Tag Archives: Caribathon

What (Caribbean) Writers Want

June is #readCaribbean and #CaribAThon which are two #CaribbeanHeritageMonth social media book reading challenges. I’ve been letting those challenges drive, if not guide, my reading this month and journalling about it over on my Jhohadli blog.

With #readCaribbeanwriters on online minds though, it seems a good time to revisit a thread posted last June to the Caribbean Writers group on facebook; specifically for the answers and what they reveal about the landscape for writers in the Caribbean. The questions from Barbara Arrindell, Wadadli Pen team member, who was crowd sourcing responses for a presentation, were what do Caribbean writers most need, and what is the state of the writing and book production industry in the Caribbean.

Caribbean Reads, indie publisher out of St Kitts-Nevis and the US, at the Brooklyn Book Festival, maybe around 2018. Caribbean Reads was started by US based Nevisian writer Carol Mitchell as an avenue to publish her own books and books by other authors (including some of mine). Its listing includes award winning and critically acclaimed Caribbean books.

Responses –

Cut and condensed for length (with insertions primarily in parentheses for clarity) and, while there was a fair amount of conversation between respondents, keeping to answers to the original questions. Where ideas are repeated, limiting to one or two versions. Also, while I’ve gotten permission from group admin Sandra Sealy to share the thread, I don’t have individual author permission. However, if I recognize the respondent as a public figure, I will name and, where possible, link them (if anyone wants their name removed, they can let me know). The reason for naming and linking is to encourage you to check them out and especially their books and/or services (mine linked here). Ordered and re-arranged in to sub-heads because this is a blog not a facebook thread. Finally, these are not absolutes; each island/country is different and some have more resources and initiatives than others. But the point is there could always be more, a lot more.

Olive Senior, Jamaican writer and current poet laureate, at the Best of Books (Antigua-Barbuda bookstore) table at the Alliougana literary festival in Montserrat, 2019. Olive, also a Wadadli Youth Pen Prize patron, has mentored writers like me in the Caribbean and likely Canada, where she lives, won major awards, achieved international success and local acclaim, and is on record (a few years ago now, so things may have changed) criticizing the lack of availability of her books/books by Jamaican authors in Jamaican bookstores and spaces where books are sold (like the airport).

– Development & Opportunities –

“More support for libraries which, in turn, can serve as centers of support for local writers – hosting readings, writers groups, workshops, etc. Two of the Caribbean countries where I’ve lived have no national libraries since at least 2014.”

“Continued spaces for aspiring writers to nurture their abilities. Most are limited to writing competitions which don’t come with any ongoing support.” (Nerissa Golden)

“I taught a few novels for almost ten years in the lower forms or secondary schools. There should be a faster turn over so other writers could get an opportunity.”

“Regular changing of the CXC books and recommended books for all Language Arts courses. Transparency around when submissions are due, what criteria given selection. A mix of veteran and young blood authors. Writers in schools program. Supported by governments.” (A-dZiko Simba Gegele)

Andre Warner, pictured here at the Best of Books collecting his prizes, has been a finalist for several years and in 2020 was co-winner of the main prize for the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, a project I started in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. In 2021, Wadadli Pen became a legal non-profit. Also in 2021, Andre started interning with me, assisting me while trying to learn more.

– Finance & Institutional Support –

“More self-published authors. Still not where it needs to be. Established systems such as education ministries, CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) aren’t encouraging using more modern stories in their curriculums.” (Nerissa Golden)

“We need governments to support and promote local books and to encourage and equip their writers to produce work at an international standard. And we need MOEs (Ministries of Education) to incorporate recent local work in the education system and also invite ongoing production of new material for our students.”

“•Arts grants systems to support working writers.•Publishers need incentives to produce fiction, poetry and drama because those are not typically as lucrative as text books.•Support for audio book production, marketing and distribution. This is an emerging market the region could really “ramajay” in because we have great stories, great voices and great producers.” (Lisa Allen-Agostini)

“Grants definitely. Self publishing improved. Printer.”

“When we get books published, we then need to be BUYING them to stock in our libraries, using the books in our curriculum, reducing the inertia in the CXC book list, using our books to promote our islands as more than sea and sand, and so on. With that endorsement and exposure, we might change local public attitudes towards our books and generate demand that will support the industry, increase output, and bring book prices down. Separately, if we value the art then we have to put dollars behind it. Not just a one time handout every now and then but a long term PLAN with real money for ongoing training, opportunities for exposure, writer community building, and institutionalization of Caribbean books. If we do that we’ll get more output from all of the islands.” (Carol Mitchell)

“Little (publishing) houses need something like the Arts Council of England.”

“Government support for the writing industry, through a regional/national writing council that treats writing as an export product. Government should behave as if telling local stories is an investment in cultural positioning, because, writing is excellent public relations for any country. A literature council whose goal is to produce books written by nationals about your culture has been a strategy of developed countries to make their way of life almost seductive for the rest of the world. We need nothing less than a change of perspective in the industry, there is so much potential for growth.” (Marsha Gomes-Mckie)

“Taxation and customs is a real problem when it comes to bringing in books. It drives the prices sky high, higher than any international distributor. It’s what will make a 90-page poetry book cost more than $100. Not related, but even obtaining royalties and advance money is a pain. It will take months to get through to BIR (Board of Inland Revenue) for you to get through to stamp duty to avoid double taxation from some territories.” (Kevin Hosein)

Students in Antigua and Barbuda browsing books. This looks to be a table set up by a local bookstore in-school.

