For some, masterful, written expression is as alien a craft as the hexagonal, prismatic, honeycomb construction of the homes of bees. For others, it is as second nature as inhaling air. Chadia Mathurin is of the latter kind. Not only is the 26-year-old creative a dauntless voice in the literary sphere but she continues to make her mark as a fittingly self-titled, “serial entrepreneur”.
Notches under her belt include three published books and a company of which she is majority owner: Wakonté Publishing, a publishing house with a mandate to provide platforms for African and Caribbean writers. She is also the facilitator of major regional projects including The Letters Project which, in 2017, conveyed the intimate thoughts of four Caribbean writers to readers around the world. Her most recent venture, Project 50,000, aimed at raising US$25,000 for projects and organisations in Africa and the Caribbean through book sales, was recently launched. We caught up with the artistic powerhouse for a session of ‘gem dropping’.
Can you take us on a brief journey through your life? Where/when along the way did this passion for writing come to be?
CHADIA: For as long as I’ve known myself I’ve always loved words. I was the nerdy kid with her head always buried in a book. Then, words were just about my entertainment; keeping me occupied.
At about 11 years old I understood the capacity of words as a weapon. I was, and still am very small in stature, and even at 11 a sure young woman (perhaps a bit too sure for the liking of others). I was also ludicrously verbose (in keeping with the ways of those of my hometown: The People’s Republic of Laborie), intense, and again even at 11, very Alpha. I think these traits annoyed the sensibilities of my classmates and even some of my teachers and I was bullied because of them. The weapon of my detractors was “words”. I think I cried quite a few times in class and I possibly still carry a chip on my shoulder. Of course, never to be outdone, I learnt to give better than I got (not something I’m proud of) and I think I left secondary with a reputation for being able to effortlessly cut and break with my use of language.
Between the ages of 12 and 15 I discovered the power of words/language as a source of belonging to community and throughout these years I used them, balancing my adoption of slang when hanging with the “guys” and maintaining my verbosity and wit when chilling with other crowds . So I’ve always loved words but I think I became passionate about writing after an encounter with my Fourth Form English teacher, Ms. Ava Gustave.
I think in encountering her, my subconsciousness about the power and capabilities of words became a consciousness. Her passion for words and all of its capabilities and her demonstration of its precision made me want to write to establish philosophy on life, write to express my innermost thoughts. But I never expected that I would write books this early in my life span. Fate and circumstance intervened. Otherwise, my path was set to becoming a ruthless attorney.
What has led you to this mission of service to African and Caribbean writers/artists?
CHADIA: I think service to African and Caribbean writers/artists is a small part of what my overall mission is. But I think it’s one of the most elemental parts of what I do. I think I’ve set out to serve the developing or “third” world by aiding/contributing to their developmental agenda by providing platforms where we can tell our stories in our own words.
It sounds like a simple enough mandate. But it’s impact is far-reaching and affects every facet of our lives.
It affects the evolution of our culture, our way of life and how we’re viewed within the international system. It affects our politics, our economics, our ability to trade fairly, and our sense of pride in our countries and regions.
The stories we tell determine whether our sons and daughters will opt to attend the region’s premier institutes of higher learning or whether they will seek out the cold of other lands. The stories we tell will determine whether our sons and daughters will become consumers or producers. The stories we tell.
So what has led me? Seeing these regions transformed and developed through the stories we tell.
If I’m not mistaken, the human condition/experience seems to be at the centre of your work thus far. What inspires you to take on the themes & subjects you do in your writing?
CHADIA: You’re not at all mistaken. I do hold a fascination for and curiosity about human behavior. I am fascinated by what makes us do what we do and I am hopeful that we can be better.
I think my worldview, largely influenced by Christian theology, also has a big part to play in shaping the themes and subjects that I write on. Christian theology says that while, due to sin, man is inherently depraved, there is room for redemption. That redemption comes ultimately through the work of God in Christ Jesus but I also believe that human salvation is in due part related to the “works” of man. I recently listened to a song from a a Trini brederin’ of mine where his dad is featured, and he states it beautifully: “Salvation involves two important causalities. God at work and man at work.”
But I digress. I was saying, I think therein comes my exploration of the human experience/condition and the push towards “perfection”- or some form of it – as a means of remedying the ills found; that though we are “this” through sin that we can some how be salvaged (humans, countries and regions) or redeemed if we do things the “right” way.
Can you speak on outcomes from “The Letters Project?” Did you and your team meet your targets?
CHADIA: Our targets for The Letters Project are set to be measured over the span of a year. But for now, I think the Letters Project has done fairly well. Three of the books hit the Amazon Bestselling List in their categories and we’ve sold hundreds of books across the Caribbean and the diaspora. I would love it if we can hit our individual targets which presently stand at 5,000 copies of each book.
Your project goals speak of your ambition. Can you walk us through your process when setting your goals and targets?
CHADIA: I can’t necessarily speak to a process because I don’t really have one. But when I embark on any project or entrepreneurial endeavor, I do so with the intent that it positively impacts the development of my community, my country, my region and my world. I’ve been bit by the development bug. I’m always about bettering things and doing so in a sustainable fashion.
As for my goals, I set impossible goals and I try my best to hit them. Sometimes I fail, but I get up, dust off and keep walking.
Last year seemed like it was an eventful year for you and Wakonté Publishing, what was one of the biggest lessons you learned in 2017?
CHADIA: Don’t be too proud to beg? *chuckles*.
Those who have been following this project from its inception know that at some point in time, we opted to raise funds to help bring it into fruition. We did so via crowdfunding and really and truly it was our absolute last resort. None of us (the authors) really wanted to do it. We felt that it would skew the perception of those looking in. But we were pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of support, not just through words, but people supported us with their finances.
In 2017 I learnt that not everyone will support you. But there are more people who are willing to support you than you know. That support will also come from unexpected places.
Have you ever considered publishing works in other literary genres?
CHADIA: Definitely. I think I have a couple more manuscripts on the human experience/condition. However, I’ve purposed that I will take up the challenge of writing works in other genres including: development theory (academia), and fiction. I used to love to read a good romance novel and I think I started writing a few of them back in the day. So it would be interesting to see what I come up with in the future.
What does Chadia Mathurin do to unwind? (Other than writing of course)
CHADIA: I love music and I play a couple of instruments decently so when I’m not reading, writing or dealing with some fall back from one of my entrepreneurial endeavors, I’m writing music on my keyboard and trying my hand at music production. You can also find me binge watching shows on International Politics, Drug Lords or shows such as Married At First Sight. Again, my fascination with human behavior.
Speak to the young and old writers and artists in our region, any words of advice or encouragement?
CHADIA: I don’t feel worthy enough to give advice as an artist or writer. But as someone keen on the development of our region, I would say to writers and artists in our region,
“Third world problems and all, our stories, just as they are, are enchanting, instructive and deserving of global recognition.We often shy away from them because somehow, we believe that they make us seem less progressive. But they are necessary, for they remind the world of a simpler and freer time and in other cases, they enlighten us to paths forward.
Stories of sleeping in mud huts and kitchens unattached from general living spaces – stories of children walking barefooted to school and drinking water from standpipes – should be told with as great a pride as we share our stories of our increasing urban-ness and towering buildings. They should be told boldly and proudly without one ever having to feel the pressure to color them with metropolis in the name of more widespread acceptance.”
In more succinct terms, I would say, “You have just as important a role as a statesman, diplomat or entrepreneur – a possibly even greater role – to play in the development of our region. Your words and your art shape and color our experiences for those looking in. Take up the mantle.”