N.B. I usually try to upload all content in a single post but, since the early April 2020 post, I’ve been going easier on myself and treating the Carib Lit Plus less like a bulletin and more like a roll out – posting what I can and adding to it for a period of time when I can (as I do with the Reading Room series, for instance). So come back for updates to this post throughout the month of April. Content is pulled from different sources including local and regional news reports, social media, direct mailings, direct reporting, and more. – JCH, Wadadli Pen founder, coordinator, and blogger
The Royal Society of Literature Short List includes Writer with Trinidad Roots
Roger Robinson born in England to Trinidad parents and raised in Trinidad, from ages 4 to 19, is a finalist for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize with his Peepal Tree published A Portable Paradise. The shortlist was announced on April 20th 2020 and Robinson is one of six writers still in the running. The Royal Society of Literature was founded in 1820 as the UK’s charity for advancement of literature. The prize is awarded annually to a publication that best evokes the spirit of a place. If Robinson wins, it would be a first for a Caribbean writer as the previous Caribbean-themed win (in 2010) The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica was by a Brit, Ian Thompson. The prize was first handed out in 2004.
My Creative Space art and culture series is (since February 2020) now being published with the Daily Observer newspaper every other Wednesday. To date (April 22nd), at this writing, issues have featured Spilling Ink, a reflection of Black History
Month all year round, Art in Times of Trauma (a Guabancex review), Art, More Essential than Ever (a Heather Doram interview), and eReading on Lockdown (local ebook recommendations to encourage people to discover and support lit arts and to #stayhome). The entire series, including the articles from when Antiguanice.com was my publishing partner, are archived on my Jhohadli blog.
Former Calypso and Road March King Edimelo Passes
It was sudden and we still don’t have all the details but reportedly he was found in his office on April 17th 2020. Attempts to resuscitate him failed. Rest in Peace to Edimelo. Born Tyrone Thomas, he won the Calypso monarch title in 2006 and 2013. He is a founding member of Vision Band whose ‘Dress Back’ is a 1994 Road March winner and Antiguan-Barbudan soca classic. It was one of just two interruptions (the other being Burning Flames member King Onyan) to what would have been a 10-year uninterrupted title run (1989-1998) by Flames, the winningest road march band in Antigua and Barbuda. It was quite the upset at the time but nobody could deny the infectiousness of ‘Dress Back’ which still has the power to move the crowd. Read tributes from the likes of The Monarch King Short Shirt in this Daily Observer report.
Bocas Lit Fest celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday covered it (the anniversary, not the event, which has been postponed) in a multi-part series. Part 1 was an interview with founder and director Marina Salandy-Brown. She said, “I observed that Caribbean writing was disappearing as a genre because in the UK it had been usurped by new, young writers who were children of Caribbean people, and they were writing about the experiences of diaspora people and not those of contemporary Caribbean people. In the US, there were more young Caribbean-born writers but they were not interacting much with Caribbean diaspora writers in the UK. Meanwhile, in the Caribbean there were no avenues for people to get their creative writing out to the market, and there appeared to be little literary activity – no workshops, festivals, prizes. The sum total of this was the obvious need to create a space for Caribbean writers and writing to meet, be nurtured and taken to the world, drawing on our much admired literary heritage. At the time we had two living Nobel Laureates for literature – (VS) Naipaul and (Derek) Walcott, and eminent writers like Earl Lovelace and recently deceased Kamau Brathwaite, were still writing but we weren’t leveraging all that recognition to build a new generation of Caribbean-based writers. It was necessary to reclaim Caribbean literature.We also believed that people want to read, in spite of that self-fulfilling prophecy that we don’t read here. It is not true. Lots of people here read and many increasingly want to write. Readers deserve to have the best of Caribbean literature and meeting the writers is one way to grow the market for books and interest in ideas. Reading for pleasure takes you to all sort of places and opens you up to an array of ideas and ways of seeing the world. You develop empathy and derive knowledge and you grow without ever leaving your home, and it is fun. Writers deserve good readers too. Readers are as important to us as writers, so we knew from the start that we had to get people reading more.” Bocas has done a lot in its short time. I do feel some need to say for the record that there was activity (a number of literary festivals pre-dated Bocas, including, to name just two, the one here in Antigua and Barbuda, which has fallen off due to financial challenges, and Calabash in Jamaica, which had its own financial stop-start moment) and there was also virtual communing via spaces like the Caribbean Literary Salon, which was also a workshop and networking space. But Bocas has definitely seemed to be more financially stable, relatively speaking, though I have no doubt they hustle hard to make it so and we have seen Bocas projects like Hollick Arvon and Burt hit funding bumps, only one of which has found alternative funding to date. In fact, Salandy-Brown said in part 2 of the Newsday article, “Sustainability. I have spent the last two years working on the future, putting steps in place for the next ten years. Funding and talent are the key issues. We are still underfunded for all that we want to do but we have a three-year strategic plan and therefore know how we would like to proceed.” Funding challenges notwithstanding, they have made a lot happen in a very short period of time, adding one of the few major literary prizes in the region at large and some key developmental small