– Publishing avenues & Infrastructure –

“With regards to works of fiction, we definitely need two strong areas. 1) a strong marketing department and 2) literary agents. Both of them working hand in hand. In addition, and this is one is a slow process. Writers to succeed need readers. You can have the best books and no readers and the books will not succeed.”

“Reactivate the Caribbean YA (young adult) Lit Prize that Bocas ran. It published over two dozen books in the time it was active, got markets for those books and put them in children’s hands. That was a successful programme for all the parties involved: publisher, author, reader.” (Lisa Allen-Agostini)

“Distribution in the region is a massive problem. At the production end and the retail end getting books printed in region may be rendered more expensive when you try to get the books to different territories. That’s one of the advantages of a publisher. All authors aren’t necessarily marketers nor should they have to be and a publicity and distribution network that was as seamless as possible would go a long way.” (Ayesha Gibson)

“…and effective ways of receiving payment.” (A-dZiko Simba Gegele)

“Self-publishing is hard. Most of the time that should be spent creating is spent on publishing. Our governments want us to write, edit, print and shop our books entirely by ourselves just so they can boast that we have a “creative industry”. Only in books and media are we expected to build a car and sell it; every other industry is given tax breaks, concessions and loads of cash. A writer can’t be a writer. We have to be business people. That might sound empowering but it is not. It is enervating and deprives us of the needed creative energy to push against boundaries. But more than that, we need to make readers of our people, particularly our children. So if the system won’t give us an imprint to which we can submit manuscripts and will support our work, then at least create a love for reading, writing and appreciation for books. Not reading for CXC but reading for pleasure, provocative thought, preservation of memory, experimentation, self-expression, self-esteem and sheer variety.” (Julius Gittens)

A book table display, likely belonging to a local bookstore, which would have the books of participating authors available for sale, at the 2015 US Virgin Islands book fair.

– Bookstores & Book Promotion –
“Encourage the book shops to display West Indian writers’ books in vantage positions in their shops. Too often the books are hidden away, tucked away in some deep dark corner. We need them at the front so as soon as you enter the shops you see them.” (Vishnu Gosine)

“Now with the internet we should improve marketing of our work maybe under one banner.”

“Authors should not be expected to be their own marketing machine, and that is sadly the case in the Caribbean…Real money has to be put in, in the form of grants or awards or angel investors. This has been seen in the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean Literature, which in my own experience, was quite successful in what it set out to do. The prize money was like a neat little advance and then you had tours with schools and libraries in the region, getting reviews from Bookstagrammers, Goodreads and NetGalley, and could easily get books featured in stores …And some of the books were even picked up by other presses, such as Diana McCaulay‘s and Lisa Allen-Agostini’s. It provided visibility and opportunity to connect with an audience.” (Kevin Hosein)

Periodically, long time Wadadli Pen patron, the Best of Books bookstore, hosts local authors, not just for launches or readings, but sidewalk showcases like this one from 2020 i.e. as the country began to loosen pandemic restrictions.

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I will end by sharing a wish list I posted here back in 2017 and the Wadadli Pen R & D page – work done completely voluntarily; though there have been calls to the government of Antigua and Barbuda for the appointment of someone specifically tasked with lit arts development, who could, we would hope, access the resources to do this and more, more consistently. What has been captured on the R & D pages, and built on this blog over the years, consistent with what sparked Wadadli Pen in the first place, is providing what was not and is still not available. There is a RESOURCES page, a page of Caribbean Resources, a listing of professional services, writing and publishing frequently asked questions, two opportunities pages (one with pending deadlines and one with market, including publisher links), links to writer web pages locally and regionally, listings of published short pieces and books by Antiguan and Barbudan writers, a bibliography of Caribbean writing, a reading room and gallery series sharing writing and art and art conversations, links to literary festivals of the Caribbean, and more (including regular lit postings).

Started during the pandemic, Ten Pages bookstore in Antigua and Barbuda, owned by Glen Toussaint, who also has a lengthy relationship with Wadadli Pen, and continuing, can also be found around St. John’s City and online.

One of my pet peeves is to hear people within the formal infrastructure say that artists should not sit and depend on government, they should do things for themselves, because our feet are tired, that’s primarily what we’ve had to do (build what we need) given the lack of an enabling environment. And though it seems obvious to me that some in the region are doing more and better than others, it’s clear there are some common grievances and needs and avenues and opportunities, as writers mentioned hail from various islands (big and small).

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and The Jungle Outside). All Rights Reserved. Subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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#CaribAThon Is Back — RUN WRIGHT

June is the celebration of Caribbean heritage here in the USA and 3 years ago, I thought it would be apropos to use my little space on the internet to promote Caribbean literature. Hence, the CaribAThon readathon was born. Our 3rd iteration of CaribAThon is currently underway and my excitement has been heightened by the […]

#CaribAThon Is Back — RUN WRIGHT

FYI I’ve been mixing my #CaribAThon with #readCaribbean and upding via a reading journal on my Jhohadli blog.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and The Jungle Outside). All Rights Reserved. Subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Carib Lit Plus (Early to Mid June 2022)

A reminder that the process with these Carib Lit Plus Caribbean arts bulletins is to do a front and back half of the month, updating as time allows as new information comes in; so, come back, or, if looking for an earlier installment, use the search window. (in brackets, as much as I can remember, I’ll add a note re how I sourced the information – it is understood that this is the original sourcing and additional research would have been done by me to build the information shared here).

