PERSONAL: Born in Kingston, Jamaica; son of a policeman and a pharmacist; immigrated to the United States; naturalized citizen; children: two. Religion: Secular Rastafarian. Hobbies and other interests: Music (bass player for reggae band Pipecock Jaxxon).
CAREER: Writer, freelance copywriter, and editor. Founder and artistic director, Calabash International Literary Festival.
AWARDS, HONORS: Critic's Choice, Washington Post, 1998, for Waiting in Vain.
Waiting in Vain, One World/Ballantine Publishing (New York, NY), 1998.
(With E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey, and Marcus Major) Got to Be Real: Four Original Love Stories, New American Library (New York, NY), 2000.
Satisfy My Soul, One World/Ballantine Publishing (New York, NY), 2002.
Short stories "The Ballad of the Sad Chanteuse" and "Black Boy, Brown Girl, Brownstones," published in the anthology Soulfires: Young Black Men on Love and Violence. Works published in Essence, Millimeter, Ebony Man, Black Enterprise, and Billboard.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist Colin Channer wrote in Essence, "When I'm asked about the source of the tensions between Black women and men, I instantly know the answer; The problem with women is men."
Channer continued, "If it appears that I'm being hard on men, it is because I think I must. My art, my existence as a novelist, is a public exploration of my inner life. I write not to discover myself but to write myself into being. Through my fiction, I am attempting to create mosaics of masculinity—male characters who've improvised a life of joy and simple beauty from the shards of their inheritance."
In an interview with a reviewer for American Visions (AV), Channer said his writing career began with writing love letters to girls who didn't like him. The self-proclaimed "Reggae baby," born and reared in Jamaica and an acquaintance of musician Bob Marley, commented that he writes the way Marley wrote: "just vibes and spirits." His idea for Fire, the narrator in Waiting in Vain, came from Marley's song of the same name on his Exodus album. "In this song," said Channer, "you have Marley, the warrior-prophet, showing his vulnerability to love, and this is what happens to Fire. Fire is a strong, well-adjusted man who's vulnerable to this mercurial woman."
In this novel, set in London, New York, and Jamaica, Channer explores the issues of friendship, love, romance, and homosexuality. A. J. "Fire" Heath, is a handsome, sensitive, sophisticated artist and poet born in Jamaica whose career takes him between Jamaica, Soho, and London. Fire meets the stunning Sylvia—an American-born Jamaican dissatisfied with her job as a magazine editor and her relationship with her artdealer boyfriend—at the New York home of Ian, a mutual friend and artist. Fire and Sylvia begin a passionate, tumultuous, and dangerous liaison. The love-hate relationship Ian has with women, his mother, and with Fire, is the catalyst for the rest of the story. Shirley Gibson Coleman, reviewing the novel for Library Journal, commented, "Sensuous and sometimes outrageous love scenes interspersed with the stirring emotions of the characters keep the pages turning to the very end." In her review in Essence, Denolyn Carroll wrote: "Colin Channer's Waiting in Vain did more than strike a chord with female readers. Channer turned the contemporary fiction genre on its ear by detailing a rich, complex, lushly written love story between the passionate Fire and the equally intense and intelligent Sylvia." Channer commented during his AV interview: "Hopefully, people will find something useful in Waiting in Vain. I think women should buy it for their boyfriends."
In Satisfy My Soul, a book that brings together spirituality and eroticism, narrator Carey McCullough, a playwright who closely guards his privacy, meets his intellectual and passionate equal, Frances Carey. Carey believes that, during his suicide attempt several years earlier, seeing Frances on TV saved his life. Since then, she has haunted his dreams and desires. Frances believes Carey is the reincarnation of Karamoko, a mythical character sold into slavery for eloping with the girl Feranje, and that she is the reincarnation of Feranje. The couple's chance meeting and one-night stand turn into a passionate affair that challenges Carey's spiritual convictions. His soul-searching struggles with his father's rejection, his love for Frances, and conflict with a friend, bring about psychological turmoil. A reviewer of the book for the African American Literature Book Club (AALBC) commented: "The novel is a towering castle of raw emotions, probing love and its many shades of angst, confusion, supreme happiness, painful insecurities, and betrayals. With its complex layering of race, spirituality, self-identity and self-love, and with characters that are fully rounded and engaging, the novel is far from a standard boy-meets-girl romance."
