Tag Archives: Hillhouse

Blogger on books


From about 2006 to 2010, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse) wrote a blog on My Space called ‘Read Anything Good Lately’. Well, that blog has gone to the birds but I wanted to archive (only) some of my favourites from the blog here. Feel free to add some of your favourite reads in the comments section. Going forward, likewise, I won’t be blogging on everything read, but if there’s something I like and feel like commenting on, here’s where I’ll do it. So, keep checking back.

On this list:
*sorry but the internal jumps are being moody, scroll down to find the review you’re looking for (or tell me how to fix it :-))

After Leaving Mr. McKenzie by Jean Rhys
Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books (Issue 1)
Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books (Issue 5)
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
Beautiful Blackbird; & The Dancing Granny by Ashley Bryan
BIM Vol. 1 Issue 2 & Vol. 2 No. 1 & Vol. 3 No. 2
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Caribben Writer Volume 25
The CLR James Journal (Antigua issue)
Create Dangerously by Edwidge Dandicat
Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips
Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper
Dreads by Francesco Mastalia and Alfonse Pagano
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
Fear of Stones and other Stories by Kei Miller
Floating in my Mother’s Palm by Ursula Hegi
Growing up Barefoot under Montserrat’s Sleeping Volcano: Memories from a Colonial Childhood ina British Caribbean Island 1952-1961 by David Bradshaw
Gumbo by various
Homeland by Clare Francis
If Only the Dust would Settle by Althea Romeo-Mark
Ladies of the Night by Althea Prince
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
My Life So Far by Jane Fonda
Mythium Vol. 1 No. 1
No Woman No Cry by Rita Marley
Obsession, Compulsion, Bones, True Crime, & Evidence by Jonathan Kellerman
Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses by Floree Williams
Poems by Martin Carter
The Politics of Black Women’s Hair & Being Black by Althea Prince
Poui: The Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing, No. Xll
Prospero’s Daughterby Elizabeth Nunez
Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda: the Life of V. C. Bird by Paget Henry
So Much Things to Say: 100 Calabash Poets by Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer (Eds.)
The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy
The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Tongues of the Ocean (October 2009)
The Unbelonging by Joan Riley
Unexpected by Tameka Jarvis-George
Walking on Water by Randall Kenan
What You Have Left by Will Allison
White Woman on a Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
The Writer on her Words by various
Ya Ya Surfeit by Chadd Cumberbatch

If you’re interested, here are some other books that will never get kicked out of my library but which were read so long ago (pre-2006), I won’t even venture to comment except: I recommend reading them.

Henry’s Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda: the Life of V. C. Bird  is not exactly light reading nor the definitive work on the life (especially the personal life of) V. C. Bird, the man (that’s still to be written). But it’s an important first work on the times of V. C. Bird and his impact on those times. Henry, a Brown University Professor whose prior publications include Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy and Peripheral Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Antigua, explores via Bird’s shifting political philosophy, the Antiguan and Barbudan political character. In that sense, it unearths fresh soil. Plus, whatever your political colour, it gives Bird his earned recognition among the major players in Caribbean politics of the pre-and-post labour/pre-and-post Independence era. For those reasons especially, it makes this list of interesting reads.top

I read Joan Riley’s The Unbelonging, on loan from a friend, because said friend said my book Oh Gad! reminded him of it. My initial reaction to the book was muted by my scouting for these similarities and not really finding them – Professor Baltimore was never physically and sexually violent to Nikki, Nikki didn’t romanticize Antigua (she barely knew it) etc etc (a fairly nit picky approach that inhibited me from losing myself in the book); and by how vivid and unrelenting the horror of the young protagonist’s life was rendered. When it moved past the point where I stopped searching for comparisons and where the violence of her life (vivid or over the top? You decide) eased up a bit, I enjoyed it a lot more. It’s a reminder that each book really should be taken on its own merit. And one of the things the writer handled deftly was the shifts between her physical world and the fantasy world that was her homeland Jamaica, another was the hostility of the environment, and yet another was how damaged this character was by her experiences. Her lack of grounding is achingly sad and her lack of self awareness is one of the most frustrating things about her, and perhaps these are the parallel with my main character Nikki, the idea that being cut off from home cuts you off from yourself. Hyacinth in Unbelonging is cut off from her race (despite the best efforts of her contemporaries), her country (even when she finally makes it back), her family, her self, and struggles to connect with the opposite sex and Nikki has at least four of those in common with her.top

Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books (Volume 5) – This edition of the annual review is a collector’s item. One of the things that makes its distinctive is its spotlight on female writers, but what makes it a collectors’ item is that it gives a panoramic view of Antiguan and Barbuan poetry from the 1700s to the present. If you’re into literature not literary analysis, this is the issue of the Review to start with. Faves include Poetic Narratives from Mary Prince especially ‘On Being sold as a Child Slave’; The Shape of Chaos by Eileen Hall Luke; De Obeah Ooman and Women of Antigua by Dr. Veronica Evanson Bernard; Agnes Cecelia Hewlett-Carrington’s Reverie and Teacher; Amerindian Poesy by Dr. Elaine Olaoye; almost everything (Biography, the Nation Builders, the Nakedness of New, Moko Jumbi, the Last Island Griots, Turn the Broomstick up, Street Sweeper, and We do not cry for Meat) by Althea Romeo-Mark; From Deep Inside, Black Hair My Hair, and Planting Seeds by Elaine Jacobs; Germaine Owen’s I could live like a Bird and Crosses; After Abigail by A. Naomi Jackson; and Uncomfortable and Selfish by Tameka Jarvis-George. But really there’s much to delight and surprise by each of the selected poets.top

Lucy – Jamaica Kincaid – I can’t imagine why I haven’t read Lucy before. I think this book may have bumped Annie John from its prized spot as my favourite Jamaica Kincaid novel and shifted My Brother down the ranks as my third book by the Antigua and Barbudan author overall. From the beginning I was seduced by the literary style (the use of rhetoric, the imagery and poetic flow of the narrative) and affected by the tale of a young woman from the Caribbean breaking with her past (her homeland, her mother, her previous identity) and redefining herself in NY. It is also a novel of cultural distinctions revealed through the biting (mostly internal) commentary of the title character who wears her disdain and cynicism like armor; responding in one instance to her host-employer’s sadness over her husband’s infidelity not with empathy but with this internal musing, “…where I came from, every woman knew this cliché, and a man like Lewis would not have been a surprise; his behavior would not have cast a pall over any woman’s life. It was expected.” Underneath it all, there’s an element of fear (driven in large part by the imposing presence of the mother albeit that she’s many miles away on a Caribbean island) – to break with the past and take the daring step of striking out on her own, Lucy feels compelled to be decisive in cutting her navel string and in remaining emotionally distant not just from the mother but from others in her expanding circle. There are layers of meaning in the deceptively simple tale – all that really happens is Lucy leaves home, works as an au pair for a year, then gets her own place – but it provides thought provoking insights on issues related to a woman’s emerging sexuality and gendered relationships, mother-daughter (and surrogate mother-daughter) relationships, colonialism, and more. Yeah, I think this may be my favourite Kincaid book.top

After Leaving Mr McKenzie (1930)– A sad, compact and yet meandering tale of a woman with a wandering spirit in a time when such is frowned upon, who finds herself loose ends and in desperate financial and emotional straits after the end of her affair with Mr. McKenzie. Her emotional well being is further shaken on her return to London from Paris, by the death of her mother. She feels utterly alone, her allure is dimming and an air of resignation has settled by story’s end. This is my third reading of a Jean Rhys book after Wide Sargasso Sea, the prequel to Jane Eyre, and one of her short story collections – and the first I’ve come across that doesn’t reference the Caribbean (Rhys is from Dominica) even in passing. What’s familiar is the sense of a daring writer well ahead of her time in her handling issues of gender (and in particular the interior life of complex women) and ‘madness’, and in a broader sense humanity (and too often, the lack of humanity underneath it all). Read Christine Pountney’s much more extensive review (with which I fully agree) here.top

Posted a full review of David Bradshaw’s Growing up Barefoot, here.top

Just finished reading Poui, the Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing No: Xll, December 2011 and I have to say I really enjoyed a lot of it. I’ve been anticipating this issue for a while (a looong while) as my story Teacher May was accepted for the issue a while ago and I looked forward to seeing it in print. Structurally, it was a bit of a departure for me, though thematically it was familiar territory; I enjoyed the challenge of it and was gratified that it had been selected (and that a line from the story ‘Maybe it happened like that’ was used as a section header). I look forward to reader feedback on it though I suspect (as is the case with two many of the Caribbean journals) not many here at home will get to read it. You have to be a subscriber and most probably won’t bother; would be cool if it was on the book shelves or available in some electronic format. Because more people really should have the chance to read: Obdediah Smith’s Bowl Fish, Shakirah Bourne’s If Dogs Could Talk, Keith Russell’s A Fairy Tale, Donnya Piggott’s I’m Sprung, Shani Oliphant’s Insatiable Desire, Carlyon Blackman’s Dispatches, Andre Marsden’s Dreaming of Flying, Helen Klonari’s Not-A-Manifesto, Katia D. Ulysse’s Sketches from the Rubble and Bereavement Day, Barbara Southard’s Internal Injuries, Vashti Bowlah’s A Fine Example, Francis Farmer’s Split Second Life Changes, Sam Patterson’s News Too Soon, Philip Nanton’s Kitchen Combo, Mark McWatt’s Fishing. No that’s not every story and poem in the book, smartass; just my favourites (dark, complex, interesting stories of the contemporary Caribbean written in fluid and layered language).top

Unorthodox. That’s the word that comes to mind when I try to think of what to say about Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Sure at it’s core it’s a simple tale about a lonely boy-cum-man who becomes the latest casualty of a generations old family curse, but it’s also about a tortured country, the Dominican Republic, and (as most things are) it’s about love in some shape or form. But the narrative structure is far from simple, and the demons plaguing the characters are not easily explained away, and the inventive language and storytelling is a sign of an author who’s far from orthodox. So, what can I say about the Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; it’s an entertaining and ultimately heartbreaking read. And it’s unorthodox.top

