This picks up where the previous installments of Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed pages left off (use the search feature to the right to dig them up). As with those earlier pages, it features reviews about A & B writings that I come across as I dig through my archives or surf the web. You’re welcome to send any credible/professional reviews that you come across as well. They’re not in any particular order, I just add them as I add them; some will be old, some will be new. It’s all shared in an effort to underscore, emphasize, and insist on Antigua and Barbuda’s presence in the Caribbean literary canon.
“I was looking for short stories by Caribbean writers, recently, and I stumbled upon this collection…There are thirteen stories in the book. I enjoyed reading all of them. Some of my favourites are these…(listed third after “The Whale House” by Sharon Millar and “A Good Friday” by Barbara Jenkins) I loved Joanna (correction: Joanne) C. Hillhouse’s novel ‘Musical Youth‘ and so was excited to read this. A young woman finds herself in the rocky shore of the sea and she is naked. She doesn’t know how she got there. What happens next and the truth when it is revealed is unexpected and heartbreaking.” (Vishy’s Blog)
“7. Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse – YA literature is dominated by American writers. Joanne C. Hillhouse is from the Caribbean, from Antigua. This novel is a beautiful peek into Caribbean YA literature. It is about being young, being in love, and the beauty of music. It is beautiful. Hoping to read more of Hillhouse’s books this year. The one I am looking forward to reading is ‘Dancing Nude in the Moonlight‘. It looks very beautiful.” (Vishy’s blog: 2022, My Year in Reading)
Funtimes, a Philadelphia run magazine for the African diaspora, in an article entitled “Stories from 4 Antiguan and Barbudan Authors to Read on Antigua and Barbuda Independence Day“, wrote about Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” (“a glimpse into the lives of women in Antigua and Barbuda”) and Mr. Potter (“explores life, class, and culture in Antigua and the theme of broken family structures”), Althea Prince’s Loving This Man (“a story of transformation”), Marie Elena John’s Unburnable (“intriguing”), and a short story of Joanne C. Hillhouse’s entitled “Little Prissy Palmer” (“intersections of class, ideals of success, literacy, the outcast and an unlikely friendship”).
“All in all, for a short book this novel had a profound effect on me. The straightforward prose masks a sense of melancholy and I found myself getting quite sad as the novel progressed, as there seems to be a tone, not just of sadness, but of resignation. When Vere cries into the belly of an unknown woman as he desperately wants comfort after Tanty passes, the way the reverend’s wife runs back to her husband knowing he abused June and the manner in which Franklyn is fed corn to stop him talking while he tries to make tearful amends with Vere all add up to a prevailing sense of lonesomeness. A sense of futility in the face of overbearing internal forces.
“This collection of short stories continues to be a revelation. Each one is bold and unique in shape – short enough to read in one sitting, but with an emotional impact that far outlasts their length. These vignettes give voice to girls who might have beautiful, painful and transformative relationships with their communities, mothers, and selves.” – Alake Pilgrim, Bad Form about Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River
“I loved Musical Youth. It is a beautiful love letter to music, to being young, to family, to falling in love, to inspiring teachers. It is about love, loss, unearthing family secrets and dealing with them positively, seeing the evils of racism and colourism and learning from them and becoming a wiser and a better person as a result. It is also a beautiful education in music, especially Caribbean music.” – Vishy’s Blog’s take on the Joanne C. Hillhouse book
Wadadli Pen doesn’t typically participate in the #WomanCrushWednesday hashtag, especially on a Wednesday that has been so taken up with getting my every other Wednesday CREATIVE SPACE column (an oddly laborious task this particular Wednesday) posted. Especially-especially with Wednesday about to end. But I wanted to draw your eye up to the most recent/current of our rotating banners and an author you should be reading, Althea Prince (pictured here with then PM Baldwin Spencer as the first recipient of an award offered by our then literary festival – both the award and the festival are no more). At this writing, the books featured in the banner were all written and/or edited by the Canada-based, Antigua-born writer, who is a member of the superfluously talented Prince family that includes writers Ralph and John, sculptor Arnold, and musician Roland. Let’s go through them left to right and potentially add them to your library.
ETA (240122) the banner (since it has now been updated and I thought I should archive it with this post):
Ladies of the Night – suggestive of both a sweetly pungent (at night) local flower and ladies that work the streets at night, it is the story of women (not exclusively working working women) but women from all walks of life, negotiating their womanhood in the relationships with the men in their lives and the very specifically Antiguan society -with one exception as I remember it – that they occupy. As I flick through my memories of this book I remember the tray lady and the scroops scroops of washing the underwear of an unfaithful man and the girl who got into trouble for singing the benna about “how you panty get wet?” and the woman who on being told that her husband was cheating was only relieved that she would have some relief from having to give him wife (as I mentioned in my accent tag video, wife is sex in Antiguan)
The Politics of Black Women’s Hair – I remember this book came out around the same time, give or take, as Chris Rock’s Good Hair documentary and covers similar ground but from a more personal and sociological standpoint. I remember too having to explain to someone who scoffed at the very idea of hair being political what the author meant and after they read the book for themselves, they got it. Politics is not limited to ballot boxes and partisanship but is about the discourses that inform how we live – our history, our reality, the systems that shape us, the institutions that socialize us, how we come to be, and who we are. For Black women for whom wearing their own hair had to become a whole natural hair movement for us to reclaim our roots, and for whom said natural hair is still considered unprofessional and dirty in some spaces, hair is very much political. Julianne Okot Bitek, writing at Straight.com, is quoted in Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed II as saying The Politics of Black Women’s Hair “will remain an important contribution to the conversation about the social and political pressure that black women continue to face in public.”
Let’s take a music break.
In the Black – Althea’s contribution to literary arts in Antigua-Barbuda and Canada is singular and significant. She has edited several collections that have amplified voices from both these spaces and at their intersection. These have included the first of its kind collection of Antiguan and Barbudan literature So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End and this one, subtitled New African Canadian Literature, that looks mostly to the great North. As noted in my reporting when this book came out in 2012, I was invited to be a part of this collection (though not being Canadian or Canada-based) because, it has been my experience, that encouraging and putting on lesser known writers and giving them a bigger platform is a big part of what she’s about. She’s about community and that’s another way beyond her pen game, that she’s an inspiration.
Being Black – It’s not the style of this site to get tangled up in letters, but Dr. Prince is an accomplished academic in addition to being a superlative creative writer and this one is an exemplary example of that. So, I’ll say it, if you’re looking for a college text to add to your dis/course on race and the insidious nature and impact of racism, you can’t go wrong with this essay collection.
Black Notes – This is, to the best of my knowledge, her most recent collection bringing together various voices from Antigua-Barbuda and Canada. I actually haven’t read this one so I can’t really say anything about it. So I’ll let another reader have a say. From goodreads: “Some of the entries are rather basic but a number of them are small shiny gems that provide access to, and acknowledgement of, the experiences of black women (and girls). Not a long book but certainly an interesting and thoughtfully collected anthology..” & “These stories and poems come from black women from a wide variety of backgrounds. They deal with issues like misogyny, patriarchy, dysfunctional relationships (familial and personal), grief, mental health, and colourism within the black and brown community.” This second reader listed as favourites ‘Oya’ by d’bi.young anitafrika, ‘A Life…A Spirit…A Name’ by Barbara A. Arrindell, ‘Dear Daddy’ by Gayle Gonsalves, and ‘If I Were a Black Girl in Love with Myself’ by Jemeni. One other goodreads reader said, “liked the poems”.
Loving this Man – I think this may have been the first Althea Prince book that I read after her children’s book (a favourite) How the East Pond got Its Flowers. Yeah, pretty sure I read it even before Ladies of the Night which predates it. This multi-character, decades spanning novel is womanist in its underpinnings and informative, moving, and entertaining in its effect. Reviews are mixed, for this more than any other book of hers I’ve seen, with the first half (the Antigua chapters) getting more praise than the second (set largely in Canada within the politics of the Black power movement). But the Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed II cites one reviewer who credits her “lyrical command of language… (and handling of the) interiority of the experiences of Black women as colonial subjects and immigrants.”
She is prolific and she is profound and five minutes out from Thursday, she is Wadadli Pen’s first ever (and probably last) Woman Crush Wednesday.
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.
But that’s not the point. The point is….there is no point just an opportunity to acknowledge some of the people who’ve helped shape life in Antigua and Barbuda over the last hundred years or so according to … a very small group of people …with internet access … and a facebook presence … who had time today (not today) … and were aware that there was a poll being run by a random person on the internet.
Like I said, it’s not scientific.
But it was fun and educational, and culturally-relevant; all reasons I thought sufficient to bring the top 10 here to the Wadadli pen blog. My primary interest was in seeing how many of our artists made the list but it’s an opportunity for us to reflect (especially as the year winds down, and as we lose more and more) on the people who have shaped life in Antigua and Barbuda.
So, here we go.
Top 10 Most Influential (in Antigua and Barbuda) of the last 100 years … (according to some people on facebook):
10 – tied – Elvira Bell, Christal Clashing, Samara Emmanuel, Kevinia Francis, and Junella King (i.e. Team Antigua Island Girls – first all Black, all female team to row the Atlantic), Baldwin Spencer (former Prime Minister and former leader of the Antigua-Barbuda Workers’ Union),
Jamaica Kincaid (celebrated international author of fictionalized memoirs like Annie John, Lucy, and See Now Then whose newest book is a children’s picture book based on one of her early short stories), Lester Bird (former PM and officially designated National Hero who published his autobiography The Comeback Kid in 2019), Prince Ramsey (Doctor/HIV-AIDS awareness activist, calypso writer and producer who died in 2019) – one social media commenter said of Dr. Ramsey “I think he’s the most inspiring of them all”
Edris Bird (former resident tutor of the UWI Open Campus who in 2019 also became a Dame), Andy Roberts (bowler, first Antiguan and Barbudan to play for the West Indies Cricket team, knighted),
Winston Derrick(deceased host of Observer Radio’s Voice of the People and co-founder of Observer Media Group which transformed the media landscape and broadcast media especially after a legal battle for the right to broadcast that went all the way to the privy council and with its victory opened up the broadcast media door for others to enter)
6 – Alister Francis (late former principal of the Antigua State College, a groundbreaking tertiary institution of its time for Antigua and Barbuda and the eastern Caribbean)
5 – George Walter (Antigua and Barbuda’s second premier and former leader of the Antigua-Barbuda Workers Union; officially designated National Hero)
4–Nellie Robinson (late former educator, founder of the TOR Memorial school which is credited with breaking down class/social barriers in Antigua and Barbuda, and officially designated a Dame and our only female National Hero)
3– V. C. Bird (deceased; second president of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, which is credited with boosting the voice and fortunes of Black and working class people in late colonial era Antigua and Barbuda, first Chief Minister, Premier, and Prime Minister – Father of the Nation, and first officially designated National Hero)
2– Tim Hector (late pan African political activist; media pioneer – founder of the Outlet newspaper and writer of the Fan the Flame column; fighter for press freedom through his investigative reporting, and battles in and out of court including the privy council, arrests, and alleged arson; award winning journalist; commentator on politics, culture, sports; and political candidate)
1 – Viv Richards (second Antiguan drafted to the West Indies cricket team, the only Windies captain never to have lost a Test, one of Wisden’s top five cricketers of the 20th century, and officially designated National Hero)
So a handful of artists made the top 10 which is always good to see. But I did wonder who were the top 10 artists in the poll overall, hence this second list. According to the same poll – but in reverse order – and highlighting only the arts side of their life – these are the top 10 artists among the Most Influential in Antigua and Barbuda of the last 100 years or so…according to the voters in this particular social media poll:
1 – Obstinate
2 – Short Shirt
3 – tied – Prince Ramsey,Jamaica Kincaid
4 – tied –Swallow(who with Obsinate and Short Shirt make up the Big Three of Antiguan calypso, known especially for his road march hits), D. Gisele Isaac (writer, cultural critic, author of Considering Venus, The Sweetest Mango, No Seed), Burning Flames (iconic jam band)
9 – tied – Stachel Edwards (musician), Rupert Blaize (singer), Wendel Richardson (musician, one of the founding members of Osibisa), John S. Laviscount (musician, founder of the island’s oldest band Laviscount Brass), Isalyn Richards (director of the combined schools choir), Winston Bailey (musician), Althea Prince (writer), Oliver Flax (writer, playwright), The Targets (music group), The National Choir, Shelly Tobitt (calypso writer known for many Antiguan and Barbudan top calypsos of the 70s and early 80s especially through his collaborations with Short Shirt e.g. classic albums Ghetto Vibes and Press On), Ivena (calypsonian, Antigua and Barbuda’s first and to date only female calypso monarch), Bertha Higgins(musician, involved with Antigua Artists Society, Hell’s Gate), Veronica Yearwood (Afro-Caribbean dancer and choreographer, founder of the Antigua Dance Academy), Zahra Airall (writer, award winning dramatist and playwright – Zee’s Youth Theatre, Honey Bee Theatre, Sugar Apple Theatre plus her work with Women of Antigua, poet, arts event producer – notably Expressions Open Mic, photographer), Hilda McDonald (writer)
10 – tied – Novelle Richards (writer), Conrad Roberts (actor)
Apologies if I’ve offended anyone or breached protocol by leaving off all honorifics; that was a choice I made to leave off all instead of forgetting some as I am likely to do (better to have you mad at me for something I chose to do than for something I didn’t mean to do). All honorifics are, however, of course, acknowledged. Also acknowledged is that the named people have done much more than captured in my mini-bites. Some books are pictured in this post but remember to check our listing of Antiguan and Barbudan literature for books on or by any of the named influential Antiguans and Barbudans – if you’re looking specifically for biographies/autobiographies, scroll through the non-fiction list. Also, if someone’s picture is not included it’s because they’re not in the Wadadli Pen photo archives and time constraints didn’t allow for scouring the internet. Hopefully, that covers it – this is just FYI and for fun and I would encourage you to continue the conversation by sharing your picks for most influential Antiguans and Barbudans of the last 100 years or so (the or so is really 20th century forward to this year – I think those were the parameters).
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.
This picks up where the previous installments of Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed pages left off (use the search feature to the right to dig them up). As with those earlier pages, it features reviews about A & B writings that I come across as I dig through my archives or surf the web. You’re welcome to send any credible/professional reviews that you come across as well. They’re not in any particular order, I just add them as I add them; some will be old, some will be new. It’s all shared in an effort to underscore, emphasize, and insist on Antigua and Barbuda’s presence in the Caribbean literary canon.
“Musical Youth is beautifully written. It is a pride to Caribbean young adult fiction. Though it addresses a strong and very real social issue, the writer skillfully educates you while she takes you back to the innocence of school days in the Caribbean.” – Vanessa Salazar at Poui Publishing and Productions
“This sweeping and engaging novel addresses a multitude of issues including the social, political, cultural, romantic, religious, economic, and indeed ideological and psychological understandings relating to the villagers of Sea View Farm….Speaking of men and women, Oh Gad!is populated with a brilliant and striking cast of characters.” – ‘Oh Gad! A Pastoral Panorama of Fictional Narratives’ by Mali Olatunji, aesthetician who worked for 21 years as one of three fine arts photographers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; co-author of The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda – in the 2014 edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books
“I give it an A+ for (among other things) capturing in a very interesting way the tentative attraction and growing relationship of boy and girl in the teen years, as well as affirmation of how friends can help one another over some of the uncertainties and humps of those turbulent years.” – children and YA author, Jamaican Hazel Campbell (RIP) re Musical Youth
“Hillhouse’s authorial voice is lyrical and descriptive. The interactions of this extended and blended family, along with their respective communities in Antigua and the United States provide a range of interesting perspectives that are expressed in characteristic dialogue of their regions. The universe of this novel is not only populated with intergenerational and multi-cultural characters but also with connections to ancestors and newborns. Compellingly, the complexity and depth of Oh Gad!is well disguised as easy beach reading with the usual soap opera formula of romance, political intrigue, family feuds, and the like. In this way, Hillhouse masterfully transports us back and forth from our modernity into the mythic yet real seat of Antiguan culture. What we find there is fascinating.” – Leah Creque-Harris in Caribbean Vistas FULL REVIEW HERE
“It’s well written, characters well drawn, all the things one would expect. I enjoyed it. Most important, I think the YA readers will enjoy it.” – Diane Browne re Musical Youth
“I have to admit that I was once weary of reading Caribbean fiction because they tend to get dark quickly and I don’t read books to be depressed. I am pleased to say that Joanne’s Musical Youth was refreshing and uplifting.” – Marsha Gomes-McKie
The relationship between Shaka and Zahra is fused by music, loss, and a search for personal identity. As a writer, Hillhouse brilliantly manages to weave their story of personal growth so effortlessly that the great energy between the two creates sparks.” – Camille L. Cortes Lopez, University of Puerto Rico in The Caribbean Writer Volume 30, 2016 (on Musical Youth)
“I applaud her for her commitment to her roots, and while Elizabeth Nunez claims that Hillhouse is “a pretty brave soul” (NPR Books), I regard Hillhouse as the visionary who prepares the soil for Antigua and Barbuda’s future literary scene.” – from a 2017 paper presented at the Antigua Conference by Valerie Knowles Combie
“Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Musical Youth is an excellent portrayal of two young people’s coming-of-age in their native Antigua and Barbuda. Narrated through the author’s brilliance as an observer of youth and as a prose stylist, the book describes the collective involvement of cultural pride with commitment and leadership to produce a meaningful life for an island community.…This coming-of-age story is grounded and set in the author’s native Antigua and Barbuda, with its idiosyncracies and cultural activities, which are at the novel’s core.…The unforgettable themes, setting, language, and actions make this coming-of-age story a must read.” – Rite of Passage Enhanced through Community Involvement by Valerie Knowles Combie in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 10 Number 1 Summer 2017
Reviews of works by Jamaica Kincaid, Althea Prince, Marie Elena John, and Joanne C. Hillhouse en espanol (attempted translations of excerpts below).
“Never in my life have I met a female protagonist like the one in Autobiography of My Mother…I was fascinated.” (re Jamaica Kincaid)
“This author explores being Black and the political and social considerations that this entails. In fact, she edited a very cool book called In the Black: New African Canadian Literature that I have been using to select my authors…she has a book called Ladies of the Night. I really didn’t love it but I find it an interesting book. The stories revolve around women who are in very different social conditions and situations. Some of the stories are set in Antigua and Barbuda and others are located in Canada. Worth reading.” (re Althea Prince)
“When I approached this book, I came across a well done family saga…I really liked the aspects of miscegenation, mysticism…in general very good.” (re Marie Elena John’s Unburnable)
“It is a very cute little book about a seal that has an adventure at sea and it was very nice to find an author who doesn’t underestimate children in a way of approaching the subjects…it was quite refreshing to find in this book a little bit of that search for identity and find a place in this beautiful and vast world. It also talks about self-discovery and respect for differences. They are important issues.” (re Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Lost a Caribbean Sea Adventure)
“In reality, however, much like “Girl,” Party has layers. It functions as a subtle message about what it means to witness horror to such a degree that we lose our language for it; it is a quiet story about coming of age, suddenly, as a young black girl because of what the world shows us. It is about the many words our silence can hold, the way our absences can ring as loudly and discordantly as the words we do feel able to say.” Party review at Lit Hub
“Published in 2017, the short story ‘The Other Daughter’ by Joanne C. Hillhouse fits the literary movement we call Postmodernism. Postmodernist works can be recognised through themes, context, and narrative techniques. In ‘The Other Daughter’, we notice that the author explores the theme of feeling like an outcast, isolated from the world one lives in, which is often explored in postmodernist stories.
