Category Archives: A & B Lit News Plus

News of what’s happening literally in Antigua and Barbuda

F is for … (from the Caribbean Literary Heritage Forgotten Caribbean Books Series)

Alison Donell of the University of East Anglia in the UK and its Caribbean Literary Heritage project started running a series on forgotten Caribbean writers on social media during the pandemic. She followed that up with a series on forgotten books (in progress at this writing), recruiting writers like me to research, draft, and submit entries  for this series. The series kicked off with a book by Antiguan and Barbudan author Jamaica Kincaid (A is for Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam, and Tulip, 1983, by Keja Valens). I revisited an author whose literary history I had done my best to cobble together over a series of posts here and on my jhohadli blog. it was the necessary prep for this article which I am archiving here now that it’s already run in the series.

F is for The Fountain and the Bough (1938) by Eileen Hall

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Eileen Flora Hall, b. 1903, remains mostly unknown to not only the Caribbean but Antiguan and Barbudan literary canon. Her sole collection The Fountain and The Bough, dedicated to her husband Dr. Michael Lake, was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1938 (per a biography by a family member there may have been earlier editions – 1935, 1936; American Mercury Inc., Harriet Monroe).

The Hall family is well known in political circles in Antigua and Barbuda. Eileen’s brother, Sir Robert Hall, was a founding member of the Progressive Labour Movement, the country’s first parliamentary opposition, and the elected government between 1971 and 1976 during which time he served as deputy premier and the first minister of agriculture. Hall’s father’s family is from Oxford while her mother’s side was Irish and French. Her family’s presence in the Caribbean dates back to the mid-17th century. She migrated to America, via Ellis Island, at age 19.

Hall’s writing was well received in its time. Ford Madox Ford, an influential figure in the literary world, was reportedly among her friends and champions (another was reportedly T. S. Eliot). She spoke French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Greek, and Latin. “Her translations of works by short story writers; and her own poems from earlier issues of prominent literary journals including Harper’s, Poetry, and American Mercury, show the breadth of her literary engagements…Her short stories and translations of other women’s work are strewn in small publications on both sides of the Atlantic,” the A & B Review said. On the point of translations, much of that is lost to history, but a couple of found credits include her translation of Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner and the 1956 Penguin edition of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi.

The alumni magazine of Antigua Girls High School, then a school for elites, celebrated her on her book’s release as “an authentic poet who writes high, restrained verse, with austerity and bitterness…poetry of sorrowful but undoubted music.” Poetry magazine’s review reads, “Not often in a first book does one find structural mastery: the clean, spare welding of word and phrase that gives logical shape and direction to a poem.” It continues, “Eileen Hall’s poems are never glib and facile, always compact, meticulous, assured”. The Poetry review, however, chided her writing’s lack of “adventure…audacity…wit”, its over-attention to discipline and form.

Yet Hall was, in some ways, boundary pushing. While most of The Fountain and the Bough is written in standard English, the book is noteworthy for its use of Creole/local vernacular in several of her poems. The A & B Review commented that her author’s note in her 1938 collection re this aspect of her writing is today “invaluable; while full of irony: ‘the poems in Part IIII, referring to Antigua, West Indies, contain words and allusions that may be unfamilar.’ A rich glossary of ‘the negro dialect of Antigua’[sic] follows, illuminating those six poems – two of which are in the reputed ‘dialect’: (Obeah Woman, and Lullaby).”

From Lullabye: ‘Fool neber ‘fraid w’en moon look bright,/Say, ‘Crab and jumbie lub dark night.’/Jumbie like moon as well as we—/Dey comin’ waalkin’ from de sea./Deir foot tu’n backward w’en dey tread,/ Dey wearin’ body ub de dead/ Dat fisher-bwoy dat wu’k on sloop,/He watch dem waalkin’ from Guadeloupe./Dey waalk de Channel, like it grass;/Den, like rain-cloud, he see dem pass./ Dey comin’ steppin out ub Hell,/Wit burnin’ yeye an’ a sweet smell.”

Clearly, she references not just the language there but the folklore and mythology of home, Antigua. This is even more evident in the short and cutting Obeah Woman: “So lef’ me, ef you waan’a feel/How p’isin sting from manchineel./De bruk leaf blister w’ere ‘e touch./ Who tek lub easy, no’ lub much./Ef you min’in’ gal dat talk so neat/An’ ack so lollice in de street/Goin’ pung de root ub a pepper tree/Fu’ t’row wit’ sugar in yo’ tea./A’ done wit’ studyin’ right an’ wrang./So ‘memba, me no ‘fraid to hang.”

Consider that this was long before there was anything resembling a standard for writing this largely oral language spoken largely by the Black Creole community (Hall was white), and that acceptance of this language as a legitimate form of communication – and not just bad English – remains a work in progress to this day. It’s not known what, if any challenges, Hall encountered publishing in Antiguan vernacular, in the 1930s, especially with non-Caribbean publishers, but she makes it look and read quite effortless. It holds up; powerful imagery, well expressed.

And even with her more standard fare, Hall’s writing casts its eye to the island she never again visited after her father’s death in 1952.

“The dates and names of death no more are seen,
Obliterated by the living green.” (Graves on Barton Hill: Antigua)

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Bio by Eileen Hall’s niece, Robert Hall’s daughter, Yvonne McMillan: – bio link https://jhohadli.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/marie-eileen-flora-hall-lake-by-yvonne-macmillan.pdf

“Biala’s beautiful friend Eileen Lake, ‘long of limb’ …and ‘lithe of back’” from Ford’s work, as referenced in the 2005 biography Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala by Joseph Wiesenfarth.

The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books 2012 edition Volume 5 Number 1 which spotlighted women writers, excavating, per the words of guest editor Edgar Lake, no known relation, “a small part of what lies forgotten in libraries and museums around the world”.

Susan Stan writes in Heidi in English: a Bibliographic Study (New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship Volume 16 Issue 1 – 2010, p. 1-23) that “little else is known about her (Hall). This translation, along with Edwardes’, is one of the two most widely disseminated today and may be the translation most contemporary British children have grown up on. In both the U.S. and the U.K., if one were to look for a new copy of Heidi in paperback, this would be the likely option.”

Poetry review of The Fountain and the Bough was published in January 1939 and written by Ruth Lechlitner, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 223-225. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20581627

CREATIVE SPACE 15 of 2018. November 6th 2018. https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/creative-space/creative-space-2018/creative-space-15-of-2018-antigua-and-barbuda-an-art-history-culture-tour-3

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Carib Lit Plus (early to mid August 2020)

A reminder that the process with these Carib Lit Plus Caribbean arts bulletins is to do a front and back half of the month, updating as time allows as new information comes in; so, come back.

Cancellations and Closures

The online children’s literary journal Anansesem has ceased publishing. It explained via open letter: “We’ve been forced to reconsider our professional and personal priorities. Under normal circumstances, it’s challenging running a small literary magazine when we receive such little funding and are unable to pay contributors and team members. In these drastically changing times, when jobs are on the line and the financial future is uncertain, it’s become clear that running a magazine using volunteer staff, as we’ve done since our inception, is no longer feasible.” The website remains online and the online bookstore remains open. Read the full open letter here.

The Antigua and Barbuda Conference would have taken place in early August right after Carnival, but, like Carnival, is has been cancelled. The organizers, in an email announcing the cancellation, said: “Our plan was to look at the impact of the migration and the brain drain on Antigua and Barbuda. We will try to keep this topic on the agenda for next year, but it may have to share this focus with the impact of the corona virus on Antigua and Barbuda. The 2020 issue of The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books will be coming out in the fall. It will carry forward the examination of Barbuda begun at last year’s conference, as well as featuring concerns of its own. We will do our best to get it online, so that all of us can have access to it. We will certainly miss the intellectual stimulation and synergies of our gatherings. Stay well, stay safe, and, with this pandemic behind us, hopefully see you next year.”

