This past weekend left me in a bit of a reflective mood. I attended a literary event organized for Black History Month by our Culture Department and a women’s empowerment event and Cottage of Hope fundraiser organized by The District (a clothing boutique) on Sunday, and felt much more inspired (in a positive way) by the latter. Enter side note –>Here’s where I should insert a picture of me contributing copies of my children’s books Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and With Grace to the Cottage c/o The District, but I only remember to take pictures 50% of the time. I do hope that the young people who get to read the books enjoy them. Exit side note–>The Sunday event (which included testimonials from the likes of TnTs soca diva Destra and AnB’s soca diva CP) emphasized finding your passion and doing that, and in the doing, sharing.
So, as I reflect on my journey in literary arts, an improbable journey that I ventured out on and continue to venture out on despite the obstacles and setbacks, I can feel confident that it has been driven by my passion for writing, and that through Wadadli Pen and other projects, not just my books, I’ve been finding ways to share that passion. I mean, so much else is uncertain, and increasingly I question whether Antigua and Barbuda wants me at all, and it’s always a financial high wire act but I am happy that I haven’t let fear and disappointment stop me from doing the thing I was put here to do.
It is in this frame of mind that I think, too, about the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda and how its strivings and whatever hurdles have been cleared are largely a reflection of the talent, passion, hard work, and will of the literary arts practitioners. We have had to cut and contrive a path of our own making – and, true, this may be true of artistes every where but especially so where there is no real infrastructure, nor resources, to support the artiste’s journey. We hustle and hustle hard, and still are asked to give even when our cups are empty (often without the asker considering what is the cost of this to the artist and what is the value of this to our community).
When I started the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize in 2004, it wasn’t because I had an abundance of time and resources; it was because I saw a need and had/have still a passion for the literary arts. It has been my pleasure in the years of maintaining this blog – which launched in 2010 to encourage, report on, celebrate the continued journeying of the community of literary artists in Antigua and Barbuda of which I am a part, among other things.From this reflective space, I thought I’d share some of our journey as writers in this Antigua-Barbuda land. There is no way in this reflecting to hit everything everyone did to create and sustain vibrancy in the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda over the past 7+ years since I’ve been documenting it in this online space, but I can share some highlights N.B. where programmes have floundered often its due to lack of financial support and other resources to keep it going; the energy runs out when you’re burning it at both ends and still trying to make your bills. Wadadli Pen has been on the brink a number of times when I just didn’t feel like I had any MORE in me, and, honestly, it’s often someone from the community of writers who (along with the interest and expectation of the participants) pushes me to keep going and whose volunteer efforts help make it possible for me to do so.
This blog launched in April 2010 and committed to spotlighting not only the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (a project committed to nurturing and showcasing the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda since 2004) but the literary arts (and then some) in Antigua and Barbuda (and beyond) – one example of the type of coverage I did as site blogger from that first year was ‘Lit Happenings Antigua-Barbuda Nov 1-8 2010′.
Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival launched in 2006 by two entrepreneurial (Montserratian!) sisters with strong author support and so much potential but, notwithstanding a revival in 2010, unfortunately has not survived.
Wadadli Pen Open Mic launched in 2010 using the Wadadli Pen name but run by the Best of Books and acting as a development platform for young/budding writers.
The Cushion Club – a reading club for children in Antigua and Barbuda – continued its relationship with Buckley’s Primary; this project began with school visits by me and CC leader Cedric Holder to the school, one of several schools we’ve both visited over the years, to read and run story workshops. The prize was sponsored by Cedric on behalf of the Cushion Club because of his desire to encourage greater interest and aptitude in the humanities. Cedric has also consistently contributed a prize to the Wadadli Pen Challenge on behalf of the Cushion Club.
Wadadli Pen returned after a 3 year hiatus – its life 2004-2010 to that time chronicled in this post.
Voices from the Lagoon, a collection of student writings shepherded by scribe and teacher Fransene Massiah-Headley released.
Number of publications in 2010 (not including the student publication which isn’t listed in the data base of Antiguan and Barbudan Writings, and specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 7
When a Woman Moans – after bringing Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues to Antigua beginning in 2008, the Women of Antigua reached out to local writers to contribute pieces to this homegrown theatrical production and we (specifically Melissa Elliot, Elaine Spires, Brenda Lee Browne, Floree Williams-now-Whyte, Tameka Jarvis-George, Marcella Andre, Joanne C. Hillhouse and Salma Crump, with WOA co-founders Linisa George and Zahra Airall) did.
