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Merle Hodge Edit Profile

novelist , writer

Trinidadian writer and essayist Merle Hodge has spent most of her life exploring the Caribbean cultural identity from the perspective of a post-colonial writer. In its most generic characterization, "post-colonial" is that which has been preceded by colonization. In Hodge's case, her writing portrays the influence of colonial education, language, and culture on the colonized.


Hodge was born in Curepe, Trinidad, in 1944. She was one of four daughters and for many years lived in an extended family setting where her grandmother served as caretaker while both parents worked.


She completed her primary and secondary schooling in Trinidad. In 1962, when she graduated from Bishop Antsey High School, she was awarded a Trinidad and Tobago Girls Island Scholarship that enabled her to study abroad. That same year, she left Trinidad just a few days before it achieved independence from Britain to study at London University College.

Completing her studies in French, she received a Baccalaureate in Arts with honors in 1965 and later a Master of Philosophy in 1967, writing her thesis on writer Léon Damas and the Négritude movement. (The Négritude movement seeks to recover and define the richness of black cultural values in reaction to the dominant values of European colonialism. Négritude implies the total acceptance of African heritage.)


It was during her graduate studies that Hodge began to write Crick Crack, Monkey, a fictional autobiographical study of the effects of colonial social and cultural values on the Trinidadrian female. It is narrated from the voice of a child (Tee) who, according to Hodges, represents Caribbean culture in its infancy. In the novel we experience Tee's development from child to young woman. It presents the bittersweet experiences of a little girl growing up in Trinidad the cultural ambivalences, the alienation and isolation she feels being torn between two worlds. During the late 1960s, while working on this novel, Hodges traveled around eastern and western Europe, supporting herself by typing and babysitting.

In the early 1970s she returned to Trinidad and taught French, English, and West Indian literature in a school in Port-of-Spain. Shortly thereafter, she was appointed lecturer in French at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica, where she began work on her doctorate and completed the translation of Pigments, a collection of poetry by Damas. She left UWI in 1979 for the neighboring island of Grenada, where Prime Minister Maurice Bishop appointed her to a curriculum development post with the responsibility of developing a socialist education program for the island. However, Hodge was forced to flee Grenada in 1983 during the turmoil resulting from the assassination of Prime Minister Bishop and the resulting invasion of the U.S. military forces.

On her return, she worked as a freelance writer and lecturer until her appointment to the Women and Development Studies program at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. In 1993 she published her second novel, The Life of Laetitia, a story about a young Caribbean girl's first year in a school away from home. This novel has been described as "at once a magical coming-of-age story and a nightmarish tale of a young girl's psychological disintegration" (Cohen 1993, 24). She provides insights into the problems faced by women who are raised in a colonialist educational system. Most critics agree that Hodge's literary impact is based on her ability to articulate through fiction and essays critical perspectives on the impact of colonialism in the Caribbean.

Hodge presently is a lecturer at the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of West indies, St. Augustine Campus. In addition to her novels and short stories, Hodge has written essays and articles on the Caribbean family. In her essays she argues against the imposition of Western values and social constructs to define the concept of family in the Caribbean. In her view, current sociological posits about "broken" or "fragmented" families are culturally loaded and tied to issues of social class: "The Caribbean is not a big mental asylum. What these studies are forgetting is the business of economics. Usually the people who are to be found in nuclear families are people who are economically better off".


Overall, whether through fiction or essay, Merle Hodge's writing is concerned with social justice for everyone; as she puts it: ". . . so as a society we shall have attained to a rare degree of civilization when the rich diversity of our racial and cultural characteristics implies no conflict with the fact of our being people".