Reading Recs

Bocas’ Books that made us campaign has produced a top 10 that includes the classics you’d expect (Miguel Street, The Dragon can’t Dance, The Lonely Londoners, The Year in San Fernando, Annie John, Summer Lightening etc.) and some newer entries including no less than two entries apiece by two Caribbean modern Classics (Edwidge Dandicat – Breath, Eyes, Memory and The Farming of Bones; and Marlon James – Book of Night Women and Brief History of Seven Killings). Read the full report here. Remember my list?

Speaking of Bocas, its Bios and Bookmarks series continues: unnamed

Intersect, an advocacy project out of Antigua and Barbuda, that’s focused per its instagram page, on “connecting Queeribbean & Caribbean feminists through storytelling, art, and gender justice” has, after a quiet period, become quite vibrant in the COVID-19 quarantine era. Having put out a call for people to share their Caribbean and Queribbean feminist stories, as well as stories on colourism. They’ve so far posted audio excerpts of stories by writers from Turks and Caicos, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, and, continuing, from other places. They’ve, also, been sharing book recs, art and original interviews (including one with me) on their instagram page.

Accolades

Bahamian Alexia Tolas was first long listed then short listed (Niamh Campbell of Dublin was ultimately announced as the winner) for the 2020 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award for ‘Granma’s Porch’. She is the only Caribbean writer on the list. She was the Commonwealth Regional prize winner in 2019. See the full listand learn more about the authors.

The long list for the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival Elizabeth Nunez Award for Writers in the Caribbean has been announced. It’s a long one.

 

 

 

As seen in the images (click for full view), the long list includes writers from Antigua and Barbuda (Joanne C. Hillhouse, ‘Vincent’), Barbados (LaFleur Cockburn, ‘Blight Tone’; Akim Goddard, ‘At De Busstop’), Dominica (Yakima Cuffy, ‘De Souvenir Shop’; Delroy N. Williams, ‘Deported’), Guyana (Tristana Roberts, ‘Backtrack Home’; Sonia Yarde, ‘Cursed’), Jamaica (Kim Robinson-Walcott, ‘Ridin Bareback’; Amanda Rodrigues, ‘Breast Milk’; Sharma Taylor, ‘The Story of Stony’ – Taylor is from Jamaica but resident in Barbados), Puerto Rico (Nahomy Laza Gonzalez, ‘The Greats’; Adriana De Persia Colon, ‘Bathroom Visits’), Trinidad and Tobago (Akhim Alexis, ‘Gone America’; Theresa Awai, ‘The Lagahoo in the Blue Sweat Pants’; Suzanne Bhagan, ‘The Village Seamstress’; Joanne Farrag, ‘All Skin Teeth’; Rashad Hosein, ‘Fry Chicken’; Sogolon Jaya, ‘The Autobiography of my Father…because my mother didn’t want me’; Alexander Johnson, ‘Pulling Bull’; Ryan Seemungal, ‘Quiet Revelry’; Hadassah K. Williams, ‘Vizay’). Twenty one writers overall by my count.

The BCLF is also offering a short story prize for Caribbean writers living in the diaspora. That short list is shorter and includes Stephanie Ramlogan, ‘The Case of the Missing Eggs’; Lisa Latouche (of Dominica), ‘Summer’s End’; Max Smith, ‘Morning Prayers’; Deborah Stewart, ‘Wash Belly’; Marisa Blanc, ‘Going, Going, Gone’; Gabrielle Patmore, ‘Unavailable’; Fana Fraser, ‘Saturday Night’; Krystal Ramroop, ‘Sticky Wicket’; and Jennelle Alfred, ‘Ella, Anika and the Cricket Ball’.

Congrats to all and good luck to all.

To Shoot Hard Labour Project Ends (and RIP to Sir Keithlyn Smith)

The month long celebration via the Voice of the People summer reading project of To Shoot Hard Labour chronicling roughly 100 years of the life of Antigua and Barbuda, 19th century to 1980s, through the life of Antiguan and Barbudan working man Papa Sammy Smith ended on the last day of the month July 31st 2020. Later that night  Carnival the death of co-author of the book Keithlyn Smith was announced. The legendary union man (longstanding general secretary of the Antigua Workers Union) had earlier that day communicated, via his daughter,  affirming the acknowledgment of To Shoot Hard Labour by the likes of Dr. Natasha Lightfoot, daughter of the soil, professor at an Ivy league university in the US, and author of her own history book Troubling Freedom, meant to him after initially having his book undermined on its release. This video is of the first week’s discussion of the book which featured Dr. Lightfoot. RIP to Sir Keithlyn who leaves behind a legacy of both championing workers rights and returning to Antiguan and Barbudan people their own story.

The project has announced eight-year-old Rheikecia Manning as the winner of its dioramma competition. She gave her interpretation of the Yeoman’s Old Road estate at Cades Bay complete with sugar mill, Antigua Black pineapple, wattle and daub house, cane, and a woman preparing to wash clothes and place them on the stone heap.

Carnival and Cropover

In the midst of summer 2020,  COVID-19 shutdown blues, hurricane/storm anxieties, and a summer at once damp and dry, Caribbean people (read: Carnival people) have been finding ways to keep the music playing and the fete going. It hasn’t all been easy sailing with the government in Antigua and Barbuda getting tough on gatherings, prompting push back, and reinforcing beach shutdowns on public holidays, which begs the question is it Carnival Monday with no j’ouvert and no beach. As with everything else, while the live Carnival has been cancelled, some aspects have gone on line – on August Monday there was what seems to be an unofficial Opposition organized Emancipation Day Kayso Monarch competition broadcast across ZDK, Observer, and Progressive FM, and won by G-Eve who sang about uniting to fight “this Corona malady”.

Meanwhile on the national station ABS TV, streamed live online, was a Soca Monarch Virtual edition. This was also streamed on Emancipation Day night which means that, yes, calypso and soca were once again battling for fans’ attention – unfortunately. At this typing there was no declared winner for the latter. ETA: Veteran of the arena Blade was declared the winner. So, we’ll just place a picture of Naycha Kid who has in recent years returned to the soca stage, after a long hiatus due to being born again. The gospel artist is no longer singing about Another Man taking your place, but he is still full of vibes.

No it does not skip notice that the calypso viewers were roughly 20% of the party monarch viewers, and also that the numbers overall weren’t great for either – what questions hang on that, do we really care about calypso? is virtual Carnival not doing it for people? What to say but mek out ’til 2021?

A personal highlight was the spotlight on the Watch Night celebrations which usually get lost in the Carnival but with no Carnival this year was featured live on ABS TV on July 31st in to August 1st – Emancipation Day (1834).

Over in Barbados, meanwhile, the show went on with Cropover online, branded Freedom Festival 2020. Activities include a virtual art gallery, online lit magazine, ben ovah dance competition, spoken word showcase, and theatre show.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure/Perdida! Una Aventura en el Mar Caribe, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on 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.

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CARIB Lit Plus (Mid to Late July 2020)

Acclaim

A couple of Caribbean writers have been named among the Hurston Wright Award nominees for 2020. I spot among the Fiction nominees Jamaican writers Nicole Dennis-Benn (Patsy) and Curdella Forbes (A Tall History of Sugar). Read the full list here.

Book News

Not book news but screenplays are the books of the film world and the last CREATIVE SPACE focused on Antiguan and Barbudan films available online. The series runs every other Wednesday in the Daily Observer and on my blog.

