Zalika Reid-Benta, Caribbean Studies program alumnaDescribe yourself in 100 words or less

My name is Zalika Reid-Benta and I was born and raised in Toronto. Ever since childhood, I knew I wanted to be an author; writing has always been my calling. My interests also include exploring issues of identity, race and heritage, and I have managed to mesh this interest and my creativity in my fiction.

What are the accomplishments (personal or professional) of which you are most proud?

The three accomplishments I am most proud of are: graduating from U of T with an Honours BA in English and Cinema Studies as well as with a minor in Caribbean Studies; receiving acceptance into Columbia University’s MFA Creative Writing Program; and finally, having my short story The Building Blocks published in a Toronto-based anthology titled TOK 7.

What is your fondest memory from your time at the UofT?

My fondest memory is my first week at U of T.  University had been everything I expected and more.  Hearing the overall concept of each and every class excited me and the bit of lecture I listened to left me feeling academically exhilarated – I had truly reached higher learning. I knew at once that this institution would expect nothing but the best from me and that challenge intrigued me.

Why did you choose the Caribbean Studies program?

I am of Jamaican descent and have always been fascinated with the country and culture of my family. Despite growing up in and around that culture, I never thought I knew enough about Jamaica or about the Caribbean as a whole so I decided to minor in Caribbean Studies when I came to UofT. It was definitely the right choice because while I studied the economics, sociology, and art of the region, the classes also explored more intangible subjects, such as psychic torture, identity and the implications surrounding transnationalism.

Did your experience with the program influence your career path after graduating? If so, in what ways?

Taking Caribbean Studies certainly influenced my career path in the sense that the paradigms and the issues I was exposed to in my classes influenced the way I wrote creatively. A large part of the fiction I write explores the tensions between cultural and individual identity and had I not taken Caribbean Studies and learned about theorists, such as Stuart Hall and Franz Fanon or authors, such as Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticat, my writing would not have matured in the way it has and my focus would not have shifted. I think that that shift in focus and that maturity are definitely responsible for my success with regards to the MFA.

Do you have any advice for future students who may be considering the Caribbean Studies program?

Take a diversity of classes within the program. There are many aspects to this complex and interesting region and it is an injustice to explore only one facet of it. Take Caribbean Literature and Caribbean Women Writers and The Capitalist Press and Special Topics. Mix it up and open your mind to everything.