Antigua-penned and independently produced films The Skin (written by Howard Allen/produced by HAMA) and Dinner (written by Tameka Jarvis-George/produced by Cinque) earned slots at the Jamaica Reggae Film Festival.
D. Gisele Isaac and I were invited by the A & B Consulate in Canada to participate in Independence activities there, participating in panels and sharing our work alongside writers based in Toronto.
The Best of Books Book Fair (and Wadadli Pen Awards) – this was the 10 year anniversary of the book store and the return to full strength of Wadadli Pen which was on hiatus in 2007, 2008, and 2009 (simply because I couldn’t see a way to carry it anymore), and had an abridged programme in 2010 (returning because it is a programme I care passionately about). The partnership has endured.
A word on school visits – many of us as writers in Antigua have done them – teachers call us sometimes as with the St. Mary’s Centre for Excellence; other times as with Joy Lawrence’s school tour promoting Wadadli Pen, we volunteer – the schools need a consistent programme but it cannot be on a voluntary basis given the time commitment for prep and actual presentation and because school presentations is something for which writers should actually be compensated (<–offsite link).
The Independence Literary Awards – this version** of it actually dates back to 2005 with first Brenda Lee Browne and then Barbara Arrindell at the helm. I was among the judges in the first year, and that was also the year I started building the data base of Antiguan and Barbudan writers, for the Museum exhibition we also did that year. In 2011, Arrindell announced her retirement with an open letter in which she called for the installation of a year round literary arts point person and development programmes, a call that landed, it seemed to those of us in the literary arts community, on deaf years.
The literary arts programme in the prison, facilitated by Brenda Lee Browne on a volunteer basis published its first collection of works from inside the prison.
Number of books published in 2011(not including the prison publication which isn’t listed in the data base of Antiguan and Barbudan Writings, and specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 4
Antigua and Barbuda penned and independently produced documentary film Melissa Gomez’s Silent Music shows at the Toronto Film Festival.
The Friends of Antigua Public Library, based in New York, hosted the U.S. launch of my first U.S. publication Oh Gad!
Art at the Ridge which is not around anymore had regular art shows and took over for a time the annual Christmas card competition; they also became a Wadadli Pen patron and partner in these years.
Just Write Writers’ Retreat launched at Mount Tabor by Brenda Lee Browne.
Linisa George is spotlighted at the Poetry Parnassus during the Olympics and published in the companion collection The World Record – this collection includes works by writers from every Olympic country; through her own efforts Linisa became Antigua-Barbuda’s selection.
I had works included in Womenspeak Caribbean Arts and Letters out of the Bahamas – other Antiguan and Barbudan writers like Brenda Lee Browne and Barbara Arrindell would publish with them in subsequent years. That year, my story Genevieve, later published in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings (2014), was short listed for the Small Axe Fiction Prize. I was also published that year in the University of the Virgin Islands’ Caribbean Writer, from which I’ve also received two literary prizes over the years; not my first or last time publishing with them but they have quite high literary standards and reputation, and it’s always nice to make the cut.
Number of books published (not including works in anthologies, and specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 7
Antiguan Authors Day – a promotion at the Best of Books.
On the heels of the publication of my novel Oh Gad!, I had the opportunity to participate in a number of off island literary showcases such as the Caribbean Congress of Writers in Guadeloupe.
The Public Library holds an annual Summer Read programme; writers – myself and others – have been asked to volunteer to do presentations and we have.
Dr. James Knight wrote and independently produced a documentary on the life and music of King Short Shirt. It premiered at Deluxe Cinema and was also subsequently screened in Jamaica.
An open letter from me re Wadadli Pen.
My first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project launched – as it prepared to launch I contemplated ways to make it interesting. After our week of workshop activity, I was happy to receive this positive review from a parent.
Antigua-Barbuda collection edited by Althea Prince launched in Canada.
Joy Lawrence Explored the History of Parham in the second book in her village folk history series.
An online magazine inspired by the poem Black Girl in the Ring was launched by the poem’s writer and the site’s publisher Linisa George.