Opportunities

Reminding readers (especially writers and other artists seeking journals, competitions, grants, or fellowships, and students seeing scholarship opportunities) to regularly check Opportunities Too. (Source – me)

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Creative Writing sessions with me, Barbara Andrea Arrindell, begin this evening, Tuesday (June 7th 2022) via Zoom. WhatsApp 7257396 for details. (Source – N/A)

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My next writing session (Jhohadli Writing Project) is July 1st 2022.

(Source – me)

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The next big regional writing comp for short stories is the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival with only weeks left to polish and submit your entry. We’ve told you about it before but, as a reminder, the prize is US$1750 to a previously unpublished work of short fiction of 3000 words or fewer. The prize is named for Trinidad-American writer Elizabeth Nunez. The Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival is a Brooklyn-based organisation devoted to blazing a trail for Caribbean literature within the American diaspora. The BCLF Short Fiction Story Contest is geared towards unearthing and encouraging the distinctive voice and story of the Caribbean-descended writer and expanding the creative writing landscape of Caribbean literature. Go here for more information. This year’s judges are editor and publisher Tanya Batson-Savage of Jamaica and Ayesha Gibson of Barbados. (Source – email)

Accolades

Elaine Jacobs, born in Antigua, though living most of her life in the US Virgin Islands was named in December 2021 as the winner of the Marvin E. Williams Literary Prize for new or emerging writers from The Caribbean Writer. She won for the story ‘Going without Shoes’.

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Antiguan writer Brenda Lee Browne’s Just Write page won a six word ‘Gratitude’ themed story competition and Hazra Medica has been announced as the winner for her story, “Time and cocoa butter lightens scars”. Alison Sly Adams has also been awarded a prize for “Not terminal was a new beginning.”

Hazra has won the 5.0 gift bag with gifts from Just Write – Brenda Lee Browne (collage, black and white print, Just Write Antigua journal and mug), Ten Pages Bookstore (Books of Wings by Tawhida Tanya Evanson), Kimolisa Mings (She wanted a Love Poem), Mangohead Productions (plaque), and Galtigua (a tote bag); and Alison won an original Paper Relief art piece gifted by artist Imogen Margrie and Just Write Antigua Journal (BLB). The prize was announced on June 4th 2022, Brenda Lee’s birthday, planned as it was as part of her celebration, open to writers 18 and older in Antigua and Barbuda. (Source – Facebook)

New Publications

There’s a new CREATIVE SPACE arts and culture column every other Wednesday in the Daily Observer newspaper, extended edition online at Jhohadli. If you’ve missed the 2022 season of CREATIVE SPACE, you’ve missed conversations with authors, cultural activists, producers, fashion designer; as well as, musical revues, discussions around gender, and reporting on Caribbean arts activity. Catch up on CREATIVE SPACE 2022 here.

(Source – me)

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The publication of Voices: Monologues and Plays for Caribbean Actors (edited by Yvonne Weekes), print publication 2021 and e-publication 2022 , and Disaster Matters: Disasters Matter (co-edited by Yvonne Weekes and Wendy McMahon), published 2022, both by St. Martin’s House of Nehesi Publishers saw Weekes making book stops at the St. Martin’s Book Fair, Montserrat where Weekes lived after re-locating from the UK before finally settling in Barbados where she still lives, and Antigua and Barbuda where she conducted a series of workshops and had a launch and book signing. She also held a writers clinic via zoom with Barbados’ National Cultural Foundation. Voices has been added to the listing of plays and the main books data base here on Wadadli Pen as it includes two plays by local leading playwright and director Zahra Airall. As seen below, contributors hail from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Martin, and Antigua-Barbuda.

(Source – Facebook)

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Trinidad-American author Elizabeth Nunez has a new book, Now Lila Knows, out with Akashic Press. Lila Bonnard has left her island home in the Caribbean to join the faculty as a visiting professor at Mayfield College in a small Vermont town. On her way from the airport to Mayfield, Lila witnesses the fatal shooting of a Black man by the police. It turns out that the victim was a professor at Mayfield, and was giving CPR to a white woman who was on the verge of an opioid overdose. The two Black faculty and a Black administrator in the otherwise all-white college expect Lila to be a witness in the case against the police. Unfortunately, Lila fears that in the current hostile political climate against immigrants of color she may jeopardize her position at the college by speaking out, and her fiancé advises her to remain neutral. Now Lila Knows is a gripping story that explores our obligation to act when confronted with the unfair treatment of fellow human beings. A page-turner with universal resonance, this novel will leave readers rethinking the meaning of love and empathy. (Source – N/A)

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The first book in Trinidad and Tobago writer Alake Pilgrim’s middle grade fantasy series Zo and The Forest of Secrets has landed as of June 2022. Pilgrim has previously twice won the regional Commonwealth short story prize, and been published in The Haunted Tropics and New Daughters of Africa and journals like Small Axe. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, thanks to the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship. In Zo and The Forest of Secrets, diverse children with special gifts, work together to battle hybrid creatures and dangerous adults who try to use them and their powers. The series features unique characters, creatures, legends and landscapes from the Caribbean, re-imagined in an exciting and at times, futuristic way. These are images from her UK tour – stock signings at Waterstones. (Source – ed_pr on twitter)

