As many writers and literary fans have come to know, inspiration can strike at the oddest moments. That’s why it comes as no surprise that one of the eleven short stories included in Alexia Arthurs’ new collection How to Love a Jamaican was inspired by Rihanna. The series of short stories follows a cast of Jamaican immigrants as they explore their family, identity, and more between America and Jamaica.
The short story, entitled “Shirley From a Small Place” focuses on a famous pop star who returns to the island home of her mother to get back to her roots. She has to find a balance between her privacy and the demands of her family and of being a celebrity. Rihanna’s famous for maintaining a private persona, but she’s still become known as a cultural icon. This was enough to make Arthurs hesitant to write about her. “I felt so distant from the imagination of a pop star,” Arthurs says. “I couldn’t imagine being able to enter her consciousness, but somehow, over time, I became more comfortable with the idea of writing from her point of view.”
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Although she isn’t Jamaican, Rihanna’s Caribbean background makes her a fitting addition to the cast of island transplants that Arthurs explores in her stories. She had to do quite a bit of research on the secretive popstar to learn more about her perspective. Arthurs studied the social media accounts of her friends and family, as well as interviews such as the 2012 interview with Oprah where the singer brought her on a tour of her Barbados community.
This research was just the first step for Arthurs to figure out how she could fictionalize a mega popstar like Rihanna. She was able to use the R&B singer’s untouchable level of celebrity but also the realness that she so effortlessly portrays.
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“Shirley from a Small Place” is just one of the many colorful short stories collected in Arthurs’ anthology. The author recently spoke about it in an interview with Hazlitt. “At its essence, I wanted to write a story about a girl who had been everywhere and had seen everything worth seeing, and yet the small place she came from could hold the healing power of home.”
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