There are all kinds of books about St. Martin. There are history books, tourist guides and glossy photo books. There are sociological studies, nature guides, and mystery novels set on the island.
In this great diversity of books, certain ones have more value as a record of local heritage and culture. In some ways, a slim shelf of these books could probably tell you more about local culture than the entire Internet. They tend to be books written by St. Martin authors, but they aren’t necessarily books written about local history or culture.
Daniella Jeffry’s 1963: A Landmark Year in St. Martin is a book about history. It tells the story of an island transitioning from its Traditional Period (1848 to 1963) to the modern era of development and tourism. The book tells of airport and pier expansions, but spends as much time or more on the details of life as it was experienced by people. It is a book about a moment when lives were changing.
St. Martin Talk by Robert Romney is a reference book about local language. It begins with a dictionary of St. Martin terms and phrases. Each entry includes a sentence where the term is used in context. The book also includes a section of local proverbs with explanations. In detailing local language, he also captures and conveys a much broader sense of local culture.
Laurelle “Yaya” Richards was a folklorist and guardian of local culture. Her book, The Frock and Other Poems is a book of poetry, but it is also document of local tradition. The poems preserve the memory of salt picking, palm frond brooms and fishing in the pond. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but this short book contains a thousand snapshots of local life.
From Yvette’s Kitchen to Your Table by Yvette Hyman is a cookbook. It is full of recipes: ingredients, instructions and beautiful photos. They aren’t presented with cultural or historical commentary, but the book is still a cultural document. It is a guide to one of St. Martin’s greatest traditions. It reflects the history of French Quarter and the island.
Hurricane Protocol by Lasana Sekou is a book of poems about the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. It is not a historical work, but it may tell more about this time on the island than any history book ever could. It focuses on the wake of one event over the course of a few months, but also becomes a snapshot of culture more broadly. Though different in almost every way, Hurricane Protocol and Jeffry’s 1963 both dive deeply into culture by focusing on a narrow time period.
Local books are rich in cultural heritage, and you have a chance to dive into it right now at the 2020 St. Martin Book Fair, taking place online June 4-6. Get inspired to pick up a new book to read, or perhaps to put pen to paper and record some heritage yourself.