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SIX STEPS – An African-Barbudan-Caribbean Story – by Claudia Ruth Francis is an African-Barbudan-Caribbean story that’s been added to her listing in Antiguan and Barbudan Fiction Writings and Antiguan and Barbudan Writings. Charity is born in the city of Leicester in England in 1950. She is an orphan. She lives in a number of foster homes. At the age of ten, she receives a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school and hopes that her loneliness will lessen in her new environment. It is during this period that she discovers her ability to commune with her African ancestors. Charity learns that her grandmother five times removed was kidnapped from Africa in 1813. She is able to relive her ordeal and is introduced to the lives of her subsequent grandmothers born on the island of Barbuda in the Caribbean. Eventually Charity meets her mother and, together with her female forebears, she learns the history of Barbuda, the sister island to Antigua, part of the Leeward Islands. But in 2022, is the island at risk from climate change, home grown gold diggers, foreign designs, and re-colonization? Claudia Ruth Francis writes political and historical fact fiction. Her LION SERIES is set in the UK, Caribbean, and Africa. Her interests are many and include global history and the politics shaping African History on the continent and in the diaspora. (Source – Author email)

RIP

To George Lamming. In the words of Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley, “Sadly, it seems now that almost weekly, we are forced to say goodbye to one of our national icons.” Lamming died on June 4th 2022. He leaves a long shadow and has since the publication, in 1953, of In the Castle of My Skin – which was award winning and critically acclaimed. Originally from Barbados, he is of that generation of Caribbean writers, many of whom went to England to realize their dreams as writers in the 1940s and 1950s, and became the foundation of the modern classic Caribbean canon. Lamming worked for the BBC Colonial Service as a broadcaster, published in Barbados literary journal Frank Collymore, and read his poems and stories, and that of other young (at the time) Caribbean voices like Derek Walcott, on BBC’s Caribbean Voices. A Guggenheim fellow, he was a world-travelling professional writer who would go on to publish The Emigrants, Of Age and Innocence, Season of Adventure, The Pleasures of Exile, Water with Berries, Natives of My Person, Coming, Coming Home: Conversations II – Western Education and the Caribbean Intellectual, and Sovereignty of the Imagination: Conversations III – Language and the Politics of Ethnicity. He was writer-in-residence and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Connecticut, Brown University, Cornell University, and Duke University in the US, as well as lecturing in Denmark, Tanzania, and Australia. He has directed the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami, and judged major Caribbean literary prizes. His awards include the Order of the Caribbean Community, the Langston Hughes Medal, the first Caribbean Hibiscus Award from the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, the lifetime achievement prize from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, having the George Lamming Primary School in St. Michael, Barbados named for him, as well as the George Lamming Pedagogical Centre at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination. Lamming was 94 at the time of his death. (personal note) I heard Lamming speak here in Antigua in 2007 for the Leonard Tim Hector Memorial Week, and was inspired to write ‘Prospero’s Education (on hearing George Lamming)’. I met him in 2008 when I was invited to read at the BIM Symposium ‘Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers’.

One of the first major regional literary panels I was asked to be a part of – after reaching out to them – the BIM forum celebrating Caribbean Women Writers, 2008. The man in the mix is legendary Caribbean writer George Lamming.

Our paths crossed a couple more times, at mixers at the Nature Island Literary Festival in Dominica and again in Barbados at the BIM Lit Fest and Book Fair. Fleeting interactions, yes, but memorable for me – and my awareness of his long shadow – if not for him. What PM Mia said feels so resonant, with the exception that Lamming was not a national icon but a Caribbean literary legend, and that while we say goodbye to the life, the words live on for those who grew up on them and those still to discover them. RIP, Sir. (Source – a friend)

ETA: This was a guest opinion by Alister Thomas in Antigua and Barbuda’s Daily Observer on Lamming’s passing life.

Events

The Commonwealth Short Story prize winner will be announced on June 21st 2022. You can sign up to watch in real time here. (Source – Commonwealth email)

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Love the Dark Days is a new book by Indo-Trinidadian Ira Mathur and UK-based Peepal Tree Press. A launch event is planned for July 13th 2022, 19:30-20:30 at Waterstones Victoria, London. Mathur will be in conversation with Irish Trinidadian author Amanda Smyth and non-fiction author and editor-in-chief of Newsday Trinidad. (Source – JR Lee email)

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The Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival’s Support Caribbean Writers tour is on in early June, featuring award winning writer of Pleasantview Celeste Mohammed. Her book has been selected by Caribbean readers as their fave and by the OCM Bocas prize a fave among the literati. She’s having quite the year and she also seems very personable and down to earth. I’d see her in person if I could and if you choose to you’d be right on time as her book is the CARIBATHON group read of 2022.

See tour stops here. (Source – Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival email)

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June 9th 2022 @ 7 p.m. EDT (which I believe is 8 p.m. AST) – Word Thursdays Online featuring Bocas winning (for Sounding Ground) St. Lucian poet Vladimir Lucien. Watch it here via zoom or via Bright Hill Press’ facebook page. (Source – Bright Hill Press on facebook)

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June is #readCaribbean month and also #CaribAthon. I’m participating in both by getting caught up on my reading (Caribbean books and related material only), journalling my progress, and sharing with the hashtags on social media. How will you be participating? (Source – various social media, me)

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There was a second year of Vigo Blake Day, May 29th 2022, in memory of the man who built the first school for Black people, free and enslaved in the then British West Indies. The school opened its doors in 1813. Read about it in CREATIVE SPACE: Mining Nuggets of Historical Gold. In case you missed it, CREATIVE SPACE is my art and culture column which has, since the start of 2022, covered books, fashion (and fashion restrictions), folklore, music and music legend the Monarch King Short Shirt, other notable personalities, commercial production and other visual art, and gender advocacy. (Source – me)

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Antigua’s Carnival schedule was announced as early as March 2022 but it’s changed quite a bit in the time since and, frankly, may change again after this posting; making for a shaky return for the Caribbean’s greatest summer festival after a two-year COVID-19 induced hiatus. This is the official programme as published in the Daily Observer newspaper in March 2022.

