Tag Archives: Charmaine Valere

Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed V

This picks up where the previous 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 Antigua and Barbuda’s presence in the Caribbean literary canon.

‘Her work presses all the right buttons in the academic psyche (“postcolonial”, “black”, “gender”, “feminist”, “transcultural”, “postmodern”). But for general readers, her greatest attraction lies in the sheer beauty, the power and intensity, of her writing.’ – from Jamaica Kincaid: Looking Back In Anger in Caribbean Beat Magazine


“Walter’s paintings alone comprise eleven categories, including the Alphabet series of small-scale paintings given titles such as A for Ape, Q for Queen, and so on, and which represent ideas and objects from Walter’s world. With its devotion to nature and expressive pictures, this visual lexicon is similar to that of Frederic Bruly Bouabre. Another series, Flora and Fauna, depicts plants, fish, and animals accompanied by their taxonomic names, these reveal his obsession with the mysteries of nature.” – Frank Walter’s work discussed in Raw Vision


“The collection’s true beauty is (for me) not necessarily in its images of women / womanhood, but in the lyrical language and in the broader philosophical wisdom it presents.”- Charmaine Valere on Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River


unburnable“If I had to liken it to another work, Unburnable comes closest to Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, a longtime favourite of mine, and stands upright alongside Jamaica Kincaid’s The Autobiography of My Mother and Austin Clarke’s The Polished Hoe” – D. Gisele Isaac in Essential, Issue No.5 April/May 2006


Considering“An interesting thing about Considering Venus is that Lesley’s sexuality is never defined. It’s just love between two women–with no barriers. Isaac has written a lovely book, with just the right fusion of prose and poetry make it a joy to read.” – Sistahs on the Shelf writing on Considering Venus


The_Art_of_Mali_Olatunji_-_Full_Size_RGB_m‘This remarkable book, which elegantly blends commentaries and interpretations of “painterly photographs”, as the authors dub their work, is a feast for the imagination and a fountain of aesthetic thought. The photographs are made and not merely seen. The photographs are not only precise imitations of the real but deep penetrations of it, in search of Truth—the truth of the imitations of imitations.’ – Teodros Kiros at Fusion Magazine writing on The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda


silent-music-1“… it’s also moving to observe Gomez come to other realizations in the process of seeking what are often elusive answers.” – re Melissa Gomez’s Silent Music at straight.com


Antigua and Barbuda writers Tammi Browne-Bannister and Joanne C. Hillhouse had their stories from Akashic’s Mondays are Murder online noir series reviewed in the February 28th 2016 edition of Trinidad and Tobago’s Sunday Guardian. Of Barbados-based Browne-Bannister’s portrayal of male rage in Stabs in the Dark, Shivanee Ramlochan writes, “she fully embodies the rage and thwarted virility of the unnamed male narrator, not sparing him from the beast he becomes on the page. The author delivers a portrayal of the murderer in language that is pared down, the better to let the full weight of his brutality weigh in the storytelling.” Of Hillhouse’s The Cat has Claws, she writes, “…Hillhouse keeps the secrecy taut in her storyline, baring just enough suggestion to hold her reader captive…” Read the full reviews here


“Connoisseurs will find it delicious, and everyday readers will see it as difficult and always just out of reach.” – at Repeating Islands, re Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then


Musical Youth“In this young adult novel from Antiguan Joanne C. Hillhouse, second-place winner of the inaugural CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, music is both the food of love and a furnace for self-expression. Hillhouse speaks directly to young readers, but with concerns of colourism, class clashes, and society’s skewed expectations for boys and girls. There are no missteps in this tender coming-of-age romance, only an enthusiasm for love and life that reverberates triumphantly…” – Caribbean Beat, March/April 2016 re Musical Youth


“I would want to say that as political and economic history this book by Paget Henry does have its equal and perhaps its betters, but as analysis of cultural development or underdevelopment, it is unsurpassed by any I know.” – Tim Hector on Peripheral Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Antigua by Paget Henry (article: Antiguan makes Great Contribution to Overcoming Underdevelopment: Paget Henry, originally published in the Outlet in 1985, republished in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 Fall 2015)


“This is a profound examination of the human condition, as a child, in an island, colony, an independent colony, not as maudlin tale, but as wonderful lyricism.

a lyrical prose which uniquely and superbly captures the rhythm, the cadences, the magic, the nuances, the tones and shades of Antiguan English speech.” – Tim Hector on Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, reprinted in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 Fall 2015


“The Star Side of Bird Hill is worth it for Phaedra alone, and for Jackson’s evocative, lyrical writing — she makes Barbados come to life, and she’s comfortable with both humor and pathos.” – NPR re Naomi Jackson’s The Star Side of Bird Hill


Shivanee Ramlochan wrote this about Musical Musical Youth (Joanne C. Hillhouse) on the Paper Based blog:

“Brimful with resonant notes on first-time courtships; adolescent discovery; tightly-knit friendships and the rewards of discipline, Musical Youth deserves multiple encores — this is one young adult pick you’ll want to savour several times over.”


