I was in primary school at Lower Morvant Government before I realized that other people’s fathers lived with them. It never occurred to me before I saw Michelle Rosales’ father in her front porch, sitting there as though he had every right to do so. “He lives with you? All the time?” I asked her, baffled. “Why?”
My own father did not live with us but rather in his wife's apartment. I remember his wife as a stern and distant lady who slept all day, like a bear, only rousing herself to make very sweet Milo and bread and butter sandwiches for my brother and me whenever we were in her apartment. I lived with my mother, sisters and brother in a house Daddy built for my mom a little distance away. But my brother and I were often in dad's home for long stretches. We were, in essence, an extended family.
Nobody seemed to find it strange that we were more or less an extension of the household which consisted of: my father Rito Allen, a welder with a successful muffler and water tank factory; his wife Sarah, a bipolar and heavily medicated former teacher; me; my brother Dennis; and my mother, Dolores Ollivierre, my father’s factotum in the muffler factory and generally acknowledged love of his life.
Mummy had other children: I was the last of nine. Daddy, too: he had a son and another daughter. Being the last, and the child who looked most like him, I was often accused of being spoiled. Maybe I was. But since my brother was the one who got the electric race car set and I never got the Sindy dolly I begged for, I differ with this interpretation.
My own children, who are 16 and 9, are both writers. I blame myself.
Growing up, I saw myself as a poet, although I also wrote short fiction and plays. I thought journalism was whoring out God-given talent, so it came as a surprise to me, if to no-one else, that I would become a journalist with the Express while finishing my BA in English at UWI. I moved over to the Guardian after a couple of years and have been there, more or less, ever since. I write features on anything you could think of, except sports, and have written commentary in a variety of genres. I am proudest of the weekly column I write, mostly in Trinidadian creole, for the Guardian. It covers a range of topics. Except sports. I also write for the Caribbean Beat magazine and the Caribbean Review of Books.
I was a performance poet for years after I first did it on stage at my alma mater Bishop Anstey High School in the school's Miss Anstey contest. I self-published a book of poems, Something to Say, when I was 18 and I’m now working on a poetry manuscript with Vahni Capildeo as my writing coach. She’s making my poems look good—an impressive feat. In between, I appeared on a CD and tour called Ten Sisters with my old friend Paula Obe and a host of powerful women.
I started writing long fiction about five years ago. My first novel was published by Macmillan Caribbean as part of the Island Fiction series in 2008. The Chalice Project is a children’s sci-fi adventure book set in Trinidad. I wrote it to be part of a three-book series, so cross your fingers that parts II and III are commissioned, too.
WHEN + WHERE?
When I was a little girl I was sexually abused by an older relative. I think a lot of the pain I went through as a teenager and young adult had to do with that experience, and in some ways it continues to affect me. Thinking about it, and seeing the way our society has lurched ahead without fully dealing with how prevalent this problem is, I started a project last year on the topic. My manuscript is about halfway through. The protagonist is nothing like me, though we share that common history of child sexual abuse. Unlike me, she has let it completely shape her life.
It’s a hard story to write, even though it’s not my story, and I want to do it well. She doesn’t want pity, but she does need sensitivity and there is a brutality to the story that I don’t want to shade out. Writing her is balancing those elements. Wayne Brown was my coach on the project but he passed away a few months ago. It wasn’t unexpected but it was still a shock and I haven’t recovered. It was only a few weeks ago that I stopped checking my inbox for messages from him. Monique Roffey is coaching me on the project now, and I hope to finish it early next year.
I write because I can’t not write. It’s one of the four things I do best. (Two of the other things are cooking and parenting.) This is why God made me.
SAY SOMETHING DEEP (ABOUT ART):
We need art. It is not about beauty, because much of art isn’t beautiful at all. We need beauty, too, but it’s not the same as art. Art is a mirror showing us ourselves and what we could become, for good or ill. For me it’s right up there with food, water, shelter and sex.
ASK THE QUESTION YOU WANTED ME TO ASK:
What would the world be like without Lisa Allen-Agostini? A little sadder, a little smaller, a little meaner. But probably a little better disposed towards small dogs, and a lot more patient.
(BTW WE SHOULD ADD:)
Lisa Allen-Agostini lives in Diego Martin, Trinidad. This is what she looks like:
Photo courtesy Richard Acosta. Header photo by Andre Bagoo.
READ from Trinidad Noir here. BROWSE more about the book here and LISTEN to a podcast with Lisa at Caribbean Free Radio here. CHECK out The Chalice Project here. This/discourse/has/no/ start(middle)nd is an interview series featuring the responses of Trinidad artists to a set questionnaire. FIND out more about it here.