In terms of postmodernist narrative techniques, ‘The Other Daughter’ plays around with the distinction between fact and fiction by letting the narrator tell two different versions of the same story, but at the same time letting the reader know that one version is fictional. Playing around with the ordinary rules of storytelling like this is very typical for postmodern works.” – this is not a review, it is, however, a summary, analysis, themes and messages, and perspectives of elements of the story and its structure at studienet.dk (related: Denmark has included the story as a question in its national assessment for secondary school); read the original story at Adda
Excerpt: “Dreamland Barbuda is a quick read (very quick, with roughly 2/3s of it being taken up by the bibliography and appendices), and for this time in the history of Antigua and Barbuda, an essential one.”
This picks up where the previous Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed pages left off (there was one, two, three, four, five – use the search feature to the right to dig them up if the links don’t work). As with those earlier pages, it features reviews about A & B writings that I come across as I dig through my archives or surf the web. You’re welcome to send any credible/professional reviews that you come across as well. They’re not in any particular order, I just add them as I add them; some will be old, some will be new. It’s all shared in an effort to underscore Antigua and Barbuda’s presence in the Caribbean literary canon.
“The book (The Art of Mali Olatunji) is engaging, and in reading it, we travel into Paget’s passion for Antigua, his country, and the impulses of anti-imperialism that have deep roots in colonial Antigua and Barbuda trying to find its way in today’s globalized world.” – Rekha Menon ‘Paget Henry: the Classic Afro-Caribbean Savant’ in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 10 Number 1 Summer 2017
Dr. Lightfoot signs copies of Troubling Freedom at the launch event organized by the Friends of Antigua Public Library. (Photo by Barbara Arrindell of the Best of Books/Do not use without permission and credit)
“By tracing the development of Antigua in the post-emancipation period, Lightfoot has produced a work that will interest scholars who study conceptions of freedom, working-class solidarity, labor, Antigua, and the wider Caribbean. Recommended.” — J. Rankin, Choice
“Lightfoot’s Troubling Freedom sheds light on how freedpeople in Antigua negotiated the terms of their labor and the conditions of their freedom in Antigua….The book also illustrates that space and spatial relations were at the heart of Antiguans’ struggle for freedom after emancipation: between Antigua and Barbuda, the city and the country, the free villages and estates.” — Kaneesha Cherelle Parsard, American Quarterly
“Instead of a ‘narrative of valiant and unified subaltern struggle,’ a moral tale of progress and expanding unproblematic liberation, Lightfoot offers a more complex and ambivalent history of freedom, which contains not only hope and solidarity, but also internecine conflicts and violence. For this very reason, this is an important and insightful history that deserves to be read.” — Henrique Espada Lima, Canadian Journal of History
Me at the 2012 launch of my book. (Photo by byZIA Photography)
“Oh Gad! is a major artistic triumph of which all Antiguans and Barbudans can be justly proud. I certainly am delighted by this publication of this novel and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. As a work of fiction, it is beautifully written and flows like a river on its way to the sea. The conversations between the characters are well crafted dialogues, often very sharp, with verbal darts that pierce the thick armors of several of the characters.
Along with being very well written, this is a very Antiguan and Barbudan novel. Hillhouse’s fiction bears and reflects the cultural marks and tensions in our society, its patterns of in and out migration and its dependence on metropolitan cities like New York. Oh Gad! very artfully encodes in its characters and plot lines rich slices of the culture of Antigua and Barbuda…we encounter very directly the cultural values, proverbs, practices, and everyday crises that make up life in our twin-island state. Many of the difficulties that challenge her characters, Hillhouse links to slave past and the matri-focal family structure that it has left us. Thus, among the major achievements of this novel is the extent to which the social and cultural life of our society gets woven into its most basic fabric.
In spite of its carefully embedded cultural riches, Oh Gad! is a character driven novel. Its characters are very well developed, clearly delineated, and very artfully kept alive by Hillhouse.” – Badminded Nikki: A Review of Joanne Hillhouse’s Oh Gad!by Paget Henry in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books and in Journeys in Caribbean Thought: the Paget Henry Reader. Other reviews of Oh Gad! in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books here.
Primarily, in this space, I’ll be sharing discussions, in Question and Answer format, of craft, and insights to not only the author/artist’s journey but the story of the arts in Antigua and Barbuda. This is a Work in Progress. The main criteria, so far, for inclusion, apart from the Q & A structure and the arts/art history focus, is that these are interviews not conducted by someone who is part of the artistes’ publishing and/or promotional team, and are interviews that are in the public sphere on a platform independent of the artistes and/or their publishing and promotional team. Beyond that, it’s what I come across and you can also link me interviews that fit the very broad stated criteria by emailing wadadipen at gmail dot com
Barbara Arrindell in Cacique magazine – January 2023
“We speak of this orange (creative) economy quite a bit these days, and we need a greater investment in the arts so that creatives and those involved in the craft can continue to create without worrying about being able to sustain themselves.”
Barbara Arrindell and Joanne C. Hillhouse discussing creative writing on ABS TV’s Antigua Today –
– (January 12th 2022)
Barbara Arrindell in conversation with Joanne C. Hillhouse for CREATIVE SPACE –
“One of the early writings I did was a play called Dreams…Faces…Reality…and that play was actually performed over 25 times in Antigua and Barbuda… it was used as a tool to help students in the schools understand everything concerning HIV/AIDS.” – Barbara Arrindell with ABS TV (2020)
“Nellie Robinson, Dame Nellie Robinson is listed somewhere in our history as being the first chairperson of the artists association of Antigua and Barbuda, but so is a lady named Elizabeth Pickney…back in 17something… I found one in the 18th century too… we’ve had an artists association here many times and it’s been so far apart that each person thinks of themselves as the first chairperson of… in terms of history, there’s a book called A Brief History of Antigua written by Brian Dyde. Brian Dyde wrote brief histories for about four or five islands around the Caribbean, if it was five, four of them are still in print, guess which one is not in print, the other four were taken on and used in the school systems in the other islands, guess which one they couldn’t even sell one print run for…?” – Barbara Arrindell in conversation with Dorbrene O’Marde, Heather Doram, and Joanne C. Hillhouse on Observer Radio (2017). Read a transcription of the (2017) interview or listen to the interview.
“I don’t really have a routine, I just take advantage of times when I don’t have anything to distract me, when I can get stuck into writing for as long as I want. I like to write with my feet cocked up on a comfortable sofa, and a good view in front of me. We have a small apartment in the old walled city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, which looks out onto a plaza with trees, a few birds singing, passing salsa music, and sounds of people chatting and relaxing. That’s my spot. When I am researching, of course, it’s different: if I’m not working online on the above-mentioned sofa, I’m usually sitting at a table in a research library somewhere in the Caribbean, or in Cornwall.” – Sue Appleby, author of The Cornish in the Caribbean (2019)
“If I was to specify what path I’m on and what matters to me the most I think it would be inspiring people…I have a reservoir of information that I could then pass on.” –
‘I was literally born into the theatre. My parents met each other through the Antiguan drama company “Harambee Open Air Theatre”… and since then they have both always nurtured the love and appreciation for the arts, exposing me to varying types of performances, including visiting ensembles to the island, and performances whenever I traveled. I remember my father taking me to see Cats on Broadway at a young age…it was exciting, and just cemented the fact that that was what I wanted to do with my life … perform and create productions that would make people feel the way I felt as a child sitting in that theatre. My mom then enrolled me in a drama programme called Child’s Play, under renowned Jamaican dramatist and storyteller Amina Blackwood-Meeks.’ – Zahra Airall talking to The Uncaged Phoenix (2018)
Tim Tim Bwa Fik podcast discussion with Rilzy Adams part 2 (2022) – “When writing, where this was concerned, the one thing that I really wanted it to feel like and be like was Antiguan… I was very intentional with everything from the food choices to the music…but I also wanted them for the most part to be not necessarily heartwarming but …my general brand, for everything I write…Antiguan, full of love, and spicy.”
Tim Tim Bwa Fik podcast discussion with Rilzy Adams part 1 (2022) – “I started writing epic fantasy. I think that’s what I wrote for a very long time…but eventually I said to myself, well, this is what I like to read so I’m really confused as to why I’m not writng it and that’s when I started to segueing into trying my hand at writing romance novels.”
Glenroy Aaron participating in a virtual roundtable chaired by issue guest editor Joanne C. Hillhouse on Tongues of the Ocean along with Heather Doram, Emile Hill, Mark Brown, and the now late X-Saphair King (October 2014): “To be honest, I have learned a lot more about the Antiguan aesthetic from this conversation than from my years of observing art in Antigua. I say this because there is so little indigenous Antiguan art to observe, and historic recording of it is also quiet faint. My art is basically an attempt to capture the beauty around me and the moments in which they occur. My techniques and methods continue to evolve as exploring New continues to excite. Forays outside my comfort zone to explore deeper emotions have produced interesting results; with some apprehension as to the commercial viability of such ventures. The balance between creativity and viability is tricky but can be done, as others have found ways to make it work. Themes and scenes indigenous to an artist’s place of birth will ultimately make its way onto an artist’s canvas but considering the fusion of influences and cultures that have existed on the islands for some time now, an Antiguan aesthetic may be a bit difficult to define. Further, holding that many view art as a visual expression of the artist’s thoughts and emotions, we can appreciate that some of these ideas and emotions may not be “local” in scope.” Read in full.
“When I was growing up there was the WPA…a programme the government set up for free schools in art and music for all the communities throughout the United States and my parents with six children…sent us all out to the free classes, so we were all painting and drawing and playing the piano… I was not able to get a scholarship (to art school) because they said it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a black person.” – Ashley Bryan talking to BBC Sounds about his early development as an artist.
Tammi Browne Bannister talking to David DaCosta (December 28th 2016):
“When I was little, I loved reading Aesop’s Fables and was attracted to the humor, the lessons, and the tragedies and of course the way these tales made me think about the characters long after reading. I’ve written a few.” Full interview.
Mark Brown participating in a virtual roundtable chaired by issue guest editor Joanne C. Hillhouse on Tongues of the Ocean along with Heather Doram, Emile Hill, Glenroy Aaron, and the now late X-Saphair King (October 2014): “I view art making as a human activity which cannot be defined as mine or yours, and this is based on the type of work which I engage in. My work, in my mind, is about responding to stimuli, that act of engaging with my feelings about my environment, religion, identity, sexuality, all of which most, if not every human being faces at some point in life. As a result, for me Antiguan Art, like Art elsewhere, is individual voices singing their own tune. Of course we may use objects specific to our culture [that have] distinct meaning but many times these same objects may have a different name in another culture and [be] used in different contexts, but then it is also specific then to that locale. How else do we explain lending your voice in paint or any other medium to a specific issue in a way that you deem visceral and then later on somewhere else, Google for instance, you discover another artist on the opposite side of the globe exploring the very same idea in very similar ways. To me it is just the act of discovering, in visual format, that which is buried deep within with the ultimate aim of finding out the real reason for my being “here” and at this time.” Read the full discussion here.
Mark Brown (2015) on Popreel, Swedish TV: “The main aim of the Angel in Crisis series was to bring a sort of humanness to people like her (the nun), priests, people who have to bear that burden of conforming to what society expects of them.” Interview begins at 7:35.
Jazzie B. talking with Chris Williams for Wax Poetics (May 14th 2014): “’Keep On Movin’ actually came about lyrically because we were at the Africa Center in Covent Gardens, and we were being put under a lot of pressure by the police. It was due to the fact that other clubs in the area were empty and ours kept being full. Every so often, we would get the squeeze put on us. At one particular moment, they threatened to close us down. The whole concept of this song came from there.” Full interview.
“We shot this at Half Moon Bay and this was supposed to embody just light and sand and turqouise waters, and just playfulness and joy, like there was supposed to be an innocence to it because this is where you meet the Yemoja character and so this was really just about having fun and just playing with my body and the dress under the water and trying to imagine what Yemoja wuld have felt just being in clear chrystal blue waters.” – Christal Clashing discussing Yemoja’s Anansi in a February 2022 CREATIVE SPACE art and culture column
‘Of the many pieces that Shane has drawn over the years, one of his favourites features former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer squatting in his office chair. The caption below it read, “Dem say me a squat, but squatters have rights.”
The inspiration for this cartoon, Shane shares, “This was done at a time when UPP’s position as government was uncertain, and they were awaiting the results of the three seats. [Then] ALP said Baldwin was squatting in the Prime Minister’s office.”’ – Shane Daniel, cartoonist with the Daily Observer newspaper, interviewed about his art by the Daily Observer by Newsco
“Sometimes I try to have this hope that we have reached a stage where black people are not being treated unfairly and [this news] just dropped me into a rabbit hole again.” – Heather Doram (Daily Observer, 2021)
“In my current creative phase, I feel so invigorated, so inspired, so playful, and so expressive. As both an artist and a woman, I am exploring new spaces, taking on new challenges, transcending my past, and shaping my future.” – Heather Doram (2020 interview with findyello.com)
Heather Doram on Observer Radio in a discussion which also included Joanne C. Hillhouse, Barbara Arrindell, and Dorbrene O’Marde (October 2017): “My feeling is that I have lived under several administrations and I really do not get the feeling that there is that widespread support for the visual and performing arts…you just use them when you need them…we do not even have a national gallery in Antigua and Barbuda so we the artists are there producing work in sort of isolation. I’ve seen it in many other countries where the national gallery would commission work; this sort of spurs the whole generation and activity of work and then the artists start to feel that sense of involvement and that their art work can actually support them…the same thing I’m sure applies to the literary artist…something like the cultural development division should be that nexus of that sort of leadership, this is where the cradle is…I would really like to see more support for the arts generally.” Read a transcription of the (2017) interview or listen to the interview.
Heather Doram participating in a virtual roundtable chaired by issue guest editor Joanne C. Hillhouse on Tongues of the Ocean along with Mark Brown, Emile Hill, Glenroy Aaron, and the now late X-Saphair King (October 2014): “They were reactive and passionate. They were not satisfied with the realistic interpretation of the Antiguan landscape. They wanted to push boundaries, they wanted to produce work with the visual language of engagement with their audience. Many of their works responded to and explored social, political, gender issues and self. The younger generation sought to explore their roles as messengers in their visual language. I think artists like Mark [Brown], Emile [Hill], and Zavian [Archibald] can be included in this group. They are much more open to expressing themselves and exploring a range of media and techniques in their work.” Read the full discussion here.
Cray Francis talking with Good Morning Antigua Barbuda (April 5th 2016):
“I felt like I had to write my own stories.”
Claudia Ruth Francis talking with Italy’s Conoscere TV about her book Six Steps: An African-Barbudan-Caribbean Story (2022):
“I was very surprised when I realized that I was only six steps away from my ancestor who was on the slave registry in Barbuda.”
“It’s always a burning passion but it’s not a fruitful burning passion. You do the arts cause you love it and you have something you want to say.” – Gayle Gonsalves (2020) on ABS TV
“I’m a Caribbean poet foremost, I was not born in the BVI. I was born in Trinidad to a BVIslander father and a Trinidadian mother. His mother is Antiguan, her mother is Grenadian. He grew up in Guyana, and I grew up in the BVI. Because of that chain of connections, I think that the vibrations that drive my work are deep in the currents of this sea, those currents that touch each island – I would invoke that famous image of Brathwaite’s from ‘Calypso’, ‘the stone had skidded arc’d and bloomed into islands’.” – Richard Georges in Pree. 2018.
“As far as my poetic horizons go, I try to let the tides tug me along, and trust that they will take me where I’m meant to go. I thought I’d write a book of poems and then move on to spend some time experimenting with fiction, but poems seem to keep coming. I think I have to trust that.” – Richard Georges in Caribbean Beat. 2017.
Linisa George reads and talks about ‘In the Closet’, which was the Antigua and Barbuda Poetry Postcard for the UK series featuring works from the Commonwealth in time for the 2012 Commonwealth Games. “I’ve always been a poet…” she says, then explains the journey toward stepping in to that power. Link.
Joanne C. Hillhouse on WTP 93.5 for Wadadli Pen (May 20th 2023) –
Joanne C. Hillhouse with Margaret Irish and Barbara Arrindell for Wadadli Pen on Observer Radio 91.1 FM’s Voice of the People (May 9th 2023) –
Joanne C. Hillhouse interviewed on Observer AM about Anthony N. Sabga Award and #TheWritingLife (April 5th 2023) –
Joanne C. Hillhouse interviewed by Jacqueline Bishop for Jamaica Observer Bookends #InConversation series (March 26th 2023) –
“Your books are all exceptionally written, and the stories pull the reader in. Once you start reading, it is very hard to stop. What specific techniques do you find yourself employing in your writing to hold the perspective of young audiences?
I would probably say character, curiousity, detail, surrender. I think those elements are there no matter what I’m writing. It’s all story. And when I’m writing, I’m discovreing the story. Character leads me in; when it’s flowing, they walk around with me, even when I’m not engaged with the page. When writing Lost! , for example, one reference point was the school playground; those early days when some children cry every day, like the world is ending, while other children look around in excitement, and new friendships are formed. That feeling is what I remember trying to capture when Coral and Dolphin first meet – not a jellyfish and seal, two kids in a foreign land (the playground, the sea) feeling each other out. The fact that my writing is typically visual and detailed is a plus in this genre. I lean into details – in terms of language, taste, all the senses, all the ways we are specific, and I don’t try to manage the writing. I fall into the flow of it. Then with each writing session, rip up some of the thread and begin to crochet again to find the pattern. Because writing is revisions and rewrites and tweaks and fiddling and every bit of uncertainty and playfulness that comes with that.”
One correction: On the second page where it says “where the lick”, it should say “were the lick” (from the Antiguan-Barbudan vernacular). Pointed out as the error changes the meaning of the sentence.
Joanne C. Hillhouse on ABS TV’s Good Morning Antigua Babuda for March 8th 2023 International Women’s Day –
“It actually started as a conversation between me and my nephew and his mother that became this sort of bedtime story.” (speaking of To be a Cheetah)
Tim Tim Bwa Fik podcast discussion with Joanne C. Hillhouse part 2 (2022) – “Part of it is that I knew that world: I was the girl with the guitar slung over her shoulder, going to practice, playing in the choir, being shy about it, being self-conscious about walking with the guitar..for me the interesting things were the kids discovering their love of art, and discovering their potential within the art space, and connecting with each other through art…and the instinctive urge to explore colourism in that space because it exists in our spaces, our Black spaces, our people of colour spaces, it exists, so all of those things were interesting to me; the romance, yes, but all of those other things as well.”
Barbara Arrindell and Joanne C. Hillhouse discussing creative writing on ABS TV’s Antigua Today (January 12th 2022) – “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It is not for you to judge what you’re creating as you’re creating it. Let it be. Let it breathe. But part of what I’m doing in my current stream of workshops is now when you come back to the work, how do you begin to edit it, how do you being to redraft it? Because if you are serious about putting your work out in to the world, that is going to be a part of the process. And one of the things I always encourage budding writers to do is to begin to think of putting their work out in to the world. Whether it’s submitting to journals, or contests, or beginning the process of starting to query longer works that they wish to publish. But before you get to that point, once you get past the ‘just write’, once you get past the ‘let it breathe’, is beginning to dig in to the work and refine it, and begin to put it out in to the world.”