Hazra Medica wrote this about Unburnable in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 Fall 2015:

“Marie Elena John’s debut novel Unburnable is a tremendous surprise, and a welcomed addition to Antiguan literature, Anglophone Caribbean women’s writing, and Anglophone Caribbean writing in general. It is a surprise because its crafting belies the ‘greenness’ of its author. Its surprise is great because as a debut project, its tackling of massive/significant and underexplored themes and experiences in Antiguan/Caribbean literature is, for the most part, well-executed. Moreover, it is a welcomed addition because, among other reasons, it is a belated yet timely intervention into the conventional neglect and/or mistreatment of a number of Caribbean subjectivities and experiences by West Indian literature and literary criticism as well as West Indian and ‘Western’ historical narratives.”

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Me at Novel Spaces, Signifying Guyana, Blurb is a Verb, and…

Like the subject line said, me at Novel Spaces, Signifying Guyana, and Blurb is a Verb. And now speaking about mentorship at American author Mindy Hardwick’s blog.

I hope you’ll read and share your thoughts.

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Writing Off the Map

*This was a December 2010 guest post at http://signifyinguyana.typepad.com/signifyin_guyana/2010/12/guest-post-writing-off-the-map-by-joanne-c-hillhouse.html 

by Joanne C. Hillhouse

Somewhere between Little Women, Jane Eyre, Are You There God, it’s me Margaret?, The Last of Eden and any number of foreign books I read and loved as a youngster, a seed was planted. Likely it was planted earlier than that. I’m sketchy on the details. What I do know is that there were a lot more books and films and such from outside than inside of my world; and that I wanted to be a writer but maybe didn’t believe it was possible. Today, somewhere between local calypso writers Shelly Tobitt and Marcus Christopher, and calypso giants like Short Shirt and King Obstinate in my Antiguan childhood; classroom introductions to Michael Anthony, Sam Selvon, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison and others; discovering Jamaica Kincaid and Annie John and a still evolving list of Caribbean writers; and owning up to what I really wanted to be, that seed blossomed.

That’s the first challenge for a Caribbean writer, I think – when your 108 square miles is so far from the world where books are made and dreaming impossible dreams is encouraged – even now that the West Indian literary canon is well and truly established and technology has opened up opportunities for publishing: the Claiming, capital C. I am a Writer, capital W.

The second challenge: be careful what you wish for. That’s what no one tells you. Few things can compare with the validation that comes when you receive word that your book – after many cycles of rejection and self-doubt – has found a publisher. You feel happy and you also feel relieved and open – you’re not sure what to expect and you’re unsettled by that, but you’re also over the moon.

Well, here’s what no one tells you. Your job is not done. See, writers, all we really want to do is write; many of us are the shy, awkward people at the party, the people whose heart thunders like a runaway herd at each invitation to step to the mic, who would just as soon write, not speak. And yet, once we’ve written, speaking is inevitable and, as it turns out, necessary; because you’ve got to sell, sell, sell. If you don’t want to be dropped, dropped, dropped.

I know what it is to be dropped. Well, technically, to have my books go out of print. That’s what happened with my first publisher, just as Antiguan school officials started expressing interest in putting one of them – The Boy from Willow Bend – on the secondary schools’ reading list. And swallowing the taste of bitterness, and the bitter irony of it, persistence paid off with a re-issue with a new publisher, and a determination to work that much harder, to sell, sell, sell.

Still, all I really want to do is write, write, write.

The other challenge: Space (internal and external) to create. There are bills to be paid and writing royalties don’t quite cut it, not for a writer still finding her legs in the vast land of publishing. So you work, and even if you’re fortunate enough to turn your skill into currency, the creativity that yielded your best work soon settles in the corner like dust left overnight then forgotten. This is compounded by the fact that there are very few writing programmes in or for Caribbean writers. I’ve been fortunate to participate in one of the best, the Caribbean Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami on recommendation from my writing mentor at UWI, esteemed Jamaican poet, Mervyn Morris. It was during this programme that I felt my limbs stretch and grow in new directions; it was during this time that I penned, substantially, The Boy from Willow Bend. And the opportunity to interact with other writers and make lasting connections and be in a world where creativity was encouraged was – like the ad says – “priceless”.

