Kevin Jared Hosein: Revitalising Trinidad’s Tradition of Oral Storytelling

Kevin Jared Hosein
Kevin Jared Hosein | © Commonwealth Foundation

Kevin Jared Hosein is emerging as one of Trinidad’s most promising writers. Fresh from winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in July 2018, Hosein speaks to Culture Trip about the inspiration behind his winning story, the legacy of his grandparents’ folk tales and his artistic ambitions for the future.

It started with a story in the news over a decade ago. A girl had discovered a house disconnected from society in the southern part of Trinidad. A family were living in the house, malnourished but seemingly comfortable with their isolated way of life. They had buried a baby who had died, a crime for which the parents were arrested. The children were also brought to the police station. They were distressed, alienated and couldn’t stop screaming, terrified by the TVs. The journalist covering the story later resigned. The family’s fate has remained a mystery ever since.

This was the inspiration behind Kevin Jared Hosein’s story ‘Passage’, winner of the 2018 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize. While Hosein had been intrigued by the haunting tale for over a decade, it wasn’t until he imagined it being told by a friend in a bar that he had his angle. “It’s a story within a story,” says Hosein. “The set-up is akin to how most B-horror stories begin. Character hears about creepy place or person from their friend and then character is beaten by his own curiosity and decides to go there.”

Its opening line “As all Saturday nights went, we slipped by the wives and find weselves down by The Tricky Jester,” immediately, through its use of the vernacular, immerses the reader in a distinctly Trinidadian setting. Written in Trinidadian Creole, ‘Passage’ is not just inspired by events that took place on the island; its form is rooted in the long tradition of oral storytelling that Hosein remembers growing up. “My grandparents have the most interesting stories, and they would just sit and talk about them and pass them on,” he says. One of these stories involved people smoking out a house to exorcise it of evil spirits after someone had died inside. “These things actually happened in Trinidad,” says Hosein. “A lot of us are superstitious, so you get some crazy things happening.”

Hosein’s story takes place in Trinidad’s wild outdoors

The short story is well placed for putting twists on simple things. Unlike the novel – in which the author is primarily concerned with world-building – the short story is typically centred on a moment or event and charged with a more playful energy. An author of three novels – The Beast of Kukuyo (2018), The Repenters (2016) and Littletown Secrets (2013) – Hosein felt ‘Passage’ was better suited for the short form, for its warmth, tension and confusion. “’Passage’ works because of its set-up and quick deflection of expectations,” says Hosein. “There also had to be continuously rising tension that’s a lot more difficult to maintain in a novel, especially a novel that entails such few players.”

Though Trinidad’s audience of readers is small, it is a fertile land for writers. “There are many writers here, from all walks of life,” says Hosein. “With the [Bocas Literature] Festival came an assortment of prizes, workshops and opportunities. And we saw many new voices emerging, young and old. That built momentum.” The introduction of the festival in 2011 allowed local writers to become part of a “bigger movement”, opening up more opportunities for people like Hosein, looking to turn writing into a career.

As more and more writers emerge, Trinidad’s literary output is enjoying something of a quiet revolution. “We have giants and geniuses among us, rebelling against a society that is dubious of its own stories – you’re going to see more and more of us out there.” Hosein’s win in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize – and its media coverage – is also helping to shed light on the region’s writers and introduce their work to a global audience. “Not even two days after the win, two literary agencies are interested in me. It’s crazy that I even have options now,” says Hosein.

Hosein is now working on a novel. It is a return to both a familiar form and indeed the familiar theme of horror that ran through the stories he listened to as a boy. “I’m working on a horror novel set in 1950s Trinidad,” he says. “I don’t know of any other Caribbean horror novels, so it’s my desire for this to be the Caribbean horror novel.”

The Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize 2019 opens for submissions on 1 September. Visit the website for more information.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article