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Patricia Powell Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Me Dying Trial (1993) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Pagoda (1998) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
A Small Gathering of Bones (2003) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Fullness of Everything (2009) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Patricia Powell is a Jamaican award-winning literary fiction author who currently lives in the United States. Powell was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica in 1966 and moved to the US with her parents when she was a teenager. In the United States, she went to Wellesley College from where she got her bachelor’s in English. She would later attend Brown University and graduated with an MFA in fiction learning under Michael Ondaatje. She published her first novel “Me Dying Trial” in 1993 and has since then published three other novels that include “The Pagoda,” “A Small Gathering of Bones” and “The Fullness of Everything.” Powell has been a fiction professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. She is currently at Mills College where she is an associate professor of English.

Powell was an economics major when she took her first creative writing course in university. This was the turning point when the light bulb came on and all the bottled up feelings of loss came bubbling to the surface. She was about twenty years at the time and had been in the United States for about four years. Writing stirred up feelings of the people and home she had left behind in Jamaica that she would never see again though she loved them so much. One such person was her aunt who makes an appearance in the form of Aunt Cora in “Me Dying Trial.” She had died soon after she left Jamaica and as such her writing provided some cathartic effect as it brought back the larger than life love, the stories and laughter she had left behind. As long as she was writing, she could get close to the people and the stories which filled her imagination just like they do for her characters. In the men smoking, drinking and talking shop at the bar and the people whiling away the time in the village, her stories are all about her home, the people she loved and her memories. Through her writing, she has confronted her biggest fears and given voice to her deepest pain. She has celebrated gay love in the Caribbean known for its intense homophobia, written about sexual abuse in families, and wrote about the experience of Chinese immigrants. While she believes that “Me Dying Trial” was her biggest breakthrough, it was with “A Small Gathering of Bones” that made her into the socially conscious being she is. Powell says her mission is to raise spiritual, social and political questions that challenge beliefs, provoke thought, help people through devastation and help them deal with complex issues in their lives.

Just like many of her contemporaries, she has been influenced by other authors particularly in the portrayal of her characters and her settings. She particularly loves V.S. Naipaul’s bitter humor, cruel and sharp eye in “A House for Mr. Biswas” and she read the novel a lot when she was researching “The Pagoda.” Naipaul particularly helped her appreciate the banality of village life in the then fledgling Jamaica. Aspects of life such as long and winding conversations, the light in the afternoon, riding a horse or donkey down the road, and the fauna and flora have an uncanny resemblance to the works of the Jamaican great. Another work she read that may have influenced her conception of life for minorities in her works such as “The Pagoda” that deals with the life of a Chinese immigrant in Jamaica. Powell believes that Nadine Gordimer’s assertion that writing is an invitation is a truism, particularly in her writing life.

Powell’s “Me Dying Trial” was a story she made up to explain her origins since she could not find anyone in her family to tell her the truth about who she was. Representing three generations of women, the novel tells of Gwennie who moves from Jamaica to the United States. It tells of how she and her daughter Peppie are influenced by their upbringing and the people in their lives most important of who is Aunt Cora. It is a novel about perseverance and bravery and the seeking of affection and the richness of life even when it seems that they are unattainable. In “The Pagoda,” Powell tells of a Jamaican society that has the carnivals, costumes, veils and masks. Yet behind it all, she tells of the singular attempt of Mr. Lowe who tries to find dignity and meaning in a society that she finds no acceptance. She paints a world preoccupied with sexual politics, and questions of class and race as her lead craves the fulfillment, purpose and belonging seemingly available to everyone but her. In “A Small Gathering of Bones,” she focuses on the story of the gay community during 1970s Jamaica. The novel is loosely based on a true story of a friend of hers that faced discrimination from not only the community but also his mother and his church. They would not see him when he was taken ill just because he was gay and Powell asserts the devastation of the rejection which she sees as greater than even the contracting of AIDS.

In “Me Dying Trial” we are introduced to a primary school teacher Gwennie who lives in rural Jamaica. She finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage with six children to take care of. She is ever tired and the salary she earns at her job is so little that she cannot get any help. She finally manages to convince her Aunty and mother to help with the children while she pursues higher education. With her brand new certificate, she hopes for new empowerment only to fall pregnant yet again. All her hopes are gone as she believes her lot is never to succeed until her brother gets her a visa to the United States. She has to make one of the hardest decisions in her life. She could leave her drunk husband and her children to be taken care of by the family. Gwennie believes that she has a better chance of carving out a better life for her family in the US but is afraid of what might happen to them when she does leave. It is a three-month visa but three years later she is not yet back only sending back letters every Christmas. How can she bridge the gap of making a better future for herself and the resentment the family and children are beginning to feel towards her?

“The Pagoda” is a story set in 1893 that tells of the complexity of the racial composition of Jamaica. The lead is Mr. Lowe, a Chinese shopkeeper who has been in Jamaica for three decades when his shop is burnt down in a suspected arson attack. It is believed that it was an act of xenophobia against the Chinese who had been brought into the country after the emancipation of the slaves. The story follows the travails of the life of Mr. Lowe who has lived a happy and simple life after having had a difficult life in China. He loves his adoptive country and revels in its lush beauty though his past comes back to haunt him. It chronicles his exile from China, his voyage and an unwanted pregnancy that finally results in an arrangement to avoid a scandal that lands Lowe in a marriage with Miss Sylvie. The two have an erotic, vivid and complex relationship full of secrets though Mr. Lowe has the bigger and more startling secret.

Patricia Powell’s “A Small Gathering of Bones” is set in 1978 and is the story of Dale Singleton and his friend Ian Kaysen. Kaysen seems to have an untreatable and mysterious illness characterized by dementia, pneumonia, and lesions. The novel chronicle the early days of the AIDS epidemic and how it puzzled those who were afflicted by it and their loved ones. It is also the story of Jamaica as it struggled with the acceptance of gay people as deserving of dignity just like heterosexual people. Dale’s world is collapsing all around him given that his life is constricted by the middle-class culture, family and church that expect him to conform to their heterosexual norms.

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