I also finished the final of  Tameka Jarvis-George’s Unexpected and had mixed feelings about posting because I’ve been and remain a fan of this Antiguan sistren’s talent but (and I say this as someone who saw and had the opportunity to share some notes on the early draft) feel that the book needed as I said in another article “another rigorous spin in the editing cycle”. Still, I must post this because there’s no denying Tameka’s talent (“the descriptive and gritty nature of her scene-making, and (its) emotional intensity”). No doubt, there’ll be more (and better) to come from this young talent.top

Kei Miller’s Fear of Stones and other Stories  – What to say about this book? Let me put it this way: when I started reading Kei’s book, I was already reading four other books. And, not calling any names, but between then and finishing Kei’s book I stopped reading one of the others altogether (I like to start what I finish in books and life but me couldn’ tek um no more…reading that felt like punishment) and though I kinda likish the other three only one going at a good clip right now. This book didn’t happen in stops and starts, I didn’t have to force myself to read it (in fact I had to force to find time to read it), and I even wrote a fan note to the author on facebook about 2/3s of the way through. I said: “Reading your book Fear of Stones and other Stories and loving it…even the fact that it’s making things inside me hurt.” I’m done and that feeling holds up. The writer is a skilled craftsman who does interesting things with voice and narrative style, but not in a way that gets in the way  of the story. The stories drag you in and they hurt, and sometimes make you laugh or shake your head or something. You are constantly engaged. Plus you have to give him props for dealing with sexuality (and other taboo subjects) so candidly and compassionately at the same time, never flinching from the truth about Jamaica and the truth about its treatment of those perceived not to fit into the fabric of society but striking such a tone that there’s no doubt that he loves his country as well. Kei Miller is for real; and I all I can say me want more.top

The Caribbean Writer Volume 25 by various writers (edited by Opal Palmer Adisa). Some great selections here from a Volume 25 (2011)variety of Spanish, English, and, especially, French (Haitian) writers for a revealing and nuanced look at Caribbean living and especially life on this battered Caribbean country (Haiti). There are stories about the quake, surviving (barely), pre-Quake stories, stories into which the Quake doesn’t factor at all, stories about home,the idea of and the connection to home, violence and what bred it (and what it breeds), and cultures interacting (uneasily) as in this excerpt from one of my favourite stories in the collection:

“The market was a learning centre for Jesse and Selma, a place where they practiced their Kreyòl. It was where they learned that every transaction was a tug of war, a contest of negotiation. They learned that agreement with a vendor’s first price was naïve.
And costly. Face value was an illusion; the value of every and any object was relative, determined by what the buyer was willing to pay, and what Jesse and Selma were willing to pay was higher by a magnitude of ignorance than the common will.” – from Smoked Herring and the Talking Dog by Paul Vreeland.

There are, in addition to the creative pieces, interviews, reviews, and essays,, among which I liked Taking Haitian Content to the Global Marketplace by Rebecca Theodore, a timely rejoinder – in the form of a film review – to those who would dismiss history as having no value or relevance to now:

“…meaning cannot be understood without historical images…in objectively investigating the patterns of cause and effect that presently determine the events occurring in Haiti ‘Moloch Tropical’ also examines the specifics of history as an end in itself and as a way of providing ‘perspective’ on the problems of the present.”

Among my other favourites in the collection were The Timelessness of Time: an Interview with Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell by Renée H. Shea – which I have already excerpted hereBastille Day by Edwidge Dandicat; My Name is Fridhomme by Évelyne Trouillot (translated by Jason Herbeck); Solino, a Duvalierist by Patrick Sylvain, Angeline’s Fragments by Patrick Sylvain; The Message by Montague Kobbe; Witnessing for Ayiti by Natalia Fanta Lawrence; Défilée and the Rainbow Spirit by Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming; Standing in the Gap by Dwight Thompson; and Haiti Girl by Michelle Y. Remy.  That’s for the fiction. As far as poems go, I liked  HBO or Haitian Body Odor by Wilna Julmiste; Lamentation for a Country Mismanaged (A Poem for St. Lucia) by Tennyson S. D. Joseph; Luck by Daisy Holder Lafond; evelyn Victor Piñeiro;  Geography by Irène Mathieu; Motherin’ by Daisy Holder Lafond; Keeper by Margaret Vidale; Rhapsody by Claude Clément Pierre (translated by M. J. Fievre) and Rhapsody by Claude Clément Pierre (translated by Marc Prou); Notebook from the Black Island 2 (excerpt) by Saint-John Kauss,; and The Love Ring by Alan C. Smith.top