Caribbean Literary Heritage used the inaugural Caribbean Literature Day as an opportunity to kick off its Caribbean A – Z of lesser known books series. A is for Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam, and Tulip (1983) is presented by Keja Valens @kvalens, who writes, “Kincaid’s story narrates a moment of first contact between Caribbean natives and conquistadors, from the point of view of the Caribbean natives who are also constituted by the history that will result from that meeting. It features the stylistics, themes, and even characters for which Kincaid is well known: a deceptive simplicity, a deep concern with the colonial and post-colonial experience of Caribbean girls and women, and Annie and Gwen.” They’ll be doing the whole alphabet – including an F entry by me, so check them out by clicking on the page name above.

NDOA-cover_PB-768x1023

Myriad Publishing in the UK has lots of news re the global anthology New Daughters of Africa, featuring more than 200 Black women writers from around the world, and edited by Margaret Busby. First, the recipient of the Margaret Busby New Daughters of Africa award, made possible because all participating authors waived their fee, went to Iza Luhumyo of Mombasa. Additionally, 500 copies of New Daughters have been donated to schools in the United Kingdom via The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise that campaigns for black British histories to be taught from reception through to A Levels. Myriad’s publishing director Candida Lacey said, “It feels more urgent now than ever to improve the way we educate our children and young adults and to share with them the richness, range and diversity of African women’s voices and across a wealth of genres.” The paperback edition of New Daughters will be out in September.

Caribbean Reads Publishing has announced that it is actively seeking #ownvoices manuscripts for middle grade readers, roughly 8 to 13 years, with a Caribbean setting. There’s no published cut off date but don’t sleep on it. Go here for submission details. Caribbean Reads has also recently released a reading guide for its Burt Award winning title Musical Youth. Download it for free here.

A reminder that Caribbean Reads publishing is accepting middle grade manuscripts. “What’s a middle-grade novel? These are books for readers in the last years of primary school and early years of high school. These readers are beyond picture books and early chapter books but not ready for the themes in YA novels. Age range of readers: 8-13 years. This is a large range and will include simpler, shorter books for the 8-10 range and slightly longer, more involved ones for the 11-13 year olds. Length: 15,000 – 50,000 words. This is a guide. There are longer middle-grade books. Character ages: 10-14 years old. Generally children like to read up, so the protagonists should be slightly older than the children in your target age range. They can’t be too old or the concerns that are most realistic for your characters will be too advanced for your readers. General features: The story must have a compelling plot line and at least one sub-plot (this is one of the features that distinguishes the middle-grade novel from the earlier books).
Adults should have minor roles. They should never step in to solve the children’s problem. The book should show a clear understanding of the protagonist’s point-of-view and concerns as a child. The books may be one of a variety of sub-genres: realistic, fantasy, historical, humorous, etc.” For more, go here.

The Voice of the People’s reading of Keithlyn and Fernando Smith’s To Shoot Hard Labour continues all July (July 10th, 17th, 24th, 31st). Don’t forget the youth tie-ins.

And the live trivia, prizes for which include copies of books by local authors

ETA: I’ve uploaded week 1 of the reading club discussion to my AntiguanWriter youtube channel

Carnival 

What’s there to say? Carnival is cancelled. Or is it? As we settle in to this new normal the news that Carnival has been cancelled has morphed in to some aspects of Carnival is going online. There will be a t-shirt mas via zoom and a party monarch with a $15,000 purse. Registration is ongoing at this writing. I’m going to link the Antigua Carnival page though I was not able to find, with a little digging around, info on these announced events – it is a (too) busy page though so I maybe missed it; either that or it’s not updated yet which would be confounding considering it’s already been in the news. But here’s the page– otherwise, google.

Black Lives Matter

Yes, here in the Caribbean too. A recent addition to the conversation – the part of it having to do with the dismantling of racist iconography – is an op-ed by writer-publisher Mario Picayo, who resides in the VI and in the US.

with-grace-cover

Mario Picayo’s Little Bell Caribbean published my book With Grace, which centres a dark-skinned Black girl in her own faerie tale.

Entitled Healing the Present by Owning the Past, it was published in the St. Thomas Source and took shots at things in public spaces named for slaver-pirate Francis Drake, colonialist ruler King Christian IX of Denmark, and other things European (and American).

‘Francis Drake was a pirate for the English Crown, and an early slave trader. Together with merchant John Hawkins, a relative, Drake made several trips to Africa between 1561 and 1567 and participated in the triangular trade. During their first trip they reported capturing “at the least” 300 Africans in Sierra Leone through a campaign of destruction and violence. As late as the 1580’s Drake enslaved people during his trips through the Caribbean. In one instance he took “300 Indians from Cartagena, mostly women” as well as “200 negroes.” In Marin County, California, Drake’s statue will be removed and the name Francis Drake Boulevard will be changed.’

Antigua and Barbuda actually has some experience with this – the changeover of European names to one of more local significance, more generally, but the changeover of things named for Drake and Hawkins specifically as well. When I was a child there were streets named for them. Post-Independence, King Obstinate did a song, ‘Sons of the Soil/True Heroes’ that as a child and still I believe changed attitudes and policy regarding some of the things named for European colonists and enslavers. There are still many things named for them, of course, but gone were Drake and Hawkins streets, and two other parallel streets in St. John’s City, and in their place were streets named for legendary cricketers Sirs Vivian Richards and Andy Roberts, and future national heroes King Court and Nellie Robinson. Still no Short Shirt Village nor Swallow Town though.

Read Mario’s full article here.

RIP

Dame Edris Bird (born 1929), former resident tutor of the University of the West Indies Open Campus (Antigua and Barbuda)/University Centre, has died. She has been offered an official funeral “in celebration of (her) selfless contribution to nation building”. In an obit I recommend reading in full, the Daily Observer newspaper speaks of her considerable (and little known to those of us who came after) arts advocacy (for example for the details of the time she stood up to then Prime Minister and Father of the Nation and her brother in law Papa Bird in defense of free expression on the nation’s station).  “The University of the West Indies under her leadership was a mecca for education, the arts, cultural expression, and exploration of self-awareness and self-fulfillment. She encouraged theatrical performances (see RULER IN HIROONA and CEREMONIES IN DARK OLD MEN), and nurtured great playwrights and actors like Dorbrene O’Marde, Edson Buntin, Eugene ‘Rats’ Edwards, Irving Lee, Dr. Glen Edwards, and the cast of Harambee Open Air Theatre. Pan blossomed and flourished, as did African drumming and creative and contemporary dancing. Public speaking and debating thrived; poetry and prose performances all found room for expression at the University Centre. It is without fear of contradiction that we declare that the University Centre under Dame Edris Bird was the cultural and educational hub in Antigua and Barbuda.”

Lit Events

ETA The read2Me_TT bedtime readings are ongoing. Happy to have been included  sure to check out their channel.

Intersect is a Caribbean gender justice advocacy group out of Antigua and Barbuda which recently invited me to participate in a discussion on colourism and more in my Burt award winning teen/young adult novel Musical Youth. Here’s the full instagram live video.

ETA: Weekes is part of the faculty of the new Faculty of Culture, Creative and Performing Arts on the UWI Cave Hill campus. It launches online August 1st 2020 at 6 p.m. our time with performances and speaches. Here’s a link.

 

ETA – this event has come and gone; here’s a report. ETA: And here now is the uploaded video of day one of the event – subscribe to the page for notifications re day 2 and more going forward. View my reading during the event on my page AntiguanWriter which you are invited to subscribe to as well

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure/Perdida! Una Aventura en el Mar Caribe, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on 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.