Announcements have trickled out since – no Golden Eye calypso tent, no Myst on the road for the big parade, that sort of thing – the biggest of which was arguably no Panorama. But, after pushback, inside of a week that announcement was rescinded and Panorama was reported to be back on. Per Cabinet minutes, once again reported in the Daily Observer, “Every effort will be made to have a Panorama 2022; the effort will include providing some resources to the steelbands that are likely to participate, and ensuring that there is adequate space on the stage to ensure that the bands can play their tunes to the applause of an ARG audience.” ETA (June 10th 2022): I won’t be doing these minute by minute Carnival updates but I felt it important to update that the panorama is back off again – the pan orchestras reportedly have too far of of a financial breach to leap in order to be competition ready, largely due to economic setbacks caused by COVID-19, even with assistance from the government. There may be a pan show, however, instead. While we’re here, government will be changing the Carnival mas parade route – details unknown but it will apparently be moved out of the city to the vicinity of the stadium. But Carnival will remain at ARG in the city…a bit confused with the logistics, especially with plans to demolish the original double decker stand, but…apparently that’s what it is. And this might be the last of the Antigua Carnival posts in this space as me cyaan keep up. (Source – Daily Obsever newspaper)

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and The Jungle Outside). All Rights Reserved. Subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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When You’re a Caribbean Gyal in a Big Book World

This is an article I started shopping a little too late, a little over a month ago (hoping it would find fertile ground with June being Caribbean American Heritage Month). Give thanks for blogging. Sharing here with minor edits to the original draft. Share your thoughts.

If you were on #bookstagram or book twitter during the month of June, Caribbean American Heritage Month in the US, you might have happened upon a little hashtag catching fire, #readCaribbean. It’s the brainchild of Cindy, BookofCinz on instagram, Caribbean Girl Reading the World on twitter; also in June, June 9th to 18th in 2020, on booktube and bookstagram, is the Caribathon, run by Jamaica-born ComfyCozyUp and RunWright Reads.

Why all this Caribbean book love, you may ask.

“I love sharing my culture as well as other cultures in the Caribbean,” ComfyCozyUp said in the 2021 Caribathon announcement on YouTube.

Cindy has given her purpose as creating awareness about Caribbean literature, Caribbean authors, Caribbean heritage, and showcasing the Caribbean voice while maintaining how unique each island is. Of course, the challenge is to find Caribbean books, read them, chat about them, hashtag them, but Cindy also directs the reading with challenges within the challenge to #readCaribbean that include instructions to read Caribbean poetry, queer lit, folklore, women, indies, and various islands (my response to Cindy’s challenge here).

I wanted to write, as a Caribbean reader and writer, why these initiatives not only matter but why they excite me so much.

It is primarily because I am a Caribbean reader and writer from a 108 square mile island, a dot on the map, we may joke, even while our national ethos is “we bigger dan dem” because, while not small in our own minds, we are keenly aware of our place in the global scheme of things.

It is primarily because I am a Caribbean reader and writer from a 108 square mile island which bigger-better-known Caribbean islands may unironically call “small island”. Our most famous writer (daughter of Ovals and one of my favourites) is named for one of those bigger islands Jamaica and wrote a really thought provoking book about home called A Small Place.

It is primarily because I am a Caribbean reader and writer from a 108 square mile island who five times out of 10 when I’m outside the region and say I’m from Antigua gets, in response, “Jamaica?”, “Montego Bay?”, or depending on how far I’ve travelled, a blank stare, that has me fishing around for some connective thread between their world and mine. Viv Richards usually works because most of the world, or at least the former British empire, which is to say Britain and her stolen common wealth (on which the sun never set), plays cricket and Sir Isaac Alexander Vivian Richards is the winningest captain of the West Indies Cricket Team and was named one of Wisden’s top 5 cricketers of the 20th century. He is from Ovals, Antigua.

It is primarily because I am a Caribbean reader and writer from a 108 square mile island I described, in my well-travelled piece on Writing off the Map, as being “far from the world where books are made and dreaming impossible dreams is encouraged” in describing my journey to becoming a published writer in a world where, with some very few exceptions, Caribbean writers don’t even have prominence in Caribbean bookstores, nor gallingly those bookstores in Caribbean airports.

I am a self-described #gyalfromOttosAntigua. Growing up in Antigua and Barbuda, which became politically independent from Britain in 1981 when I would have been eight years old, two years or so before cable TV saw us swarmed with content out of America, another type of colonization, most of the entertainment we all consumed, with the exception of two weeks of Carnival in the summer, was from, as we say, “overseas”. How pervasive was this? Well, I just wrote that Carnival was in the summer and I live in “the tropics” where it’s summer all year round. How many books, TV shows, movies, songs, advertisements do you think it took for a little girl from an island in the Caribbean to internalize the idea of seasons. I mean, we had seasons in the Caribbean – Carnival season, mango season, hurricane season etc., but the spring, summer, fall/autumn, winter thing is wholly imported. So, more recently, are concepts like Halloween and Black Friday which have become quite popular here as well, even as people of my generation bemoan that they’ve usurped Guy Fawkes, which I remember fondly because we lit starlights and fireworks, what we called “bombs”. Guy Fawkes was, of course, another imported observance, this one of a failed gunpowder plot in Britain back in the 1600s. As a child, I knew as much about that as about why we sang London Bridge or Ring-a-round a Rosey in schoolyard playgrounds.