prizes, and collaborating on workshop, reading, and publishing activities, bringing with it a literary sea change. Are there still issues of inclusiveness and voices slipping through the cracks? No doubt. But Bocas has also facilitated a number of breakthroughs. Some of these (like Kevin Jared Hosein, Vladimir Lucein, and the last but hopefully not the last Burt winner Jeanelle Frontin) spoke in part 3 and part 4 of the Newsday article. Hosein from TnT spoke of his growth through Bocas. “When I first attended Bocas it was also to participate in writing workshops. The facilitators were always attentive and experienced. Seven years later, I felt privileged to host my own writing workshop on fiction.” And veterans like Olive Senior of Jamaica are appreciative of the space it has created for community: “It’s been a pleasure being associated with the Bocas Lit Fest in different capacities – as judge, participant and prize winner. More than any other organisation that I know of, Bocas had managed to create a friendly, nourishing space for Caribbean writers no matter where they happen to be located. More than a festival, it has been a fertile meeting ground for everyone who can lay claim to an interest in the region’s literature. The Bocas initiatives, including the various prizes, have been a major catalyst for promoting Caribbean literature beyond the shores of Trinidad and for generating and sustaining a new awareness of Caribbean writing on all the islands.” Congrats, on the Bocasversary, to Marina and team.
I’m still trying to get an understanding of this project which launched on April 15th 2020 with an online discussion and an invitation to flood social media with arts related posts on that day; but I’m reading-up. The summary is that UNESCO ResiliArt is a global movement to support artists and creators in continuing to share their creativity in the case of COVID-19 which has resulted in cancellations of concerts, festivals, launches, and other arts activities (some of which has been re-platformed to online stages). “Ultimately, we hope to kickstart a larger conversation on the cultural and creative industries, in particular on the need to establish a better safety net and protection mechanisms for creative workers in times of crisis, made clear by COVID-19.” The movement also seems designed to remind the world at large of the necessity of art and celebrate its resiliency. What I’m not clear on is how to get involved beyond the launch date but I’ll be emailing them for clarification and you can too – here’s the email address firstname.lastname@example.org
An Author a Day
Beowulf Sheehan has photographed a slew of authors, just check out his book Author. So, perhaps no surprise that his COVID-19 project is author-driven. It’s called An Author a Day and that’s just what it showcases. I’ve only spotted one Caribbean author, Antigua-Barbuda’s Rowan Ricardo Philips so far – it’s mostly US centric which makes sense given that that’s Sheehan’s homebase. So listed so far, you’ll find U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, Elizabeth Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Congressman John Lewis, and late Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. All authors he’s photographed over the years – yours truly is included in Author, so fingers crossed. People can buy the photographs; proceeds go to benefit a fund for authors in the US.
ETA (040321) – Removed a book whose publication date I seem to have gotten wrong.
Also out in March 2020, Jamaican writer Maisy Card’s These Ghosts are Family. It lands with a lot of buzz: An Entertainment Weekly, Millions, and LitHub Most-Anticipated Book of 2020 pick; A Rumpus and Electric Literature Most-Anticipated Debut of 2020 pick; A BookRiot Best Book Club Pick of 2020; A Buzz Magazine Top New Book of the New Decade; and A She Reads Most-Anticipated Historical Fiction Pick of 2020…to name a handful. It is described as a transporting debut novel that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations, in the tradition of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
One of the things we’ve been encouraged to do during this time is to grow our own for reasons of food security. But non-profit Trees Inc. 2020 in Antigua and Barbuda were actively facilitating the planting of trees of all types since 2019. While not sure of the current status of the project, we wanted to share their pledge form
Children’s Online Literary Journal Seeking Volunteers
This one comes via a mail chain sent out by St. Lucian writer John Robert Lee who you will remember researched and shared the Caribbean literary bibliography archived on this site – and which for a long, long time was the top rated post on the site. It is a call for volunteers from Anansesem, in the wake of the departure of its long serving editor Summer Edward, announced in a previous edition of this Carib Lit Plus series. The journal, focused on children’s writing and writing for and by children, including a special Best of Wadadli Pen issue some years ago and writing by me (here, here, and here) and by Wadadli Pen team member Floree Williams Whyte, is looking for country correspondents and an advisory board member. Correspondents can write anywhere from 3 posts per month down to one post every 2 months. For qualifications and to learn more about Anansesem, go here.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Second COVID-19 Death is a Pioneering Member of the Local Pan Community
George ‘Macko, Nuni’ Weekes is a founding member of Harmonites, an iconic pan orchestra from the Villa/Point community which won the panorama title its first year out in 1968, the first of seven wins over the years. Fun fact: the band is also immortalized on the classic Short Shirt album 1976’s Ghetto Vibes (the one with his famous Tourist Leggo) in the eponymously-titled ‘Hands Offa Harmonites’ – protesting what the singer perceived as bad judging in a previous panorama. Harmonites co-founder Rupert ‘Teela’ Parker, speaking to the Daily Observer newspaper, described his fallen comrade as “a jack of all trades. He was a carpenter and also was an expert in building the steelpans.” Parker described Weekes as a friend and brother. “This is a big loss because of the kind of history he has within pan.”