Number of books published (not including journals, online or otherwise, and specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 6
The launch of my book Musical Youth included readings by other writers – specifically past Wadadli Pen finalists and was followed by a workshop organized and facilitated by me and sponsored by the same organization, CODE, that sponsored the Burt Award for which Musical Youth placed second overall, earning itself a publication deal. This was a busy year for me in several ways with, among other things, the release of the mass market edition of Oh Gad! and recommendation on NPR in the US; also the release of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings.
I was asked to volunteer as guest editor of regional online publication Tongues of the Ocean to produce an Antigua and Barbuda issue and drew on my network of writers and artists to do just that. The final publication included works by Althea Romeo-Mark, Brenda Lee Browne, Gayle Gonsalves, Kimolisa Mings, X-Saphair King, Heather Doram, Glenroy Aaron, Barbara Arrindell, Tammi Browne-Bannister, Tameka Jarvis-George, Marcus Christopher, Dorbrene O’Marde, Hazra Medica, Linisa George, past Wadadli Pen finalists Devra Thomas, Shakeema Edwards, Emile Hill, Rosalie Richards, Vega Armstrong, Zion Ebony Williams, and others.
My short story Amelia at Devil’s Bridge included in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean which had launched in Trinidad (at Bocas), Scotland (at Aye Write!), and New York (at PEN Awards Literary Safari), each of which I had the opportunity to participate in. This particular story was shortlisted for the Small Axe Fiction Prize and subsequently excerpted in one of Harper Collins’ CSEC revision texts.
Number of Books published (specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 25
(with Jamaica Kincaid at the VI Lit Fest)
Lady of Parham – a published play inspired by the story of the ghost of Parham in Antigua – was shortlisted for the Guyana literary prize.
I was invited to the Virgin Islands Literary Festival – the featured writer was another Antiguan, Jamaica Kincaid.
Stories Handed Down – a research and writing competition started by the Friends of Antigua Public Library some years earlier was won in 2015 by a Wadadli Pen regular. The FOAPL has also provided literary showcases through its Author in Residence series and book club, cultural remembrance through its Collecting Memories online data base, and programmes like its summer read project with the Public Library over the years.
The Cushion Club and Wadadli Pen teamed up to offer a summer reading challenge.
Dorbrene O’Marde becomes the first Antiguan and Barbudan long listed for the Bocas prize.
Joy Lawrence continues researching village histories .
The Art of Mali Olatunji which I reviewed in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books 2016 edition.
Number of Books published (specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 33
Joy Lawrence received a National Award, a rare occurrence for a literary artiste and one that required celebrating on the blog.
Independence Literary Arts Forum (this was a government project).
Writing workshop during the Best of Books summer camp.
Spilling Ink – an arts collective – launched a second book.
My picture book With Grace, a Caribbean fairytale launched.
The Antigua and Barbuda Review of books – edited by Paget Henry, and funded largely by Brown University where he teaches (which begs the question what will become of this project when he is no longer able to helm it?); he also organizes the annual Antigua Conference. The Review continues annually critiquing literary works by Antiguans and Barbudans such as Dorbrene O’Marde’s Nobody Go Run Me and Short Shirt/Shelly Tobitt’s classic Ghetto Vibes album. Both projects began roughly around 2004/5 (ish).
Number of Books published (specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 16
They’re not so officially but I call anyone who travels to represent our country in the literary arts a literary ambassador. In 2017, that was Barbara Arrindell at the Alliouagana Festival in Montserrat, where she presented alongside the likes of Paul Keens Douglas.
In fact, as much as possible, I try to cover any cultural ambassador in the arts, including our soca artistes.
If you’re lucky, your books travel without you and I’m fortunate that my books have traveled and one of their stops (this one fairly close to home) in 2017 was the USVI where With Grace was named to the Governor’s Summer Read Challenge.
Wadadli Pen found another way to give another young person an opportunity when it took on its first intern. Here she writes about her experience; and the project announced a permanent team to push the project forward – included on this team are two writers/literary stakeholders and two former Wadadli Pen winners.
This is really an every year thing – every year for a number of years, I submit or am asked to submit recommendations for the Department of Youth Affairs’ National Youth Awards in Literary Arts; and the prize has gone to the likes of Linisa George and Women of Antigua (2012), Linisa George and Glen Toussaint (2013),Wadadli Pen 2013 and 2014 winner Asha Graham in 2015 with another Wadadli Pen alum Angelica O’Donoghue copping the media award , Zahra Airall (2016), Spilling Ink, an Antiguan and Barbudan arts collective (2017) , and others.
