not the most elaborated on in the book, Nicole Dennis-Benn feels that in reality, she is the closest to Verdene because of how she left a country that never claimed her back as both a woman and a lesbian.

What books or writers from Jamaica to you suggest we read to continue learning?

Nicole Dennis-Benn highly recommends These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card that our founder Renee has also read thanks to the recommendation of Kaymara from Decentered Lit. She also recommends A Tall History of Sugar that was recently published in 2019 by author, Curdella Forbes.

HerAlthough Nicole Dennis-Benn does not have a defined ending planned for the characters from Here Comes the Sun, she wants the readers to envision where her characters end up after they have closed the 345 beautiful pages. Dennis-Benn answered these questions and more during our hour long chat at the end of March and if you have not done so already, make sure you read her debut novel and her sophomore novel Patsy to understand why everyone is so rightfully in love with her writing and storytelling.

April’s theme is environmental justice and our members picked the book, As Long As Grass Grows. Author, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, will be answering questions with us on Monday, April 26. Consider joining us and listen to this podcast episode if you need a primer!

Claudia Neu has a passion for language immersion and intersectional children's literature. When she is not working with children or reading, you can find Claudia cuddling with her cat or trying to keep her houseplants alive. Check out her instagram @claudianeureads for more book recommendations and reviews. Favorite genres: queer literature, contemporary fiction, and young adult.

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