We, in the Caribbean, like to think of ourselves as a pepperpot, creole, a mix up mix up of influences though primarily of African origin. African origin, British and more recently American cultural and institutional dominance (I would say American cultural dominance, especially in the age of streaming and social media, and British institutional dominance certainly in the structure and mindset of our public sector), and a mélange of other people and influences. My mother is from the English speaking French and English Creole island of Dominica and a lot of the Caribbean – Dominica, Jamaica, Indo-Guyana – meet in Antigua, where a sizable percentage of our population is from the Dominican Republic, and also Europe, the Middle East, and increasingly China. Variations of the same all across the Caribbean, the mixes and seasonings varying based on political and economic influence and the movement of people.

What does all of this have to do with the #Caribathon and #readCaribbean? Well, to a greater degree than we like to admit much of what we consumed – so many of the books we consumed in school and for leisure – were not written by Caribbean authors. We were an Enid Blyton, Archie comic, Judy Bloom, Trixie Belden, Mills and Boon, Wakefield Twins reading people, and the discovery of our own voices, and we are still discovering them, speaking for myself, had to be a deliberate act because the other stuff was so comparatively easily accessible. My dad used to bring home books and magazines left behind by tourists (which by default meant white people) at the resort – most Antiguans and Barbudans worked in resort tourism after the death of the sugar trade, before my time. The West Indian/Caribbean canon did exist but the image of those books in a glass cabinet locked with a key at the library, at the time a room above a storefront on the main road through St. John’s City, because, yes, even islands have distinctions between city/town and country, crosses my mind as an apt metaphor for our relationship to those books. You had to work to get to them, unlock something. For many in the Caribbean, the introduction to Caribbean literature was a school thing – the story of Millicent by Merle Hodge, later Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipauls’ A House for Mr. Biswas for which I wasn’t ready (a struggle). Shakespeare, too, but I had the opportunity to re-meet the Bard under more receptive circumstances in my college years. And then, of course, he was all across popular culture – Hollywood loves a Shakespeare adaptation almost as much as a Jane Austen, whom I also studied in college. So I was primed. For many a Caribbean child, though, I’d venture, our school-based introduction to Caribbean texts as texts, defined a relationship akin to healthy eating with these books.

Two of my books, The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth have been and are on schools reading lists in the Caribbean. Of course, like any author, I hope the students who are introduced to them embrace them, and not just endure them.



The beauty of initiatives like #readCaribbean and Caribathon is the opportunity to discover the joy in the Caribbean canon, the reading of Caribbean books widely and plentifully, as Antiguan-Barbudan calypsonian Singing Althea once sang, just for fun. Because Caribbean reading is not just healthy eating, though it can be. It is bananas – tasty and rich, mangoes – too rich but so good, soursop – good and thick, gynep – it has layers, man; it is all the things you can eat – the things that give you running belly to the things that make you hopped up on endorphins. It is a varied and tasty buffet of bookish goodness, and as with a buffet, you’re sure to find something to sate your literary palette.

Little known fact, from erotica to romance to historical dramas to scholarly tomes, the Caribbean’s got you covered; and the discovery of that canon is the point of these hashtags.


That both initiatives got going in 2020. Actually #readCaribbean was coined in 2019, but 2020 was a year in which the Black Lives Matter social movements, among other shifts in thought and action, propelled people to consume content formerly at the margins, the Black story. Sure, they ran full pelt toward The Help, initially, but hopefully social media driven nudges toward #ownvoices content that include #readCaribbean and Caribathon, because our stories too are part of this conversation, will open up the reading experience of eyes that usually default to more mainstream material. All these euphemisms. White people, the white experience, the white gaze, western stories (not the old west, the western hemisphere); that’s the default, and as I’ve shown, not just in America, but in America, yes.

When I posted about #readCaribbean on my blog at the start of June 2021, a couple of positively encouraging responses (from white women, judging by their avatars though I can’t say which country) suggested that while they hadn’t thought (or thought much) about it before they were now. “I’ve read a couple of these authors, but that’s it. I really need to branch out in my reading, so thanks for the recs.” – one wrote. Another – “I didn’t know June was #ReadCaribbeanMonth! I’m bookmarking this post to see which of these books I can find at my local library.” The most interesting comment for me though was the one who said that while they’d read and found interesting two of the books I’d listed, two modern Caribbean classics by the way, they were hard to follow because of “all the stuff with the mongoose … and all the dreamy, surreal sequences.” I appreciated the candor. But I have to admit I ruminated over this comment quite a bit before responding, wondering if it was just a matter of taste or limited exposure, because surrealism, symbolism, and magical realism is such a normal part of Caribbean literature beginning with the Anansi tales and Jumbie stories so many children of my generation, children of the 70s and 80s, grew up on that not only weren’t these wrinkles in my reading of the named books, they were part of the beauty and poetry of them. I said as much. But this continued to turn over in my mind. (Allowing for personal preference, of course) Was it possible to be so used to story told a particular type of way that other ways felt off? Well, of course, that is part of the problem with a reading diet – not speaking to this individual commenter, who as a book blogger I suspect reads more widely than most, but to reading habits generally – largely limited to a single food group. It’s bland and a little pepper makes it taste over-seasoned; when that’s just flavour, baby.

Last year, in an online book group, I saw enthusiastic readers posting stacks of books as part of their mission to read Black for Black History Month. The stacks included The Help, again, and To Kill a Mockingbird which, while a personal favourite from secondary school, are not #ownvoices Black books – a la Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage, an Oprah’s Book Club pick which also deals with wrongful prosecution of a Black man (read my review).