“One of the things that you grow up hearing in the Caribbean is girls shouldn’t climb trees because they going blight the tree, meaning that the tree not goin’ grow or not goin’ bear, so I wanted to put a girl in a tree; we need to break those sort of stereotypes. One of the magical things about children’s picture books is that they are what begins that process of socializing children in to who they are and who other people are.” – presentation by Joanne C. Hillhouse at Write the Vision’s Aspiring Authors and Writers Virtual Literary Event
“Even the idea of taking on an internship as a writer, because he’s an aspiring writer, is a luxury…you have to be able to support yourself in order to do an internship that can help you figure out this writing thing sometimes; so all of the things you need to feed the life that will allow you to do the creative thing is sometimes the biggest challenge.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse on taking on her first personal intern; just one of the things discussed in this conversation with Diaspora Kids Lit
Joanne C. Hillhousein conversation with Andy Caul of ACalabash: “To write those kids in Musical Youth, I reached back to my own teen-hood when I had my group of friends and I used to play the guitar. I used to go to guitar lessons, to play guitar in the choir. We went to fetes, Carnival, talent shows, walk-a-thons, the beach, we walked from school together. We had our clique. We had shared experiences. And I know in the reviews, they particularly commented on the Black joy in Musical Youth. And I appreciated that because that, in a way, was a joyful existence. The thing that people misunderstand about Caribbean life and Caribbean people is that while it can be very hard, marked by poverty and other things, it’s not just that. It is just life. It is love and laughter and we have some of the most inappropriate sense of humor when it comes to some of the darkness and the things that we joke about and the things that we find funny. So, yes, there’s poverty. Yes, there is political victimization. Yes, there is all the narratives but there’s also friendship, laughter, fun, music and all that stuff. I did not feel like I was writing against anything. It felt like I was just writing what was true.” (2021)
“I wanted her to be blacker, I wanted her to be on the dark-skinned side of the spectrum and I wanted her to be natural, have natural (hair) …because part of it for me …in the world of children’s picture books we don’t see enough people at the darker end of the spectrum, especially as characters that children can feel affection for and love and recognize themselves in.”
–Joanne C. Hillhouse in conversation with Trinidad writer-artist Danielle Boodoo Fortune in a World Book Day chat (2021) that involved audience questions.
– March 12th 2021 – Joanne C. Hillhouse discussing Wadadli Pen on the ABS TV morning show.
“The Boy from Willow Bend is by any measure growing up in abject poverty and in an abusive situation, and yet there is laughter and yet there is love and yet there is hope and yet there is dreaming and fancifulness because that is life. Life is not just one thing. It’s a myriad of things, and so that’s what I try to capture of this young boy coming of age in Antigua in this particular time.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse is the first National Public Library Author of the Month in January 2021
“For me they were people first and, of course, I had to research just how the world of the underwater would move, what I would need to know about arctic seals, what I would need to know about jellyfish, what I would need to know about sea turtles. So there was a lot of research in that regard. But in terms of the voices of the characters, they were children. They wanted to play and explore the ship, and, of course, Dolphin the Arctic Seal wants to get back home so he can tell his own adventuring grandmother about his own Caribbean sea adventure.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse in 2020 self-made video on her own platform but with audience submitted questions for the #Catapultartsgrant (specifically a Catapult Caribbean Creative Arts Online grant). She answered questions submitted via social media about story, craft, theme in Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and all her books
“Songs are universal and you don’t even have to know the lyrics sometimes to feel it.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse discussing Musical Youth with gender advocacy group Intersect (2020)
“The first storytellers I knew were the calypso writers the Shelly Tobitts of the world,these were the people that taught me how to tell a story and how to tell Antiguan stories in particular.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse, ABS TV (2020)
“With writing, the story is there sometimes in the accumulated experiences, observations, and questions of your life. I had been a guitar student like the main character, I had done musical theatre and musical stuff with my crew as a teen, I had had my experiences of coming of age and colorism; it was all there, waiting to be pulled.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse 2019 interview with Ravishly
Joanne C. Hillhouse Emma the Little Bookworm blog interview. 2019: “I was interested in the dynamic between the sisters – sisters who are very different, and in the way, in a relationship, two people are experiencing the same moments in very different ways. So it was definitely character driven but I don’t think of it as writing the book to accommodate the characters or vice versa, so much as my discovery about my characters shaping the plot in the most natural of ways – I tried not to get in the way of that. In a way it became as much a conversation between them (Michael and Selena) as between my characters and me, as the story moved forward, chapter to chapter, with alternating character points of view on the evolving relationship.”
Joanne C. HillhouseLinda’s Bookbag interview, 2019: “Selena felt a strange kinship with his mother, this woman she’d never met.”
Joanne C. Hillhouse interview on Caribbean Literary Heritage (June 2018): “Honestly, the first thing that flashed in to my mind is Antiguan and Barbudan calypso and Paul Keens Douglas – especially Tanty and Slim at the Oval – on the radio. Neither of which qualify as reading but which were foundational to my introduction to Caribbean literature. It’s there in Antigua and Barbuda’s King Obstinate’s Wet You Hand – a song which was fun and funny to me as a children and which I’ve used as an example of scene building and character description in my workshops, or in the way he knits the story of Anansi stealing the birds’ feathers into another of his songs – songs that did what Calypso did which was be bold-faced and satirical and reflective of our lives and our truth (especially the truths we didn’t dare speak) while bearing our unique brand of humour and matter of factness about life’s tragedies. It’s there in the writings of Shelly Tobitt – named for Romantic era poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; though I wouldn’t see the connection until college. A romantic idealist in his own right, or so his lyrics would suggest, as a child Shelly, the calypso writer and frequent collaborator of Antigua and Barbuda’s best calypsonian and inarguably one of the best the region has ever produced the Monarch King Short Shirt (who Dorbrene O’Marde writes about in his Bocas longlisted biography Nobody Go Run Me), was to me a poet who used the frustrations of the people to comment on economic, social, and political issues in a way that was deeply and enduringly philosophical, with melodies that captivated. So, the calypsonians and the oral tradition (including the jumbie stories) would have been my first reading of Caribbean writing.” Full interview.
“When Heather was culture director…I remember her starting a national collection where she commissioned pieces featuring Antiguan and Barbudan icons…what has become of that? What has been the continuity with respect to that national collection?… things like that, like you can have someone with a good idea start something… but there was no continuity, so if there’s no continuity it’s like you’re starting from scratch every time someone gets fired up and passionate about something so that’s the whole point…if you have that continuity then this person’s efforts will connect with that person’s efforts and we’ll have progression instead of starting from scratch every time…one of the things I do on the Wadadli Pen website is I have a project where I record the books that are put out and the plays and the songs that are put out by Antiguan and Barbudan creatives and there’s no shortage of stuff in the last 10 or so years, there’s a lot of people just feeling inspired and doing their own thing… there is stuff happening independently by artistes who feel inspired and creative but not by any system that’s giving them foundation or supporting their efforts.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse in conversation with Heather Doram, Dorbrene O’Marde, and Barbara Arrindell on Observer Radio (2017). Read a transcription of the (2017) interview or listen to the interview.
Joanne C. Hillhouse on Observer AM (November 2017)
Joanne C. Hillhouse talking to The Culture Trip (July 2017): “in The Boy from Willow Bend, Vere’s mother leaves Antigua for better economic and personal opportunities in the U.S., and Vere himself leaves at the end; in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Selena and her sisters move to Antigua from the Dominican Republic for better opportunities, and at some point one of the sisters moves away from there as well; in the story, ‘The Other Daughter’, the title character moves to the US for educational purposes. I don’t know if it holds significance to me (there are many stories in which people don’t leave) so much as being a reflection of the reality that movement is a part of the Caribbean existence—whether it’s to seek higher education, economic opportunities, or a different kind of life—the Caribbean diaspora (i.e. the number of Caribbean people no longer resident in here or in the Caribbean country of their birth) is significant. We are a region of small islands with intelligent and talented people, sometimes the desired opportunities to recognize our full potential or even the cover needed to brave the economic storms stirred up in bigger places isn’t there. So, it’s just a reflection of the reality, I think (but just one part of the reality that I write).” Full interview.
Joanne C. Hillhouse in the Meet the Writer series at Grab Life by the Lapels: “I just enjoy experimenting within the story writing form, short and long. Much of what I write is character driven and distinctively Caribbean with (I like to believe) universal resonance – because I do believe the stories that are about the human condition can cross over without having to be diluted.” Full interview. 2016.
Joanne C. Hillhouse in Books, Inc’s Hamlet Hub (2015) – in response to “what’s the last great book you read?” – “I’m going to name two – Kei Miller’s Writing Down the Vision, which is non-fiction and Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow, which is fiction. I blog the reasons why here, but what it comes down to is writing that transports me from physical reality while grounding me in certain truths, truth being relative of course, and writing that just moves me, you know.”
Joanne C. Hillhouse on ABS TV (2015) – “The idea is that cost should not be a barrier to you being able to participate in something that could help you find your voice and express yourself” – re Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project
Joanne C. Hillhouse in conversation with book blogger Geosi Gyasi (2015): “I don’t think about it like that. I just tell the story. Sometimes the protagonist is a child, sometimes a teen, sometimes an adult, sometimes an old person, sometimes a jelly fish named Coral. The writing is always character first, not audience. During the editing process that’s when I’m challenged, often by the assigned editor, to think about things like can the target age group for this picture book understand abstract thinking, do I maybe need to be more literal, more detailed, more specific, provide clearer resolution, like that.” Read the full interview.
Joanne C. Hillhouse interviewed by Wandering Educators (2015): “Musical Youth is, as the name suggests, the story of young people who are exceptionally musical. Throughout the course of the novel, the course of one summer really, we see them coming together through music and being transformed by it. It is the story of Zahara, a girl and her guitar, and Shaka, a boy and his moves, it’s about the families we have and the families we make, and the potential that exists inside of us, if only…”
Joanne C. Hillhouse on Popreel, Swedish TV (2015): “The characters come to me; they don’t always reveal their stories fully, so for me writing is a journey of discovery. I can’t always see where it’s going but I’m kind of wandering my way through it and trying to figure out what is it all about.” Interview starts here at 8:50.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t know any writers from here, from Antigua, until I discovered Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid; the writers from here that I knew, and I have great respect for them, were the calypso writers, people like Shelly Tobitt and Marcus Christopher, because when I was coming up, calypso was the literature that I would hear that had some relevance to my community, the other literature that we read was mostly from America or from Britain. So it was a while before I could wrap my mind around this idea that this was what I was called to do.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse (2015) on Bookworm, Swedish radio
Joanne C. Hillhouse talking to M. J. Fievre at the Whimsical Project (November 21st 2014): “Calypso, the calypso at that time, sang the things people were afraid to say and reflected the concerns and reality of the folk, authentically, in their voice, in a way that stirred spirits. I think there’s a part of me that strives for that in my writing.” Full interview.
Joanne C. Hillhouse British Council interview (2014): “I think the dialogue in most of my work as written is important if I want the reader to hear it, to truly hear the character’s voice. The acceptance and the use of our mother tongue is still a struggle in the Caribbean where we’ve been colonized into this idea where it’s nothing more than bad English. Thankfully that way of thinking is changing, albeit slowly…but for me it’s never been a case of bad English, not when you’re talking about a language with a vocabulary and rules and history all its own, born out of a fusion of cultures, like so much else that makes us Caribbean.” Full interview reposted to Repeating Islands.
Joanne C. Hillhouse in Bookends in Jamaica Observer (June 29th 2014): “I’m not a genre. I know publishing likes to pigeonhole but I just write.” bookendsjune29
Joanne C. Hillhousein Tastes like Home (March 12th 2014): “when I wanted to include a kitchen scene in my book, Oh Gad! I went straight to Pepperpot. It’s my favourite dish and since I only eat my mother’s Pepperpot I really identify it with my mother and got her to explain the making of it to me for incorporation in the book, which is unusual in itself since she’s the typical: if you want to learn come-and-put-hand type of Caribbean cook.”
Joanne C. Hillhousetalks to the Frugal Feminista (2013): “I didn’t write with the children’s market in mind at all; I just told the story and because the first novella was a coming of age story, it was a natural fit for that market. But what it taught me is that sometimes you get pigeonholed by what you’ve done or how what you’ve done is defined by others and not by the full scope of what you can do and do do.”
Joanne C. Hillhouse on phd in creative writing blog (2012): “I’ll mention three. Jamaica Kincaid because like me she’s an Antiguan writer and because after reading Annie John, I knew that I had a lot of work to do but becoming a writer wasn’t as improbable as it seemed. Edwidge Dandicat whose writing I admired and whose geographic landscape (she was also from the Caribbean and only a few years older than me) made me see possibilities. Zora Neale Hurston because I like both her writing and her spirit and, like her, I’m committed to rendering my world in its full-bodied authentic self.”
Joanne C. Hillhouse discussing Oh Gad! in Your Style magazine (2012): “It’s about sisters, and identity, loss and recovery, love and betrayal, politics and belongings – I suppose all the things that are on my mind.”
Joanne C. HillhouseOh Gad! launch in New York (2012): “I try to give a great sense of atmosphere, and just to make it come alive for the reader so they can see it and feel it and smell it and touch it so that whatever it is, you can connect with it. That’s what I try to do because that’s how I think I interact with the world. I always have a notebook with me, and things strike me; it might be the way the sun feels on your skin or the way the colours are bleeding across the sky at sunset, whatever it is, it’s a moment and you can use that moment at some other point in your writing and so I tend to capture it. I steal moments.”
Joanne C. Hillhouse in Caribbean Book Blog (2012): ” It’s a part of what I try to capture in my books from reminiscing on chasing butterflies during the summer in my first book The Boy from Willow Bend to ‘borrowing’ my mother’s pepperpot recipe for an epic pre-picnic cook-down in Oh Gad!”
Joanne C. Hillhouse on Mindy Hardwick’s Blog (2012): “It’s reciprocal; you give and you get. A recentish example…I remember feeling a big grin form on my face and a big whoop storm up within me on receiving in the email a poem written by a girl I used to read to/with when she was much younger, at the Cushion Club, a kids reading club with which I’ve volunteered for several years. I didn’t even know she wrote until then; and I remember feeling so proud and doing with her what others have done with me, offering frank assessment and encouragement. But that’s just one example of how delightful it is to see them grow into themselves. I know I’m such a small part of their world but whenever I come across the kids whom I’ve had the opportunity to interact with through the Cushion Club, Wadadli Pen, the Great Young Minds art camp, or some other workshop activity, or even personal interaction and see them doing their thing, sometimes I can’t help feeling like a proud mama – or big sister.”
Joanne C. Hillhousein conversation with Danielle Boodoo-Fortune (2011): “I can’t think of any specific elemental metaphors that re-occur. But I do find that I tend to write the working class experience (because that’s where I’m coming from), and some version of my tanty who died when I was a child sneaks in more often than I realize, and that while most of my stories are set in Antigua there’s often some reference to Dominica, where my mother is from but which I’ve only visited twice. And I suppose I play with the senses a lot; light and shadow, sounds – whether it’s birdsong or music (yes, a lot of music); the taste and smells of our environment – from the fruits the pit latrine and, yes, water. It’s such a rich environment; I suppose when I write I instinctively want the reader to taste it and smell it and really see it – how nuanced and interesting it is. I believe in detail.”
Fiction. It challenges me and I fall in love with the characters and enjoy discovering the story. Poetry, because it’s my outlet; it’s not always about publishing, often it’s just about getting it out. This is the medium I use for that type of writing more than any other…for me, the most accessible, I guess. Though it is it’s own kind of challenge (technically). But I like all forms for different reasons.
Joanne C. Hillhouse interviewed on Caribbean Literary Salon (2010): “In the end, though, it all comes back to the writing. And that’s why I say write, not for anyone else, not to publish – all of that will come or not – but because you have to; because you love it.”
Emile Hill participating in a virtual roundtable chaired by issue guest editor Joanne C. Hillhouse on Tongues of the Ocean along with Heather Doram, Mark Brown, Glenroy Aaron, and the now late X-Saphair King (October 2014): ‘Ok so I’m a bit of a texter (cell phone, social media etc.) and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself engaged in several conversations, all completely different subject matter and all requiring a different “Emile” to deal with each of them. And I think, in this day and age, this happens to most persons at some point in time. The series I’m working on presently deals with the “multi-sidedness” of human interaction and relationships. It’s caused me to ask myself some questions, looking at whether this is a means of masking the true self and why? Is Survival a reason? What makes us accommodate each other so, switching faces? Is the face we see real, fake (and sometimes, does it even matter)? With regards to the Antiguan and Barbudan aesthetic, I think that every artist’s contribution is one that continues to make up the grand tapestry of who we are and so I think it fits simply as a local artist’s perspective on things… another thread in the tapestry.’ Read in Full.
“There’s a piece that I did that I call ‘8-8-21’ that I wrote after teargas Sunday last year. I call it ‘Freedom 8-8-21’…it starts by saying, I think, ‘Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. When the youth are protest ready, they become revolutionary’. And it goes on from there and it just kind of encapsulates the entire Sunday, everything that happened that Sunday. Because I happened to be there. That was my personal experience. I was caught up in it. I was gassed as well… that piece means a lot to me not only because it was my experience but also it’s history, it’s chronicling what happened that day.” – Dotsie Isaac, in conversation with Joanne C. Hillhouse for CREATIVE SPACE
“No it was not difficult getting started because I was always writing” – D. Gisele Isaac on ABS TV. 2020. Full interview below.
Foster Joseph, jazz vocalist and musician, in conversation in 2021 with Joanne C. Hillhouse for CREATIVE SPACE –
Clifton Joseph in Never Apart: ‘…the first person to really encourage me into the writing/performing arts was an older man in my village of New Winthropes in Antigua, Mr. Murray, probably, visually, the most black, blackest person in “Blizzard” as we called our home on the northern coast of the island. I think I was around ten years old and in addition to singing the Antiguan calypso songs we heard on the radio, Mr. Murray would actually pay me a penny, or sometimes two-pence (we were still using the British colonial currency at the time) to make up my own “calypso” verses. The only snippet I remember from then are three lines: “in January they called me clinky, then in February they start to call me sebassie, and in June they start to call my cousin boone”…I have to give Mr. Murray maximum props for sparking that early interest in writing and performing.’ Full interview.
Clifton Joseph talking with Ian Ferrier (2007): “Hip Hop, Dub Poetry, Dancehall, Reggae all sort of come out of the same African inspired, Caribbean, American, emphasis on words, rhythm, repetition; all of those things pull from the same pool of stylistic influences.”
Tameka Jarvis-George interviewed about her comic series August by Jump magazine: “I wrote to escape everything I didn’t like and anything that made me uncomfortable. I love my fictitious world.” Full interview. 2018.
Naomi Jackson, a New Yorker of Antiguan and Barbadian descent, author of critically acclaimed novel The Star Side of Bird Hill, in conversation with Writing Home: American Voices from the Caribbean –
“The Caribbean was both this place of joy and possible exile.” Listen here.
Shabier Kirchner‘s Love Letter to Antigua, an interview with Penelope Bartlett on Criterion Collection: “We are very proud people and yet we are so underrepresented on-screen by ourselves. I think Ousmane Sembène said it best: If we continue consuming images solely from abroad, and telling the stories of other people or absorbing others’ perspective of us, we will eventually lose our identity—and I truly believe that. The Caribbean is my home. Our people are the most interesting to me, and I just want to share the truth of who we are through local eyes.” Full interview. 2020.
Shabier Kirchner talking to Caribbean Beat magazine about his film Dadli: “While I was shooting this test footage, there was no agenda. I wasn’t looking for a main character. We weren’t recording sound, so there weren’t any interviews. I was just walking around shooting things that were interesting. It wasn’t until many months later that we realised there was this boy who kept appearing in the footage. So Tiquan became the force behind the narrative. After we had an idea of what we wanted the film to be, we tracked him down and interviewed him.” Full interview. 2019.
“(Shabier) Kirchner: That’s Antigua’s old sugar factory. It’s been abandoned for many years; I used to go there as a kid. It was like Tarkovsky’s Stalker. You could completely lose yourself there, let the imagination would run wild. I always loved that place. Visually, I’ve been shooting it for years, and I knew I had to shoot it on 16. It’s a coincidence that Tiquan was talking about running away from home and finding a place where he could just let loose. It wasn’t that specific place for him, but I’m assuming it was similar. What he described was what the sugar factory was for me.” Full interview. 2018.
