Jasmine Sealy is a Bajan – Canadian writer based in Vancouver, BC. Her work has been published in The New Quarterly, Adda Stories, Cosmonauts Avenue, GEIST, Room and elsewhere. She has been previously longlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Jasmine Sealy’s novel, An Island of Forgetting, will be released in April, 2022. It was the winner of the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. HarperCollins acquiring editor Janice Zawerbny said “Jasmine is a vibrant new talent and her debut novel – the story of one Barbadian family over the course of more than a half century – is an enthralling and impressive work of imagination and storytelling.”
Interviewed by Jennifer Caloyeras
Jennifer Caloyeras (JC): What was the impetus for writing your debut novel, An Island of Forgetting?
Jasmine Sealy (JS): The greatest impetus of all, a deadline! The novel began as my MFA thesis and there’s nothing like the threat of paying another semester’s tuition to motivate you to finish a draft.
JC: What writers have most influenced your work?
JS: Zadie Smith is always the lodestar I think of first. Stylistically, Jesmyn Ward awes me time and time again. Jane Austen is my security blanket. I can open a copy of Pride & Prejudice to any page and immediately be sucked in, only to end up reading the whole book for the 100th time.
JC: Your novel explores a family saga over a large swath of time. How did you orchestrate such a large cast of characters?
JS: I knew right from the outset that I wanted the novel to be a polyptych, with each character’s story leading linearly into the next, rather than a braided narrative that jumps back and forth in time. There were thematic reasons for this choice, but an added bonus was that it made it much easier to keep track of the timelines!
JC: What are some of the themes explored in your novel?
JS: Time and memory are the two central themes around which the story orbits. I was intrigued by the idea that our own lives can be so influenced by events that occurred before we were born, events that we may not even know occurred or about which we were told only a version of the truth. We can never really know our parents and in a way, this prevents us from every fully knowing ourselves. I’m fascinated by the way myths are created within families, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and how they mutate over time.
How does your own background inform your writing?
All of my characters struggle with a sense of placelessness, of feeling torn between worlds. As an immigrant writer this liminality seeps into everything I write, even when I try to avoid it. My characters are always a little bit ungrounded.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on another novel set in Barbados, this time a work of historical fiction with a murderous twist involving a famous American diva and a beloved prime minister.