It reminded me of how important it is to be as conscious in pushing books, as Oprah has to a degree (boosting authors like Toni Morrison and Edwidge Dandicat) written by Black and Caribbean writers, as I and others have had to be about deliberately seeking out and reading Black and Caribbean books. Even and ironically especially when we come from a predominantly Black country. Because, per the fine print, we are also former colonies of European countries and endured hundreds of years of being trafficked into the dehumanization of chattel slavery and post-slavery inequities that the labour movement of the 1930s, through the Independence and pan-African movements of the 1960s through 1980s, even to the reparations movement that gathered focus 20 or so years ago are still in the process of dismantling. We’re working through some ish. The #readCaribbean and Caribathon initiatives are as necessary for us, discovering and rediscovering and affirming ourselves, as for those who have been denied variety by a publishing and book industry that too often plays it safe by not publishing diversely nor properly promoting the diverse books that are published.


So, that’s why I was excited as a reader and as a writer, but most especially as a Caribbean person about initiatives like #readCaribbean and Caribathon.

Post-script: And this was my first #booktube reading wrap up (which is not exclusively #Caribathon and #readCaribbean related but does reference it).

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 AmazonWordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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CARIB Plus Lit News (late June 2020)

Interviews

Your opportunity to interview me via my youtube channel, AntiguanWriter. I’ve promised to do a live AMA if I reach a certain number of subscribers. Check the channel’s discussion tab for the details.

Reading Recommendations 

pleasure Big up to Antiguan and Barbudan writing juggernaut Kimolisa Mings’ latest book, her 21st by my count, is a bestseller. Having climbed as high as 11th in the top 100 Amazon rankings, which is based on sales and updated hourly, The Pleasure is Mine (currently kindle only though I believe a print edition is pending) is, at this writing, 24th on the Amazon African American Erotica Bestsellers Books list and 28th on the Amazon African American Erotical Bestsellers Kindle list. The Pleasure is Mine is subtitled as A Caribbean BWWM Romance (Sapodilla Resort & Spa Romance Book 1). See the Antigua and Barbudan Writings and Fiction lists for Mings’ complete bibliography; she’s also listed in our data base of professional services.

I want to say thanks to the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority’s CaribCation Caribbean Author Series for tapping me for a spot in June 2020. You can view it on CaribCation’s social media and I’ve also uploaded it to my AntiguanWriter YouTube channel

I’m reading from Musical Youth, a Burt Award winning teen/young adult novel. I also encourage you to check out other authors featured in the series. I have been and I have added Dr. Tanya Destang Beaubrun’s Of Bubbles, Bhudda, and Butterflies to my TBR after listening to her reading.

New Daughters of Africa, published by UK’s Myriad press and by Harper Collins in the US NEW_DAUGHTERS_HIGH-RES-670x1024was recommended by Olivia Adams writing in Marie Claire about Books to Educate Yourself and Your Children about Racism: “Showcasing the work of more than 200 women writers of African descent, this major international collection celebrates their contributions to literature and international culture.”

At my author blog, where I blog on books among other things, my most recent recs are not really recs as I haven’t yet read the books (in full) but I recently listened to an audio abridged version of one Booker prize winner, watched a stage adaptation of an Orange prize winner, and read excerpts from a print edition of a book that includes Antigua and Barbuda, and specifically the Hillhouse family. If you want to see which books I’m talking about, go here.

Interviewing the Caribbean

We previously shared news of the publication of Volume 5 Issues 1 and 2 of the Opal Palmer Adisa and Juleus Ghunta edited ‘Interviewing the Caribbean’, an annual literary magazine. We wanted to update to let you know that both issues are available as ebooks through BookFusion. The UWI Press is also working to place the books – and these literary magazines are at least as thick as a short novel – with regional bookstores.  If you’re a bookseller looking to acquire the books, reach out to UWI Press. Issue 1 includes articles/art by and/or interviews with Polly Pattullo, Geoffrey Philp, Phillis Gershator, Oonya Kempadoo, Esther Phillips, Yolanda T. Marshall, Merle Hodge, Paul Keens Douglas, Diane Browne, Diana McCaulay, Tricia Allen, and from Antigua and Barbuda and Wadadli Pen specifically 2018 finalist Rosie Pickering and me (Joanne C. Hillhouse) – I’d been asked to rec some Caribbean books for the youth market, so I did. Pickering’s poem ‘Damarae’ is actually the same poem that earned her honourable mention in 2018 and, per the magazine’s format, she’s also interviewed about the poem. Issue 2 has as its cover image (above) the cover image of my book With Grace, art by Cherise Harris, used with permission of Little Bell Caribbean. It includes articles/art by and/or interviews with Summer Edward, Kei Miller, Tanya Batson-Savage, A-dZiko Simba Gegele, Tanya Shirley, Olive Senior, Pamela Mordecai, Linda M. Deane, Marsha Gomes-McKie, Carol Ottley-Mitchell, Yvonne Weekes, and from Antigua and Barbuda, and Wadadli Pen, Barbara Arrindell (Create Stories that Remind us of What We went Through) and me, again (an interview headlined Caribbean Children need as Many Stories as there are Tastes)

Paperwork

The Caribbean Development Bank’s Cultural and Creative Industries Innovation Fund is crowd sourcing for information towards building a “compendium of cultural policies, practices,, resources, and trends in the Caribbean.” Why? “To best support Creative and Cultural Industries across the region, we need the right data to make the right decisions. As such, CIIF is developing a series of Country Profiles that showcase data and information about the cultural landscape in each of our Borrowing Member Countries, in order to help cultural practitioners and policy-makers make data-driven choices.” The process will take 15 to 30 minutes; here’s the link.