August Rush (the writing and producing duo of Linisa George and Zahra Airall) has given writers a regular showcase for several years consistently through its Expressions Open Mic series but as we all do, they hit a point where self-care and other projects forced them to shelve it in 2017. Another August Rush initiative that provided what was needed for a time is the Young Poets Society of Antigua and Barbuda.
Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure launched with a chat between the US based publisher, Trinidad based writer, and Antigua based writer (me).
Floree Williams Whyte launched independent press Moondancer Books and her first book under the imprint.
Claytine Nisbett launched her first book and re-launched her online magazine.
Tammi Browne-Bannister included in international collection. Submitting
internationally is something I continually advocate on the blog, using my own experiences as example.
We even launched an online book of the year prize that admittedly was too little, too late in terms of planning and promotion and that’s never a good look.
Number of Books published (specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda): 18
Antiguan and Barbudan writer included in a top ten list of Caribbean female writers you should be reading on the Literary Hub.
In the tradition of the Open Mics more than a decade ago now at Traffic Nightclubs and possibly inspired by Expressions, we’ve had, for the past few years, Soothe:
This like other literary/arts activities (including an upcoming workshop on self-publishing by Kimolisa Mings) is listed in the blog’s Arts Roundup series.
It’s worth noting that this blog has not limited itself to the literary arts, nor has the Wadadli Pen Challenge which has included art challenges (illustrations, cover design) over the years. Most recently, I reported on this showing by Antiguan and Barbudan art teachers, and discussion which touched on arts issues like the lack of a national gallery
And we continue to report on film such as the ongoing success of Vanishing Sail on the film festival circuit.
Here at the blog, I also don’t limit what I share to what’s happening domestically – for example, I’m always encouraging our writers to submit to programmes like the Commonwealth Short Story competition.
Really, can there be any talk of literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda without mention of international literary citizen Jamaica Kincaid who added to her considerable accolades with receipt of the Dan David prize from Tel Aviv University – among the literary and cultural news reported on the blog in 2017.
This blog has also covered many issues in arts and culture – in fact, it is to some of these posts that I point people when they approach us – writers and artists – for conversations that rarely, it seems, yield real, juicy, tasty, tangible fruit. Among the things that I have written about in this space…?
- My Dreams of Havana in which I write about my frustrated efforts to get a group of Antiguan and Barbudan writers to the international book fair in Cuba
- The Need for funding of Browne’s literary arts/creative writing programme in the prison
- Arts Registry – a 2014 post inspired by the setting up of an arts registry (whatever happened to that?)
- Policy to Action…or nah – in response to the appointment of someone (a Jamaican) to lead the cultural policy initiative
- Wadadli Pen Gave me a Voice– written by one of our past finalists in 2014
- Arts and Antiguan-Barbudan Independence: A Discussion– transcription of a radio interview discussing the role of the arts
- Endorsed!! – that 2011 open letter about the Independence lit arts comp
- The Value and Cost of Time – valuing an artist and an artistic entrepreneur’s time; still the hardest paradigm shift to effect (still one of my bigger challenges as an artist and freelancer working in Antigua)
- Antiguan and Barbudan Arts a Wish List – covering a lot of the same ground as the Arts Registry post
- Arts in Development – and again
- Guest post (we have these from time to time), this one on unearthing the roots of the Antigua system of education
You can see from this listing – which is only part of the story and only over the 7+ years of this blog’s existence – that the Antiguan and Barbudan literary community has been doing and doing and doing (largely) without any wall, financial or otherwise to lean on.