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CARIB Lit Plus (Early – Mid July 2020)

A Note from the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Team

Recently, an eagle-eyed reader of this blog brought an incident of plagiarism related to a 2016 Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Challenge entry to our attention. While it is four years too late to retrieve the prizes this entry would have received, we have removed it from public view and corrected the record, we will be informing the recipient, and will be more diligent in future to ensure that plagiarized entries are not rewarded. The development of young people, the encouragement of original creativity, and the integrity of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize are important to us. We wish to thank Mary (the reader’s name) for bringing the offence to our attention and we apologize to the author of the original piece which was plagiarized. It is not in keeping with our mission and our standards to steal from another writer. We will do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Awards

Britain based, Jamaican born dub poetry pioneer Linton Kwesi Johnson is the 2020 recipient of the PEN Pinter Award. The award is meant to defend freedom of expression and celebrate literature. Read details of his win at The Guardian.

Book News

FINAL-Obeah-Race-and-Racism-Invitation-page-001-232x300 British Virgin Islands writer Eugenia O’Neal’s latest book investigates Obeah, Race and Racism: Caribbean Witchcraft in the English Imagination. Her book is being published by UWI Press. A virtual launch is set for April July 17th 2020 11 a.m. Register here. Her previous books include the pirate adventure Dido’s Prize, reviewed on this blog. She’s also been previously interviewed here on the blog about Publishing.

crCaribbean Reads Publishing has announced that it is actively seeking #ownvoices manuscripts for middle grade readers, roughly 8 to 13 years, with a Caribbean setting.  There’s no published cut off date but don’t sleep on it. Go here for submission details.

The Bookseller reported that Hamish Hamilton has acquired UK and Commonwealth rights, Doubleday the US rights, and Bond Street Books the Canadian rights to Ayanna Gillian Lloyd’s The Gatekeepers. A ghost story and a love story set in modern Trinidad, Lloyd’s homeland,  it has been described (per Hamish Hamilton) as “mythic and timeless” and at the same time “sharply contemporary”. The book is set to debut in 2022 with a second novel Dark Eye Place to follow in 2024. Now, that’s how you do it!

Reading Recs

Bocas Curated Reading

Bocas has been very active this COVID-19 season with a lot of online content including an arts survival kit that includes readings of works by Bocas prize winning poet Richard Georges, former Commonwealth Short Story prize winner Ingrid Persaud, Andre Bagoo, Anu Lakhan, a tribute to Kamau Brathwaite, and more. Find it online here.

You can also find up to 40 renowned Caribbean and other writers reading Brathwaite’s work on YouTube at the Kamau Brathwaite Remix Engine.

Home Home

The US edition of Home Home (Delacorte Press) by Trinidadian writer Lisa Allen-Agostini dropped somewhat quietly during quarantine but it’s been getting some big reviews. The Burt Award winning title, initially issued with Papillote Press, was written up in Publishers’ Weekly, which said: “Allen-Agostini (The Chalice Project) uses clear, concise prose to break down the daunting reality of depression and anxiety. Strong interpersonal dynamics balance hard themes, including homophobia, suicidal ideation, troubled parent relationships, and the minimization of depression, resulting in a quietly optimistic story.”

You can also catch Allen-Agostini in conversation with Diana McCaulay, Shakirah Bourne, and me (Joanne C. Hillhouse) in Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights right here on the Wadadli Pen blog.

Lit Events 

Antigua and Barbuda Conference Cancellation

The annual joint conference of the University of the West Indies (Antigua and Barbuda Open Campus) and the Antigua and Barbuda Studies Association, usually held in August, has been cancelled. The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books which typically launches at the conference will be out in the Fall.

Caribbean Literature Day 

July 12, 2020 has been proposed by St. Martin’s House of Nehesi Publishers as Caribbean Literature Day. The call was made a the closing of the 2020 St. Martin Book Fair, its 18th.  Writers, aspiring writers, literary festivals, book clubs, journals, creative writing programs, and all creative artists, institutions, and media of the Caribbean region; all Caribbean peoples; and all lovers of Caribbean writings, authors, and books, from everywhere in the world have been asked to participate. How? Per a press release, “by reading the works of your favorite Caribbean authors; buying Caribbean books, published in the Caribbean and beyond, and by Caribbean authors; and presenting Caribbean books as gifts. Celebrate the day with books, recitals, and with discussions about books, of poetry, fiction, drama, art, music, and all the other genres by Caribbean writers.” Here’s the full press release: OES News 20_Statement_Caribbean Literature Day

ETA (09/07/20) The Institute of Gender and Development Studies Regional Coordinating Office (IGDS-RCO), out of the University of the West Indies’ Jamaica campus, has announced that it will be teaming up with House of Nehesi Publishers to celebrate Caribbean Literature Day. It will host two Zoom webinars under the theme: The Gendered Word on July 12, from 12 noon to 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Poets, writers and teachers of literature in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean are invited to read their work and the works of other Caribbean writers or comment on Caribbean literature. Those who wish to participate may email their interest at: igdsrco@gmail.com.

Also, contact Lasana M. Sekou Projects Director Nehesi@sintmaarten.net

To Shoot Hard Labour

The seminal Antiguan and Barbudan retelling of the history of Antigua and Barbuda from the lived point of view of Samuel ‘Papa Sammy’ Smith is being celebrated all month long on Observer Radio 91.1 FM. The virtual summer reading project will air specifically Fridays (July 10th, 17th, 24th, 31st) on the popular Voice of the People programme which typically runs from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., later, I believe, on Fridays. It is being co-produced by Beverly Georges of the Friends of Antigua Public Library based in New York. Special guest presenters will include Dr. Natasha Lightfoot, Agnes Meeker, Paddy ‘the Griot’ Simon, children from The Cushion Club Reading Club for Children in Antigua and Barbuda, me (Joanne C. Hillhouse), and the co-author of To Shoot Hard Labour Keithlyn Smith. A number of activity tie-ins for young readers are planned. See flyer:  diorama

TSHL-Project2

Don’t forget to check Opportunities Too for more opportunities with pending deadlines.

TCW Webinar and Launch

The Caribbean Writer has announced that Volume 34 after COVID related delay launches its digital edition on July 7th 2020 and the print edition “on or about July 16th 2020”. The editor, Alscess Lewis-Brown (who has Antiguan and Barbudan roots by the way, though resident in the US Virgin Islands) has also announced a July 19th 2020 webinar. The six hour event, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., will be held under the theme ‘Interrogating the Past, Re-imagining the Future’. There will be presentations and an opportunity for contributors past and present to share for five minutes one of their published pieces. This is The Caribbean Writer’s facebook page; here’s the sign up link.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure/Perdida! Una Aventura en el Mar Caribe, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on 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.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, Literary Gallery, The Business, Wadadli Pen 2016, Wadadli Pen News, Workshop

Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing – Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights 5/5

Recently, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda) reached out to three female Caribbean writers (Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, Lisa Allen-Agostini of Trinidad and Tobago, and Shakirah Bourne of Barbados) with whom I have in common the distinction of being a finalist for the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature (Diana with Daylight Come in 2019 and Gone to Drift in 2015; Shakirah with My Fishy Stepmom in 2018; and Lisa with Home Home in 2017; my own Musical Youth was a 2014 finalist).

daylight comeGone to DriftMy-Fishy-StepmomHome HomeMusical Youth

The three writers interviewed for this series have further distinguished themselves by selling rights to U.S. editions of their Burt books (McCaulay’s Gone to Drift released in the US market with Harper Collins in 2016; Lisa’s Home Home’s US edition landing in 2020 with Delacorte Press; and Shakirah’s book forthcoming in 2021 with Scholastic). I want to thank them for making the time because I believe their experiences, different though they are, are an education on publishing, especially if you’re a Caribbean Writer. The conversation is serialized due to length (so click here for the start of the series) – there are 5 questions.