“I suppose that my work is always mourning something, the loss of a paradise—not the thing that comes after you die, but the thing that you had before. I often think of the time before my brothers were born—and this might sound very childish, but I don’t care—as this paradise of my mother and me always being together. There were times when my mother and I would go swimming and she would disappear for a second, and I would imagine the depths just rolling over her, that she’d go deeper and deeper and I’d never see her again . . . And then she would pop up somewhere else. Those memories are a constant source of some strange pleasure for me.” – Jamaica Kincaid conversation in the Paris Review, 2022
“Writing, it seems to me, depends primarily on a kind of chaos [so] that categorisation . . . only hinders the reader and the writer,” says Kincaid, explaining that she prefers to think in terms of “different forms” because “when I started to write, I just wrote”. – Jamaica Kincaid, from interview in the Financial Times, 2022
Jamaica Kincaid talking with the BBC (in an interview which also included Jacob Ross and Claire Adam, 2018): “I didn’t know I wanted to tell stories. I knew I wanted to write and I thought I wanted to write about my mother and me, and a lot of my writing is about mother and daughter. But really I could early on see before any critic, I may have pointed it out to critics, that I was really writing about imbalance of power. And the mother country and the domestic mother is quite intertwined. If you really give a cursory and then thoroughly investigation into colonialism, you will see how much the colonial world has to do with the domestic and the domestic is almost always the female domain.” Full programme.
Jamaica Kincaid talking with Mother Jones (January/February 2013): ‘I think I was trying to understand how, short of an accident—you know, you pick up the phone, he says, “Your mother is dead. Her car. The Earth fell”—I never expected the everyday to suddenly become an accident. Suddenly you go downstairs and the pine floor is a gravel pit. I was trying to understand how the everyday suddenly becomes the unexpected.’ Full interview.
Natasha Lightfoot talking with Renee Goldthree for Black Perspectives (April 4th 2016): “In the UWI archives, there was an almanac for the West Indies in the nineteenth century, and it contained an entry in the year 1858 for Antigua. The entry mentioned that there had been a riot and that the island’s jails were completely full, but it also claimed that the riot was nothing of any political significance. The entry suggested that the rioters were basically rabble in the streets causing trouble—and not at all political. That entry raised my antenna so to speak. I thought that the way the entry was written was a sign that whatever had occurred was very political: there had been a riot in the streets for several days and the jails were full of rioters. I wanted to figure out what happened and why.” Full interview.
Joy Lawrence in conversation with Joanne C. Hillhouse for Wadadli Pen (2013): “The history books we are familiar with are usually written from the European or American perspective. I want people to understand our story from our perspective – how we feel, our likes and dislikes, our goals and aspirations. No outsider can tell our story the way we can.” Full interview.
Joy Lapps talking with Joanne C. Hillhouse (December 2nd 2012): “I think that my strengths lie in composition and writing lyrics for music composed by others and by myself. My inspiration comes from my lived experience and some things I read about or see on the news, my spirituality and love of God, falling in love with my husband, the everyday challenges of life…etc.” Full interview.
“That’s the direction I want to go with my writing, where I want it to be a small Caribbean island, I want it to be genre fiction, category romance, in the Caribbean, because sometimes those are the books you want to read, you know, you don’t want to be thinking of the heavier literary fiction or whatever – sometimes you just want ice-cream.”
– Kimolisa Mings, CREATIVE SPACE interview, February 2023
“I was the representative for the Clare Hall Secondary school, my alma mater… I fell on stage…the crowd’s reaction was a mixture of *gasps* and laughs, and at that point I had to make a decision, ‘hey, you go continue or you go stop.’ Cause you can either be poor thing and people laugh at you for the rest of your life or you can act the shit out of this and make it worth it. And I stayed on that floor and I continued my entire performance from the floor. The next day, I was the front page article: If at first you don’t succeed, you try and try again . The next year, I was the billboard for the website. I had my own billboard on the road…which is something that is not normally given to an unplaced contestant…that experience that you would think would have deterred me or broken me down in some kind of way was something that opened a whole big spectrum to me as a person in terms of confidence and being able to think on your feet, you know, ‘you need to get this done, wha you go do.'” – Kevon Moitt, designer
(the self-produced documentary series was released in 2021)
Jelani ‘J-Wyze’ Nias, author of Where Eagles Crawl and Men Fly, talking about following his path to publication: “The biggest wall I encountered, not that there weren’t others, but the biggest was my own fear. And once you get through that fear/feeling of will people understand this, will people accept this, are people gonna see my vision, once you go through that then everything else tends to be a lot more easy to deal with.” – Watch the video.
Dorbrene O’Marde about writing Nobody Go Run Me about King Short Shirt (2022):
Noting that he had written the first chapter five years before beginning the book – “Writing is interesting in that sense…you start, you put it down, and sometimes you just don’t get back to it for a long long time unless something prods you, and it was this celebration of the 50th anniversary, that says ‘wow, I have written this thing here’.”
Dorbrene O’Marde in conversation with Heather Doram, Joanne C. Hillhouse, and Barbara Arindell on Observer radio’s BigIssues (2017): “We’re definitely not doing enough…you talk to groups today and mention Tim Hector …in schools, the name is not know; what he does has not been heralded…my interactions with young people…points to this particular void…history clearly is the subject of interest here, that we know who we are…the decisions about where we’re going will be made on the basis of that knowledge…if you understand the history of how we came to own these lands…then we wouldn’t behave the way we’re behaving, for example, with our land…” Read a transcription of the (2017) interview or listen to the interview.
Dorbrene O’Marde talking with Judd Batchelor at Batchelor of Arts Theatre Online (2016): “And one of the comments I made -which seemed to rattle some of the young writers, was the total absence of socio political concerns in this region, at this particular point in time when there is so much need for concern and there is so much need for understanding the post-colonial independence bind that we find ourselves in, that our leaders find themselves in that we as persons trying to inform leadership have not really clarified for ourselves. And my view of the role of the artist is to help in that clarification.” Full interview.
Dylan Phillips interview with Observer after his appearance on the media group’s Big Issues radio programme to discuss Art Week in April 2023: “In secondary school I was introduced to the Japanese comic genre of manga and that piqued my interests in art. I would draw my own little comics in the back of my books. I found comfort in it. I took art from forms one to two. Academically I wasn’t the best, so when it came time to choose my subjects for third form, the school decided to allocate subjects they thought I would have a chance of passing. Art wasn’t one of them. But I picked it up again when I entered form five, hoping to attempt it for CXC, but I wasn’t advanced enough so was not allowed to continue…Art is seen as a lesser occupation. If we can change the perception of art, I think that would be a good starting point. If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will always seem like a fool and sadly the school system here forces fish to climb trees. Our curriculum needs to be updated with the artistically inclined in mind, and there needs to be an avenue where a young aspiring artist can see a path leading to an economic future in this field.””
Althea Prince talks about her research and her writing with A Different Booklist bookstore in Canada: “We need to hear from women about their experiences, their creative journeys, so The Black Notes brought together older and younger women. The contributors include some young girls who are just reaching the age of maturity. The book seeks to bring together the two generations. We have then the viewpoint – not a complete cross-section of those, but as far as I was able – of those women and girls from the African-Canadian community. So the same objectives: the same business of giving equity, giving voice, allowing space for these voices to express their creativity. Some of it is non-fiction, some of it is fiction and some of it is poetry.”
Rowan Ricardo Philips talking with Deadspin about his tennis themed book The Circuit: a Tennis Odyssey: “Carribeans love racket sports. My dad played a lot, so I started out going to his matches and serving as a terrible ballboy. The only thing we watched as a family on television was tennis, Breakfast at Wimbledon was big in my house. I had forgotten about those days, but I am fond of them. I never would’ve written the book without it. Here’s a good example: My dad rarely calls with breaking news, but one day he rang me up and said, ‘Turn on the TV, there’s a tennis poem being read on the air.’ It was Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated encapsulating his time at one of the big tournaments. Dad wanted to make sure I saw my personal Venn Diagram becoming one circle.” 2019.
Rupert Littleman Pelle, final interview, with the Cultural Development Division Research Department (2021): “I never believe I write a good song until I hear somebody criticize it. If I write a song and we can’t sit down in a group and discuss the song, and add and subtract, something wrong with the song, something definitely have to wrong with the song. And you can’t just change a line in a song like that. You write a song and somebody take it and they change a line can destroy the whole song. Because you na know what is leading up to the second verse or the third verse that have to do with the line in the first verse that you interfere with.”
Paul ‘King Obstinate’ Richards: “We’re prophets; a lot of things we write about comes true.” (King Obstinate on calypso, September 2013)
“…my little house is my own piece of paradise and it’s very conducive to creativity because it’s so peaceful and quiet. Singles’ Holiday and Sweet Lady are set on the island, and I’ve also developed a writing career over there. I wrote a TV series called Paradise View, which was shown on Antigua TV. When I last left the island, the people at the check-in desk were asking when they would get to see more. I’m now working on another show called Maisie and Em, which I describe as Golden Girls set in the Caribbean.” – UK writer Elaine Spires who made Antigua a home away from home speaking to Write’s Editing Services on the impact of island living on her writing
“They were great times – with the most amazing, talented, creative, strong, wonderful women. Their writing and innovative theatre pieces were daring and searingly truthful and just blew me away. I was honoured to be asked by Zahra Airall one of the founder members of Women of Antigua to write a piece for their show When A Woman Moans. I wrote the first Maisie and Em sketch which I performed as Em with my great pal Heather Doram taking the role of Maisie. Heather is an internationally famous artist and actress who has since become a TV host. The sketch brought the house down which was rewarding and humbling and so I was invited to write for them again the following year. It was a thrill and honour to be a part of it.” – Elaine Spiresspeaking with The Publish Hub
“One of our goals was to have the Cultural Division of Government fully support this organization and work alongside us and our artists. A fraction of that goal has been achieved as the Festivals Division recently came on board to sponsor our signature event, The Ink Project.” – Spilling Ink, for CREATIVE SPACE. 2020.
“When I was growing up as a boy, they had great man like Quarkoo. He was good but he was not really my influence, so to say, to bring me to this point; but quarkoo was a genius in his days. I can recall he would sing on the latest murder. Anything happen, in a matter of an hour he on the street with a piece of paper selling it and making it very popular.” – Short Shirt, The Making of the Monarch
“What I’d like to see really is, to be honest, is not just for Halcyon but steelband in general, especially at Carnival time apart from panorama, the bands, they not that important. …You know before time steelband used to dominate the road and be an integral part of the whole Carnival thing. Now apart from panorama, after panorama, nobody waan here no pan again. …steelband will have to move to a next level, they will have to amplify the bands an’ dem.” – George ‘Scenty’ Thomas, former captain of Halcyon Steel Orchestra, on the occasion of the Grays Green band’s 50th anniversary, 2021
Amber Williams-King talking to the Toronto Arts Foundation: “The reality is that the voices, experiences and identities of those who are not a part of the dominant culture are often erased and disappeared away. As a Black femme who grapples with suicidal ideation, disability and the medical industrial complex, imagining myself in the future has, at times, been almost impossible. Art offered me the space to name these parts of myself, connect with others, and help build a world that does not thrive on the absolute destruction of me and my people.”
“You send the draft to the editor and you sit nervously for the next two weeks or how ever long …waiting for that email or that call…then you take the feedback, you kind of sit with it for a while, you think about it, then you try to work on another draft. Sometimes you agree, sometimes you won’t agree…it should be a conversation…it’s a dance back and forth that you have to be patient with, and, once again, give it some space, read the review, and give it some space before you go and work on the redraft.”
PHOTO credits: Pictures of Joanne C. Hillhouse and Joy Lapps are from the 2011 event Telling our Stories at the University of Toronto – event photo; of Tameka Jarvis George is from the 2006 Wadadli Pen/Museum literary showcase Word Up! – event photo/Laura Hall; of Jamaica Kincaid is from the 2014 University of the Virgin Islands literary festival – event photo; of Jelani Nias is a screen grab from a televised interview; of Nicoya Henry – event photo (credit unknown). Barbara Arrindell, Foster Joseph, Sonalli Andrews, and Floree Williams-Whyte video links are to Joanne C. Hillhouse’s CREATIVE SPACE vlog. Video links also pulled from ABS TV, Words Aloud, the Dan David Prize, Novek Designs, edwin1030, Petra the Spectator – this is believed to be within the realm of fair use – no copyright infringement is intended. Some of my own appearances on platforms by Write the Vision, Diaspora Kids Lit, Badass Black Girl, ABS TV, National Public Library, Intersect Antigua, and some videos produced for my AntiguanWriter YouTube channel are also included.
As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out http://jhohadli.wordpress.com Please note that, except otherwise noted, images on this site also need to be cleared if you wish to use them for any purpose. Thanks.
I’ve been stumbling over summer reading lists like…like…potholes in Antigua. And I thought, well, if everybody’s doing it!
But first, I wondered, what makes a good summer read. I mean, we have summer pretty much year round in Antigua but I imagine the summer read means something different to people from other places, the ones we see lying out on our beaches during their summer. What are they reading? Is it what’s hot, what’s new, what’s easy …the kind of book you read and discard? My parents worked in hotels when I was growing up, I got some of those left-behind books …but for the life of me I can’t remember a single one. Is that a criterion that it entertain but then go away…like a clown? No that couldn’t be it. I turned to the book blogs for a definition and found one that I decided to let guide me in creating my own Summer Reading List of Antiguan and Barbudan books. This blog broke it down to books that are escapist, interesting, fun to read– not haha fun necessarily but it should have some popular appeal and not be so ponderous it feels like a chore to read. It’s summer time after all and the reading should be easy – but hopefully NOT disposable.
Other things to keep in mind before you curse me about why your favourites – or your book – isn’t on the list: I have to have read the book and I have to be able to back up my pick with one other recommendation (which will err on the side of reader recs because it’s that kind of list); if there is more than one author, the primary author/s must be from Wadadli and/or Wa’omani; Availability – so available you can walk in to a book store or order it online without having to special order it and cross your fingers hoping it’s not out of print; I know e-readers are the lick but my picks must not only be a physical copy but one that can travel easily in your beach bag, in keeping with the whole summer reads theme; quality can be subjective but I’m not reccing anything that feels slapped together and unedited; finally, I’m a novelist – I have books too and I’m going to mention the ones I think fit the criteria (yes, it’s a conflict of interest, but this is a fun summer reading list nothing here is binding and you are free to leave your own picks and recs in the comments).
Here now are my picks for your Summer Reading List – Wadadli Edition
1. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid – Lucy, a teenage girl from the West Indies, comes to North America to work as an au pair for Lewis and Mariah and their four children. Lewis and Mariah are a thrice-blessed couple–handsome, rich, and seemingly happy. Yet, almost at once, Lucy begins to notice cracks in their beautiful facade. At the same time that Lucy is coming to terms with Lewis’s and Mariah’s lives, she is also unravelling the mysteries of her own sexuality. Gradually a new person unfolds: passionate, forthright, and disarmingly honest. Why I picked it: Of all Jamaica’s books, the ones I’ve read, this is the best fit for this particular list – though you are encouraged to check out her extensive and extensively important, acclaimed, and awarded catalogue. Jamaica Kincaid is a bona fide literary star – her words have both heft and poetry – but in Lucy, a girl (not unlike characters in shows like Girls) is a young woman trying to figure her life out in New York City (after relocating there from a small island). If another Kincaid favourite, Annie John is about growing up, Lucy is about finding yourself and coming out of your girlhood into your young-woman-hood. I read it for the first time over a few days during a summer in the city, and not only did the poetic flow of her prose seduce me, because of that time, reading it in the park, on the train, in an apartment in Harlem, I will always identify it with summer in the city…and clearly it travels well.
Back-up rec: “This is a very simple story which starts off with several conventional plot twists but ends on a poignant, and somewhat surprising, note.” – reader review Amazon
2. Dancing Nude in the Moonlight by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Young Dominican single mother Selena Cruz is trying to make a new life for herself in Antigua, dealing with prejudice, poverty, and her interfering sister. When she meets handsome cricket coach Michael Lindo, her world is turned upside down. The course of true love is never smooth, and Michael and Selena’s story is no exception as they try to bridge the gap between their two cultures and their personal expectations of love. Romantic and delightful, this novella by Joanne C. Hillhouse looks at immigration and cross-cultural relationships in a warm and very human way. This anniversary edition includes a part two filled with selected poems, stories, and fan fiction.
Why I picked it: One word: romance. It was, also, the Best of Books’ summer read pick of 2008, six years before this 10th anniversary edition was published.
Back-up rec: “Engaging account of the complications of Caribbean life and a cross-cultural, inter-racial romance.” – Fiona Raye Clarke, critic, writing in Broken Pencil: the magazine of zine culture and independent arts
3. Considering Venus by D. Gisele Isaac – Lesley, an African-American, is straight, recently widowed with three children, and looking for a friend, while Cass is Antiguan, gay and looking for love. They meet again 25 years after high school. What happens when girlfriends becomes more than friends?
Why I picked it: Released back in 1998 it was ahead of its time in its exploration of love between two women – one of whom happens to be Caribbean. What’s boundary pushing is not so much the idea and reality of lesbian love but the now topical fluid love – that sexuality is not fixed, but more about person to person connection. That this book is also about grown woman love not young love is also still sadly boundary pushing.
Back-up rec: “Isaac has written a lovely book, with just the right fusion of prose and poetry make it a joy to read.” – at Sistahs on the Shelf blog where it’s tagged “mature lesbians” and “romance” and given a 4-star review
4. Time to Talk by Curtly Ambrose with Richard Sydenham – Sir Curtly Ambrose is one of the most famous cricket players of all time. He is also notorious for his silence. Now, for the first time, he tells his story. From his colourful upbringing in Antigua, through to the turbulent politics of both nation and dressing room, the book takes the reader behind the scenes to give a fascinating insight into the career of an iconic sportsman, and his take on the extreme highs and debilitating lows of international cricket.
Why I picked it: I’ve only just started reading it but I’m liking it, as sport biographies go. I think actual cricket fans will too. I was walking with the book in my hand the other day when a man asked me about it, said he didn’t realize such a book existed AND asked me where he could get it. And that right there tells me it needs to be on this list.
Back-up rec: “a series of insightful opinions” – ESPN cric info
5. Through the Window by Floree Williams – Anya is a 23 year old, complex and often complicated, woman who has to navigate through a maze of friendships, love, a dysfunctional family and finding love for herself.
Why I picked it: Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses is still my favourite Floree Williams book but this one, all about young love and the drama it brings, is made for easy beach reading.
Back-up rec: “I found this to be a very thoughtfully written book, a very enjoyable read.” – Amazon reader review
6. Ladies of the Night and Other Stories by Althea Prince – Women’s loves and lives are the focus of these stories, filled with dramatic twists and turns: some humorous, others shocking and disturbing, all leaving a haunting melody behind. The Toronto stories capture the issues women face as they walk the ground of intimate and family relationships in that city. The Antiguan setting of some of the stories are reflective of Prince’s insight into relationships, captured in her novel and essays. The characters reveal their different ways of managing a range of struggle, pain, rage, love and pure unadulterated joy. The humour of some stories complement the plaintive sadness and emotionality of the strings some other stories pluck.
Why I picked it: These women’s stories may make you sad, though if you keep digging you’ll see they are fighters, survivors not victims for the most part. Because of the (heavy) subject matter I considered holding this one back but that (matter of fact with a side serving of humor) tone tipped the scale.
Back-up rec: “Enjoyed the prose and dialogue. The story itself though made me sad.” – reader review on goodreads
7. Gilly Gobinet’s Cool Caribbean series – Books in the series includes the Cookery Book, the Cocktail book, the 20 Place in Antigua book, the book of hot spices-luscious fruit-and-herb all illustrated in full colour by the artist, using her classic watercolour technique as well a her humorous cartoons. Each is less than 50 pages – making for a quick read that you’ll come back to again and again as you explore the flavours of the Caribbean.