The blog is, of course, also the home of my baby (as much my baby as any of my books have been), the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. So we report on each year of the prize back to the beginning (2004, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018). Among the services this blog continues to provide are Opportunities and Opportunities Too (the former listing projects, funding, markets etc. and the latter upcoming deadlines); writing and publishing tips (with Resources, Publishing 101 with Eugenia O’Neal, Chatting Writing and Publishing in the Caribbean with Diana McCaulay, Womanspeak: the Lynn Sweeting Interview, Kevin Jared Hosein Breaks it Down, developing your writing skills –tips from Wadadli Pen, On Intellectual Property Rights, Negotiating an ebook contract as just a sample, not to mention the blog’s reading rooms and writing spaces); the A & B Literary Archives – Songwriters, Playwrights and Screenwriters, Antigua and Barbuda Children’s Fiction, Antiguan and Barbudan Poets, Antiguan and Barbudan Writing, Antiguan and Barbudan Fiction, Antiguan and Barbudan Non-Fiction, Published plays and screenplays, A & B Writings in Journals and Contests, Antiguans and Barbudans Awarded, Antiguan and Barbudan Writers on the Web, Song Lyrics data base, Antigua and Barbuda Media: An Abridged RecordAntigua and Barbuda Media: An Abridged Record, Author spotlights-. Jamaica Kincaid, Floree Whyte, Vivian Michael, Swallow, Veronica Evanson Bernard, Kush David, Marie Elena John, Gayle Gonsalves etc., A & B Artistes Discussing Art; A & B Literary Works reviewed; and more); regional and international news (literary festivals, the passing of Derek Walcott etc.); local Arts News – e.g. A & B Arts Round up, Meeting Ashley Bryan, Veteran Calypso Writer now a Novelist; Obits (Nerissa Percival, Roland Prince, Marcus Christopher, X-Saphair King, and others). Wadadli Pen, the blog, has also afforded me the opportunity to see the progress of young people I’ve come in to contact with over the years – such as when former Cushion Club kids shine, or when Wadadli Pen alums stride (e.g. Angelica O’Donoghue, Rilys Adams, Lia Nicholson, Kemal Nicholson, etc.) and, of course, though we still dream of doing a publication, anyone can read for free the winning stories through the years, or other pieces written since by Wadadli Pen alums.
I write all of this to say that work has and is being done, that our artistes have provided something to build on. Within these touchstones are answers to one of the questions now being raised, what do artistes need/want – I think at the root of it though is a desire to be valued, to be a voice, and to be in an enabling environment (access to information, resources, funding, and more). As we stay tuned to see what will jump off in what the Minister of Culture described as a year focused on the literary arts, we will continue working and collaborating, as we have done.
**re versions – When I speak to versions of things, I do so because it’s important to note that we tend to start and start over things in Antigua and Barbuda as though starting from scratch each time. Part of the problem is there has been too little recording of what has come before and too little continuity so that you often do feel like you’re starting from scratch. I discovered a weathered contributor copy of the 168-page book Young Antiguans Write, a 1979 publication of the Ministry of Education and Culture, at my friend Gisele Isaac’s house some years ago. Young Antiguans Write is a collection of the prize winning works of participants in the school creative writing competition that ran from 1968-1978. Both the publication and the creative writing programme was, to my understanding, largely the efforts of someone (Lucilla Benjamin) who was committed to the task within the Ministry. I’m going to assume that once that person moved on for whatever reason, the baton just lay their on the track, unclaimed. Because in my coming of age, I don’t remember such a programme or any sense of a literary culture in Antigua and Barbuda; what I remember is the Independence essay competition that I won one year earning myself a trip to another Caribbean island. There were tourism industry ones that I participated in as well. That was it though, spotty competitions specifically about Independence/Tourism and that memory is in part what made me insist that Wadadli Pen be about whatever the writer wanted to write about (no limitation re theme, the focus on the art not art in service to a particular theme). But as much as I wasn’t aware of Young Antiguans Write, it played a part in Gisele becoming a writer, and Gisele being a writer, the only other Antiguan-Barbudan novelist I knew at the time and the only one that was accessible to me (Jamaica Kincaid was an inspiration yes but a distant idea), us being friends made it possible for me to say, after reflecting on the lack of nurseries for writers in the Caribbean (shout out, to Guyanese writer Ruel Johnson for bringing that bit of clarity to my own fledgling journey as a writer then), hey let’s do this thing. And between me, Gisele and Young Explorer, the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize was born. Starting, but not, though I didn’t know it, starting from nothing. One of the reasons I’ve been talking and angling to find a way to set up this project more formally is because I want it to be continuous; I want the baton to be picked up, and while it’s possible that whoever picks up the baton may not have the passion for it that I did (it is my baby, after all), they should have an awareness of and foundation on which to build – an operational template, a plan, resources, funding, and support – to make its survival not just a matter of will. We’ll see. Meantime, keeping a record of what we do, not just Wadadli Pen, not just my efforts, but our arts and culture (literary arts and beyond) has been important to me so that there is continuity, so that there is an accounting of all this ‘nothing’, so that no one can plausibly question (or believably overlook) the will, passion, talent, and hard work of those of us working in the arts in Antigua and Barbuda. We’ve been here.
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, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). 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.