Q. 5. I also want to touch a bit on the value of an author as a brand. How do you feel valued as a Caribbean author, how do you feel not valued? – re speaking fees, copyright etc. but, also, generally.

Lisa: I have always taken my branding seriously. I got married at 19 and took my husband’s last name primarily because there were other Lisa Allens out there writing and I needed a unique brand. Lisa Allen-Agostini is a hellishly long name but it’s one-of-a-kind. I built my brand as a creative writer alongside my brand as an arts journalist and critic. Since 2009 when I joined Facebook I began using that platform to post about my events and publications. I also post about literary events I attend and regional literary news. I got an Instagram account a few years ago and those work in tandem. I also have a blog which isn’t active at the moment. I’m not one of those shy writers who pretends their work hasn’t been published. I post everything, and I accept nearly every invitation to speak or read. I have intellectual capital from this brand-building, and I sometimes get asked to judge competitions, give speeches or sit on panels to discuss the creative arts. I participate in the Bocas Lit Fest annually, doing every reading or panel discussion I’m invited to do.

  • Gone to Drift on the shelf at Powell's, Portland, Oregon

    Gone to Drift on the shelf at Powell’s, Portland, Oregon. Having a US edition for Diana meant seeing her book on shelves in the US, one of the biggest global markets, for the first time.

Diana: I don’t think of being an author as a ‘brand’ at all. I really distrust that characterization – plus I occupy a, let us say, somewhat uncomfortable position as a light skinned Caribbean writer of privilege. So the entire process of promoting myself and my work is very, very difficult for me – I wish I did not have to do it at all. I don’t think I’m particularly effective in front of an audience, and I hate saying to anyone – buy my book. Or: Laad, post a review, nuh!?

Lisa: I do get paid commissions to write pieces. I don’t usually get paid for speaking or reading (the Burt tour was an exception), though I might get a commemorative gift from the people who invite me. A lot of unpaid labour goes into being a writer. I can spend five to ten hours a week managing my social media–more if I have an event. The week of the Bocas Lit Fest I’d be gone all day, every day, attending readings and panels and photographing them, and lurking in the lounge to meet and network with publishers and other writers.

Calabash 2016 @Cookie Kinkead

Diana presenting at the Calabash literary festival in Jamaica in 2016. by Cookie Kinkead.

Diana: Huge amount of unpaid work. Huge. I do get paid to write sometimes, I seek out those opportunities, but I would say it’s underpaid. I’ve never been paid for speaking as a writer, occasionally I’ve been paid as a competition judge or reader.

Lisa: I do feel valued, even cherished, as a writer. However, I wish we had a system of patronage so that writers could survive without having to hustle doing the kind of work that pays bills. People advocate the hustle. I don’t, but with no arts council funding in the region it’s impossible to avoid.

Diana: Do I feel valued as a writer? Hmm. Sometimes. Not often. But I’m also aware that writers tend to have huge amounts of insecurity about their writing, so it’s possible that my feelings of lack of value are more to do with my own weaknesses than an objective situation. But yeah, there’s no arts council support here and I think it’s true everywhere that only the mega stars can afford not to work at other jobs. I remember hearing Olive Senior once say that she wished she had more time to think, to dream, to create, and I do wish that too.

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Diana with the last of the Burt Award finalists in 2019.

I also want to say that more recently, I feel optimistic about the success of Caribbean writers on the world stage, I started to list names, but then realized what a long list it is. I’m proud to be an editor for PREE, a new online magazine celebrating contemporary Caribbean writing. I’m glad we have our own festivals – a growing number too. So I’m happy to be a part of the Caribbean writing community.

Shakirah:  Joanne, in an article you once described me as “never doing one thing at a time, it seems, on the page or in life” and that is such an apt description. I started off in adult short fiction, but then became known for my comedy films, and now I’m venturing into children’s fantasy books; I am a marketer’s nightmare. However my brand has always been “authentic Barbadian stories” and I hope that readers, viewers, attendees, whoever, expect to be entertained and enlightened in some way when they consume my work.

The market is flooded with books and other content from Western media, so I’ve found that local consumers really value my Bajan stories, and international readers are excited to experience a different point of view. So whether it is an elderly Bajan woman laughing at the local cinema, or an email from a reader in the UK who is grateful for the little taste of home or an acceptance from an international publisher, I have always felt valued as a Caribbean writer.

I expect to be compensated for my time, especially for paid events, and I don’t depend on other persons to assign a value to it. It took a while, but I’ve become very comfortable in asking “do you have a budget?” Fortunately I’ve not interacted with many people who are surprised by the question. I appreciate when people are upfront about not having a budget and if I’m still interested, we discuss avenues for funding, or compensation in kind. When I’m invited to events, they usually cover all expenses and at least offer a per diem if they can’t afford speaking fees.

Still, there are few avenues for literary funding and for authors to make money from public speaking. For instance, in the US, earnings from school appearances can be significant; I was shocked at the average fees for a school author visit. Not many public schools here could afford a fraction of that price, but they do have supportive teachers who are happy to buy a certain amount of books. It may be a while before it is commonplace for an author to charge so much for a school visit, but in the meantime I try to partner with local cultural organisations to facilitate these sessions.

*’

That’s it that’s the series – here are links to parts 1, 1.2, 2, 3, 4, and interviewer Joanne C. Hillhouse’s take, after some prompting, on her own questions. I’ve since made my answers in to an addendum to the series here on the Wadadli Pen blog – an unofficial part 6. Alternatively, you can use the search feature to the right to find earlier installments of these women breaking down their experiences in publishing. It’s worth noting that their published books are only one part of their CVs. Lisa is a comedian and freelance writer, Diana is an environmental activist; and Shakirah is a filmmaker and consultant; and

I am a freelance writer and editor, writing coach and course/workshop facilitator; Me before the reading and that’s only a part of it.

 

All images are courtesy of the authors and interview was conducted and published by Joanne C. Hillhouse. You can excerpt and share with link-back/credit but do not republish without permission.

 

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Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing – Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights 4/5

Recently, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda) reached out to three female Caribbean writers (Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, Lisa Allen-Agostini of Trinidad and Tobago, and Shakirah Bourne of Barbados) with whom I have in common the distinction of being a finalist for the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature (Diana with Daylight Come in 2019 and Gone to Drift in 2015; Shakirah with My Fishy Stepmom in 2018; and Lisa with Home Home in 2017; my own Musical Youth was a 2014 finalist).

daylight comeGone to DriftMy-Fishy-StepmomHome HomeMusical Youth

The three writers interviewed for this series have further distinguished themselves by selling rights to U.S. editions of their Burt books (McCaulay’s Gone to Drift released in the US market with Harper Collins in 2016; Lisa’s Home Home’s US edition landing in 2020 with Delacorte Press; and Shakirah’s book forthcoming in 2021 with Scholastic). I want to thank them for making the time because I believe their experiences, different though they are, are an education on publishing, especially if you’re a Caribbean Writer. The conversation is serialized due to length (so read the start of the series here) – there are 5 questions.

Q. 4. What opportunities have opened up for you as a direct result of being published in different markets? Do you have other editions by region of the Burt or any other books pending?

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Lisa during a stop on her Burt/Bocas book tour, San Juan North Secondary School. Photo by teacher Karen Sankar.

