INTERVIEW WITH ANTIGUA GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT (2010)

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood.

I’m from Ottos, Antigua – first Comacho’s Avenue, then Bird
Road, then De Souza Road. I am the youngest of three; working class childhood,
Catholic (and Catholic school upbringing), lots of outdoor adventure, lots of
reading and music and Carnival etc (your typical Caribbean childhood), and a
vivid imagination.

2. Where did you grow up?

See 1.

3. What is your alma mater?

Holy Family primary school; Christ the King High School;
Antigua State College; University of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica)

4. Have you always wanted to be a poet/writer?

Yes.

b. If no…what was you other choices?

When I was very little I used to play teacher but that wasn’t
a serious dream; writing is what I always wanted to do. As it happens I work in
the field of journalism and balance that with being a full time writer and
editor.

5. What and who inspired you to be a poet/writer?

I’d say first and foremost I’m inspired by the world around
me and my own internal imaginings and questioning…I’m very curious and very
passionate about thingS (sometimes to the annoyance of friends and family). All
of that plays out in my writing. In terms of writers who inspire me; I grew up
on calypso and the poetry of calypso (especially the calypso of Short Shirt and
Obstinate and Latumba) had a hand in me falling in love with the literary arts.
The death of my tanty when I was a child had a profound impact on me as did
receiving her journal which I started writing in…picking up where she left
off…to this day it’s one of the first things I’d grab in a fire. Discovering
Jamaica Kincaid had a hand in me believing this could be more than just a pipe
dream. My mentor while at UWI, Mervyn Morris, an esteemed Jamaican poet, helped
guide and encourage me, as did my English teacher at college, Mr. Calvin Holder.
(and really so many others, people along the way…including my family
especially for not putting pressure to be this or that and for encouraging me
to value learning). I remember one of my favourite lecturers at UWI was Dr.
Carolyn Cooper and all the writers she and other lecturers introduced me to.
Variously, their works inspire me; they include Zora Neale Hurston, Toni
Morrison, Alice Walker, Edwidge Dandicat, Langston Hughes, and so many others.
I love to read and reading good writing inspires me.

6. Do you have kids?

No.

b. If yes…do you encourage them to write?

I have nieces and nephews with whom I’m very much involved
and the kids from the Cushion Club with which I volunteer. I encourage them to
read because I believe reading opens doors and the imagination. I encourage
them to find their own passion; for me it’s writing, for them it’ll be
something else. I do encourage young people with a talent for writing via my
interactions with them whether during school visits, workshops, or the Wadadli
Youth Pen Prize which I coordinate. For more on this see https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com

7. Do you like being a poet/writer?

Honestly, some days more than others. It’s not an easy road.
But when it comes together; when I feel the urgency to create and have the time
to do so, there’s nothing that can compare. And when people react and respond
to what I’ve written in a way that says to me that it has touched them
profoundly I feel humbled and happy. I don’t have a choice about writing, it’s
what I do; it’s innate. I love it. Some days begrudgingly. But I wouldn’t want
to be doing anything else; just to be better at it and more successful doing
it, I suppose.

8. How long have you been a writer?

Well, my dad says that before I could read I would look at
the pictures and make up the story. So, I guess all my life. I started writing
in earnest in my teens. I had my first piece published as a fiction writer
serialized in the local paper in my teens. I started writing as a journalist in
my teens. I think I was born a writer and it’s just taking me time to claim it.
Yes, it took me too damn long to be able to say, I’m a writer as if it weren’t
a practical or worthy pursuit.

9. About how many poems have you written?

I don’t count. I’ve written much more poetry, novels,
fiction, non fiction, plays, screenplays than have ever been published; even
songs. So, I can’t put a number to it.

In terms of published pieces, well, there’s the two short
novels – The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight; and a
self-published poetry collection On Becoming. I’ve also had fiction published
in Tongues of the Ocean (a Bahamian journal), Sea Breeze (a Liberian journal),
The Caribbean Writer (a Virgin Islands anthology) twice, Calabash (a Caribbean
journal out of New York), St. Somewhere (a Caribbean journal produced in the
US), Observer literary arts in Jamaica, several times in the local press;
poetry in Calabash, Women Writers (out of the US), Mythium (out of the US), Ma
Comere (out of the US), Caribbean Writer, and locally and a few other places.
Non fiction too numerous to mention especially since I freelance for various
local, regional and international publications.

b. Which do you prefer the most and why?

Fiction. It challenges me and I fall in love with the
characters and enjoy discovering the story. Poetry, because it’s my outlet;
it’s not always about publishing, often it’s just about getting it out. This is
the medium I use for that type of writing more than any other…for me, the most
accessible, I guess. Though it is it’s own kind of challenge (technically). But
I like all forms for different reasons.

10. Are any of your poem based on real life scenarios?

I think everything I write steals from reality a little bit.
The thing is in writing the imagination helps make it something other than the
thing that inspired it.

b. If yes… do you get emotional while writing it?

Emotions sometimes drive me to write and in writing I become
calm – less angry, less depressed, happier. Writing helps me make sense of the
world.

11. Have you ever been discouraged from writing?

Not discouraged from writing, but certainly discouraged by so
much else that comes with it, especially when you’re trying to make it as a
published writer. Reality is writers unless they’re J K Rowling, Stephen King,
or Dan Brown don’t make a lot of money and writers deal with a lot of rejection
(from prospective agents and publishers, reviewers and readers). I have to pick
myself up after each rejection and stumble through each dry period. But writing
is how I deal with those feelings too. So…I’m most discouraged I think when I
can’t write. When life doesn’t give me (or I don’t demand from it) the time and
space and inspiration and discipline to just write.

12. What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of being a poet/writer?

I don’t know if I can put this into words. It’s not a black
and white thing.

What can I say, three times these past couple of weeks, I’ve
gotten emails or facebook comments about some writing whether my book or a
short story that affected the reader (one in St. Kitts, one in Switzerland, one
in Antigua) to the point where they felt the need to reach out to me and tell
me so. I can’t describe the unexpected surprise of opening up those comments
(like a Christmas present). From sitting in a corner reading of some faraway
place to having my own readers that’s indescribable.

Growing into my craft is…a joy. When I opened the most
recent publication with a story of mine and read the story, and read it
again…and fell in love with the character all over again. (I wrote this!)
Writing gives me all of that. But what it gave me most of all, from the
beginning to now, was an outlet for all the things pent up inside of me.
Writing is my therapy.

It helps me to see and appreciate the good and the bad around
me, and work it out on the page. It keeps me together and at the same time sets
me free.

It’s also what pays the bills.

The biggest downside is publishing (because it’s so hard to
get your foot in the door), and performing, and making a living. Anything
having to do with the business of writing and selling your writing is a drag
for me.

Oh, and writer’s block’s a bitch!

13. What is the best thing that has ever happened to you
through poetry?

It’s hard to pick a single moment. And really I hope that the
best is ahead of me.

14. What advice would you give to young children who wish to take up this
career?

Read. Read a lot.

And embrace every opportunity to learn.

There is fear in stepping out on any kind of limb. Feel the
fear but follow your heart.

And realize that you need money to live but don’t live for
money.

15. Can you please explain your poem “The Arrival”?

The Arrival was actually inspired by a friend of mine and a
conversation we had about that feeling she would get on returning home from the
U.S. where she lived. It was about that outsider/insider feeling (a recurring
theme, I realize, in my work).

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