Tiphanie Yanique

Tiphanie Yanique
Photo by Debbie Grossman

Tiphanie Yanique is a daughter of the Caribbean — St. Thomas to be exact — a woman of letters and an assistant professor of writing.

She is the author of the novel, “Land of Love and Drowning,” which won the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award from the Center for Fiction, the Phillis Wheatley Award for Pan-African Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award. The book was listed by NPR as one of the Best Books of 2014, was a finalist for the Orion Award in Environmental Literature, and is currently a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

Among many recognitions, Yanique has received a Pushcart Prize and a Fulbright Scholarship. She was honored in 2010 with “5 Under 35” by the National Book Foundation and in 2014 mentioned as one of “14 women to watch out for” for her collection of stories “How to Escape from a Leper Colony.”

Yanique cites her grandmother Beulah Smith Harrigan as her greatest inspiration. “She was the children’s librarian on the island and an avid reader of books and teller of stories. Her father was a ship captain, a rather famous one, who went down with his ship when she was just three years old. Her mother passed a way soon after. Her older brother, sister and godmother raised her in rotation.”

But she managed to get her master’s degree in Library Science at a time when an educated Black woman, especially a poor one, was a rarity.

Yanique is a writing professor in the MFA program at the New School in New York City, where she is the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award.

She says, “My major artistic and activist project is to reveal to Virgin Islanders, West Indians, and human beings at large, that though protectorates of the United States and Great Britain, though a tourist destination, though a cluster of very small islands, that the Virgin Islands is a place where fully complex and intellectual and creative people live and thrive, where there is a culture worth protecting, worth studying, worth experiencing and worth developing.”

Yanique helped form a cultural and artistic collective in the Virgin Islands called Rock (the nickname for St. Thomas) Lounge. “Though I regretfully don’t live in St. Thomas full time anymore, Rock Lounge continues on without me,” she says.

Her collection of poems, “Wife,” will be published in November 2015.