I remember, shortly after Willow Bend was first published, I was at a Caribbean Canadian Literary Expo in Toronto listening to fellow Caribbean writer (Guyanese Literary Prize winner and Cropper Foundation alum) Ruel Johnson talk about the lack of nurseries for the literary arts in the Caribbean. That’s when I got the idea to introduce the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize to Antigua. I wanted to provide something I’d never had to young Antiguan writers. Though I’ve felt burned out enough by the work involved to put it on hiatus in the past, I still dream of making that programme all I envisioned it to be then.

Not so long ago, I won a fellowship to the Breadloaf Writers Conference where I sat besides the likes of Oprah Book Club pick Ursula Hegi, my workshop leader and author of the superb Floating in My Mother’s Palm; had the opportunity to read and take workshops and learn and teach and just be in a literary space in the beautiful Vermont woods; and had people like Lynn Freed and Robert Boswell compliment me on my reading – the reading I was so nervous about I fled the room as soon as it was done. It was amazing. It’s the kind of thing being a writer of and in the Caribbean I rarely get to do, but it’s awakened in me a yearning to seek out these programmes and the creative space they may offer to writers like me. And it’s re-awakened in me a desire to help create such spaces at home. And so Wadadli Pen is reborn and I do what I can to support other workshops and initiatives like the literary festival – even though it’s something else that takes me away from my own writing and, also, doesn’t pay the bills.

I’m trying to learn as I grow – another challenge, to avoid repeating mistakes of the past, to find the balance needed to write while being a literary activist and working my own literary career. It’s a work in progress. I decided to seek representation, and part of what I hoped to accomplish at Breadloaf was find an agent. Challenging? Hm, it’s about as easy as finding a publisher – i.e. it’s not a writer’s market. I did get to meet a couple of agents at Breadloaf but could feel myself failing to hold the interest of all but one of the three with whom I managed to get face time. Still, I’d become convinced that to get your foot in the door you needed an advocate, someone who knows the lay of the land enough to advise you and nudge some doors open. And so now I have one, not from Breadloaf but through another contact I made prior to that at the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival and on the strength of the manuscript submitted; my writing always spoke better for me than I could. And, on the heels of her recent call announcing a contract offer for my next book, I’m – knock on wood – hopeful of an even better publishing experience next time around.

And now I find myself trying to make space again in my life for writing. I’m once again part of a fledgling writers group. Incidentally, one of our small group is actually a regular youth writing workshop leader and was with me and others like Unburnable author Marie Elena John part of a team of Antiguan writers who sought and won Commonwealth funding to attend Calabash in Jamaica, a highly stimulating experience. I hope to be similarly stimulated through my interactions with this small group and outside of it, to continue to strive for authenticity (and avoid self-censorship; another of those challenges for writers writing from a small place – just ask Kincaid).

How will this story end? I don’t know. And that’s the scary exciting part of it. The part I’m not looking forward to is the sell, sell, sell of publishing – that part where you have to stand up in a crowded marketplace and shout, hey look at me, in a book selling world seemingly intent on keeping the wider audience you seek just out of reach (i.e. limiting you with labels that don’t begin to capture all you could be to a reader on the prowl for new material). We are not just a homogeneous bloc, Caribbean writers; we write sci-fi and romance and romantic histories and comedies and dramas and thrillers…readers in these genres might also find us interesting, if they knew we existed. That’s a challenge – how many is that now? – all the things you can’t really control; where you’re placed on a shelf, how you’re perceived in the reader’s mind, often even what the cover of your book looks like. For all of the dancing you have to do, the one thing you can really bend to your will – sometimes – is the writing; stepping into the deep end of publishing and trying to feel your way around that’s a crab hunt.

So much to learn, and so many pages still to be written; but then that’s any writer’s yoke I suppose, and the Caribbean writer only a little more so for being off the map.

To see my other musings on writing and publishing, my personal journey as a Caribbean writer, and other things touched on in this article, please see:

Pushing Water Up Hill – One Writer’s Guide to Doing the Impossible

What Calypso Taught Me about Writing

Defining Moments…

On Writing

Wadadli Pen blog

Submitting to Literary Journals: Is it Worth it

On Jamaica

At Calabash

Festival Organizers Shift Focus

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