“They’re from Grenada and some of them were living there during the revolution. Others were living in the diaspora in Toronto,” she said. “And it was always kind of a part of our history that I didn’t always understand. My family would say that the revolution was a good thing. But then I would also hear them say that the U.S. invasion [to end the revolution]was a good thing, and that it had sort of saved the country. So I grew up being interested in those conversations.”
Lambert, now an associate professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham, said that interest stayed with her through graduate school and into her work today, which is why she decided to research and write Comrade Sister: Caribbean Feminist Revisions of the Grenada Revolution (June 2020, University of Virginia Press).
“I got really into reading the creative literature around this revolution —I was training as a literary scholar—and the major writers of this revolution were women,” she said.
Understanding the Revolution Through Literature
Lambert recalled reading works by Merle Collins, a poet, novelist, and scholar, and Dionne Brand, a poet, novelist, and essayist, who told stories of everyday women during this time through nonfiction, poetry, essays, and novels.
“What an interesting way to understand a political context–by having characters who are everyday folks in their villages, in their towns, and focusing on their relationships, but having the politics play out in the background and showing what kind of effect the politics had on the lives of women,” she said.
However, as she began diving into the official archives of the Grenada Revolution, she noticed “women were absent, in some ways.”
In Comrade Sister, Lambert said, she tried to explore the revolution and the emotions and experiences women faced at the time to provide a detailed look at how gender and sexuality produced different narratives. One theme that came through in many of the works she studied was this feeling of resilience from the women, despite the uncertainties and challenges.
For Women, a Way to Look Beyond
“I found that this was really a literature also about a particular resilience that women had– working class women, rural women—and the fact that they are able to survive this,” she said. “And I think some of it has to do with the fact that even though they saw a lot of the benefits of the revolution, they understood that they were not the target constituents of that revolution because of their gender. So they don’t put all of their hopes into it … whereas with some of the male writers that I looked at, I found that there was either a total refusal of the revolution, or an over identification with it, so that when it ended violently, they are kind of stuck. For the women writers, there was always a way to look beyond it, a way to start again.”
She also was able to highlight the stories of women who made a difference both during and after the revolution, such as Joan Purcell, a Grenadian politician who spared the lives of the revolutionaries who were sentenced to death. Purcell was asked to review the verdicts and decided to commute their sentences to prevent another cycle of political violence, Lambert said.
“She looks at the situation, but she also looks at Grenadian society, and as a member of that society, determines that it would be another experience of trauma all over again if these people were going to be hanged,” Lambert said.
Lambert said this book ties into her classes at Fordham, which include a Black feminism course and a Caribbean literature class.
“It’s actually been really nice to have an ongoing dialogue between my research and my teaching and also to expose my students to some of this literature and some of this history,” she said
Broadening Freedom and Slavery Studies
Lambert participated in a conversation on her book on Monday, October 26, which was sponsored in part by the Fordham Working Group on Freedom and Slavery, a group of faculty and graduate students she helped co-found last year with Yuko Miki, Ph.D., associate professor of history and associate director of Latin American and Latinx Studies.
“We’re interested in thinking broadly about the archives and poetics and politics of freedom and slavery. So last year, we were thinking more narrowly about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and freedom, and we had a great opportunity to talk about the 1619 project [from The New York Times],” Lambert said. “This year, we decided we wanted to really kind of expand what we were doing so—the group is still on freedom and slavery—but we really wanted to think about freedom in terms of Black studies more broadly, so we’re not just looking at the period of slavery. It really becomes a space to think about new directions and Black studies, to think about freedom and slavery studies, but also to think about all of the ways in which we define freedoms in Black studies.”