I meant to post about well known Antiguan playwright and calypso writer
Dorbrene O’Marde’s first book, Send Out You Hand, a while ago…but well RL, you know how it is…so here it is finally. Excerpts below from my coverage published in the Daily Observer newspaper and some pics from the launch.
The novel is entitled Send out You Hand and has a pumped fist on the cover. Its title challenges perhaps both readers and characters, maybe the author himself “to reach out for what you want”. And as he explains it, it uses the relationships it forges to advance a plot centred on regionalism. The “imperative” he feels in writing it is to energize folks to re-engage with this idea of regionalism and not just think in narrow insular terms of self or of island.
one thing that clear is that his writing is an extension of his activism.
It has to do with the sense of purpose sparked in him and his contemporaries in his youth, a youth shaped by the passions of the Black Power movement. He recalls reading voraciously in that time and being surrounded by people who were actively taken up with the concerns of society. For him art, for it to exist, must have an agenda, a reason for being; O’Marde does not believe in art for art’s sake.
Alwyn Bully writes, “In this his first novel, O’Marde joins the ranks of those undaunted Caribbean regionalists who use their unique writing skills to put forward a serious idea while keeping the reader thoroughly entertained” while Cuthwin Lake describes it as “exciting writing and mature thinking.”
One of the major landscapes of regionalism is the University of the West Indies, and O’Marde draws on his university experience in fleshing out parts of the novel, also his extensive travels throughout the region – setting the novel in Jamaica, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and, of course, Antigua. He describes it as a bit of a travelogue in this sense. There’s a lot of history and politics as well, of course; anyone familiar with O’Marde’s calypso and other writings would expect no less. As in his calypso, there’s the suggestion that this is done precisely not in a vague sort of way. And then there’s the people factor, or as he put it “a whole set of male-female relations”.
I’m also looking forward to a non fiction book O’Marde has planned for release later this year:
The writing of the Short Shirt biography, Nobody Go Run Me, expected to come out later this year, posed a different set of challenges. But there’s a sense talking to him that as a calypso writer himself he was much more comfortable in this world. “I bring a knowledge of calypso, I also bring to it the sense of my judging,” he said. He makes bold statements like “Lamentations is one of the most horrible calypsos” in the interview, something he no doubt explores further in the book, which he suggests, apart from the concrete rendering of the artiste’s life does some critiquing of his life’s work and places his songs in their appropriate social and political contexts. O’Marde dedicates an entire chapter of the book to Short Shirt’s chief collaborator Shelly Tobitt, and, speaks with fondness in the interview which no doubt translates to the book, of Tobitt’s lyrical mastery and of the unique interpretive and performance ability of Short Shirt. Fans of the art form will be looking forward to that as well.
And now comments from the launch from another of my Observer articles:
“You will find in my writing an attempt to at least lay the groundwork for an exchange of ideas,” said Dorbrene O’Marde at the recent launch of his book Send Out You Hand. One of those ideas is a new approach to regionalism, one with business and businessmen at the centre, as opposed to the grassroots up from below approach, one with vast financial resources directed not at feeding politicians’ pork barrel policies but at financing a new party, one regional in scope. I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know how this plan plays out, but it is thought-provoking, and somewhat unsettling – in the way that corporations-are-people-too, is unsettling.
But O’Marde made it clear at the launch that that’s kind of the point, that, even when his ideas unsettle, an artist should ripple the waters. “I, too, like Leonard Tim Hector see art as politics by other means,” O’Marde said.
There were several speakers at the launch as well, notably O’Marde’s old Grammar school chum, radio commentator King Frank I, who commented on O’Marde’s fitness for a project of this scope. “Dorbrene was one of those of us in Grammar school who would have read voraciously,” he said. “(Plus) his knowledge and breadth of Caribbean life is displayed in Send Out You Hand.” He noted that the Caribbean adventure O’Marde takes the reader on is not merely geographical in nature but social and political as well. Additionally, the novel is different, he suggested, in that its subjects are the “middle class intellectual, the UWI mafia, the regional business men.” There is, he assessed, as well a certain “cynicism directed at the ruling political elite” and a refreshing counterpoint to the prevailing xenophobic tendencies. All combined, he concluded, give the book a certain “nowness”.
More images from the launch…
Finally, we’re thankful to Dorbrene for pledging copies of his new book to the 2013 Wadadli Youth Pen Prize pool.