During an interview for AALBC, Channer was asked what Satisfy My Soul is saying about the American experience. Channer replied "That the destruction of African gods has shaped the destiny of this country because African-American people have been left with no vision of themselves as higher beings. This affects our ambitions and the assurance with which we move through the world." When asked about bringing together in the novel two seemingly opposing entities, spirituality and eroticism, Channer said it was not at all difficult. "See, the spirit and the flesh are at war if you as a person are at war within yourself. When you are at peace with yourself then you experience the bliss of clarity . . . the erotic flows into the spiritual and the spiritual flows into the erotic."
Channer commented during the interview that he writes slowly and creates characters he enjoys spending time with. For example, Satisfy My Soul took six years to complete. He also believes that writing the book helped shaped his religious convictions, rather than vice versa. Christened in the Anglican Church and involved in the Evangelical church as a teen, Channer considers himself a secular Rastafarian. "Writing in the first person present tense I was able to occupy Carey's soul and feel with him the ways in which it was being puled by African spirits, by memory, by destiny," Channer said to his "AALBC" interviewer. "And so I grew. Before I began this book I didn't have the assurance to look for spiritual sustenance in Africa, was still suspicious of traditional African spiritual beliefs. But now I am not. And that has been so liberating to me as a person and as a creative force."
In his Essence article, Channer wrote that, while the main characters in all his narratives are totally individual, they all share the common challenge of becoming a man without the guidance of a loving, wise father. Channer was just six years old when his father left him and his mother, and died when Channer was twelve. In his article, he articulates his deep love, respect and admiration for his mother who, he says, taught him he was "born with both male and female energies, and that I needed to explore both of them if I had ambitions of trying to live an authentic life, that to ignore the woman inside me would be to squander my spiritual inheritance."
Channer continued, "The problem with women will not be solved until men imagine their way into wholeness. And in this regard, writers of both sexes have a role to play. We can begin by writing from a deeper part of ourselves. Too many of us are writing from the surface. Too many of us are writing stories populated by predictable, cliched and inauthentic men—characters who offer little insight into the fundamental challenge facing men of the twenty-first century: how to create from inside our souls a life of harmony, composed of both selves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Visions, April, 1999, "Playing with Fire," interview with Colin Channer, p. 32.
Black Issues Book Review, May, 2001, Nikitta A. Foston, review of Got to Be Real: Four Original Love Stories, p. 19; January-February 2002, Glenn Townes, review of Satisfy My Soul, p. 55.
Booklist, July, 1998, Lillian Lewis, review of Waiting in Vain, p. 1855; December 15, 2001, Lillian Lewis, review of Satisfy My Soul, p. 702.
Essence, November, 2000, Denolyn Carroll, "First Person Singular," p. 80; May, 2002, Colin Channer, "The Problem with Women: Men; The Failure of Men Is Our Failure to Acknowledge and Engage Our Female Self," p. 114.
Library Journal, June 15, 1998, Shirley Gibson Coleman, review of Waiting in Vain, p. 104.
Publishers Weekly, June, 1998, review of Waiting inVain, p. 46; December 4, 2002, review of Got to Be Real, p. 53; January 21, 2002, review of Satisfy My Soul, p. 64.
Washington Post Book World, December 6, 1998, Kwame Dawes, review of Waiting in Vain, p. 4.
African American Literature Book Club,http://aalbc.com/ (May 31, 2002), "A Conversation with Colin Channer," and review of Satisfy My Soul.
Colin Channer Home Page,http://www.colinchanner.com (August 23, 2003).
Jamaicans.com,http://www.jamaicans.com/ (May 24, 2003), interview with Colin Channer.*