Why I picked it: These are actually handy to carry around and beautifully illustrated (in fact one of the books won the Gourmand award for best illustrations) – there’s one for your cocktails, one for your meals, one for your fruit and spices, one for all the places (well 20 of them anyway) you’ll want to see while in Antigua.
Back-up rec: “… classic watercolours interspersed with humorous cartoons… small but functional” – Search Antigua
8. Unburnable by Marie Elena John – 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—and with the help of Teddy, a man who has loved her for many years, she may yet find a way to heal. Set in both contemporary Washington, D.C., and post-World War II Dominica, Unburnable weaves together West Indian history, African culture, and American sensibilities. Richly textured and lushly rendered, Unburnable showcases a welcome and assured new voice.
Why I picked it: I’m of two minds about this one. It’s a really good read and there’s no way I could leave it off any list of essential Antiguan and Barbudan reading (though it is set largely in Dominica) – but that’s not what this list is – so the other mind is reminding me that it’s a thick book that deals with weighty issues – there are traumatic scenes and shifting timelines – a lot to keep track of, a lot to absorb – but a good, page turner of a read; so it will stay.
Back-up rec: “Strong writing and interesting supporting characters should keep readers occupied through the end” – Publisher’s Weekly
9. To Shoot Hard Labour: the Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman, 1877 – 1982 by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith – Sections cover THE FAMILY: Planting Sucker Follow the Root; ESTATE LIFE: Planter Kill King and Rule Country; VILLAGE LIFE: It Wasn t Just the Doctoring We Have To Do for Ourself; THE POWERFUL: Massa Was King and King Do No Wrong; LIFE S UPS AND DOWNS : God Was With Me All the Way; HARD TIMES: Nega Even Though Them Right, Them Wrong; FIELD AND FACTORY: It Was Work Like a Bull Why I picked it: Well, if we’re going to wade in to heavier territory no reason not to include this (oral/folk) history which really ought to be required reading if you want to understand the nature of the Antiguan and Barbudan. It set the template for folk histories locally, reversing the trend of all histories being written by people elsewhere in a way that held us as objects (acted upon) not subjects in our lives. Coming in its wake have been the writings of by Joy Lawrence and Monica Matthew, notably. And let me just say that though the terrain is pre and post emanciption, a dark time for black/island people…when is it not, right?… but you won’t regret giving up some of your sunshine to this. You’ll feel like you’re talking to Papa Sammy Smith, a man who lived long and told us a lot about ourselves.
Back-up rec: “What a rich read, nicely written with well assisted footnotes.” – Amazon reader review
10. The Road to Wadi Halfa by Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis – In 1998 London born Roosevelt Mohammed Lion is chairman of a property empire in the UK. While overseeing a hotel project in his father’s native island in the Caribbean, he is kidnapped by Islamic extremists. He learns that Brayton- Harper, a former Cabinet minister in the British Government is using his ordeal to further his own ends in Africa. Roosevelt struggles to survive life in a training camp and to understand the philosophy of his colleagues in the Sudan. He must be seen to cooperate or risk the life of his precious wife Venus, and his devoted twin brother, Washington, both left in London, to mourn his loss. Washington’s marriage is on the brink of collapse, but it is Roosevelt who meets the Sudanese beauty, Allaya, on the road to Wadi Halfa. Will he learn to trust her or is she plotting her own agenda? Will Al Qaada succeed in their mission to avenge western missile attacks by bombing foreigners in Khartoum? Will Roosevelt be in a position to prevent such an atrocity? Lennox Lion sets out to find his father, but will he rot in jail? The Road to Wadi Halfa is the sequel to Tides That Bind and continues the lives of the Lion brothers and their families.
Why I picked it: Another summer staple is the action-spy-thriller, i.e. international intrigue; am I right? You can have a go at the whole Lion series if you wish but this one makes for a good standalone read for the kind of reader who enjoys a cross-continental (spy-ish) drama wrapped in political intrigue.
Back-up rec: “The story draws you into the world of the ‘Lion’ family and examines class, culture and gender while creating romance, suspense and mystery.” – reader review on Amazon
But what about the children, you say…?
Age 3+ (younger if adults make it for bedtime reading)
Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan – Long ago, Blackbird was voted the most beautiful bird in the forest. The other birds, who were colored red, yellow, blue, and green, were so envious that they begged Blackbird to paint their feathers with a touch of black so they could be beautiful too. Although Black-bird warns them that true beauty comes from within, the other birds persist and soon each is given a ring of black around their neck or a dot of black on their wings — markings that detail birds to this very day. Coretta Scott King Award-winner Ashley Bryan’s adaptation of a tale from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia resonates both with rhythm and the tale’s universal meanings — appreciating one’s heritage and discovering the beauty within. His cut-paper artwork is a joy.
Why I picked it: Good for readalong with little kids and if you can’t read along because you’re deep in your own summer read, there are lots of pretty pictures to keep them distracted…I mean stimulated. The Sun is so Quiet and the Dancing Granny (for slightly older kids) are also great Ashley picks.
Back-up rec: “Bryan’s lilting and magical language is infectious.” – Publisher’s Weekly
How the East Pond got its Flowers by Althea Trotman – A young girl Tulah, born with a caul, is thought to be destined for great things and learns important lessons from Mother Sillah.
Why I picked it: A read for the mid-to-upper primary schooler in your life – a young female protagonist, historical without being dated.
Back-up rec: “literature that represent(s) the range of cultural experiences and histories that make up the national and international communities that touch all of us.” – from Frontiers of Language and Teaching (recommending How the East Pond got its Flowers as an example of this type of literature)
The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Stories by Barbara Arrindell – a glimpse of Antiguan history through three engaging stories set in three distinct periods of time. See the Kalinago through the eyes of Antigua’s first Governor’s wife. Meet a priest who was almost defrocked after allowing two former enslaved Africans to get married in an Anglican church. Meet the boy who would become a legendary doctor in St. Kitts.
Why I picked it: History made accessible. Adults will enjoy it too as they do her colouring and activity book Antigua My Antigua, which also will keep your child engaged and informed. My book, The Boy from Willow Bend is a good fit for this age range as well but I don’t have it listed as a summer pick given that some of them are already reading it in school – for those who aren’t though, have at it. For this age group you might also want to check out S E James’ adventure books especially Tragedy on Emerald Island and Forest Fever – I had a time finding links to them online but I believe there are still physical copies in local bookstores.
Back-up rec: “I love it! Wish the stories were a bit longer though” – reader on Smashwords
Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Zahara is a loner. She’s brilliant on the guitar but in everyday life she doesn’t really fit in. Then she meets Shaka, himself a musical genius and the first boy who really gets her. They discover that they share a special bond, their passion for music, and Zahara finds herself a part, not just of Shaka’s life, but also that of his boys, the Lion Crew. When they all get roles in a summer musical, Zahara, Shaka, and the rest of the Lion Crew use the opportunity to work on a secret project. But the Crew gets much more than they bargained for when they uncover a dark secret linking Shaka and Zahara’s families and they’re forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about class, colour, and relationships on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Musical Youth placed second in the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.
Why I picked it: My teen pick is one of mine – there are not a lot of teen-specific books in the Antiguan and Barbudan bibliography – or Caribbean for that matter – one reason why the Burt Award giving it a push by encouraging and rewarding books in this genre is a good thing. Musical Youth was first runner up for the Burt Award in its first year 2014. It’ll appeal to all teens and young adults but especially those with a love affair with music and love.
Back-up rec: “The story is modern; the teens are technology savvy.” – Amazon reader review
What? No Poetry?
I don’t know…does poetry make for good beach/summer reading? (Don’t all come for me at once…pace yourselves)
If so, of the ones I’ve read, my top (5) picks would probably be Motion in Poetry by Motion, I am that I am by Tameka Jarvis-George, then Tameka’s Thoughts from the Pharcyde and Motion’s 40 Dayz, then She Wanted a Love Poem by Kimolisa Mings – probably in that order, too.
I can’t speak to their availability but I will say that I had difficulty even sourcing pictures for some of them. But, true confessions, it’s late, I’m tired, I’ve been at this way too long, and I’m posting.
You’ve read the list and my reasons…you’re up.
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, Fish Outta Water, 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, my books and writing, and/or my writing-and-editing services. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.
From about 2006 to 2010, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse) wrote a blog on My Space called ‘Read Anything Good Lately’. In 2010, when I left My Space, that migrated here, sort of; that is, I started adding favourites or books which I found interesting in some way to Wadadli Pen. I’m still moving some of those earlier reviews (and marking them with an asterisk*). That initial posting was called Blogger on Books and continued to late 2012. Which is where this begins. As before, I won’t necessarily write about every book I read, but if there’s something I feel like commenting on, here’s where I’ll do it. Feel free to join in in the comments section and keep checking back, this is a growing list. To see books featured previously just use the site’s search feature and search for ‘Blogger on Books’. Oh and for reviews by others of my books, go here.
Marlon James’ Book of Night Woman – I kind of hate this book and I also could never turn away from it…if that makes any sense. It is completely absorbing; completely an immersive experience, and because that space and time into which you’re being immersed is a slave plantation in the Caribbean in a time when white men had the power of gods over the lives of black people and wielded that power like the devil, it’s not an easy place to be. But the book also doesn’t allow you the easy, familiar, often simplistic narratives and responses – even as a black person who KNOWS that they were wrong and we were done wrong. As such, and because of the visceral nature of the writing, it feels like an emotional pummeling with next to no relief. Violence is treated casually, just a normal part of life on the plantation, which it was, hard though it is to read – to have, for instance, a vibrant character like Dulcima introduced only to be thrown away in a matter of pages with such deliberateness as if to punish us, the reader, for being foolish enough to care for her, for forgetting where we are. Main character Lilith’s reactions in such times mirror our own or vice versa; she is getting a schooling in the ways of her world as surely as we are. It is also true of the book though that tragedy with no ease up is not the sum total of the slave experience – not when the enslaved African (not the beast his enslaver tells him/herself they are though they will f*ck that animal and have the temerity to act disappointed and hurt when the abused ‘animal’ bites) has the capacity, as most humans do, to love and be loved, to form trust, to dream. Even the one who betrays the rebellion has a dream, after all, a narrative beyond just her role as traitor. Book of Night Women doesn’t let you stay in your comfort zone of feelings – anger toward whites, empathy toward blacks etc. For instance the first time Lilith has sex with the white man she falls into a ‘love affair’ with, the reader’s feelings are as confused as hers because there’s an eroticism to the writing of it that makes you feel guilty because your brain is telegraphing this is rape, this is rape…only it’s not written like rape…and Lilith is as perplexed as we are by her feelings, musing that the pain makes it easy to remember why you’re supposed to hate but the niceness is dangerous. Needless to say, for me anyway, the book is a roller coaster of emotions and an uneasy narrative …but one you appreciate certainly by book’s end. Yes, the ending is unexpectedly somewhat satisfying, notwithstanding that near the end of the book I had to pause to talk sense to myself, to remind myself not to expect a happy ending – and it’s not, happy – but it left a powerful impression if nothing else of the power of story, of being able to tell your own stories, to write your history as you lived it, not as it was told to you by an other. Long and short of it, Book of Night Women, highly recommend, even if historical fiction (or historical magical realism – as this has some elements of that) really isn’t your thing. Good story is good story and this is a good story.top
The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda by Mali Olatunji and Paget Henry – I finished this just a few days before Christmas and ended up drafting in a single night a long form review for submission to the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books. In part because I was trying to distract myself from the need to punch someone (long story); in part because the book inspired a lot of thoughts. The images are technically inventive and imaginative, critical and captivating, and sometimes confounding as they explore what Olatunji calls the jumbie aesthetic using his woodism technique, the layering of precise pieces of bark or other parts of trees over specific images to create a commentary on the images and suggest a jumbie perspective. Part coffee table book, part technical photography book, part philosophical read, it’s not entirely clear who the preferred audience for the book is but what’s clear is that this is a photographer with a perspective and the technical skills to indulge it, a human searching for meaning in the world around him, and a man trying to connect with his departed ancestors. It’s an interesting book and I can honestly say I haven’t come across one quite like it before.top
Juletane by Miriam Warner-Vieyra proved to be quite compelling (and melancholy) – though I admit it took a couple of attempts for me to get into it. Set in the French Caribbean, France, and a Muslim-based African country, this feminist protest novel tracks one woman’s descent into madness after an ill-fated polygamous marriage. The narrative is unambiguous about polygamy (and quite possibly marriage generally) being ill-fated, if you’re a woman. Everything in the book angles towards that; characters not so much inhabiting their world as playing their roles within a narrative with a point to make and a tragic endpoint to get to. Structured as a series of journal entries, the writing is strongest when the title character is at her least lucid, floating between dream and reality. Of course, by virtue of that it’s among the hardest sections of the book to read; delving as it does into a fractured consciousness.top
Whew! That’s my first thought on completing Bob Marley Lyrical Genius by Kwame Dawes, a book I picked up in 2007 at the Calabash festival because one, I’m a Bob fan and two, I’m the kind of music fan who enjoys reading liner notes for the history and insights on how the songs came together. This was more weighty, of course; it dug deep, it felt epic, and, frankly, it was slow going and took me forever…well since the second quarter of 2008 at least. Still, though not as reader friendly as anticipated, it was a worthwhile read and quite insightful in terms of breaking down the lyrics through a social, cultural, political, and personal lens. Also, it reinforces my view that Bob was one of the great songwriters of the rock era, as dismissive as some are of his skills and the weight of his message. Dawes comes to the work as someone who clearly loves the music, knows the culture, and has the chops to break it down musically, lyrically, and in terms of context. It was no doubt challenging, but also inspiring; reminding me of my own desire (some years in the making now) to chronicle Antigua’s calypso journey. One other thing though, more extensive quoting of the song lyrics would have helped, especially with little known or less familiar lyrics.top
Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis’ The Road to Wadi Halfa – I actually read this a few years ago, but I can’t find any evidence that I posted my thoughts here, so here…An intriguing read, perhaps the first political spy/international thriller novel by an Antiguan author with ripped from the world headlines immediacy. I felt the plot could have been considerably streamlined but, while it took a while to draw me in, all in all it ratcheted up the tension and invested me as the reader in the outcome. Once I got into it, I was in.top
The Caribbean Writer Volume 28 – It takes me a while to get through the Caribbean Writer (it’s thick, as journals go) but it’s always a worthwhile read for discovering new Caribbean voices and/or re-familiarizing myself with ones I’ve previously enjoyed. In Volume 28, the 2014 edition, favourites included Rebellious Roots by Shelly-ann Harris, At the Karaoke Bar, 21st Century Hotel by Ann Margaret Lim, Rivers by Khalil Nieves, Saint Ignatius by Guillermo Rebollo-Gil, Abeng in Beijing by Fabian Thomas, and The Lemon Cure by Joey Garcia in poems; the short story Soldier by Jacqueline Bishop; in non-fiction Roster and Genealogy of Emigrants from the British Antilles Settled in Chiloe by Pablo A. Perez; and in reviews Junot Diaz bring Yunior and his Views on Racism and Hyper-Masculinity to El Barrio by Lavern McDonald.top
Maeve Binchy’s Evening Class – in a book with adultery, petty crime, deception, rape, abuse, threats of murder, murder (well, manslaughter), a book that though primarily located in a small village in Ireland moves between world capitals, it’s reassuring to know all’s well that ends well – and it did, no spoilers – that’s just Maeve Binchy for you – lots and lots of characters, richly detailed, the subtle shifting of a society in transition but which still has not lost its soul, a world where dark things happen but the majority of people are essentially good …her books are as ever filing, satisfying, with hints of home…wherever home may be.top
Through the Window by Floree Williams – this didn’t charm me the way her first book Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses did. This is not to say that it lacked charm, the quirk of my lips at odd times in the reading testify to some of that lingering charm – and the prose is as clear and the characters as affecting (yes, affecting) as I’d come to expect. Here, Williams graduates from girlhood to the dramas and ‘dramas’ of young love with mixed results.There’s a breezy rhythm to the telling that makes the story feel buoyant in spite of the angst and drama – contrived or other wise. But it is a mite predictable (it is a romance and they tend to be). At the same time, it is a quick read that will entertain especially but not exclusively lovers of the genre. For those who are not fans of the genre…it’s hard to tell…there’s nothing in particular that sets these characters apart …but I think once you pick it up you’ll get in to it. There is a groundedness to the storytelling that made me care about the outcome – root for Anya to make the right call whatever that is in situations like this – and there was at least one instance where I was still carrying vexness for her when she had clearly already moved on – so Williams does make you care about her characters without being too heavy handed about it. There’s a bit of overwriting in the descriptions – noticeable because simplicity is her style. Plus, the editing and/or proofing could have been tighter (things will slip through the cracks, yes, but I’m inclined to mention it when it proves to be a distraction from the story itself and, if I’m being honest, at times it was). Overall though a light, quick, mostly fun. long lazy day read; and one any one who’s ever been young and in love…and a little bit paranoid…will likely be able to relate to.top
Mio’s Kingdom by the renowned Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren…so definitely not a book for my age group. But I found it appealed to my sense of fantasy and adventure – albeit relatively uncomplicated fantasy – and deals with fairly adult concepts such as the loneliness felt by an unloved orphan child, overcoming great – seemingly insurmountable odds, facing death, finding courage even when feeling great fear etc. but in a way relatable to a young child and in a way that resolves it while preserving their innocence. The language is a bit old timey and occasionally rhymey but I actually quite like the in-built poetry of it at times and can see it appealing as a bed time parent child read aloud over a series of nights, given the sometimes lulling effect of the language. And no “lulling” there is not a euphemism for boring, there’s plenty of adventure here to keep young minds entertained (there’s even a flying horse…or hundred). I can picture this book as a film, that’s the other thing, an adventure film with appeal to the same kids and grown-assed-kids (like me) who flock to films like Lord of the Rings. The evil here is pretty straightforward and the magic simple but there’s a certain beauty and appeal in that especially for younger readers. If you’re looking for reads with good lessons, you can’t go wrong here – for instance when Mio promises to stay by his dying friend’s side because the love and companionship of a good friend is worth more than glory. The actual battle is not Helm’s Deep, in fact it’s fairly anti-climatic considering the build-up (so low on the action)…also the adult in me was hoping for some clarity as to why the big Danger had to be this single boy’s quest, and perhaps certain death, while his father remained behind and greeted him with open arms on his return. Huh? Aren’t parents supposed to throw themselves in the way of danger for their kids, not send them in to it …but then I have a feeling that’s the adult in me, only 80 percent not 100 percent committed to the fantasy like a kid might be. Besides the book is from the kid’s perspective and this question never comes up (but adults are gonna adult, you know). Bottom line, Mio’s Kingdom is fun read-together read for parents and kids alike.top
Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan – This phrase “…the linguistic and cultural jolts and jarrings as two languages grind against each other…” inadvertently, I think, drive home Ann Morgan’s point about the awkward beauty of things getting lost in translation. In my Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean culture, grinding can call to mind heavy (sometimes brutal) teasing or an especially sexy wine (a certain type of dance rooted in Africa and synonymous with the Caribbean where a twerk by any other name is still a wine) involving a man and a woman…guess where my mind went? But, yes, back to the text. What a remarkable undertaking, what a compelling read! I felt genuinely happy at times wading through this highly sourced book which probably just reinforces that I’m a nerdy bibliophile but, whatever, nerdy bibliophiles need their Carnival rides too. And British writer, Morgan’s project is nothing short of a Carnival ride with its jolts and wide turns, stomach dropping plummets and more. If I’d been there at the beginning when she decided to read the world in a year, I might have said, “girl, yuh crazy?!?” even while rooting for the audacity of the experiment. Likely she felt like giving up along the way (even given her tangible passion for the project) but I’m glad she didn’t. If, like me, you follow Ann’s blog, you’ll have already read her thoughts on the books she read (and if you follow this blog, you might have read her thoughts on some of the Caribbean books she’s read) and even so you might be somewhat surprised that the book isn’t about the books she read nor is it simply about the process, though it covers that in spades, and about the community she discovered along the way, even in this vast world
“Many were the mornings when, stumbling bleary-eyed to the computer in the grey half-light of dawn, I was galvanized by an enthusiastic comment, an offer of help, or news that a stranger thousands of miles away had turned up a lead on a story or manuscript for me out of no other impulse than the desire to see me succeed in my endeavor.”
