“The White Gyal with the Camera”
Kei Miller’s “The White Gyal with the Camera” is from Kingston Noir (Akashic Books, Colin Channer, editor), the independent publisher’s latest installment in its noir series. Miller is the author of The Same Earth, winner of the Una Marson Prize for Literature, Fear of Stones, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and The Last Warner Woman. In 2008, he was an International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. Miller divides his time between Jamaica and Scotland.
Miller had this to say about the origin of his story: Like the ‘white gyal’ in my story, I too have a Nikon camera and when I walk around with it, even if it’s tucked away in my bag, I see the world differently. I begin to notice patterns, lines, shadows that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I have thought about this a lot and felt conflicted about it – how sometimes it is obviously a good thing to teaching yourself how to see beauty in places where you don’t expect to find it; but how sometimes it is a bad and patronizing thing – this way we might insist on making beauty out of an ugliness people who have to endure every day.
So that’s kind of where this story begins. The ‘white gyal with the camera’ is really me – despite that fact that I am black and male. You see, I grew up in Jamaica in a community quite close to August Town. All the houses in my community were large and had nice green lawns, but then there was August Town, and that was a whole other world. Recently, I’ve been writing a much larger story about August Town – about a famous preacher from there who in 1930 prophesied that he was going to fly. Of course he didn’t, but his legend lives on. Now, whenever I’m in Jamaica I go to August Town with my camera, and I take pictures, and sometimes I stupidly get lost in the circles of zinc, losing myself in the heart of this ghetto. I get nervous of course, and I feel as out of place as if I was a white gyal.