Channer, Colin 1963–
Colin Channer 1963—
A writer whose first book, Waiting in Vain, hit the bestseller list, and whose other writings have also been enormously popular, Colin Channer has always written love stories of one sort or another. Unlike many male African-American writers who write to promote social change and greater understanding of the black condition, Channer focuses on personal relationships.
Channer was born on October 13, 1963, in Kingston, Jamaica. His father, Charles, was a policeman, and his mother, Phyllis, was a pharmacist. His father left the family in 1969 and died in 1975. His mother was forced to work two jobs, running a hospital pharmacy by day and working in a drugstore by night. Channer and his three older siblings later became stepchildren to Phyllis’s second husband, Aldon Grant.
A self-described clown and joker, Channer was generally well-liked. He told Contemporary Black Biography, “I mimicked teachers. I drew caricatures on the blackboard. I rarely did my homework. But I always did well on exams. I was considered bright by my teachers. I went directly from the fourth to the seventh grade.” Although not a strong athlete, Channer played soccer in a youth league and was a high jumper for his school.
Channer also told American Visions that at about that time, he began writing “love letters to girls who didn’t like me.”
Despite the difficulties of their lives during this time, Channer’s mother always made sure that her children attended church every Sunday, and he was a member of an Anglican church. But because schools in Jamaica were all religious schools, Channer grew up with quite a mix of religions. His primary school was Catholic, and his two upper schools were Church of God and Methodist, respectively.
During the years in which Channer was growing up, reggae musician Bob Marley was approaching the peak of his popularity. Marley was instrumental in the rapid spread of the Rastafarian religion throughout Jamaica and in other countries. At its core, Rastafarianism rejected the violence of slavery and preached peace to everyone, primarily Africans. Despite his early years in more mainstream Christian churches and schools, Channer described himself on the African American Literature Book Club website as a “secular Rastafarian.” In other words, while he did not believe that Haile
At a Glance…
Born on October 13, 1963, in Kingston, Jamaica; son of Charles (a policeman) and Phyllis (a pharmacist); married; two children.
Career: Essence, assistant editor; freelance writer and copyeditor; Calabash International Literary Festival, founder and artistic director.
Awards: Critic’s Choice award, Washington Post, for Waiting in Vain, 1998.
Selassie, an Ethiopian emperor, was the manifestation of God, he subscribed to the peaceful teachings of the Rastafarians.
Marley and his music, were a major influence on Channer in other ways as well. On his website, Channer’s writing has been described as reggae writing: “He feels this music just like [poet] Langston [Hughes] felt the blues.” According to American Visions, Channer claimed he wrote “just vibes and spirits,” as did Marley. Channer believed the Caribbean people in general were naturally interested in language, in part because they were fluent in a local dialect as well as in English. Because a local dialect does not have an extensive vocabulary, Jamaicans are accustomed to thinking and speaking metaphorically.
Channer described Marley’s influence on him in an interview on the African American Literature Book Club website: “He showed me that love as a subject is just as important as politics or revolution. He showed me that an artist from Jamaica can create work that is relevant to the world.” In fact, Channer would later name three of his published works of fiction after Marley songs. On his website, Channer explained that “at some point I had decided to create three works infused with the spirit of Marley’s music. The first was Waiting in Vain. The second was “I’m Still Waiting.” The third is Satisfy My Soul.”
Before his works were published, Channer spent time working as a freelance writer and editor, and did a stint as an assistant editor at the magazine Essence. In 1998 his first novel, Waiting in Vain, was published by Ballantine Books and quickly became a bestseller, winning the Critic’s Choice Award from the Washington Post that same year. The award as well as the book’s popularity gave Channer confidence as a writer, and he began to work even harder on his fiction.
Waiting in Vain chronicles the relationship between Fire, a novelist, and Sylvia, a magazine editor—both Jamaicans with very different outlooks on life. Channer told American Visions that he chose this title for the book because “in this song you have Marley, the warrior-prophet, showing his vulnerability to love, and this is what happens to Fire.”
Departing from the political tradition of modern and contemporary African-American writing, Channer was interested in exploring the relationships, primarily love relationships, between very distinct individuals, many of whom are multi-racial. Channer considered himself a writer of love stories, and much of his writing has focused on the erotic realm, often in a specifically sexual way. On the African American Literature Book Club website, Channer acknowledged that an important consideration in writing about sex was “whether or not my mother would be able to read my first novel.”
On his website, Channer described his second novel, Satisfy My Soul, as “a very sexy book about religion.” The book, which took Channer six years to write, was published by a division of Ballantine Books. Unlike Waiting in Vain, the book deals more with spiritual issues facing African-American people who have left their traditional religion behind in Africa. But like his first novel, the book is centered on the relationship between two people, in this case, Carey and Frances.
Satisy My Soul was, however, not universally praised by the critics; some of whom felt that sex was too much the focus of the book. Publishers Weekly said the book was “marred by tedious erotic passages.” Africana.com felt, in part, that while “Marley used songs to make both love and revolution, Channer woos the ladies with searing, sex-filled romps peopled by rich black folk armed with killer bodies and Ivy-League degrees… Let’s just hope that he leaves behind his sex-f or-the-black-jetset tendencies.”
Channer has also contributed to a collection of short stories. He has taught the craft of fiction writing to students on two continents, and has acted as artistic director of the Caribbean’s Calabash International Literary Festival, the only such gathering and celebration of its kind. He and Kwame Dawes cofounded the festival to showcase other Jamaican writers and to serve the larger Jamaican community.
Reggae has continued to play an important part in Channer’s life. He became a bass player for the New York-area band Pipecock Jaxxon, and has considered recording. Channer told CBB that the band’s unusual name came from the self-bestowed nickname of Lee Perry, a reggae producer. “We love Lee’s musical madness. So we named the band in tribute to him.” On the connection between reggae and his writing, Channer told the African American Literature Book Club that “you must be able to groove to it and have some fun but the work must also be able to take you to a higher place in the mind and in the spirit.”
(Contributor, with others) Soulfires: Young Black Men on Love and Violence, Viking Penguin, 1996.
Waiting in Vain, Ballantine, 1998.
(Contributor, with others) Got to Be Real: Four Original Love Stories, New American Library, 2000.
Satisfy My Soul, One World, 2002.
American Visions, April 1999, p. 32.
Black Issues Book Review, January-February 2002, p. 55.
Booklist, December 15, 2001, p. 702.
Essence, May 2002, p. 114; November 2000, p. 80.
Library Journal, June 15, 1998, p. 104.
Publishers Weekly, June 8, 1998, p. 46; January 21, 2002, p. 64.
African American Literature Book Club, http://www.authors.aalbc.com/colin.htm
Afrocentric Experience, http://www.swagga.com
Colin Channer.com, http://www.colinchanner.com
Poetry and Fiction, http://www.fyos.com/cchanner.htm
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography, June 24, 2002.
—Helene Barker Kiser
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