I am Joanne C. Hillhouse, an Antiguan and Barbudan writer.
The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize is a passion project I conceived in 2003 and launched back in 2004.
21 Random* Facts (Of My Choosing) About Me
*Fair warning, some of these illuminate my writing life and some are just really random
- I graduated the University of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica), class of 1995, with a degree in Mass Communications.
- My Story ‘Amelia at Devil’s Bridge’, short-listed in 2013 for the Small Axe Fiction Prize, published in 2014 in Peekash’s Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, has been studied by students at LaGuardia College (NY) and University of Belize, and is now excerpted in the Collins Concise Revision Course CSEC English (Harper Collins, UK, 2017, 2021).
- My manuscript Musical Youth placed second for the inaugural Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Fiction in 2014 and was subsequently published by Caribbean Reads Publishing later that year.
- I love Carnival and Calypso, as evidenced by my poem, Children Melee, published in Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters.
- I am known for my writing, but I’ve also worked in TV and film production, and was actually involved as associate producer and production manager, respectively, in Antigua and Barbuda’s first and second feature length films (The Sweetest Mango and No Seed). I was not, however, involved in the production of the documentary The Making of the Monarch, though IMDB has credited me as appearing as self (?).
- I love to walk and think and explore wherever I am. It’s good for clarity of mind and creativity as well.
- I studied and played guitar for years as a teen, and though I’m no Zahara, my experience with and love for the instrument helped me write the Musical Youth character.
- I am a self-described #gyalfromOttosAntigua. Its funny how the community that nurtured you remains part of your DNA, no matter where you roam.
- My first children’s picture book was Fish Outta Water (my second is With Grace). I wrote it initially so I’d have something to read when reading to kids too young for the books I had written. I test read it to them and to the kids at the Cushion Club, with which I volunteered, and kept re-fining it. Initially published by Pearson (UK) in 2013, I inked a deal in 2016 to re-issue it with Caribbean Reads as Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure.
- My most travelled poem is probably ‘Ah Write!’ – initially published in The University of the Virgin Islands’ Caribbean Writer, it has also been published in the PEN America Journal and performed on and off island (e.g. at the 2012 Nature Island Literary Festival in Dominica). Depending on when and where you hear me perform it, it may reference past US president Barack Obama or past Antigua Calypso Queen Ivena but never both at the same time. It is the only one of my poems I’ve ever been able to recite by heart.
- I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to recommend and work with Antiguan and Barbudan artists on several of my projects (Glenroy Aaron did the Musical Youth cover, Zavian Archibald did the cover and illustrations for the first edition of Fish Outta Water, Heather Doram did the cover for the second edition of The Boy from Willow Bend and the art for my story The Other Daughter published in Adda). I always try to think of which local artist might be a good fit for a project, and from there, Caribbean.
- I freelance – writing articles for magazines (like this one for Caribbean Beat), and providing writing and editing services for ALL types of projects, in addition to coaching and facilitating courses/workshops. And because the freelancing life (and #TheWritingLife when you’re from a small place) is all about creating and accessing opportunities, I think of myself as being #onthehustle
- As I said in this interview, “Jamaica Kincaid is a favourite writer of mine. In fact, discovering her book Annie John years ago was one of those steps on my journey to accepting that it wasn’t so crazy to want to be a writer.” It wasn’t just that she was from Ovals, Antigua, neighbor to my Ottos, Antigua and was doing this thing I didn’t dare dream about doing, but also that the physical and emotional landscape of the book were so intimately familiar and opened up this idea in me that our lives were also worthy of great literature. No, disrespect to the literary heroines – Fern, Jo, Margaret, Mike, etc. – I grew up reading and loving.
- The title of my novel Oh Gad! was inspired by the clay coal pots (also a visual and thematic motif in the book) that my family on my father’s side has been involved with for generations and generations before that. In fact, my aunt, who is still keeping up with the art and craft of pottery making has earned a national award for her contribution to culture. If you come through Antigua, go through Sea View Farm and stop by Elvie’s Pottery (named for my late grandmother) for one of her keepsakes.
- I mentioned that I love calypso. Well, I also love soca. Actually, you’d be hard-pressed to find a genre of music I won’t at least nod my head too. I’ve got the music in me.
- When I started Wadadli Pen, I had no idea what I was in for and I’ve felt like tapping out a time or two – and in fact did for a three year period – but the more it continues, the more invested I feel in making this a permanent part of our culture, a vehicle through which writers and non-writers from Antigua and Barbuda can begin to find their voice.
- I’ve learned that if you knock you never know what door of opportunity may open to you, but you’ve got to wedge your foot in the door and risk it getting snapped off. In addition to my books, and the opportunities to travel and represent that it’s presented to this #gyalfromOttosAntigua, I’ve done what I love best (write) on the pages of international publications like Bookbird (Journal of International Children’s Literature), Writer’s Digest, and (the mothership!) Essence.
- Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, my second book, an inter-cultural romance I began writing during/after (one or the other) a visit to the Dominican Republic, was re-issued as part of a collection (Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings) that includes stories and poems that were previously published in various journals and at least one new story. Its re-issue and that of The Boy from Willow Bend a reminder that each end is just another beginning (it just takes time).
- Though I’ve never lived in Canada, my story ‘Man of Her Dreams’ is published in In the Black: New African Canadian Literature (Insomniac, 2012). The editor was Antiguan-Canadian writer Althea Prince.
- Short Shirt is my favourite calypsonian. Having grown up on his music, it’s still kind of trippy to me that I’ve had opportunities to interview him.
- Once in the long ago, when letters were written on paper and sent by mail (not on the back of a snail but it might as well have been), I had a pen pal in America; wish I could remember her name so that we could re-connect on facebook.
My Books are
The Jungle Outside (picture book, Collins, UK) – 2021
Musical Youth (teen/YA novel, 2nd placed for the Burt Award for teen/YA Caribbean literature, Caribbean Reads, St. Kitts & Nevis/USA) – 2014, 2019
(named a top 100 indie book by Kirkus Reviews in 2020)
Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure (picture book, Caribbean Reads, US/St. Kitts-Nevis) – 2017
(also Spanish language edition Perdida! Una Aventura en el Mar Caribe, 2018; previously Fish Outta Water, Pearson, UK, 2013)
With Grace (picture book; Little Bell Caribbean, US) – 2016
Dancing Nude in the Moonlight: 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings (adult contemporary fiction novella, and other writing, various genres; Insomniac, Canada) – 2014
(original novella Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Macmillan, UK, 2004)
Oh Gad! (adult contemporary novel; Strebor/Atria/Simon and Schuster, USA) – 2012
The Boy from Willow Bend (Fiction; Hansib & Macmillan, UK) – 2002, 2009
Read more about my Books and the books I’m in.