Lisa: I’ve had good reviews for Home Home’s Delacorte edition from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist; I’d never been reviewed by any of them before. [Edited to add: Trinidad Noir which Lisa co-edited was reviewed by Booklist in 2009]. Schools and libraries have expressed interest in it. Though the book’s Papillote edition has Caribbean fans, it hasn’t been warmly welcomed by schools and libraries here because it contains LGBTQ themes, a no-no in the Caribbean. I’m glad to give new, more liberal markets a shot. I have no other books pending but if you know anybody who wants to buy a contemporary domestic noir manuscript of 71,000 words…

Diana: Being published by Harper Collins got me the Kirkus star I mentioned and the better sales numbers, and also access to a call for proposals for Caribbean writers to write children’s stories for Collins Big Cat in the UK. I pitched a children’s booklet for schools and it was accepted – will come out this year.

I was a finalist for Burt twice – last year I placed third for my forthcoming novel, Daylight Come. I wrote it as a young adult novel, but I kept thinking about it and realized I wanted the story of an adult character to be explored in the book. So after Peepal Tree Press and Papillote Press expressed interest, I rewrote Daylight Come substantially as an adult novel, which will be published this year by Peepal Tree Press in September, Covid-19 allowing. Both Peepal Tree and Papillote offered me a contract – that was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. Boy, did I ever wish I had an agent then!

At EIBF with Lisa Thompson

Shakirah on a panel at the Edinburgh International Literary Festival.

Shakirah: The US edition of my book is coming out in Summer 2021, and I’ve just moved on to the copyediting stage so it’s still very early. However, I was included in my agency’s foreign rights catalogue and my book was to be pitched at international book fairs, but those were cancelled due to COVID-19. Still, fingers crossed that there will be news of new editions in the near future.

I have written other children’s books since then which will be pitched to my publisher so we shall see …

*

Q.5. and the author responses will follow in the final installment of the series.

All images are courtesy of the authors and interview was conducted and published by Joanne C. Hillhouse. You can excerpt and share with link-back/credit but do not republish without permission.

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Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing – Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights 3/5

Recently, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda) reached out to three female Caribbean writers (Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, Lisa Allen-Agostini of Trinidad and Tobago, and Shakirah Bourne of Barbados) with whom I have in common the distinction of being a finalist for the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature (Diana with Daylight Come in 2019 and Gone to Drift in 2015; Shakirah with My Fishy Stepmom in 2018; and Lisa with Home Home in 2017; my own Musical Youth was a 2014 finalist).

daylight comeGone to DriftMy-Fishy-StepmomHome HomeMusical Youth

The three writers interviewed for this series have further distinguished themselves by selling rights to U.S. editions of their Burt books (McCaulay’s Gone to Drift released in the US market with Harper Collins in 2016; Lisa’s Home Home’s US edition landing in 2020 with Delacorte Press; and Shakirah’s book forthcoming in 2021 with Scholastic). I want to thank them for making the time because I believe their experiences, different though they are, are an education on publishing, especially if you’re a Caribbean Writer. The conversation is serialized due to length (so click here for the start of the series) – there are 5 questions.

Q. 3. What have you learnt through this journey about the business of publishing? – What tips do you have for navigating the publisher and/or agent relationship; Biggest mistakes to Best decisions. Think of this question in light of what you would say if you were mentoring your younger, yet unpublished, self.

Lisa: My advice: Submit your work. Be honest with your editor and realistic about deadlines. Persist. Network. Follow through.

Diana: I can’t say anything about the agent relationship – I did have one briefly, but she delivered nothing, even avoiding a scheduled in person meeting with me in New York. I’ve tried to get an agent because I do think it helps a writer to get a better deal, but in the current literary market, it’s harder to get an agent than a publisher, in my opinion. One issue for Caribbean writers who are resident in the Caribbean is that publishers and agents worry that you will not be able to do the kind of publicity a writer living in a literary market can do. And the days of writers being able to adopt a mysterious reclusiveness are long gone – you have to be out there, at library readings at which six people show up, doing the dreaded (for me, anyway) networking, etc.

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Diana in a panel with other Burt 2019 winners at the Bocas Literary Festival.

Shakirah: I want to jump in to say that I’m grateful that my location was never brought up as an issue, because doing that dreaded networking (I feel the same) is much easier thanks to technology. Of course it would be much simpler for a US-based author to pop into a book store and sign books and establish a face to face relationship with readers and distributors, but booksellers and librarians are just as open to having online events. In the time of COVID publishers have relied on digital promotions and understood that these meaningful connections can still be forged from a distance. I would not refuse a physical book tour once it’s safe to travel again though!

Diana: Regarding the relationship with publishers, I have had three now, the thing I wish most is that they would communicate more regularly with you, tell you what they are doing for your book. Your contract will most likely require an annual royalty payment, so you know nothing about how sales are going until one year and three months has passed. In a way, you send your book out into the world and the only feedback you get is if you are reading in front of audiences, and those do not necessarily translate into sales, or the few emails and Amazon or Goodreads reviews you might get If you’re doing your own publicity you have no way of knowing what brought sales, and it’s easy to believe your publisher is not doing much.

This is why I self-published my fourth book. I wanted to see how difficult it was to promote my own book – I felt like I was doing quite a bit of promotion for my books that had publishers. And the answer – I’ll save readers some heartache – is that publishers are doing A LOT. They just don’t necessarily tell you about it. So, much as self-publishing gets easier and easier, I learned that everybody needs an editor, and even very low-key publishers have networks you have no access to as a writer. You asked about biggest mistake – and in one way I think the decision to self-publish White Liver Gal was a mistake, but it was a necessary one for me to make and I am glad I did it.

white liver gal
I’ll also say that I kept the e-book rights for my first two books (until recently), and the thing I loved about that was I could go online every day if I wanted to and see who downloaded my books, where they lived in the world, and the royalties would be sent directly to my bank account by month end. It was important, real-time feedback that made me feel connected to a reading public.

Lisa: The best decision I made was to tell Polly about my mental health conditions, even though I was afraid she would judge me. I had terrible anxiety and depression while publishing other books before and because it was a surprise to the editors I was working with they didn’t know how to respond. Being honest with her helped both of us. I followed the same route in working with Monica.

Shakirah: I have learnt that the journey to publication is more dependent on luck and timing than talent. We all know several amazing writers who are still waiting for a book deal, and are hoping to submit the right book to the right editor at the right time. In my experience, a lot of quality manuscripts aren’t selected for publication because the publishers already have a similar title on their list or are unsure of how to position the book in the market. It was difficult, but I had to learn to separate myself from the book, and understand that rejection is most likely a business decision and not a personal one; a rejection of your work is not a rejection of you as a writer. It has nothing to do with your ability to write or the value of the story. I had to redefine the meaning of rejection, and realize that every “not for me” brought me closer to finding the right editor, eliminating those who were not the best advocates for my work. It may take some writers more time to find that publisher, and the journey requires LOTS of patience, but in the mean time I’ve learnt to focus on what I can control—the writing.

Clear communication is key in navigating a relationship with both an agent and publisher. With an agent, it’s important to know what kind of support you’re looking for. Do you need an agent who is editorial and can help develop your story? A career agent or simply an agent for one manuscript? Do you want an agent with a good sales record in the genre? An agent who advocates for diversity and represents clients you admire? Figure it out and only query agents who you genuinely want to work with and whose goals and values align with yours. Talk to current clients, read and listen to interviews before signing with an agent. Don’t just say yes to any offer because having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. And always voice concerns. Though my agent readily answers all my questions, I still worry about bothering her or being seen as demanding. I have to constantly remind myself that it is an equal partnership and it’s her job to give insight and guidance along the publishing journey.