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – People have been recommending this award winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun and the Purple Hibiscus to me for years, and now that I’ve finally read her she’s almost certainly on my list of favourites for life – as much as one can know these things after only one book. I love every story in this book, aching for and journeying with these women as their lives map the realities of contemporary Nigeria from a decidedly feminine perspective. Here, we meet Africans both at home and abroad, traditional and non-traditional, as they navigate their own needs and wants, and choices, amidst the tug and pull of culture and expectation. Very relatable, in some ways, to a female Caribbean reader. And as a reader while each story ended satisfyingly, they all left me wanting more. My favourite African book before this – and admittedly I haven’t read a lot – is easily Nervous Conditions by Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga (also the director of the film Everyone’s Child). She’s still up there for me but other Adichie books will be jumping the queue on my wish list.top

So Much Things to Say: 100 Calabash Poets– Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer (Eds.) – So Much Things to SayA friend sent me this book and with memories of Calabash (the sublime literary festival at Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth in Jamaica) came rushing back. Sitting under the tent and just soaking it up,

@ Calabash wth other Antiguan writers and Caryl Philips.

bonding with the other Antiguan writers who had made the pilgrimmage with me, meeting Colin Channer not long after reading his thoroughly enjoyable Waiting in Vain. Needless to say the book sprinted to the front of my to-be-read list. I love it. In fact, it’d be easier to say what I didn’t like instead of what I did…but I’ll celebrate what I did like. Excuse me if this gets a bit long winded. The list includes absolute favourite, Dogma by Calabash programme director Justine Henzell; Old Photographs by Gabeba Baderoon; Choices by Edward Baugh; Bully by Simon Philip Brown; Another Night Wondering by Tomlin Ellis; Leaf of Life by Suheir Hammad; Feminist Poem Number One – Elizabeth Alexander; Mbubu – Chris Abani; On Becoming a Poet – Deanne Soares; The Children’s Hour – Li-Young Lee; Steam – Mbala; Sunshine – Oku Onuora; Dignified Debris – Alicia Sawyers; Six A.M. Halfway Tree, Kingston 10 – Adziko Simba; At an old church in Trelawny – Andrew Stone; People, Hurting People – Tanya Stephens (yes, that Tanya Stephens); Asking for a Heart Attack – Patricia Smith; Dead Straight – Olive Senior; You Can’t Survive on Salt Water – Kaluma ya Salaam; Erzulie’s Daughter – Geoffrey Philp; Milo – Esther Phillips; A Poem in the Distance – Lorne Matthews; Friday Night – Sally Henzell; Root – Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani; Dawn – Millicent Graham; Door of No Return – Delores Gauntlett; Violin – Ruth Forman; Breakfast – Makesha Evans; After Marley’s Kaya – Blacka Ellis; Poems in the Distance a Pre Poem by Lorne Matthews; Dat Bumpy Head Gyal – Joan Andrea Hutchinson; Cape Coast Castle – Yusef Komunyakaa; Cruising up the Waltham – Neto Meeks; The Last Poem about Race – Tim Seibles; Dis Poem – Mutabaruka; Cinnamon Peeler – Michael Ondaatje; Ode to Calabash – Staceyann Chin; and Marginalia – Gregory Pardlo. Those are the ones I genuinely liked and/or responded to. Such a variety of voices (not a variety of Caribbean voices, mind, mostly Jamaican and international, but still…). Like Calabash itself, like a cool and refreshing breeze, straight to my literary soul.top

What You Have Left – Will Allison – REAL GONE DADDY A new widower who walks out on his 5-year-old girl sets the tone for Allison's captivating debut novel, What You Have LeftThe tension tightens as the perspective jumps around and the motivations unravel in this story of family, forgetting, and forgiveness. Quite a quick read considering the subject matter but it lingers. Read a bit here. Will and I were fellows in the same fiction workshop at Breadloaf. Look forward to reading more of him.top

Create Dangerously – Edwidge Dandicat – This writer has a rare gift to make the universal personal and vice versa, within the scope of a single story. Front CoverThis collection of non-fiction is stronger for it. The personal experiences, writing about the Haitian quake by introducing the reader to the unique spirit that is her cousin, Maxo, for instance, brings the human tragedy into sharp relief (compared to the overwhelming, dehumanizing numbers count that’s sometimes difficult to take in) making an epic tragedy that much more relatable. That she covers not only their deaths but their lives – their courage, their joy, etc. etc. – makes this not just a book for writers or artistes, but a very human book (with nuance and heart). A must-read.top

BIM: Arts for the 21st Century Vol. 3 No. 2- I was hooked on the pieces on Haiti: the poem Earthquake 2010 by Jennifer Rahim, Haiti, or What is a Metaphor a Metaphor For? by Colin Dayan, The Dual Haitian Revolution as An Archive of Freedom by Anthony Bogues and, especially, The First Boat People Fleeing to Haiti for Freedom and Citizenship by Hilary Mc D Beckles. Also worth checking out for Summer Edwards’ Wet Season Memories and the companion photo by Ronnie Carrington, Sea Baths by Brenda Flanagan, and Austin Clarke’s Early, Early Early One Morning (my faves) from another solid installment of this seminal Caribbean publication.top

