I actually did this as a pre-Christmas piece for the Daily Observer newspaper but they never ran it, don’t know why. No matter; it’s good to have a literary arts blog for moments such as these. Congrats, Barbara on your new book. Love the cover. Look forward to reading cover to cover.
By Joanne C. Hillhouse
Hmmm…if Barbara Arrindell continues what’s becoming a pattern of publishing a new book each Christmas, she’ll run through those 10 other stories she has stockpiled in no time. That’s our roundabout way of reminding you that the author of popular children’s colouring book Antigua My Antigua has delivered on her promise to follow that up with a December 2012 publication.
The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Antiguan Stories is here. Once again the writer has collaborated with illustrator Edison Liburd.
“It’s good to have the books on the shelves because the stories had been read (at various) other places and people were asking for it,” Arrindell said. We’d venture that it’s also good to have the books on the shelves as it adds to the canon of literature out of Antigua and Barbuda, and books in particular based on stories of Antiguan and Barbudan legend, often barely kept alive via a fading oral storytelling tradition.
“People are always asking about Antiguan stories, Antiguan legends, that sort of thing,” said Arrindell. As manager of the Best of Books, and now an independent publisher two times over, she ought to know.
Her collection’s title story, the Legend of Bat’s Cave borrows from history and popular legend mixed in with some creative license to bring to modern readers the tale of Governor Warner’s wife who was abducted by the Kalinago (more popularly known as the Caribs). Arrindell noted that in her research she unearthed several versions of the tale. “There were so many versions that after a while, I said it doesn’t really matter,” Arrindell said. Embracing the freedom this gave, Arrindell opted to tell the story from the perspective of Warner’s wife and in this version she falls in love with her captor, before being rescued and banished. Arrindell welcomes the debate that will likely follow. “For me, that’s okay,” she said. “I’ve actually embraced that idea.” She feels that that discussion can help revive forgotten stories like the Legend of Bat’s Cave.
The second story, A Bishop without a Cathedral, may also be of considerable interest. It is told through the eyes of Bishop Daniel Davis, the first Bishop of St. John the Divine, more colloquially known as Big Church i.e. the Anglican cathedral. Former Outlet editor, Conrad Luke, is quoted as describing it as “a most interesting historical short story and ever so topical given the present state of the Cathedral.” It is also interesting in that it adds some nuance to our understanding of the church’s, or at least this single Bishop’s, attitude to slavery and the enslaved. “I like history,” Arrindell said. “That’s a hobby for me. So when I realized the actual facts were actually contradicting what we knew about the role of the church (in the slavery and post slavery era), I wanted to know more about him.” Arrindell’s research showed that the Bishop had strong sympathies toward the black population that sometimes had him butting heads with the Planters and the church’s higher ups. Her research had her combing through the St. Kitts-Nevis archives and reading more closely letters written by the Bishop. “Based on the letters I read, I feel as if I got to know him,” said Arrindell, who told his story in the first person. She later added, “Think about how life must have been hard for him by (deciding) I’m going to go against the grain.” It’s the stuff that interesting lives are made of and interest conflict and tension in storytelling.
For the final story in the collection, Chasing Horses, she stuck a little closer to home, pulling a tale from her own family history. It is the story of a girl who overnight is forced to become a woman with the death of her mother, and is made to sacrifice her own dreams for her brother’s.
Clearly, the book interweaves issues of gender, race, class, religion and likely more in its entertainment. And entertainment, including literary entertainment, can be a good way of confronting a sometimes difficult history whichever side of that history our race, class, gender, religion etc. places us. “I think we have to know who we are,” Arrindell said. “We have to have a better understanding of (our history).” We have to be able, she suggested, to see beyond the broad strokes of history to the tales making up the fabric of that history so we can “put everything into perspective.”
More icons from history that she hopes to revisit in writing, over time, include King Court, Nellie Robinson, Horatio Nelson, just to name a few. She even plans to revisit Anancy. So does that mean she has the makings of her own independent press. It’s something she’s considered, seeing the need for an Eastern Caribbean press especially given the heightened activity in terms of the literary arts in recent years, but the cost implications and the changing nature of the publishing business as the ebook revolution continues are among the things that give her pause. For the moment, her books are available only here and in Canada at A Different Booklist; and they’re selling well especially considering the limited availability. Speaking of limited availability, you might want to get them while they’re hot, as only 250 copies of The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Antiguan Stories are available in this first print run.
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.