This can be applied to a relationship with a publisher as well. Speak up and ask for what you want. If you have an agent, you can voice these requests and let the agent communicate with the publisher. If there’s no agent, then engage with the publisher directly and do not be afraid of the word “No”. I think this fear of rejection stops us from asking for things that we want, and instead we sit and hope that the publisher offers and then get terribly disappointed if they don’t. Do not let fear of the word “no” prevent you from trying.

I think this ties into the question about biggest mistakes—that fear of the word “no”. Most of my unfavourable situations have come out of my fear of offending and subsequently acquiescing to unfavourable terms. I’d just advise that you get a lawyer or agent to look over every contract.

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Caribbean students with several Burt titles including Lisa’s Home Home.

Lisa: I don’t know if I’ve made any big mistakes. For many years I won no prizes and was quite despondent about what I perceived to be my lack of success, but if I’m honest I’ll admit I’ve had more success than most so maybe I was doing something right.

Diana: If I were mentoring my younger, unpublished self, I would say – grow a very thick skin because no matter how successful you get, your work is still going to be rejected. I saw a post recently by Bernardine Evaristo, the 2019 Booker Prize winner for her book Girl, Woman, Other, that a commissioned short story she had written was rejected. I had the impression that once you “made it” as a writer, rejection was a thing of the past, but this is not the case. I would tell my younger self – write all the time. Submit. When stories or articles get rejected, send them somewhere else. Try to stop thinking about “success” – try. It’s hard to define anyway, and I know I keep moving the goal posts on myself. The thing I hate most about writing for publication (I have always written and will always write, but writing for publication is a different thing) is that feeling of envy you get when other writers win prizes, even prizes you have not entered! What’s that about?? But apparently we all feel that, and if I could get rid of those feelings, that’s what I would zap.

I would also say to my young writer self – learn your craft. I’ve done work as a creative writing teacher, a reader and editor and I’m often struck by how sloppy some of the submissions are – poor grammar, cliché-ridden, point of view changes in every other sentence and so on. If you want to write, be serious about it. Study it. Do workshops. Read widely and constantly. And write. And submit. And submit again.

largephoto_burt_award_caribbean_2015_winners_0

Diana at her first Burt ceremony in 2015.

Shakirah: I’d tell my younger self to trust in your story. Stop worrying about international editors not understanding the dialect or getting the subtext or voice. The story will appeal to its intended audience. Continue to read, experiment, challenge yourself and go where the pen (or keyboard) guides you. And practice self-care! All the inevitable rejection and waiting can take a toll, so make sure you have a good coping mechanism.

Get involved in the writing community and spend time around like-minded persons who can empathize with your journey, help you brainstorm ideas and give advice on navigating through the industry.

*

Q.4. and the author responses will follow in the next installment of the series.

All images are courtesy of the authors and interview was conducted and published by Joanne C. Hillhouse. You can excerpt and share with link-back/credit but do not republish without permission.

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Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing – Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights 1.2/5

Recently, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda) reached out to three female Caribbean writers (Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, Lisa Allen-Agostini of Trinidad and Tobago, and Shakirah Bourne of Barbados) with whom I have in common the distinction of being a finalist for the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature (Diana with Daylight Come in 2019 and Gone to Drift in 2015; Shakirah with My Fishy Stepmom in 2018; and Lisa with Home Home in 2017; my own Musical Youth was a 2014 finalist).

daylight comeGone to DriftMy-Fishy-StepmomHome HomeMusical Youth

The three writers interviewed for this series have further distinguished themselves by selling rights to U.S. editions of their Burt books (McCaulay’s Gone to Drift released in the US market with Harper Collins in 2016; Lisa’s Home Home’s US edition landing in 2020 with Delacorte Press; and Shakirah’s book forthcoming in 2021 with Scholastic). I want to thank them for making the time because I believe their experiences, different though they are, are an education on publishing, especially if you’re a Caribbean Writer. The conversation is serialized due to length (so click here for the start of the series) – there are 5 questions.

Q. 1.2. You’re all Burt authors – the process involves the opportunity to select from a number of Caribbean publishers, tell me about your decision making process – why was your publisher right for your book, and do you have any thoughts on the Burt Award experience generally?

Shakirah_Bourne pic
Shakirah: When I first decided to submit to Burt, I did research on the previous winning titles and several were published by Tanya Batson-Savage of Blue Banyan Books. I really admired the gorgeous cover designs and high quality of the books, and then truly enjoyed reading the stories. In making my final decision about a publisher, I spoke to previous Burt Award winners, and everyone spoke highly about Tanya’s editorial skills. Still, it was a tough decision because I was also impressed by another publisher who had great reviews and was passionate about my story.

After I had submitted the manuscript to Burt, I decided to try to find an agent in case the book wasn’t shortlisted and so I dived into the US publishing industry. Actually, it was more of a belly flop than a dive but luckily I managed to snag the interest of a top US agent at the same time I was informed that the manuscript was shortlisted for Burt. I thought I had to choose between the two opportunities, but a seasoned local author gave me a lesson in literary rights and I realized that I could negotiate with all parties. I’ve written about the full experience of finding an agent on my blog. In the end, I went with the publisher who had no issues in having only Caribbean rights to the book.

Lisa:  The best part of the Burt Award for me was the guaranteed publication and distribution to regional libraries and youth literacy programmes. Not only would I have a book, it would be sold and it would be in libararies and in young people’s hands. I was ecstatic about that. I self-published when I was 18 and I still have copies of the book at age 46 so I know publication without marketing and distribution is a bust. With Bocas Lit Fest, Burt also organised a schools reading tour which took me to meet hundreds of young readers and got mainstream media and online spotlights for the book.

Diana: Lisa was able to do the book tour, I see. I am glad Gone to Drift is in libraries throughout the Caribbean, but I’m also aware that this has to be supported by some programme, or it just remains on the shelf. I’ve tried to get Gone to Drift as a set book for regional exams, and I think now it is on an optional reading list, but not as required reading.

Shakirah: I loved knowing that the Caribbean edition was available in libraries and schools all around the region. As a previous self-published author, I never had the resources to get that far a reach. NALIS in Trinidad selected My Fishy Stepmom for their “One Book, Many Schools” programme, where students read the book and did displays, art competitions, craft activities etc inspired by the book. With the support of BocasLitFest, I created a My Fishy Stepmom Educational Package that included discussions, quizzes (Fishy Feud!) and even science experiments for young readers and is available free online. I had the absolute pleasure of librarians engaging with me on social media, and sending photos of classes reading the text and playing the games.

Barrackpore West Secondary School (Photo by BWSS Library Media Centre

Barrackpore West Secondary School (Photo by BWSS Library Media Centre)

Edinburgh Collage

Shakirah at Edinburgh International Book Festival.

One of the most rewarding opportunities was being able to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2019. Janet Smyth, who was the Head Judge for Burt and also the Children & Education Porgramme Director extended an invitation to all the Burt winners and we were all part of the Schools’ programme. I also was asked to conduct two workshops during the festival. I met so many of my favourite authors and was fangirling throughout the entire event.

*

Q.2. and the author responses will follow in the next installment of the series.