…but it’s primarily about what she learned along the way not just about her own privileges and prejudices but about how the world is configured, about the value of story even in the increasingly IT world (and she has some thoughts on that increasingly IT world as well)
“Increasingly, what we see reflected back at us when we look for something online is not the world but a reading of our world – a mathematically calculated reflection of the insides of our own heads.”
I understand better the context for her comment in her review of Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean in which my story “Amelia at Devil’s Bridge” appears, “A number of the writers have chosen to represent the dialects of their characters for a Standard English-speaking reader (so that someone who uses British or American English could pronounce the words phonetically and get them to sound as the characters would say them). While there are practical reasons for this choice, it has the effect of implying a reader who comes from elsewhere…” which mildly bugged me at the time of reading as it does when any critic implies that I’m/we’re deliberately pandering to an American/British audience. Having read Reading the World, however, I understand better that Ann’s concerns are coming from a deepened awareness of the imbalances in the publishing world…and the conscious…and, yes, unconscious influence of colonizing forces, still. Still, assumptions shouldn’t be made. That said, and there’s no denying this, and if the book has an overarching theme, it’s in its reinforcement of the idea that stories can shape and erase culture, can define the character of a nation and speak to one nation’s relationship with another, with another hemisphere, with world history. For someone interested/invested in such issues, this was an illuminating read. For the Caribbean leg of her journey, Ann read Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua and Barbuda), Thine is the Kingdom by Garth Buckner (the Bahamas), Song of Night by Glenville Lovell (Barbados), On Heroes, Lizards and Passion by Zoila Ellis (Belize), Afro-Cuban Tales (Cuentos negros de Cuba) by Lydia Cabrera – translated from the Spanish by Alberto Hernandez-Chiroldes and Lauren Yoder (Cuba), The Snake King of the Kalinago by Grade 6 of Atkinson School (Dominica), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic), The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins (Grenada), Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo (Guyana), I am a Japanese Writer (je suis un écrivain japanais) by Dany La Ferriѐre (Haiti), John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James (Jamaica), Only God can make a Tree by Bertram Roach (St. Kitts-Nevis), Neg Maron: Freedom Fighter by Michael Aubertin (St. Lucia), The Moon is Following Me by Cecil Browne (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), and One Scattered Skeleton by Vahni Capildeo (Trinidad and Tobago). If you’re wondering where’s Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Martin, Anguilla et al… you’ll need to read Ann’s chapter on the nightmare of configuring the world…who knew that this deep in it wasn’t definitive? For the full list of Ann’s world, check her site or get the book; it’s a worthy addition to your collection – especially for booklovers and among those for those with a particular interest in world literature, and isn’t it all world literature?top
All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele – I’ll be honest, my copy of All Over Again was inadvertently left behind between switching from one street car to the next in NOLA when I was only one page from the end. This means that I didn’t really get to finish it (I mean I tracked down a copy and read the words but I was no longer in the story); it also means that I don’t have direct quotes (since I don’t have my dog-eared copy to remind me of pieces I absolutely had to share). Buuuut I do know that this Burt Award winning book is one I sincerely recommend especially for young readers, especially boys. It is steeped in the young boy’s perspective with all of its cockeyed (makes perfect sense to me) justifications and frustrations as it episodically moves from one life defining or life changing chapter in his life to the next. The interesting cast of supporting characters include his unintentionally annoying little sister Mary Janga, his mom who practically passes on life lessons to him, his terrifying father who may get him after all, his cousin who is like his moral compass, his arch rival at school, the whole world of ‘unfairness’, and the girl, you know there had to be a girl right? The writer achieves the feat of seating you firmly in his point of view with her use of the second voice, effective use of the second voice; the pacing and comic timing of the book are to be applauded; and yet for all the humour we get a real sense of the all too serious world of the boy, a world not without its struggles including and beyond his personal dramas. Adults will enjoy it, teenagers (it’s intended audience) will be able to relate to it, but as the boy is on the line between boyhood and young adult hood, younger boys may enjoy taking the ride with the boy as well. In fact, I’m pretty sure they will.top
The Dancing Granny by Ashley Bryan – When I wrote this originally, we had just read this at the Cushion Club (the reading club for kids with which I volunteer) and once again Anancy – that enduring character – was front and centre, distracting Granny with the music she couldn’t resist and making off with her food. Anancy will never change, eh! Some say he’s a bad example for young people. I say he’s a testament to the craftiness that can trump sheer muscle; he’s a survivor, just like us. And that makes him a kind of hero as surely as his badmindedness makes him a sort of villain. Besides, think about it, doesn’t he usually pay for his lyin’, thievin’ ways in the end? This was my and the club’s introduction to Bryan’s very musical narrative – and it had us tapping out beats and making up rhythms for the numerous songs in it. And as he mailed me a handful of his books earlier this year, we’ll be discovering more of his writings. I look forward to it; for the works in their own right, but also because when I had the opportunity to interview him, I found him to be a delight and thought if I could have half the youthfulness and joy and appreciation of life that he has at his age, then I’d be very lucky indeed. ETA: Bit of trivia about my book Musical Youth; Ashley Bryan’s Dancing Granny is the literary work the characters interpret for their summer production.top
The Whale House and Other Stories by Sharon Millar – “She is a Trinidad writer who eschews Port of Spain and the more familiar geographic, ethnic, and emotional landscapes of the land and the literature of the land for something a bit more on the fringe, something not as easily categorized. And she does it masterfully – I almost want to coin something like Mistressly there because she is most decidedly a woman writing women, primarily, and digging into the hurt, grazing her fingers familiarly over the spots where the hurt has scabbed over.” This is an excerpt from my full reaction to (not review of) this book which ran long. Read the full, here.top
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – I read and remember enjoying Jane Austen in college (Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice) though the details are vague now – with the exception of Pride and Prejudice thanks to Kiera Knightly’s Elizabeth Bennett and Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy (love that film!) Still it wasn’t nostalgia that made me pick up a copy of Mansfield Park when the logos ship of books came through one time. Or it might have been, I don’t know, but I know the fact that the book referenced my island-home Antigua (so I’d read) was part of my curiousity. In the end, that became the most difficult bit to separate because when I think of Antigua in the time that Sir Thomas would have visited, I can’t help thinking of the horrific reality of the Africans (my ancestors) working on plantations there (the wealth which made communities like Mansfield Park possible). It didn’t stop me from engaging with the book but there was an awareness of this genteel, class conscious society being propped up by something much darker. No, what kept me from engaging with it as much as I would have liked was main character Fanny – I just found her judgmental and puritanical and passive(aggressive). Her silent disapproval of the play her peers intended to put on (what’s wrong with putting on a play? Even if for fun and flirtation), her silent (and classist) disapproval of her former home (it’s urban, it’s chaotic, horrors!), her silent disapproval of, well, everything. She’s initially quite sympathetic. Pried from her family and reluctantly brought to the much more affluent but much colder Mansfield Park with the intent of improving her station – but never being allowed to forget her place in her new family. Like Edmund, her (first) cousin, the reader is meant to feel sympathetic toward Fanny and does for the most part but her lack of spirit in time gets wearying. By turns I find myself wanting her to speak up or loosen up, or something, but to be fair she is a young woman from a different time and it is never a good idea to impose your time on the world of the narrative you’re reading (I know this!). And I do agree with Fanny on some things – for instance her disregard for men who like Mr. Crawford play with women’s feelings. Still. By the end, I’m supposed to be charmed by her and convinced of her “mental superiority” and I’m just not – though of her steadiness, longsuffering-ness, and a certain amount of discernment, yes…I suppose. I mean, as far as that discernment goes, okay, yes, I know she was right in the end about Mr. Crawford who turned out to be, as she had correctly assessed, frivolous and all of self, lacking in steadiness and a moral compass. Still, even with that, there’s an awareness on my part that few but ‘perfect’, compassionate, but kinda dull Edmund could stand up to Fanny-level judgment. And (no doubt Fanny’d find my compass broken too but) I never quite got what made Ms. Crawford a villain, as opposed to just a young woman being young (okay, this is a tale of manners so her spiritedness would be contrary in such a world, and yes, she is sort of frivolous; but she was always nice to Fanny who was nothing but cold toward her, so as far as manners go, I find it hard to see Ms. Crawford as the villain she’s meant to be). Fanny’s aunt, Ms. Norris, is a totally different matter altogether – nothing redeeming there. Still, I never feel quite as disapproving as Fanny does of everything and in fact find her censure and weepiness (the only real emotion we see her overtly exhibit) tiring …and tiresome. And this grand inevitable love between her and Edmund, assuming I could put aside my own modern biases and accept that in such times and such families there’s nothing objectionable in marrying your first cousin, I just don’t see any chemistry between them. Friendship, yes, but no more, really. I’m adding this here nonetheless because overall I still find Jane Austen’s crafting of the narrow world of her times and her ability to make drama even when very little happens quite interesting, her subtle way of critiquing that world and its “manners” instructive, and her use of language quite beautiful (so beautiful I found myself quoting long excerpts of it much to the consternation of the fans of my facebook page no doubt). She remains a pioneer in women’s lit (writing at a time when women writers were very scarce indeed). So, if Mansfield Park wasn’t my cup of tea, some of that is my baggage; you may quite enjoy it. For a much more enthusiastic (and frankly, ,more informed) review, read http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10987048/Mansfield-Park-shows-the-dark-side-of-Jane-Austen.html.top
Le Freak – I know I saw Nile Rodgers performing at the Grammys not that long ago – that Daft Punk song, Get Lucky – so I know he’s alive and still making music…right? But the end of his autobiography Le Freak still felt like a cliffhanger. He’d just got a cancer diagnosis, and made a decision to die living rather than live dying. And though I’d seen him since the publication of the book in 2011, my brain still short circuited over, what happened next??! Thank God for Google; according to Wikipedia, he announced in 2013 that he’d beat the cancer. Well. Can you tell that I got caught up? I may not be a fan of reality shows but, though my definition of celebrity is specific to those who rode their talent to success not those famous just because, I certainly understand our obsession with celebrity culture; my enjoyment of celebrity biographies and autobiographies – my ingestion of celebrity ‘news’ – may be categorized as light-hearted distraction but it is somewhat voyeuristic. And in Le Freak, Rodgers throws all the windows and doors wide open and walks around naked. Not just figuratively. Sex, drugs, and the decadence of rock ‘n roll are on full display. But as my friend who recommended it noted, what makes it most interesting, is the insight to the creative process, his creative process. You’ll have a new appreciation for his disco tracks after reading this and new perspective on some of your favourite pop hits. Nile has literally worked with everyone, every one. His take on their interactions and how they worked together make for interesting and enlightening reading. His life is a bit of a horror show at times – seriously, stay away from drugs kids – but there’s no denying that he lived. And created some indelible music that will survive him. And his candor about his struggles with esteem and his creative struggles make Le Freak more than just a voyeuristic thrill, but a real look beyond the flash, at the soul of a man.top
Okay, so I just finished Prince Lestat, the latest in the Vampire Chronicles, a series I fell in love with as an undergraduate in university. I mention that to underscore the fact that Louis, Lestat, Armand, the whole gang and I have been together for a while. I loved Interview with the Vampire, the Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil (when I finally got around to reading it)… these were probably my favourites in the series. I have mixed (like 65/35) feelings about Prince Lestat. Not because it feels overpopulated – though sometimes it does – because some of the back stories were quite fascinating; not because there wasn’t nearly enough Louis – because when he started his melancholy musings at the end, I remembered just how melancholy his musings can be, a reminder that Louis is probably best in small doses. Not because I couldn’t get into the Rose storyline, though I couldn’t. I think because the bulk of the book was all about the build-up (so much so that when Lestat in a fit of pique jumped onto a table and took decisive and bloody action I practically pumped my fist realizing how much inaction there’d been to that point) but then the climax was somewhat anti-climatic – the Brat Prince is now an actual Prince, Prince of the immortals if you will. Meh okay. Someone who’s minded his own business forever and ever is suddenly so easily manipulated (no, I’m not talking about Lestat, and I didn’t buy it, but there’ve been debates and I may be alone in this).The referencing of the book that started it all showed how far Louis has come, though far for Louis is still baby steps, he’s still the most handwringingly human of the blooddrinkers, but it was also a reminder of how self-referential the book felt at times. All that said, I still love this series and you should read the book for yourself – Anne Rice still writes beautifully lush prose, intriguing characters whose moral dilemmas and the choices they lead to can be compelling when they are, narrative which probes at the bigger questions – where do we come from, why are we here, what does it all mean, and as far as Vampire lore is concerned she remains the Don (her Vampires are out there walking the night, they are!). Even a weaker entry in the series is readable if you’re a fan of the series, and if the book reads as a set-up to a new direction in the series, then that means there’ll be more in the series. Right? Right? If you’re not, the book is actually a pretty good primer.top
BIM Arts for the 21st Century – this elder of Caribbean literary journals is as always well balanced and insightful. I am happy to be a part of this collection with my story What’s in a Name. On reflection, and oddly given that I primarily read fiction, I especially enjoyed the poetry followed by the non-fiction sections. My picks for poetry at once accessible, aesthetically pleasing, and rich with layers of meaning are Velma Pollard’s Kicking Daffodils?, Winsome Minott’s Meeting a Fake West Indian – (even the title’s funny, right?), As Usual Thursday Morning by Ann Limm, The Language Situation in Puerto Rico by Loretta Collins Klobah – (and I appreciated the opportunity to read, or attempt to read it, in both English and Spanish), A Birthday Reflection in Verse for Fidel by Kendel Hippolyte, also his Unlife. On the non-fiction side Tennyson S D Joseph’s piece on Hilary Beckles – Ploughing in Hard Soil – was particularly interesting to me. The journal was a balance of revered and new voices, and some that are both new and revered – making for a solid view of some of the best of Caribbean literature now.top
She Wanted A Love Poem by Kimolisa Mings – It’s good to see Kimolisa, a favourite of the Antiguan open mic poetry scene, begin to put her poetry to print. Her self-published collection moves through the stages and variations of love. The best pieces are the mini-stories; the details of mood and moments, character and plot, things observed and things unsaid – as in Ago – laced through her seductive flow, helping to lift some of those stories above the easy clichés of love poetry. Edit: I will add this. I think Kim has talent, I love her flow, but I don’t think this collection is the best of her simply because it feels there are moments that could have been …sharpened, if feels there are times she could have dug a little deeper, it feels there are times when it could have benefited from a critical eye (the specific input of not just a lover of poetry or language, or even a general editor, but a poetry editor in particular). But it’s a pretty engaging read overall with some quite poignant moments and there’s no denying the music (jazz, blues… maybe) in her words and the fact that the collection tries to probe at more than the obvious definitions of love. Look forward to more.top
40 Dayz – Motion – (this is not a new read; it’s newly added here though) – I have to admit I found her Motion in Poetry to be a more satisfying read. But there’s no denying her way with words and the power of her voice. Here are two excerpts from my article on the book, to be published in the Daily Observer: “My favourite section is WombStory and my favourite poem, I think – this changes – blues. Like the blues themselves, it sings of one thing while seeming to sing of another and does so in a tone at once mournful and yearning.” and “In 40 Dayz, the images flicker in and out, sharp and precise but almost too quick to grasp; in my case a few readings were required for it all to begin to sink in. In the end, I found a collection that startles and questions – no, demands – as it pushes and prods at things.”top
Just finished reading Kei Miller’s Writing Down the Vision and, sigh, wrote the author another fan letter. You’ll remember I did the same after reading Fear of Stones. Let me say this, this book isn’t just for writers and though it’s fairly Jamaican-centric, it’s not just for people from Yard. It’s a book that delves into the social-psychology of what it is to be a Caribbean person and a Caribbean artist writing that Caribbean person in this time. Kei articulates it well.top
The Other Tongues – I didn’t understand half of this but I’m glad I read it…and I think I get the gist in terms of the span and general tone of Scottish writing…interestingly there’s a bleakness in the imagery and experiences that seem, on the surface of it at least, to be the opposite of the Caribbean experience…and yet pull at something very, very familiar and relatable. I kept being drawn to things…a stray line, a stirring image, a sense of a complicated history and people.top
A letter for my mother is an emotional read, and isn’t that an understatement. As one of the contributors, I can honestly say I’m not half as brave as these other women who left everything about the most complex relationship most women have right there on the page. It’s the kind of book that will make you tear up as you encounter the jarring recognition that grown as we are, we are still sometimes just little girls in need of mommy’s love, even as we stand up and move through life, sometimes dragging a bag of hurts behind us, sometimes striding purposefully as she taught us whether through words or in response or opposition to her example. The book is especially powerful because I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in the African American as in the Caribbean community, you just don’t unpack your personal history like that – not without getting creative about it. Unadorned like that and laid out for other people to chat ‘bout would have taken, to borrow a Junot Diaz turn of phrase “ovarian fortitude”. They likely would have had to retreat to a quiet place inside themselves to where it was okay to be vulnerable. What results is a book that does what so many things claim but fail to to do, it keeps it real. I recommend it for mothers and daughters.top
I just finished reading Volume 27 of the Caribbean Writer and I’m going to hold it to the same high bar it set for Caribbean writers to hurdle over; there were some messy aspects to this issue – the lack of order and absences in the contributor section and the need for additional proofing to address some repetitions and errors that may be a result of formatting leap immediately to mind. But there’s no denying that the United States Virgin Islands publication, under the stewardship of new editor Alscess Lewis-Brown, remains the gateway for new, quality Caribbean voices. Many who themselves now set the bar among modern Caribbean writers saw some of their earliest works published here. And now we have – among my favourites from Volume 27, the 2013 issue:–
Yashika Graham’s Directions from the Border (in which she maps the way to her place of origin and her heart in the uniquely Caribbean way of giving directions), Figment (in which she uses language beautifully to map the empty space between daughter and daddy), and My Mother (a loving ode to same) – her first publications in print according to her public facebook page; fellow Jamaican, award winning poet Monica Minott’s instructive and evocative Reggae Until Jesus Come and in celebration of another musical icon, Shabba; Rashad Braithwaite’s rumination on geography and opportunity in We Who were born of the Ocean; Rohan Facey’s brief but striking Postcard Image and the Artful Fist, both about illusion and reality; Darryl Roberts’ Tourist and I want to Learn Flamenco Guitar, both capturing certain rhythms of island life; Shanarae Matthew-Edwards’ nostalgic and somewhat epic Fish and Fungi; Antiguan-Dominican Glen Toussaint’s booming Dat; and, rounding out my poetry favourites, Joey Garcia’s haunting Deep.
Whew! How’s that for an over-loaded sentence!?!
The short fiction list is lighter though, since fiction is my love, no less significant. The ones I dog-eared, and mention them here hoping you’ll keep an eye out for these stories and the writers who penned them, Lizards by L J Swanson; My Jumby by Jody Rathgeb; the Annual Christmas Cuss-out by Cheryl Corbin; the Imported Wife by Dwight Thompson; The Hechicera’s Ace by John Russo; Miss Tally’s Last Dance by Ashley Ruth-Bernier; Island Joe by Ryan Rising; Where Dreams Die by DC Laidler; and Paradise Just for Us by Rosalyn Rossignol.
Yes, here you will find some of the all too familiar tropes of Caribbean fiction, and it’s a challenge to not allow ourselves to be ensnared by them, but there are also write-arounds, jump-overs, and the turning of fresh soil in some of these pieces, all of which made for entertaining – and sometimes, deep – reading.