Caribbean Literary Heritage
The Caribbean Literary Heritage project has been beating the COVID-19 lockdown blues by profiling some of the Caribbean’s literary heritage, an alphabet’s worth. At this writing, they’re up to O in a series that has covered Phyllis Shand Allfrey (Dominica), Vera Bell (Jamaica), Jesús Colón (Puerto Rico), Oscar Ronald Dathorne (Guyana), Gloria Escoffery (Jamaica), Alfred Fagon (Jamaica), Beryl Gilroy (Guyana), Roy A. K. Heath (Guyana), Lewis Osborne Innis (Guyana), Evan Jones (Jamaica), Peter Kempadoo (Guyana), Harold Sonny Ladoo (Trinidad), Edwina Melville (Guyana), Elma Napier (Dominica though originally from Scotland), W. G. Ogilvie (Jamaica though born in the Panama Canal)… more to come. Do you recognize any of those names? If not, read up on them at the CLH facebook page. If you have suggestions, reach out to them and make them (or maybe consider doing your own research project and consider creating a wikepedia page for a little known writer from your island who is worthy of more renown). I have made suggestions to the CLH re Antigua and Barbuda’s literary heritage pulling from the research I’ve done and posted here and on my jhohadli blog (e.g. re the likes of Elizabeth Hall) but I really do need to engage with platforms like wikepedia to share more of that content and boost more of our own. As with everything, it’s a question of time and resources (the chief resource being time).
Calabash in Jamaica (email@example.com/phone: 876-965-3000) and Bocas in Trinidad (info@bocaslitfest/phone: 868-222-7099) are arguably the two biggest literary festivals in the region, and festival season would typically be some where around now ish but COVID-19’S upended the world’s calendar. Word is that even Carnival in Antigua, a summer festival, has been pushed back to December (don’t quote me on that) and Sailing Week which usually closes out our tourist season is pretty much a wash what with Antigua and Barbuda being on lockdown what feels like indefinitely (re-opening’s been pushed back a couple of times now – understandably, notwithstanding how constricting it feels, given that no one has a handle on this just yet). The moral of the story is #stayhome
Speaking of …
The fallout to the book industry – which includes publishers and all of their staff such as editors, publicists, administrative staff, the mailroom; distributors and their network; book stores and their staff; and writers like me *waves* “hi” – is on the minds of all of us in the chain. In a recent promotional email that landed in my inbox, UK-based Myriad, publishers of New Daughters of Africa, said, “There’s a growing misconception that the publishing industry will boom in the face of the pandemic. Online sales continue, of course, but without bookshops, wholesalers and warehouses, without events, launches and festivals, we’re as stretched as everyone else. But we’re here, as are our terrific authors, rising to the occasion and thinking of creative ways forward.” Here in Antigua and Barbuda, our bookstores are among the businesses which have been deemed non-essential and closed these several weeks – not even deliveries, which would be ideal, especially outside of the city, I think, with children at home 24/7. The returns are less for online sales (in my experience) but buying books by whatever means they are available (e.g. ebooks, audio books) is one way of accessing a much-needed diversion while supporting the creative arts community. As a reminder, we have a bibliography of Antiguan and Barbudan books on this site, if you’re looking to #buylocal and, for my UK peeps, Myriad is offering a 25% discount as part of its read at home promo… more incentive to #stayhome and #read.
Daytime Emmy Noms
We spied a post by Wadadli Pen patron, NY-based Antiguan-Barbudan Junie Webson congratulating her son Samuel Daniel on his Daytime Emmy nomination for editing Seeing Yourself in US/Shades of U.S. for CUNYTV. proclaimed that this was the first of two nominations for Daniel as editor. The second nomination was for this profile of Trinbagonian Messiah Ramkissoon. Congrats to him on those nominations – I wasn’t able to find information on the outcome. But you know I never miss an opportunity to talk books and big up a regional artist. Three birds, one stone.