All images are courtesy of the authors and interview was conducted and published by Joanne C. Hillhouse. You can excerpt and share with link-back/credit but do not republish without permission.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, Literary Gallery, The Business

Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing – Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights 1/5

Recently, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda) reached out to three female Caribbean writers (Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, Lisa Allen-Agostini of Trinidad and Tobago, and Shakirah Bourne of Barbados) with whom I have in common the distinction of being a finalist for the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature (Diana with Daylight Come in 2019 and Gone to Drift in 2015; Shakirah with My Fishy Stepmom in 2018; and Lisa with Home Home in 2017; my own Musical Youth was a 2014 finalist).

daylight comeGone to DriftMy-Fishy-StepmomHome HomeMusical Youth

The three writers interviewed for this series have further distinguished themselves by selling rights to U.S. editions of their Burt books (McCaulay’s Gone to Drift released in the US market with Harper Collins in 2016; Lisa’s Home Home’s US edition landing in 2020 with Delacorte Press; and Shakirah’s book, renamed Me Against the Sea, forthcoming in 2021 with Scholastic). I want to thank them for making the time because I believe their experiences, different though they are, are an education on publishing, especially if you’re a Caribbean Writer. The conversation is serialized due to length (each installment linked at the bottom of the one before it) – there are 5 questions.

Q. 1. You’re all Burt authors – the process involves the opportunity to select from a number of Caribbean publishers, tell me about your decision making process – why was your publisher right for your book, and do you have any thoughts on the Burt Award experience generally?

 

Lisa Allen-Agostini by Wayne Lee-Sing

Lisa, 2020 by Wayne Lee-Sing

Lisa: The Burt Award was a huge deal for me. Financially, it was a gift, as I live as a writer and the prize was significant even for the third place winner. (I was doing freelance journalism at the time and now I’m doing stand-up comedy. Yeah apparently I like being hungry.) The promise of publication was extraordinary because the lit market is tough; even though I had already had a novel published [The Chalice Project, Macmillan Caribbean, 2008] I still have no agent. When I got the publisher options from the award I researched them online. I chose Papillote Press even though it wasn’t offering the biggest royalties.

 

Diana McCaulay 2020 Credit Michael Vicens 3+MB

Diana, 2020 by Michael Vicens

Diana: The Burt Award is, well was, a wonderful prize to get. It was lucrative, it included a guarantee to a prospective publisher that a certain number of books would be bought by the prize and distributed to libraries in the Caribbean. So for the first time, I had publishers seeking me out, instead of the other way around. I had published two novels before Gone to Drift with Peepal Tree Press, but they as publishers were not eligible as they were not located in the Caribbean. I had no agent then, and still have no agent. As Lisa said, I considered the publisher options and also decided to go with Papillote Press, partly because I had read Polly Patullo’s work previously, due to my other life as an environmental activist. My only disappointment with Burt was there was a promise of a local book tour and that never materialized, I am not sure why.

 

Shakirah_Bourne pic

Shakirah

Shakirah: I was not interested in writing books for children, even though several peers suggested I give it a try because of my penchant for writing short fiction from a child’s perspective. But the Burt Award was such a rare opportunity for any author, especially from the Caribbean, to win a publishing contract, a cash prize and guaranteed sales & distribution of books; I could not resist. I edited an old manuscript (taking out all the R-rated content lol) but unfortunately it wasn’t selected for a prize. When I saw the call for submissions the following year, a project had just been cancelled and suddenly my schedule was clear for three weeks. I was inspired by Joanne’s blog post where she revealed that she wrote her winning Burt book in two weeks and I challenged myself to write a new story to submit to the competition. In writing My Fishy Stepmom, I realized that I had been so focused on creating stories to highlight a particular social issue or as commissioned work (freelance) or with a budget in mind (for film) that I truly forgot the joy of writing for fun. The Burt Award helped me to re-discover my calling and unearthed a love for writing fantasy; it changed my life.

Diana: I want to say that in my experience, there are only a few things that make a difference to the sales of your book – a champion who is well connected in one or more major literary markets, reviews and prizes. So any prize opens doors – without a prize, you probably won’t get invited to festivals, you might not get reviews, your book just won’t get much attention. A prize is something to hang publicity on, a focus for social media posts etc. The Burt Prize was unusual because of the guarantee of sales for a publisher.

Lisa: Papillote’s publisher is Polly Patullo. Her books are gorgeous. I’d reviewed her Lawrence Scott collection and the book was a beautiful object, not to mention a good collection. She also had Diana McCaulay on her list with a previous Burt book. I wanted to be able to offer Papillote my other unpublished work, which includes a collection of short fiction and an adult novel-length manuscript. She hasn’t picked up either but she was a sensitive and thoughtful editor; as a publisher she was thorough and painstaking and prompt in her payments (very very important!). And her edition of Home Home is indeed a beautiful book.

 

 

(Above, Caribbean editions to the left, US editions to the right)

Diana: I agree that Polly’s books are beautiful – in fact, I prefer the cover done for Gone to Drift by Papillote than the one later done by Harper Collins, after the US rights were sold. I also enjoyed working with her as an editor – she was thorough, respectful and pushed me in essential ways. The Harper Collins edition got Gone to Drift a Kirkus review and star – that had never happened for any of my work before. I don’t really keep a good track of reviews, so I’m not sure if there were others, but I do remember that one.

*

The responses to Q.1 are running long and so they have been split in to two. I’m calling part 2 Q. 1.2.

All images are courtesy of the authors and interview was conducted and published by Joanne C. Hillhouse. You can excerpt and share with link-back/credit but do not republish without permission.

 

 

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Sample Saturday: Away From Home

This post is inspired by Booker Talk’s Sample Saturday: Around the World Post. I thought I’d do it while waiting for my computer to do things. Flipping it to books written by Antiguans and Barbudans (citizens and/or residents) set Away from Home (i.e. not set in Antigua and Barbuda). Fiction, obviously. I’m sure I can find three. Fingers crossed.

London Rocks by Brenda Lee Browne – This is the story of Dante Brookes, a young man growing up in London in the late seventies and early eighties when sound systems ruled the party scene for young, Black British youth of Caribbean heritage. He navigates the loss of friends, police harassment and being a teenage father while forging a career as an MC. Dante stumbles into the acting profession and also becomes a writer. It is through these disparate experiences that he learns that the pen and mic at mightier than the sword.

I do think this is one of those books that should have gotten more notice than it did. I explained why in my review.

Verdict: Definitely check it out.

Considering Venus by D. Gisele Isaac – This explores the almost-unacknowledged issue of lesbianism among Caribbean women and adds to it the complication of a heterosexual perspective.  It asks, “What happens when girlfriends becomes more than friends?”

Though the characters visit Antigua, the book, if I’m remembering correctly, is primarily set in the US (the Northeast US, I believe) where the author was resident at the time.

Verdict: Breaking taboos way ahead of the curve (it came out in the late 1990s); a timely classic. Get it.

Unburnable by Marie Elena John – Haunted by scandal and secrets, Lillian Baptiste fled Dominica when she was fourteen after discovering she was the daughter of Iris, the half-crazy woman whose life was told of in chanté mas songs sung during Carnival—songs about a village on a mountaintop littered with secrets, masquerades that supposedly fly and wreak havoc, and a man who suddenly and mysteriously dropped dead. After twenty years away, Lillian returns to her native island to face the demons of her past.

Of course, there are a fair number of Antiguans who will say Dominica (the French/English Caribbean republic – not the Spanish country that takes up half of Hispaniola) doesn’t count, so intertwined are our families, but it is technically Away.

Verdict: A Hurston Wright Legacy Award nominee and a really good read spanning generations.

That’s my three. I started scrolling through the Antigua and Barbuda Fiction List and hit three books I’d read and liked that were set Away before even getting to Jamaica Kincaid (take your pick, Lucy – NY or See Now Then – Vermont), or having to pull the books with only a few scenes Away (like my own Dancing Nude in the Moonlight – Dominican Republic), or hit the children’s book (Rachel Collis’ Emerald Isle of Adventure says it’s set in Montserrat right there in the title).

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 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on 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.

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