July 12th 2021 has, as of last year, been dubbed Caribbean Literature Day. Shout out to St. Martin’s House of Nehesi Publishers for coining it in 2020.
Days like this are an opportunity to draw your attention to the literature that gets crowded out by more mainstream titles – and, unfortunately, even in the Caribbean, books from up North still define mainstream. But between #readCaribbean and #Caribathon during Caribbean American Heritage Month (i.e. June, which was also Pride Month and Black Music Month; World Environment Day, June 5th, was also in there making for the most intersection of observances all around) and now Caribbean Literature Day, we’re pushing back, baby.
I thought I would focus here on Wadadli Pen on the often overlooked solo pieces published in journals and anthologies – the readership is small which is unfortunate because some of them are quite good. If I had my way, I would popularize them with dramatized readings for radio. I’ve actually suggested that to local radio but been ignored. Maybe it’s a question of money; the rights of the pieces would have to be secured, voice actors would have to be paid etc. But it would be dope, the appetite for story is not the problem but access either due to money, availability, or even someone not realizing that they might be interested because, I hate to tell you, but if you like movies or mêlée, you like story.
One of the things I’ve tried to do here on the Wadadli Pen blog is share pieces I find in the Reading Room and Gallery series which is 41 deep at this point, a curated salon that you can chill in and come back to at your discretion – how cool would it be if we had the resources to turn it in to a real virtual salon for an immersive reading/listening experience. The arts need money, I tell you.
The other way I try to amplify these literary bites is by sharing every published or performed poem or short story or intertextual piece I can find in one of our many data bases – with the only proviso being it be a real credit (i.e. published in a journal, performed at an official lit event, that sort of thing). For many writers these are the foot in the door that, if the foot is not squeezed out and the door slammed, can lead to a writing career. It was for me.
Let me tell you about BIM.
BIM: Arts for the 21st Century edited by Barbados Poet Laureate Esther Phillips is perhaps the oldest surviving literary journal in the region that is still publishing and relevant today – and even BIM has an uneven publishing life.
BIM was started in 1942, edited first by E. L. Cozier, then by Frank Collymore, who shepherded many of the pioneers of the Caribbean literary canon in to the published world until he gave up the role in 1974. Per the about page of the BIM website, publication became irregular after that, and in 1996 went in to a long hiatus that didn’t end until the relaunch in 2007.
This is around the time that I became aware of BIM and I was a hungry young writer who wanted in. When I learned of the BIM event celebrating Caribbean women writers, I wrote to Phillips introducing myself and my at the time two published books – The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and she didn’t ignore me, as happens. In fact, before I knew what had happened (forgive me if I’m sketchy on the details, it’s been a while), I was on a panel with the likes of Ramabai Espinet, the Indo-Trinidadian Canada-based author of The Swinging Bridge; Curdella Forbes, the US based Jamaican author whose latest book A Tall History of Sugar won the Hurston Wright Fiction prize; Trinidadian poet and artist, Bocas prize winner for Doe Songs, Danielle Boodoo Fortune; Bermudan writer Angela Barry, author of Goree: Point of Departure; and Barbadian poet Dana Gilkes.
This isn’t a books post but see in bold several books you could be checking out (of your library or book store, online or brick and mortar) this Caribbean Literature Day.
Anyway, the imposter syndrome was real but I was also excited to be at this event where reconnections were forged, new friendships made, I soaked up knowledge, and moved the needle a little as a #gyalfromOttosAntigua inching in to the Caribbean literary canon, or trying to.
Publishing in BIM became a goal and, no matter the stage of your career, there is nothing so humbling as submitting to and being rejected time and again by journal editors. They are often brisk and to the point, if they take the time to give you specific feedback. And getting specific feedback – hurt though it might – is actually a good thing; it means that they see you, they just don’t want you quite yet. So you get back to work.
The piece that ended up landing me on the pages of BIM was initially workshopped over at the Caribbean Literary Salon (RIP to that valuable space). It’s a story about a big head boy, teased for that big head and other things, published as What’s in a Name in BIM: Arts for the 21st Century Volume 7 in 2015. See the time gap? Getting in was a hallelujah moment.
I have a bad habit that – with the possible exception of The Caribbean Writer – once I’ve published in a coveted publication I move on to climb the next mountain. New goals. So publishing in BIM again wasn’t something I really-really went after again. Maybe I didn’t want to kill my high at being published by giving them the chance to reject me again. Which is not to say that I never submitted again because I did for the current publication (and I do think the year we’ve had has something to do with me going for it) and one of my submitted pieces was accepted.
I’m always a little jazzed when a poem is accepted because I don’t consider myself a poet though I have published so many poems in journals at this point that that’s a lie. Maybe something to do with one of my more scalding rejections, from a revered Caribbean editor and mentor being “your poetry is not up to the standard of your fiction”. Rejections don’t stop me even when they scald, I keep working, keep submitting, and it’s …nice…when something gets through. I tell that story still not because it’s baggage but because I hope it will inspire some other writer, whether rejected by Wadadli Pen or your dream publication; don’t give up. Maybe your writing could be better, you’ve always got to entertain that possibility, or maybe it’s just not it’s time. Either way, keep writing and keep trying.
And read, read a lot.
I’m still reading the current issue of BIM: Arts for the 21st Century and you should to. You should also check out the journaled writings by Antiguans and Barbudans I’ve compiled here on the blog, so many that they are divided alphabetically A to M, N to Z.
Happy Caribbean Literature Day.
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, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, The Jungle Outside, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.