Awards and Accolades

The winner of the inaugural Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry, awarded to a full length book of poetry published in 2019, will be announced in July 2020. The 13-person shortlist, announced in May, includes Jamaica Kei Miller (In Nearby Bushes) and Trinidadian Roger Robinson (A Portable Paradise) – the latter collection having already won several major prizes. The prize includes a $1,000 cash award, along with a reading at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, the publication of a limited-edition broadside by Arrowsmith Press, and a week-long residency at Derek Walcott’s home in either St. Lucia or in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Read more here.

Antigua and Barbuda’s acting culture director is also an award winning pan composer/arranger with Hell’s Gate and noted soloist in his own right. He proves his proficiency with his performance in Pan Ramajay, an international pan soloist competition started by Exodus Steel Orchestra since 1989, this year held virtually.104288255_1819636641493573_2262030051999680067_n

As you can see, he’s  the leading contender going in to the finals after the preliminary and semi-final rounds. The finals are Saturday 27th June 2020. If he wins, he’ll pocket $2000 (not sure which currency). ETA (290620): He did not win but he did place second overall.

The Wadadli Pen Challenge Awards is the flagship of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, a project launched in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, and the reason this site, launched in 2010, exists. This year was a challenging year for Wadadli Pen as it has been and continues to be for all the world, due primarily to the global COVID-19 pandemic which literally shut down the world. We had to rethink how to do the awards – going in the end with a live announcement and efforts to connect the winners with the patrons directly so that they could make arrangements to collect their prizes. The latter has proved to be a drawn out process and I have had to find a way to make peace with not being able to really control any of it though I did my best to make the connections and follow up. One upside is that weeks out images like this one continues to trickle in – this is a picture from the mother of 7 to 12 honourable mention Sienna Harney-Barnes (A New World) who is shown collecting the contribution from the Cultural Development Division, a contribution volunteered during our live awards announcement by the director Khan Cordice who is shown delivering the prize to our young writer.

Two of our other writers, Cheyanne Darroux (Tom, the Ninja Crab), winner 7 to 12 and tied winner overall, and D’Chaiya Emmanuel (Two Worlds Collide), winner 13 to 17, made appearances to share their stories on ZDK radio – and we have video.


Caribbean Literary Heritage

June is Caribbean Heritage Month in the US. Online, this has sparked campaigns like the #CaribAThon on #booktube (youtube for bibliophiles) and #readCaribbean on #bookstagram (instagram for bookies). I’ve been happy to see some of my books (The Boy from Willow Bend, Musical Youth, and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight) show up in both challenges, and I jumped in as well, really to share (finally) my contribution to the #MyCaribbeanLibrary campaign that Bocas announced some time ago. But it all intersects.

The Caribbean literary love will continue if St. Martin’s House of Nehesi publishers, co-organizers of the St. Martin’s Book Fair, has its way. HNP used the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the Fair – largely virtual this year due to COVID-19 – to call for July 12th to be Caribbean Literature Day. “We envision this day as the first pan-Caribbean literature day, celebrating the roots, range, and excellence of writings and books across the language zones of our region. Celebrate the day by reading the works of your favorite Caribbean authors; buying Caribbean books, published in the Caribbean and beyond, and by Caribbean authors; and presenting Caribbean books as gifts. Celebrate the day with books, recitals, and with discussions about books, of poetry, fiction, drama, art, music, and all the other genres by Caribbean writers.” The date was chosen because it is the day in 1562 when the writings of the indigenous people were destroyed by their colonizers. (Full release here)

Goodbyes

Antigua and Barbuda said goodbye to two time Calypso monarch and one time road march winner (as lead singer of the Vision Band) Tyrone ‘Edimelo’ Thomas. He was laid to rest June 19th 2020 at St. John’s Cathedral. “Antigua and Barbuda has lost one of its brightest lights, and we are all the poorer for it. But his wonderful life and legacy lives on; none of it will be interred with his bones. Whenever we hear DON’T STOP THIS PARTY (a remix with the Mighty Swallow) or IN DE PAN YARD (an encomium to the joys of pan music), we will remember Edimelo,” said the June 20th Daily Observer newspaper editorial. We daresay, Carnival and party lovers will most remember him for the way the music made them “dress back” (the Road March winning tune) while Calypso lovers will surely pour out one every time they intone “the more things change/the more they remain the same” from arguably his best known calypso.

Caribbean Creatives Creating

I hope you’ve been keeping up with my CREATIVE SPACE series covering local art and culture. It continues to run in the Daily Observer newspaper every other Wednesday with an extended version on my site. Latest spotlights have included singer Arianne Whyte talking about her career and her Sip ‘n Stream online series and Chavel Thomas and his conceptual art which is about challenging and redefining gender, race, maybe even reality. It’s the first time the series has gotten the front cover since it switched platforms to the Daily Observer in 2020 – issue 9.

Cover Chav

In case you missed any of the previous installments in the series, including  on previous platforms, they are archived on the Jhohadli website.

Trinidadian Kamella Anthony’s Krea8ive Kids Show was spotlighted in T&T Newsday all the way back in the strictest part of COVID-19 curfew in the region. In it, the former librarian cum storyteller is quoted as saying, “Ultimately, I want to have creative centres locally, regionally and internationally. I have travelled and seen several types of centres and it’s been awesome. I like to see children learning and having fun. Not just from a book, but from nature, from people.” Here’s the link to her YouTube Channel.

This content is curated by Joanne C. Hillhouse. Additions may be made between now and the end of June 2020.  If used, please credit or link back.

 

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