Thanks to the reviews, some new selections are added to my to-read list. Well, some like Dorbrene O’Marde’s Nobody Go Run Me, which I’ve recently been invited to review by the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books have already been read, but D. Gisele Isaac’s enthusiastic review, not always in agreement with the author always engaged by him, make me eager to revisit it. Edwidge Dandicat’s Claire of the Sea Light was already on my to-read list, because I have never not absolutely loved anything she’s written, but Patricia Harkins-Pierre’s review provided additional incentive. New to the to-read list, though, are Frank Mills’ The Last Witness, reviewed by S. B. Jones-Hendrickson because, hello, a Caribbean murder mystery, the very idea intrigues; Ann Margaret Lim’s Festival of Wild Orchid, reviewed by Loretta Collins Koblah, who stands tall among contemporary Caribbean poets in her own right; and And Sometimes they Fly by Robert Edison Sandiford, a most interesting and unusual read based on the review by H. Nigel Thomas.
A feature of The Caribbean Writer – in addition to sharing new works by new and established writers, introducing additions to the Caribbean canon, coverage of a wide cross section of genres – that make it a tribute to everything Caribbean arts is the tributes section where even when you don’t know the artiste, the writing can make you feel the loss of that, such was the case with Jane Coombes detailed and stirring tribute to Smokey Pratt
I must add that it’s thrilling to have several of my pieces – poetry, fiction, and an extract from a screenplay – included in the Caribbean Writer Volume 27, it’s been a long journey from that first, first of many rejections, to this point, even knowing that this is not a point of arrival, because with the Caribbean Writer you have to earn your place every time, which is as it should be as they continue to set the bar for good writing in the Caribbean.top
The White Witch of Rosehallwas interesting to me not so much for the character themselves (in fact, their limited dimensionality was one of the book’s shortcomings in my view) but what it says about the nature of Caribbean slave society – the sickness that it was to all involved. In such a situation, the tale suggested, it’s inevitable to become infected with either megalomania or mistrust; and given that the tale is set in a time when Jamaica is on the cusp of an uprising of the enslaved people, all involved would have been well advised to sleep with one eye open. It all moves very quickly, three weeks, give or take, from beginning to end, too quickly for all that happens to the characters internally (from how the main character adapts to the world to how suddenly and unbelievably outside of a Mills and Boon maybe the various romances manifest. But the detailed rendering of atmosphere and setting, most of it filtered through the newbie eyes of the main character, does attempt and largely succeed in slowing the pace, and grounding the story. I also think that though the language and narrative style is understandably dated (the book was first published in the early 1900s and the story is set in early 1800s), the writer has a good sense of the layers of meanings in words or in certain words grouped together, and of the weight of the situation he reports upon, so for all that’s unlikely about it, it did from time to time prompt me to pause and reflect. So, while it’s not a favourite, it was not without effect. One of the book’s strengths is its effective handling of the supernatural elements – there is a spook factor that both the characters and readers are aware of – though with reactions ranging from fear to doubt to something like, well maybe. The end itself holds no surprise though I realized that I had come to care, however mildly, when news of Rider’s fate stirred a tinge of regret. I’m sharing my thoughts on it because, all told, I’m glad I read it finally, this classic of West Indian literature based on a reality that haunts the Caribbean to this day.top
Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean – Outstanding entries from the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize with a preface by Olive Senior. I just finished reading this collection and it’s a good one. I really liked most of the stories but my top five might be Janice Lynn Mather’s Mango Summer, Sharon Millar’s The Whale House, Barbara Jenkins’ A Good Friday, Ivory Kelly’s The Thing We Call Love, and Dwight Thompson’s The Science of Salvation possibly tied up with Kimmisha Thomas’ Berry. But it really comes down to preference because the crafting of all of these stories is exquisite and …experimental, and the Caribbean landscape they reveal has shadows, not just sunlight; there is heart and humanity but there is also darkness. Really well done; and I’m happy to be a part of it.top
I’ve owned Strunk and White’s Elements of Style since my college days; I re-read it recently prompted by Stephen King after reading his On Writing in which he really talked it up as the definitive book on writing. On re-read, I found myself tugging against some of the rules but even then have to admit that S & W though somewhat conservative know their stuff and back up their chat. So that just as you’re tugging against “Do Not Use Dialect”, which I’ve been known to do, you have to admit they have a point when they complete that thought with “Unless Your Ear is Good”. Their information is sounder than sound; so much so you’ll find yourself re-learning grammar, vocabulary, and writing rules you forgot…and, frankly, learning some for the first time. Bottom line, if you’re a writer or want to be one, it’s a good an essential reference book to have to hand. You’ll need to refer to it again…I know I will.top
She Sex, Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman (edited by Paula Obe and Carol N. Hosein) – Just finished reading She Sex Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman (edited by Paula Obe and Carol N. Hosein), a collection of writing by Caribbean women. The fact that I took this long to read this is not an indication of its quality, as I actually recommend it as a read and not just because I’ve got pieces in it. In fact, true confession, I’m not terribly confident about the two pieces selected for the collection. Another true confession, I write more poetry than fiction probably but I feel more sure-footed in the world of fiction. Of my pieces in the collection, One is probably my favourite; it grew out of a visual prompt, a painting by Antiguan artist Glenroy Aaron. I remember the thing that struck me about the image was how intertwined the man and woman were, almost like they were extensions of the same body; hence the poem title ‘One’ – “I want to be so deep inside you/it be like/I’m wearing your skin/when I touch your nipple/it be my lips tingling.” Though it’s blatantly physical, I wanted to suggest emotional intimacy equal to or beyond the physical, and I wanted it to feel like a seduction not at the beginning of a relationship when they barely know each other, but when they’re already in – deep. My other piece – “A Religious Experience” is borderline sacrilegious since it’s using sacred terminology for something considerably less sacred. But the choice of terminology is meant to suggest the reverence with which they’ve embraced this connection they have – “and so we prayed/then the breeze sang a Holy song.” I’m hoping their selection suggests that I communicated something of what I was trying to communicate. But you, readers, will be the judge. As reader, my favourites included: READ ON.top
Dido’s Prize by Eugenia O’Neal – Dido’s Prize is old school romance like I haven’t read in a good long while – you know the template; boy meets girl, he tall dark and strapping, she a beautiful spitfire, they feel something intense for each other but amidst misunderstandings and other obstacles tug-o-war until inevitably they find their way to their happily ever after. That’s not a spoiler – that’s what this genre promises. That is to say that like most romance novels you know the end from the beginning because in romance novels the hero always gets the girl and the girl always gets her man. But its alignment with the genre notwithstanding, in Dido’s Prize, British Virgin Islands author Eugenia O’Neal deftly ups the ante – intricately weaving in tension, excitement, and uncertainty – by setting her historical romance against a backdrop of piracy and adventure. Pirates are popular these days, from Pirates of the Caribbean to Black Sails. But you’ve never met a pirate quite like this plucky heroine who masques her true identity and holds her own as deals with the uncomfortable realities of being a woman on a ship full of rowdy men. By turns spirited and fool hardy, Dido’s a pirate you root for – but still a pirate who tries to hang on to her principles even as she gets her hands bloody. what Dido’s Prize does that most pop culture pirate tales don’t is meet the reality of the world – the reality of slavery (and misogyny) in their world – head on (well, not as head on as say Roots or 12 Years a Slave but it doesn’t ignore it as they do in the world of Captain Jack). Kudos to O’Neal for managing that; for confronting the harsh realities of that world and yet keeping the story buoyant – not always edge of your seat but never dull. But because she adhered so closely to historical reality I doubted at times, even as I had my fingers crossed for, O’Neal’s ability to deliver on the happily ever after; especially as the pages wound down and the lovers remained separated – him beaten and facing the hangman’s noose, her resolved to free him and sail off into the sunset. Together. But deliver she did, even managing to make it somewhat believable that despite the realities of a world in which people who look like our heroine and her hero are commonly enslaved, they could find a space where they, their families, and a whole community of others like them could live free. And to do so in a way that feels, okay a little bit fanciful, but not strictly speaking out of sync with history. It’s my kind of romance; there’s too much else going on – pirate raids, slave rebellions etc. – for me to get bored, as I’ve been known to do, given the predictability of the genre. In fact, not only did I enjoy reading Dido’s Prize (which I won in an online contest on O’Neal’s website), if it did make it to the big screen, it’d be a fresh take on the genre of pirate films, one I’d pay good money to see. Think Hollywood would go for it?top
Little Rude Boys Girls by Deshawn Browne– First things first, the author of this book was 12 years old at the time it was published – the book and his improved grades came of a challenge put to him by the book’s publisher Dr. Noel Howell, a doctor and filmmaker who seems to have made it something of a mission to work with talented young people. I wasn’t keen to read and review the book because the authors’ a kid; so one, I’m not really the market, two, if I didn’t like it I couldn’t say that I did and I didn’t want to discourage a young boy admirably rising to a challenge. After all challenging young people to realize their potential and find their voice is what Wadadli Pen is all about. So the book’s merits or demerits as a literary work wasn’t really the point….I read it recently and while it’s not a masterpiece, it delivers an entertaining story with a bonus moral arc to its demographic (late primary boys and girls) and was quite enjoyable (for me, an adult). It’s a book about rivalries (harmless rivalry between boys and girls), family, and, unexpectedly, HIV/AIDS – it’s about pushing yourself, rising to the occasion. It reads less like fiction and more like a pretty detailed and vivid how I spent my summer – a very organized, episodically plotted, lively report from the perspective of a mischievous narrator who shows growth by the story’s end. I suspect good editing is also at play here but the young writer also has good story sense. It’s a bit overcrowded – a lot of characters to keep track of and not enough shading to give you a real sense of them beyond the roles they play in the book – but it’s neither exhausting nor, at the other end, is it ever dull. In fact it’s pretty satisfying and in the end shows itself to have a lot of heart, as well. I’d definitely recommend the author take some writing classes as he continues to grow and he may, down the road, have a book that is closer to a masterpiece in him because I’d say there’s potential there.top
Womanspeak (2013) – This is a well ordered collection, at times inspirational, at times provocative, at times beautiful, at times disturbing, universally insightful. It is also a fun and compelling read. Fun is an odd word for it given that this edition of Womanspeak speaks so profoundly to so much of what women go through and yet as the language wraps its colourful self around ideas of self and independence and the other big issues women grapple with it is, fun. I am delighted to be a part of it, happy that my poems and short story feel a part of it, part of this community of women Bahamas’ Lynn Sweeting has called together on the page. From a purely reader standpoint, my favourites included Althea Romeo-Mark’s A Kind of Refugee/Living in Limbo (which I may or may not have read before, I can’t be sure, in her collection If Only the Dust would Settle) from the essays section which also included interesting entries by Vahni and Leila Capildeo, Victoria Sarne, and Ashley Akerberg – stories that show women finding their footing with the rug pulled out from under them and to reference the Capildeo piece, “(creating) better circumstances, not the endless coping with situations”. In the fiction section which opens the journal, I think I responded to each of the stories on some level – landing each in the favourites category as well. My lip curled up in distaste three short paragraphs into Vashti Bowlah’s Vindira’s Day, a strong opener to the collection. My displeasure wasn’t with the story but with the man who was so distasteful he hadn’t even done anything to that yet and I already wanted to wash him off me. In Cherise A. Charleswell’s story, the way the story describes the character’s reaction to the male gaze and the pssst is very familiar to me; could relate as well to the way some became particularly menacing, the way you can feel abused by those encounters, even when nothing specific happens, even though it’s not something others would describe as particularly abusive. I was reading Shakira Bourne’s story We always smile for Photos in two places (it’s also in the Trinidad and Tobago anthology She Sex) and liked both experiences of it, and especially her use of irony; as I did the use of detail and the foreshadowing in the pre-Columbian world of Rhonda Claridge’s In the Distant Waters Land. The poetry section was rich as well, and I found myself finding things to like, images and insights that stopped me, even in the poems I didn’t love-love like the mother and daughter murdered for making a video of themselves laughing in the rain (Lynn Sweeting who also writes profoundly of masks and priorities in I like the Disguise). Poems to make you ponder, as Angelique Nixon’s Occupying Dissent Long Time if we haven’t in fact gone back to sleep despite its assertion that this is our time and its challenge to “us to stay woke together”; poems like ARM’s that make you marvel at the way she grounds the poems with earth-bound details – “rain-soaked clothes (clinging) to her frame. Cold (gnawing) at her shoulders. Her beige skirt, grass-stained, (and) hemmed in mud” – and yet untethers them with more abstract imagery – “dark clouds (crossing) her moon. Her thoughts (scattering) leaves after a storm”; poems, defiant in spirit like Opal Palmer Adisa’s; poems that pack a punch like Lynn Sweeting’s Woman of God which is stronger for its simple telling sans editorializing of an encounter between a pious woman and a domestic violence survivor. This is not passive poetry…these are revolutionary pieces about women’s (and men’s – e.g. “the forest man willing to die rather than step aside for the bulldozers because without the forest he will die anyway” – LS) encounters with the ‘justice’ system, about the failure of love, their anger, their defiance…and yet there is considerable beauty (variously dark or delicate but beauty nonetheless) to be found in poems like Charlotte Dunn’s Sea Grape Leaf Jump, Tanya Evanson’s Apocalypsiata…other poems that come to mind for various reasons as I write this reflection on a stirring collection are Anita Macdonald’s Seized, Sonia Farmer’s This is not a Fairytale, Nancy anne Miller’s Life Jacket, and Attilah Springer’s Dance Pretty Fight Deadly. In the fairy tale section – yes, there is a fairy tale section – my favourite was probably Barbara Arrindell’s feminist spin on an anansi tale – though there was much I liked about Brenda Lee and Lelawatee’s tales as well, most especially their freshness in an under-developed genre, stories perfect for that stage of childhood where you’re defining reality through imagination. In some way that’s all stages of life if you’re open to seeing…and if you’re open to seeing one of the impressions this collection makes is the precariousness and fragility of reality and on the other hand the strength and strategizing required to be a woman in the Caribbean, and in the world.top
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – The thing Tayari does in this story that I find fascinating is how she ‘plays’ with the reader, this reader’s, emotions…I don’t mean that in a negative way….but…the story starts with the perspective of the daughter of the other woman, a girl who is always second best, or so it seems to her, in her father’s affections compared to his ‘real’ daughter and his ‘real’ family. We see the lawful wife and child as the other, the villains of the piece if you will, and the father as a weak man. Then, just when we think we have a handle on how we’re supposed to see this, how we’re supposed to feel about it, Tayari flips the script on us. Suddenly we’re in the perspective of the legitimate daughter, and suddenly she is the sympathetic one, and the one we’ve been following is, if not a villain, then a perplexing mystery. We find ourselves liking and feeling for this second daughter and her mother with equal passion, and even liking the father a little bit, seeing him, as we are, through the eyes of the daughter who has no reason to find him lacking. So, who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy? In Silver Sparrow, as in life, it’s complicated. In Silver Sparrow, as in life, things just sort of unravel…and in Silver Sparrow, as in life, the ending is bittersweet…no happily ever after, no matter what the fairytales promise. And yet, like a fairytale, Tayari makes the meeting of hearts, as pedestrian and messy as it gets, seem magical, fated, and epic:
“And this is how it started. Just with coffee and the exchange of their long stories. Love can be incremental. Predicaments, too. Coffee can start a life just as it can start a day. This is the meeting of two people who were destined to love from before they were born, from before they made choices that would complicate their lives. This love just rolled toward my mother as though she were standing at the bottom of a steep hill. Mother had no hand in this, only heart.”
Part of the genius of her approach is the telling of the story from the perspective of the children – the two daughters – on opposite sides of the story because of their mothers and their love for their mothers and their desire to be first in their father’s heart, but bound to each other in a way their mothers would never be and their father could never understand. They are both heartbreaking, these girls, and if I feel any dissatisfaction with the novel it’s in the way that it swings back, at the end, to the daughter we first meet, as though we haven’t come to know and care about the ‘other’ daughter as well, and aren’t just as curious about what became of her (or her take on it), after. SIDEBAR: I met Tayari, sort of, in summer 2012 when I went to a joint reading she did in New York with another favourite of mine (Judy Blume). Wrote about it here. And I had the opportunity to meet her when she came to Antigua last year, but, regrettably, missed that opportunity. I prefer meeting the writers I like on the pages of their books anyway; this is the first book I’ve read for Tayari (though I follow her blog and fb page) and she is officially an author I like. top
Nobody Go Run Me: the Life and Times of Sir Mclean Emmanuel by Dorbrene O’Marde is, in my estimation, a perfect marriage of writer and subject. O’Marde knows the players and the context of his story well, he respects them but isn’t hesitant to critique them. He understands the link between the movements in the world of calypso and the real world movements that inspired or were inspired by them. He has unprecedented access to personalities and insights that flesh out the tale, and he clearly knows and loves the art form.Read more.top
“Okay so, On Writing by Stephen King, mi lub dis book bad (English translation: I really liked this book). It’s hard to know where to begin with the sharing because it’s so bookmarked. What I can say, in general, is that it reads more like a memoir than a how-to book though at the end you will have learned a thing or two about how-to…including that some of it is a kind of magic that is unexplainable even to the person doing it, a fact King acknowledges up front when he said, “…most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.” And yet the only thing I disagreed with King about was the change of a character’s name in an edit of a sample from one of his stories at the end of the book; because the man knows his stuff and he reinforced some of what I already knew and added to it, teaching me new things. And because the book is memoir style, he teaches mostly by doing; as we read the stories of his childhood we’re learning how to tell a good story and then, bonus, he connects the dots. I’ll share some of my favourite bits.top
“I have climbed back into life over and over on a ladder made of words…” So Alice Walker says in the preface of Her Blue Body Everything We Know. There some crisp imagery especially in the Africa pieces, which are like emotional snapshots. Those are almost serene next to the angrier, lengthier, America pieces and the introspective anti-romantic pieces such as Warning which says, “to love a man wholly/love him/feet first/head down/eyes cold/closed/in depression”. One of my favourites among the latter is Never Offer Your Heart to Someone Who Eats Hearts – don’t you just love that title – as dark and cynical a piece as you’ll find in this collection but which ends on a hopeful note. There’s one about Janie Crawford, you know from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; loved that one too because it pretty much sums up how I saw the Janie character. I liked the one about Lorraine Hansberry too which is really about the fortitude it takes to be a revolutionary. Another of my favourites is How Poems Are Made: A Discredited View, “to the upbeat flight of memories./The flagged beats of the running heart.” I also liked Songless which asks “what is the point of being artists if we cannot save our life?” ; Each One, Pull One – another Hansberry inspired piece – in which Alice charges, “we must say it all, and as clearly as we can. For, even before we are dead, they are busy trying to bury us.” There are blatant activist pieces like These Days which I liked and you realize that for Alice writing is always political. And there is something searching and beautiful there too as in another of my favourites If There Was Any Justice in which she communes sort of with a favourite artist of mine Van Gogh. Two of the stronger pieces, for me, come near the end: A Woman is not a Potted Plant and Winnie Mandela, We Love You. I realize as I’m writing this that I actually liked this collection more than I realized, I read it over weeks of bus rides, bookmarking as I went. I shouldn’t be surprised. Alice is ever one of the more stimulating writers I’ve found, stimulating in that reading her work is not a passive exercise, it makes you think, feel, engage, write, and even without all that, there is enough truth here that I couldn’t dismiss it even if I had a mind to:
In These Dissenting Times
To acknowledge our ancestors means
we are aware that we did not make
ourselves, that the line stretches
all the way back, perhaps, to God; or
to Gods. We remember them because it
is an easy thing to forget: that we
are not the first to suffer, rebel,
fight, love and die. The grace with
which we embrace life, in spite of
the pain, the sorrows, is always a
measure of what has gone before.
