Thiefing Sugar

Eroticism between Women in Caribbean Literature

Thiefing Sugar

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 4 photographs Published: August 2010

Caribbean Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Thiefing Sugar, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley explores the poetry and prose of Caribbean women writers, revealing in their imagery a rich tradition of erotic relations between women. She takes the book’s title from Dionne Brand’s novel In Another Place, Not Here, where eroticism between women is likened to the sweet and subversive act of cane cutters stealing sugar. The natural world is repeatedly reclaimed and reinterpreted to express love between women in the poetry and prose that Tinsley analyzes. She not only recuperates stories of Caribbean women loving women, stories that have been ignored or passed over by postcolonial and queer scholarship until now, she also shows how those erotic relations and their literary evocations form a poetics and politics of decolonization. Tinsley’s interpretations of twentieth-century literature by Dutch-, English-, and French-speaking women from the Caribbean take into account colonialism, migration, labor history, violence, and revolutionary politics. Throughout Thiefing Sugar, Tinsley connects her readings to contemporary matters such as neoimperialism and international LGBT and human-rights discourses. She explains too how the texts that she examines intervene in black feminist, queer, and postcolonial studies, particularly when she highlights the cultural limitations of the metaphors that dominate queer theory in North America and Europe, including those of the closet and “coming out.”


Thiefing Sugar widens the focus of narratives of female eroticism by unearthing infrequently discussed or overlooked texts, emphasizing their significant contribution to the discourse of gender and sexuality, and Caribbean sexual politics. In like manner, Tinsley focuses on a region often overlooked in Caribbean literature, the Dutch Caribbean.” — Simone A. James Alexander, Research in African Literatures

Thiefing Sugar by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley is a beautifully written, refreshing and innovative book. Tinsley examines the sophisticated ways in which gender and sexuality have historically and culturally articulated unique and revealing expressions of love and sex between women in the Caribbean region of the Americas.” — Gloria Gonzalez Lopez, Bulletin of Latin American Research

Thiefing Sugar certainly deserves praise for giving voice to so many women and issues that have long remained silenced in each of these respective fields. Moreover, Tinsley’s manner of conversing with women, her mirroring of their poetics, underscores how she is a woman who loves women, a woman committed to mapping ‘imaginative imagination’ that decolonizes theory and ‘hegemonic definitions of same-sex desire.’” — Olivia Donaldson, Journal of Lesbian Studies

Thiefing Sugar is full of deliciously rich metaphors. . . . In this highly engaging and insightful book, Tinsley discusses the foremost tropes and metaphors in Caribbean women’s writing about desire between women. The syrup of language to be enjoyed here is not only that which abounds in the texts she discusses, but also in the suggestiveness of Tinsley’s own writing, which is sometimes dense but always rich and allusive.” — Ronald Cummings, Caribbean Review of Books

“Her book retains a queer theoretical approach despite her critique of queer’s narrow global north conception, but it is nuanced…. She is keen to point out the effects of history on culture, language and categories…. Tinsley’s critical approach is as poetic as the title.” — Shamira A. Meghani, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s book is a brilliant, highly readable, and at times dense foundational study on twentieth-century Caribbean and diasporic women’s literary conceptualizations of living and loving in the Caribbean, specifically in Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Suriname, and Trinidad.” — Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, GLQ

“This is an important book for anyone interested in the Caribbean, the African diaspora, women and gender, or LGBTQ culture and literature. . . . . What stands out more than anything else is the overwhelming evidence Tinsley offers of a long history of Caribbean women's stated desire for other women, of (mostly) working-class black female eroticism that is intrinsically tied to rebellion against oppression by the dominant white-identified, colonialist, masculine, land-owning, and hetero-normative ruling class. This is a subversive, lyrical piece of scholarship. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.” — S. E. Cooper, Choice

“Tinsely’s fascinating study is noteworthy for its originality in scope and its depth. The author deftly demonstrates that the secret of Caribbean lesbian writing -- visible and invisible, white and of color, Francophone and Anglophone --is determined by constantly unfolding spaces that are impossible to define by the canonical -colonial tropes of the past.” — Tarik A. Smith, Palimpsest

“Tinsley’s fascinating study of ‘women loving women’ examines their colonial and postcolonial experiences in Dutch, French, and English-speaking areas of the Caribbean. . . . Tinsley’s brilliant, sensitive explications, her frequent references to artworks from the area, and her descriptions of lush landscapes make reading her work a delight and a surprise. . . . I highly recommend it to a cosmopolitan audience.” — Kittye Delle Robbins-Herring, Elevate Difference

“Tinsley’s survey of the region’s literature is always lucid; more than a critical study, though, this work, in abundant ways, knits together a literary past and the political present with lyrical acuity.” — Richard Labonte, Q Syndicate

A remarkable book that delights in sounding out the depths of the texts that it foregrounds, Thiefing Sugaris an elegant analysis of (potentially ambiguous) eroticism between women in the Caribbean. . . . [H]er contribution to and intervention in postcolonial and queer studies are most welcome.” — Vinay Swamy, MLQ

"Tinsley promises in the beginning of Thiefing Sugar to explore what it means for a woman to love another woman in the Caribbean, and she does just that." — Kevin Kelly, Sargasso

“Luscious, abundant and rich—those are apt words for Thiefing Sugar, this captivating and lyrical exploration of what it meant in the twentieth century to be a Caribbean woman who loves women. Based on a well-chosen corpus of texts and lucid, in-depth analyses, the book is altogether a feast for the senses, a gift to us all!” — Gloria Wekker, Utrecht University, Netherlands

“Through writing that is as lyrical as the poetry and fiction she analyzes, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley makes connections between sugar production in the Caribbean, the paradoxical ‘ungendering’ of black female slaves that makes their sexual self-hood possible, and the landscape of the ‘Global South’ to argue that the history of the black woman’s body in the African Diaspora is shrouded not just in metaphor but in the materiality of their own world-making.” — E. Patrick Johnson, author of Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Minnesota.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The Spring of Her Look 1

1. "Rose is my mama, stanfaste is my papa": Hybrid Landscapes and Sexualities in Surinamese Women's Oral Poetry 29

2. Darkening the Lily: The Erotics of Self-Making in Eliot Bliss's Luminous Isle 68

3. Blue Countries, Dark Beauty: Opaque Desires in the Poetry of Ida Faubert 102

4. At the River of Washerwomen: Work, Water, and Sexual Fluidity in Mayotte Capécia's I Am a Martinican Woman 136

5. Transforming Sugar, Transitioning Revolution: Male Womanhood and Lesbian Eroticism in Michelle Cliff's No Telephone to Heaven 169

6. Breaking Hard against Things: Crossing between Sexual and Revolutionary Politics in Dionne Brand's No Language in Neutral 201

Notes 233

Bibliography 257

Index 269
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4777-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4756-9
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