Anansesem – The inaugural issue of the new Caribbean children’s online literary journal was quite enjoyable. Read it with your children, your students, your kids’ reading club. My favourites included Bajan Market by Che Blackman, Irma Rambaran’s Wings, Maggie Harris’ Anansi Rises…Skipping Poem…and Who Frighten, and Jim Wasserman’s Making Dew. Good stuff. Here’s the link http://www.anansesem.com/2010/09/september-2010-inaugural-issue.html

BIM: Arts for the 21st Century Vol. 2 No. 1 – I think this Frank Collymore tribute issue is my favourite of the revived and revered Caribbean series. One, because it’s a fitting and insightful tribute to the man who so influenced the development of Caribbean literature (thanks to pieces like Edward Baugh’s ‘Frank Collymore and West Indian Literature’, Lennox Honeychurch’s ‘House of Two Islands’, Austin Clarke’s ‘Colly’, and Collymore’s own ‘Non Immemor’). Two, because it featured so many of the greats. Three, because their writing was simply superb. My absolute favourite was Geoffrey Drayton’s beautiful and poignant ‘The Moon and the Fisherman’, with Sam Selvon’s ‘My Girl and the City’ a close second – have always loved his flow – takes me back to Lonely Londoners and learning of stream of consciousness (which he applies here). I rather liked the conversational vibe between John R Lee and Derek Walcott and the thought provoking insights the St. Lucian poet pulled from this giant of the art form in ‘the Making of BIM’. There was humour in some of the other (quite enjoyable) pieces and a heady mix of humour and seriousness in the likes of Edgar Mittelholzer’s well crafted Herr Pfangle and John Wickham’s Meeting in Milkmarket. Favourite poems included Mervyn Morris’ The Stripper, Cecil Gray’s The Believers, Mark McWatt’s ‘Four Poems in Dry Season’, and Collymore’s ‘the Flow of Stream’, ‘Amanda’, and his delightful ‘Collycreatures’. If you haven’t read the giants of Caribbean lit, this is a good introduction. top

Mythium: the Journal of Contemporary Literature and Cultural Voices Vol. 1 No. 1 – Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis (editors) – This inaugural issue (which includes my poem ‘Venus Ascending’) actually came out in 2009.  I have a couple of impressions … how American Southern it feels (I didn’t actually count to see how many Southern writers were featured and certainly there were some very urban pieces) but overall that’s just how it felt to me. Also, as is often the case with these journals, it introduced me to writers whom I might not otherwise have known of, some of whom I’ll certainly look out for now. In particular, among the poems, I liked Jamaican born Opal Palmer Adisa’s hilarious obeah tale ‘Mada Make-It-Happen Callaloo Attraction Potion’, Tolu Jegede’s wistful ‘Suppose’ and ‘The Country of Beaten Things’, Remica L. Bingham’s funny and sad ‘Instructions, Upon My Death’, Rickey Laurentiis’ ‘Quit it Boy’ and ‘To the 44th President’, Sankar Roy’s ‘Early Arrival’, Michael J. Martin’s ‘Clavicle’, Rane Arroyo’s ‘Believe that I write this with tears running down my face visiting’, Tara Betts’ ‘Oya invites storms to tea’, and especially Derrick Weston Brown’s ‘To Be Published’ (because, seriously, what writer can’t relate to this). There were only a handful pieces of fiction. Among these my favourites were Myronn Hardy’s ‘Land of Grace’ and Tuere T. S. Ganges’ ‘The Coronation of Queenpin’. I like that there’s one more journal out there creating space for voices on the fringe, so, while all the pieces weren’t my cup of tea, I like the Mythium spirit overall. top

Dreads – Francesco Mastalia and Alfonse Pagano (with an introduction by Alice Walker) – This was a quick borrow with captivating (and beautiful) images and stories of people who’ve embraced the dreadlocked way of life for whatever reason. I wish I could keep it. top

My Life So Far  – Jane Fonda – Jane’s book was a revelation and got me thinking about men-women and the pattern which sees women losing themselves in relationships (which doesn’t seem to afflict men to the same degree) and loving themselves in order to become whole. Do you have to give up yourself in order not to be alone and do you have to be into your third act (as Fonda was) before you can truly begin to love yourself and give up the people pleasing? Unsettling thought. But then this was the rare biography that made me think about things. In part, it has to do with her knowledge of her life (in practice) and psychology (in theory) – the latter due to the many texts she indicates she’s devoured over the years. Reading, therefore, feels less voyeuristic and more…layered…as every bit of experience is contextualized and analysed with the clarity of hindsight and the self-questioning that can perhaps lead to a fuller life. …The book then emerges as an interesting combination of tell-all, self-analysis, and how-to advice for younger sisters and has a broader perspective than most celebrity autobiographies given the author’s conscious decision to involve herself in the world in which she lives beyond Hollywood – with a hefty price paid. I’ve always liked Jane, the actress, but this book has the added bonus of making her feel like a real woman. top

After reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, AudacityofHope.jpgI definitely want to read Dreams of My Father. It was slow in parts but the tone was vintage Obama and, as such, quite engaging. I was particularly intrigued by the character insights (he describes one of his flaws as “a chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right in front of me”); and his straight talk on politics (“Most of the other sins of politics are derivative of this larger sin – the need to win, but also the need not to lose” and how being elected to office meant “I spent more and more time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population – that is, the people that I’d entered public life to serve”).  With regards to his political agenda, the book emerges as a manifesto of sorts by the man who would be president: with analysis of the problems facing America and fixes with attention given as well to the wider world. His case study involving America’s relationship with Indonesia and the impact of said involvement proving illustrative and instructive. But I have to say I particularly enjoyed the glimpses of the man via his asides on his relationship with Michelle, mostly, how she keeps him grounded; including in one instance interrupting him to remind him to bring home some ant traps on the way home “I hung up the receiver, wondering if Ted Kennedy or John McCain bought ant traps on the way home from work.”top

White Woman on a Green Bicycle – Monique Roffey: Fascinating read – especially for me as a Caribbean person (can’t help but wonder though what non-Caribbean people make of it). Sabine and her husband, George, a pair of Europeans making life in Trinidad over a span of decades, see the implosion of their marriage echoed in the bright promise of pre-Independence Trinidad and the way it all falls apart – precipitated by it, even. The narrative is bold and unbothered by any sense of self-censure in its exploration of Caribbean politics, the black power movement and racial politics in general, the expat and local community, and even the Soca Warriors. What’s more, many of the observations have a ring of truth even when I don’t quite buy the direction of the narrative. Very interesting, thought provoking and unsettling; with unvarnished insight into the ambivalence, hostility and push and pull of affection some expats may feel towards the island(s) – itself a central character in the book – whose beauty is portrayed as at once seductive and damning.  One of the things that fascinate me is the real people who appear as characters in the book, warts and all: from political leaders like Patrick Manning, to sports icons like Brian Lara, to calypso legends like Sparrow. As I said to the friend who loaned me this book, I’d love to be a fly on the wall if (when) any of these people read the versions of themselves who show up as characters. The late Eric Williams, former leader of the country and certainly one of the Caribbean region’s political icons, is a central character, looming as large as the blimp that hovers over modern day Trinidad (adding to the sense of claustrophobia the main character, Sabine, feels on the island). It’s interesting her wholly fictional relationship with this larger than life man (“Eric Williams joined us in our bed”), a relationship which spans decades. There are some moments that feel over the top and some moments that are so on point I couldn’t help but hum in agreement or laugh out loud. And, while I was never fully comfortable with the book’s portrayal of us, (afro) island people, from the heart of what drives us to how we speak, I could accept it given that we are seen and heard through the eyes of the other, an outsider (notwithstanding the author’s obvious intimacy with the island). And I could enjoy this latest entry into the Caribbean literary canon because it was entertaining and thought provoking, well paced and lushly drawn. top


The Return Journey – Maeve Binchy – Okay, so if Jonathan Kellerman is my guilty pleasure, then Maeve Binchy is my comfort food: Circle of Friends (liked the film for this as well ), Firefly Summer, Evening Class, Tara Road, Scarlet Feather, Quentins, Nights of Rain and Stars… in The Return Journey, the problems range from the simple to the sordid but something about Binchy’s style makes the narrative feel very cosy and her heroes and heroines supremely down to earth and good hearted (at heart) – irony and the characters as travelers are recurring elements through these short stories of people; their complexities and contradictions and as is the case when this device is employed, whether sharply or with a gentle touch, there are not all happy endings. But this is Binchy, and so even the bitter comes with a little sweet. top

Chadd Cumberbatch’s Ya Ya Surfeit
somehow slipped in between my books already being read and books yet to be read, but I got my hands on a copy and well from the first two pieces, the sorrowful Ascent to Grace and the joyful Georgia Peach (both dealing with death)…it hooked me. …No doubt a credit to his theatrical background, the pieces have about them a sense of pieces not meant to lie about on a page but meant to be uttered, live, before an audience.

Poet Chadd Cumberbatch reading from his book to children at the Cushion Club.

Though reading them on the page is its own pleasure. I especially enjoyed the series of poems dealing with relationships which occupied much of the middle of the text; as ordered, they move from love’s start (“dream me lover/like a dream come true”) through the upsets and letdowns (“Tonight I’ll slip away from you/and you will never know/because you don’t see me anymore”) to its whimpering end (“It was like God turn off the sun”). But the book deals with all kinds of drama, not just love, and moves between the English standard and the Montserrat tongue. I enjoyed some parts of it more than others, but quite liked the whole overall. Kudos, Chadd. top

Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips – It took me a while to warm up to this one; always in awe of Phillips skill as a craftsman, and of the challenge of re-imagining the life of a real person somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend, but not emotionally drawn in not for a very long time and a little sea-sick from the shifting perspectives. I stuck with it though and found myself fascinated, in the end, not only by the character of Bert Williams, real life star of the Vaudeville era and son of the Caribbean, but, perhaps even more so by his stage partner and friend George Walker, and saddened by the tough lot of the ladies Lottie and Ada. There’s a sense of loneliness and desperation about all of their lives, representative perhaps of any African American at the time trying to separate him/herself from the role society wants him/her to play. Nobody here is really able to be him/herself, nor allowed any real intimacy or relief from the burden of a life lived being someone else (not even when the black face is removed). Phillips did an amazing job of capturing both the period and the inner life of these characters; and once you do get into it, it weighs heavy on the soul as do questions sniffing out how much has really changed. Of course my not so private head scratching with respect to this book is the ‘mystery’ of Williams’ origin. Phillips says the Bahamas, while my own country Antigua has claimed him, hosting a red carpet event in his honour as recently as December 2009. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter, after all, he’s a man who lit up the stage and managed to lose himself. top

Tongues of the Ocean (October 2009) – http://tonguesoftheocean.org/past-issues/october-2009  love this Bahamian-Caribbean online journal and not just because the October 2009 issue became the home for my own After Glow. The language of the chosen pieces is so evocative; I think the editors did a really good selection job. I also love that it’s multi-media so that you hear the cadence and feel the richness of the language of some of the pieces. My favourites among the published pieces in the October issue are Christi Cartwright’s The Rain, Philip Nanton’s Weather Reports: Grenada and Mood for Mugging (I really like both the idea and the execution of these), Martin Willitts’ The Tower of the Lighthouse Releases Collections of Gulls, Lynn Sweeting’s Wheelbarrow Woman, Keisha Lynne Ellis’ Good, and Obediah Michael Smith’s Water Clear as Glass. I’m still working my way through the previous editions and enjoying the discovery of my Caribbean literary contemporaries. top

We read Ashley Bryan’s Beautiful Blackbird at the Cushion Club today (February 23rd 2010) to help get the children into the mindset for the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize ‘Black and Beautiful’ writing and art competition. It’s a rhythmic retelling (or perhaps reinterpretation) of a Zambian tale. The ironic twist on reality is that all the rainbow coloured birds desire the beauty of the sole black bird. Of course, he stresses one of the book’s more striking messages, especially for young readers, that beauty is not only what’s outside but what’s within. In the end, a bit of a contradiction in the view of some, each bird has a touch of blackness and unique patterns thanks to the artistry of the blackbird; and everybody’s happy. Though the final message may be open to interpretation, the book is good for challenging instinctive negative associations with blackness, and a fun (and musical) read especially for you and your younger ones – Ashley’s collage like bird illustrations will also find favour.top

Re Althea Romeo-Mark’s If Only the Dust Would Settle  (excerpted from my Daily Observer review of the Antigua born writer’s latest poetry collection): Althea Romeo-Mark has led a fascinating life. Don’t take my word for it, her latest publication – If Only the Dust Would Settle – tells the tale. Part poetry collection, part memoir, it’s thoroughly engaging capturing not only the character of the various places she’s inhabited in her journeying, but the ways they – Antigua, the USVI, the US, Liberia, England, and Switzerland – have inhabited her. …My favourite poem in the collection is the title piece which though written to and of Liberia, had me ruminating on Haiti – and not just because the earthquake ravaged country happens to be in the news. In this poem, she writes affectionately of what is beautiful about Liberia; also of its chronic unsettledness. Haiti, the first free country in our hemisphere; Liberia, a haven for freed Africans…both tragic heroes of an epic tale. …I liked the title poem, because it heartbreakingly transmits the human tragedy: “…stumbled over the dead/while fleeing to safety, marched long/across borders, battling searing sun/and battering rain, skirted dogs/devouring the flesh of swollen corpses.” And amidst the vivid imagery, this searing line, “unsettled, they cling to scraps of hope.” [Get it, it’s a good read.] top

Althea Prince’s Politics of Black Women’s Hair – an interesting, thought provoking, sometimes painful and sometimes funny, read, pick it up. & Being Black – not as seamless as the other being compiled of a collection of essays from different points in her time but thematically it comes together. … it provides a lot of context for the forces and concerns that drive her creative energy. …I found particularly interesting the article entitled Stop Calling Us ‘Slaves’ which speaks to how external branding can influence self-definition and how important it is to know that we, blacks, were not slaves but rather were enslaved. Like her, I’m convinced that this distinction is an important one to make. Also thought-provoking was Black History Month, Or, Have Black-History-Month-Kit-Will-Travel and Writing Thru Race: The Conference – both of which speak to the right to claim a space for community to explore the issues unique to that community, that claiming being not about exclusion but inclusion.  top