I like autobiographies. No surprise then that every time I left the house for the bus stop, I usually grabbed Makeba: My Story (by Miriam Makeba with James Hall) from by current active pile of books. It was more than that though. She is an interesting person who’s led an amazing life and whose story, as if that weren’t enough, is part of the tale of the shameful story of apartheid South Africa. There was weirdly so much that was relatable in this book (certain customs and attitudes really did travel with my ancestors across the Atlantic) but there is much as well that’s distant from my own experience (perhaps closer to what my ancestors would have experienced in a world when and where they were considered less than human). The reason I most liked this book, however, is that I was almost utterly charmed by Miriam; I say almost because there is one chapter much later on that hasn’t settled…we are, none of us, perfect….but her humility, her talent, her passion all make for a very charming tale indeed, even amidst the tragedies of her life. Here’s a taste of her music:top
Forty Years of Struggle: the Birth of the St. Kitts Labour Movement by Sir Probyn Inniss – This is not something I would normally pick up but the author (a teacher, lawyer and former Governor) and I met during a reading at Greenland Books and Things in St. Kitts and gave me a copy. As I’d found his reading interesting – mostly for how similar the experiences of these islands are when all is said and done – I decided to give it a go. it was an interesting read. Of course, the book makes a case for the uniqueness of St. Kitts colonial era experience and in so doing suggests that things weren’t as rough on other islands. I suspect those in neighbouring islands like Antigua who lived through the post-Emancipation, contract laws binding adult workers and their offspring to plantations (like slaves), and pre and post labour days would have their own – contradictory – opinion on that; hell, I didn’t live it and I found myself being contradictory on occasion while reading. For example: “Antigua, by contrast, experienced better relations between the different classes and racial groups. This was evident in Antigua since the early nineteenth century and no doubt contributed to the fact that Antigua had no Apprenticeship period, moving from slavery to full freedom in 1834.” Really? Yes, we had no apprenticeship but not because things were sweet as mango between the planter class and the working class…Statements like this made me question some of the book’s other judgments (not the facts, the book stands strong on facts, but the conclusions reached based on those facts). That said, it’s an important perspective, one that sits on the same shelf as books like Antigua and Barbuda’s To Shoot Hard Labour and (I suspect since I haven’t actually read it) No Easy Pushover both by Keithlyn Smith. That it explores – beyond the broad division between the two main classes of people, the white planter class and the black working class, and the ways their history shaped a society defined by race-based value and deep power imbalances as a result – the Portuguese and middle Eastern (Syrian, Lebanese) immigrants that came to dominate retail commerce and other areas of business, and the complex relationship between the Eastern Caribbean and the Dominican Republic (in particular the export of workers from these parts for work in the cane fields of the Spanish nation and their poor treatment there…a reversal of which we are now experiencing) adds a dynamic that’s important to understanding the social history and reality of our countries. One lingering question the one posed by the writer at the end is how much has really changed, how fully have we embraced the opportunity to move beyond the patterns put in place by colonial era politics that did not favour (in fact had no real interest in) the working man (the black working man). That’s a question with resonance in St. Kitts, in Antigua, and no doubt in other parts of the region.top
Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice -*warning: this is a long one* – I’ve read a fair amount of Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief, Cry to Heaven, The Witching Hour, Blackwood Farm and some others) but not in a good long while. I remember thinking that Memnoch the Devil wasn’t for me…probably the girl that was raised Catholic including Catholic school, Holy Communion, Confirmation classes etc unconsciously turning from the perceived blasphemy. I say unconsciously because chances are if I thought it was so I would no doubt have read it in rebellion (another characteristic of Catholic girls). No, I think at the time I had just become disenchanted with the authoress I discovered in my college years, the same way I eventually became disenchanted with romance novels and other genres I consumed once upon a time but don’t feel particularly drawn to now. So I have to give mad props to Glen of Best of Books Antigua for his ambush sale of Memnoch the Devil, thanks for re-introducing me to one of my favourite writers. This book remind me of all the reasons the reader and writer in me was drawn to Rice’s writing in the first place. She is a boundary pusher and rule breaker – the ultimate Catholic girl rebel – on an epic scale. You kind of feel like you’re pissing God off a little bit by reading it, as much as Memnoch did with all his questioning, but you read on anyway (like him, you can’t help yourself). Re writing rules, as far as exposition is concerned, teachers often rap our knuckles with show don’t tell show don’t tell…well huge sections of Memnoch is exposition, there’s some showing but there’s a fair amount of telling as well…but it never feels dull in part because one of Anne’s signatures is the delicious descriptiveness of her narrative. Her words are alive so that even when nothing in particular is happening, the grass is growing, can’t you hear it? You know what I mean, she milks sensation from each moment so that even the still moments are not stagnant. Another rule, pare it back, don’t overwrite…hm, well, Anne’s writing is as lush and showy/flamboyant as a Caribbean sunset, and just as beautiful. The atmosphere she created in rendering the New Orleans setting of so many of her stories is part of what landed this city on my bucket list, half doubting that the actual city can live up to the one that lives in my imagination. She doesn’t rush the moments and at the same time creates amazing tension, hooking the reader to turn the next page and the next and the next even as nothing much more happens than one Being in conversation with another Being, trying to make his case. I love her writing – lines like “the story devoured the night” – I really do and I’m glad I was reminded of that. Let me say a word about genre. I don’t really believe in genre-fiction. I read what I read, I like what I like, genre be damned; and I really feel that folks who dismiss not just Memnoch but Rice’s Vampire chronicles (and this can apply to other of her supernatural fare) are missing out. She’s a great storyteller and I look forward to reading both Servant of the Bones, thanks to the teaser at the back of Memnoch, and the Wolf Gift (because, yeah, I guess the idea of were-fic in Anne’s hands intrigues me). Thematically, she remains in Memnoch, as bold as when she created a vampire with a conscience in Louis and paired him with an unrepentant rebel rock star of a maker in the first book in the series. Not enough Louis in this for my taste (I love Louis with all his human angst and complexity) but Lestat is very much present if not the star of this tale. No the very nature of creation, of heaven/hell, of God and humanity hogs the spotlight –and how bold is she to take on such grand and controversial themes? Bolder still to cast God as the villain (or as too removed from human feeling to be relatable) and Memnoch/Lucifer/the Devil, the beleaguered hero (the one trying to do good, the one working in the best interest of humankind), maybe, depends on your reading of it. Bottom line, Memnoch is a mind trip. And Rice doesn’t allow the reader to look away from it, nor from the disturbingly erotic image of Lestat sucking on Dora’s womb blood (not my favourite image, uh, but my new favourite word for that by the way). I will add only that I don’t know what prompted Anne to write this; if it was just the next inevitable stop on Lestat’s wild adventure – he’d done everything else right? Or if it was driven by her own questioning about the nature of God (and especially God in relation to human suffering something many of us have grappled with). I don’t know; I do know that tonally, it feels a bit like a cry of frustration – “we are in the hands of mad things” – and of despair – “why are we never never to know”. These are characters’ words, of course, but the whole book, entertaining and thought provoking and epic as it is, also feels deeply personal in that sense. Or perhaps I’m reading into things.top
Pineapple Rhymes by Veronica Evanson Bernard – This poetry collection is a bit of a time capsule…a fair amount of the references (such as the celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday) are way before my time…think 40 years before my time as they reference the conditions and realities during the author’s coming of age in 1930s and 40s Antigua…but for an Antiguan of any age, or anyone with an interest in Antiguan culture, Pineapple Rhymes is a good blend of folk history and folk poetry in the folk language which is more than just a variation or bastardization of English as implied in the glossary. If you’re a regular to the blog or are at all familiar with my literary tastes, you already know that Women of Antigua was my introduction to the writing of the late Veronica Evanson Bernard. It remains my favourite poem in the collection, and a quintessential Antiguan and Barbudan poem in my view. Other pieces bookmarked were A Mudder’s Lament, Nutten Nar Bite, Shappin fuh a Wedding Frack, Laas at Sea, Congo Man, Wite Cloaz, Teachah Teachah, Twenty Fourth O’ May, and De Obeah Oooman. She writes the Antiguan as it sounds, the work is strongest when she uses that to get a good rhythm going as she chronicles the struggles and joys of the folk…without overly romanticizing it. It’s a book that calls to mind the now elusive Antiguan character.top
Living History by Hillary Clinton – I can’t imagine how at once scary and liberating it must be to write an autobiography; digging around the dark and uncomfortable corners of your psyche, revisiting your past triumphs and failures, exposing your soft underbelly. By comparison with others I’ve read, Hilary’s feels very controlled and as such didn’t draw me in as completely though she’s led a very dynamic and interesting life. The most interesting aspects for me were her early life; once Bill entered the picture, I felt it was too much about him (and having already read his biography and being a Hilary fan, I guess I wanted more of her and less of the president and presidential policy but when you’re a supporting player to the president, I suppose it’s going to shake out like that). The latter part of her journey (pre-senate) was interesting, and a bit more revealing, as well…but still restrained. Liked it enough to add it to this list though.top
Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World by Jon F. Sensbach isn’t my usual cup of tea but it was interesting and provided some insights to the experience of African enslavement (particularly with respect to the grey areas) that I hadn’t considered. And the roots of the Moravian church…wow, some interesting insights there.top
Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama – Beautifully written, insightful, engaging…and humanizing. He may be President but he was once upon a time just a confused boy seeking his place in the world. This book is evidence of that.top
Just got through reading New Writing: Poetry & Prose by Shoestring Press. It’s actually not that new anymore as it was released in 2001, and I’m not sure there are even copies in circulation any more. I borrowed a copy from one of the authors, Wadadli Pen chief judge Brenda Lee Browne. And I’m not just saying this because of her association with Wadadli Pen but she does a great job of capturing the rhythm of the island in her Diary from the Wet Side of the Moon and I was starting to get invested in the characters when the snippet ended so that’s good. As we do with older pieces she probably curls her lips when she looks back at this, if you’re a writer journeying, your work is going to keep on growing but if this was 2001, I’m even more eager to see what she’s come up with circa 2012. The other stories are all set in Europe, England especially and, I suspect, in East Midlands primarily. It was an alright read overall.top
The Shack by William P. Young – So, a friend insisted I read this…and I have. But honestly I’m not sure what to make of it. It starts out quite mysteriously and with deft pacing that mystery draws you in…then slows considerably after the big reveal (during the pages of exposition that follow)…but that big reveal (three in one, in fact) is significant and it does end satisfyingly with an open-ended (unstated) challenge to believe or not believe. It’s quite beautiful in parts, quite eloquent and insightful in parts, thought provoking (with respect to the nature of being, of fear, of surrender, of forgiveness, of our relationship with the divine). I can’t say this book had the powerful impact on me it did others (like my friend) but I appreciated reading it, in the end; and feel pretty certain the questioning it has provoked will linger. Post note: Actually it’s been a while since I read this and it hasn’t lingered as much as I thought it might but all other sentiments remain.top
Womanspeak is a literary and visual art journal edited by Bahamian Lynn Sweeting and featuring women writers from across the Caribbean. I’m in it, so this isn’t really a review, but I did have some thoughts about why I liked it. Yes, I do.top
Evening is the Whole Day – Preeta Samarasan
This book was written by my Breadloaf ’08 roommate Preeta Samarasan. I’m glad I discovered it and her, and discovered, too, that though from different parts of the world, there was a lot that connected us, in part due to the common cultural elements born ironically enough of our shared British colonial experience…or the residue thereof. As a Caribbean reader certain things will feel startlingly familiar when you read this; and the parts unknown, well that’s part of the discovery, isn’t it? I’ll admit it took me a while to get through it, it’s not an easy or light read; sometimes I was caught up, sometimes distracted, and sometimes I simply needed to look away. It’s very vivid and not always pleasant. Uncomfortable details aside, it is a stirring if at times claustrophobic tale (in the sense that I didn’t enjoy a minute spent with any of these people though I appreciated the author’s realistic and complex rendering of them). Speaking of style, I was immediately caught by the atmospheric punch (the thereness of the place) and by how the author captures the speech patterns of the Malaysian people in a way that makes it both relatable to the non-Malaysian reader and authentic (or at least authentic-sounding since I’m not qualified o speak to its actual authenticity)…it’s certainly one of the challenges I grapple with as a Caribbean writer, and I think this Malaysian writer does a good job of it here. The book is informative regarding the shifting mood in Malaysia for the span of the tale but really the country is primarily the context for a family drama marked by secrets, disaffection, hypocrisy, deception, and the politics of being.top
For In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, I decided, instead of sharing favourite stories or poems, to share favourite moments. Read More.top
I suspect for the Caribbean reader there will be much that resonates in Volume 26 of the Caribbean Writer. Though it deals with the natural environment, it is not about paradisiacal vistas so much as it is about the stories (in verse and prose) running through the veins of the natural environment. I count among my favourites Tregenza A. Roach’s poem The Grove in Bethesda which speaks of the bridges formed by the environment across which people choose not to cross (“…no love passes between”); and Meagan Simmons’ Drunk Bay Cliffs, a place of natural wonder and painful history (“we stand on the cliffs/and try to drink this place/in without feeling the violence in it:/this wide ocean/gaping like an open mouth”). The Last Crustacean by Shakirah Bourne uses perspective to effectively convey the disturbance caused by unchecked ‘development’. And while June Aming’s Two by Sea delivers bitter justice to those who take advantage of nature, Diana McCaulay’s Sand in Motion has the immediacy of a journalistic feature of nature being laid bare on the altar of development, and in Barbara Jenkins’ The Talisman (one of her two gems in this collection, the other being the adventure Healing Ruptures) nature is a vividly rendered backdrop for a complex and haunting tale of human interaction. Plus, there’s an honest to goodness ghost story, Aaron Adesh Singh’s The Duenne, while childhood takes an even darker, albeit less supernatural turn in Stanley Niamatali’s Girl-Child in which awakening sexuality, domestic violence, and violent nature converge. The protagonist in Thomas Reiter’s poem A Boy Harvesting wonders “Does everything on this island tell a story?” Yes, it does. The Caribbean Writer, the annual print journal of contemporary Caribbean literature, continues to gather the best of them.top
I have mixed feelings about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Lisbeth Salandar character was interesting, intriguing, and well drawn (though that made most of the other characters seem less so by comparison), the writer threads the tension tightly holding your curiousity and at times making you tense up the way a good mystery should. But it’s also fairly slow at both ends of that mystery, especially the back end (i.e. the section after the mystery of the missing girl is solved which feels both anti-climatic and emotionally unsatisfying though it did provide an interesting education on the world of international finance). Still, I’d lost interest in the outcome and still feel troubled that the many dead bodies were so quickly forgotten …but then moral ambiguity even by heroes and heroines is part of this book’s appeal so perhaps that’s intentional. I’d read another one in the series but I’m not hungry for it. I do want to see the film though.top
(excerpted from my review in the Daily Observer), Sugar Barons “is a lengthy read and the territory is generally familiar but the perspectives culled from personal journals, private communications and the like offer up fresh anecdotal tales and colourful personal narratives…” with contemporary resonance and/or ripples re the social and economic impact of sugar and its companion trade in African humans. An interesting read for history buffs and “…a reminder that the impact of the trade in indefinable ways is still being felt to this day.” Warning, the book does humanize the planters/slave owners, but even so slavery as practiced in our hemisphere was unprecedented in its level of brutality, so brace yourselves.top
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, 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.
A visiting grad student interviewing me for her thesis (which is focussed on Antiguan and Barbudan writing) put me on the spot yesterday, asking me to name my favourite Antiguan author (not the only impossible question she asked). Althea Prince (with books like How the East Pond Got Its Flowers which did such a good job of sharing aspects of our history and imprinting certain values in a child friendly way by just telling a good story, Loving this Man, Being Black and the Politics of Black Women’s Hair) was in there; Gisele Isaac (with her taboo breaking Considering Venus was in there)…she asked me what about Joy Lawrence and I noted that her work documenting especially Antiguan expression in The Way We Talk and Other Antiguan Folkways had served me as a teaching aid in my Communications classes when exploring, well, the ways we talk…and that got me thinking about her research into island folk history which led me to the book that laid the foundation within that post slavery folk memory genre in terms of the Antiguan and Barbudan literary canon and isrequired reading because of it in my view if you want to understand the Antiguan, and especially the African-Antiguan, Smith and Smith’s To Shoot Hard Labour…I may have mentioned that the first writers I was exposed to, enjoyed and learned from were the calypso writers, which would put Shelly Tobitt (the pen behind so many of my favourite calypsos) easily at the top of my list of favourite Antiguan writers…but in the end I went with the writings of our most renowned international literary celebrity Jamaica Kincaid because of the boldness of her writing, the way her stories though rooted in the particular are universal and timeless as a result, the poetry and layers of meaning in each of her lines, and because of memorable works like Annie John, Lucy, and for lifting the lid off of a taboo much like Isaac’s book My Brother (yes, we discussed A Small Place too…everyone who wants to discuss Kincaid wants to discuss A Small Place, right?). But perhaps most significantly because I think when I discovered Annie John (a first since I would not have known there was such a thing as an Antiguan novelist before much less one breaking through at her level), I would have been able to begin to admit, if only to myself (it would be a while more before I could say it out loud), that this was what I wanted to do and maybe with hard work, persistence, and talent, it could be so. Maybe. Even for a then teenage girl from the working class community of Ottos, Antigua who’d been writing for a while and knew she wanted to keep writing but didn’t know what to make of this wish that didn’t fit the reality of her world, much less how to make it her reality.
And so I come to Kincaid’s latest book. It’s See Now Then. No, I haven’t read it yet (yet!). But here’s what Publishers’ Weekly had to say:
“In her first novel in a decade, Kincaid (Autobiography of My Mother) brings her singular lyricism and beautifully recursive tendencies to the inner life of Mrs. Sweet, who is facing the end of her marriage, and who, over the course of the book, considers the distinctions between her nows and her thens, particularly when recounting what was while the memories bleed with a pain that still is. Particularly touching is Kincaid’s rendering of motherhood. The immediacy of Mrs. Sweet’s small son’s toys—Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers—creates a significant foil to the ethereal interior echoes. Such is the reality of parenting…” Read More.
We have more on Kincaid on this site as well, if you want to check some of that out:
She has written a lot and remains at the forefront of a growing list of fiction and non fiction writers from Antigua and Barbuda.
Still, hate having to pick a single favourite of almost anything, though. So don’t ask me what happened when she asked about my favourite books and authors in general. I think in the end I told her to read the blog.
As with all content (words, images, other) 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, 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 WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) wholesale from the site without asking and attributing is not cool. Respect copyright.
*re prize split – please note that each shortlisted writer receives a Certificate of Achievement as well as discount cards from the Best of Books; and the overall winner’s name has been emblazoned alongside the name of past winners onto the Challenge plaque – sponsored by the Best of Books.
SCHOOLS WITH THE MOST SUBMISSIONS
Primary School – St. John’s Catholic Primary – US$500 worth of books sponsored by Hands Across the Sea
Author of Revelations Tonight and Remembrance
Overall Winner (Revelations Tonight), Winner in the 13 to 17 age category (Revelations Tonight) and Third placed in the 13 to 17 age category (Remembrance)
I am Joanne C. Hillhouse. I am first and foremost a writer (author of The Boy from Willlow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad! and contributor to other anthologies and journals) who could’ve benefited from this kind of encouragement back in the day. That’s why I do this. Congratulations to all the winners, and remember this is not just a contest; this is our attempt to nurture and showcase Antiguan and Barbudan literary talent. We’ve taken the time over the years to provide feedback to the winning writers, conduct writing workshops including online workshops right here on this site, visit schools, and other activities (such as this site) designed to help young writers hone their skills. As we showcase your best efforts here on https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com we encourage you to keep writing and to remain open to the opportunities to become a better writer.