Reading Randall Kenan’s Walking on Water
felt at times like running a marathon or wading through water, slowly, other times it skipped along but even then the finish line, like the horizon remained out of reach. Yet, for the most part, I was committed to finishing the race. The book is a mosaic, the many lives dotted across its pages a more complete and complex insight to being black in America than the recent CNN documentary series – though that, too, had its moments. To be fair, it had 600 plus pages to tell its tale; and even that proved insufficient. I liked that it isn’t myopic, that it embraced the opportunity to move beyond the obvious clichés and stereotypes and temptation to romanticize or, alternatively, condemn; that it attempted to capture the day-to-day realities, inner life, and philosophies of varied blacks in America (or from the diaspora living in America) arriving in the end at the only logical conclusion that there is no single story nor simple definition of what it is to be black in America (or human, anywhere). It is, in that sense, one man’s open ended questioning, and re-discovery of his people, himself, his country. …Hearing these stories though begs the question where in this ‘post-racial America’ are these diverse stories in the mainstream imagination – in fiction, popular music, Hollywood?
There are parts of Walking on Water which remind me of the things we have in common.  One character’s lament, 147 pages in, “what folks did after slavery is something to be proud of. Why aren’t we doing it now? We have thrown away the things that benefit us” is a familiar one. The book then, makes me think not just about America then but Antigua now (and maybe it helped that Antigua rated a mention on the very first page albeit in the context of that old tug-o-war between black Americans and black West Indians). One final note, even without the people that inhabit them – but perhaps moreso because of them – Kenan’s descriptions of the diverse American landscape have a there-ness and poetry to them that make you want to go a-wandering yourself. As for the book’s larger mission of defining what it is to be black in America; it is, in the end, as the author himself attests, “undoable and yet done”; making Walking on Water an interesting and compelling read, but, be warned, not a quick (nor conclusive) one. top

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I include this here though I read it years ago … because I want to be able to say that this is perhaps my favourite book of all time. As a high schooler it easily captured my imagination, though dealing with the tragedy of racism in the deep American south. Scout is one of my all time favourite literary characters – a sort of free thinking, take no mess girl after my own heart. I also loved big brother Jem and their realistically portrayed familial relationship – in fact the entire family unit complete with Atticus and Calpurnia. The Robinson case stirred all kinds of feelings – and easy identification with the unfairness of being judged less for the colour of one’s skin or, generally, the circumstance of one’s birth. Recently, in the Cushion Club we dealt with the book’s extended metaphor about why it’s a sin to Kill a Mockingbird, and, debated the use of the word ‘nigger’; making me keenly aware of the teaching moments that this book artfully presents without being teachy – the children have rarely stuck with a book week after week as they have this one, and, because it’s a favourite of mine, that makes me very happy. I wish Harper Lee had written more, but then, maybe she wrote all she needed to. top

The Dancing Granny by Ashley Bryan – We recently 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.top

Clare Francis’ Homeland –This book, though slow at times, really made me sad in parts and concerned about the outcome – primarily for ex-World War II Polish soldier, Wladyshaw. The book’s parallel plots deal with British soldiers returning from the war and Polish soldiers in a kind of limbo in Britain – it’s not easy for either set, but perhaps especially so for the Poles what with the language barrier, worries about home and the future, mental and physical healing, and a people that really would rather see them gone from a country dealing with its own post-war hardships.  I didn’t know a lot about the role of Poland in the war and this book sent me on a fact finding mission, so that was interesting. Mostly it was the emotional journey of Wladyshaw that sucked me in. His painful recollections in his letters to his sister especially were revealing and heart wrenching (as was her response). I was a bit more ambiguous about the character of Billy; the baggage that he carries did touch an emotional chord but some of his attitudes and choices left me a bit cold. Oh, and poor Dr. Bennett; Stella I have much less regard for…but perhaps I’m being unfair, the heart wants what it wants, I guess. Clearly, I got mixed up in these people’s lives. top

Ursula Hegi’s Floating in my Mother’s Palm. The pages of this book turned as easily as frames of an old film, with the same faded glow. I constantly had to pull myself back from rushing ahead – and once or twice had to turn back given the sheer number of characters – as the images and people of this small, post-war German town sucked me in. The growing girl narrating their lives was endearing (if not always likable – like when she was mean to her friend or the housekeeper); and always relatable. In a way this book reminds me both of Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John and Maeve Binchy’s multi-character tales – especially the ones set in rural Ireland – the same energy, and the same sense of something fading away. I honestly hadn’t read any of Hegi’s work before meeting her last summerin 2008 at Breadloaf

Hegi, middle row middle, with workshops participants including two fellows me – middle row left – and Will Alison – pictured back row right – whose book is discussed elsewhere in this blog.

but I’m now eager to read more (I think maybe Stones from the River since I want to spend some more time with these people…though I’ve forbidden myself from buying any more books ’til I’ve finished the ones I do have). I knew when I met Hegi that there was a lot I could learn from her – this book reinforces that…clarity, insight, sensitivity, and the ability to get the textures and colours of the images she paints with her pen just right…qualities any good writer yearns for. Mostly, though, the book has everything an avid reader could hope for; no wonder I finished it more quickly than any book I have in a good while. top

I can’t believe how quickly I finished Anderson Cooper’s Dispatches From the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival; a matter of two days really at the tail end of my mini-vacation. I was drawn in by the immediacy of the prose and the way the personal and global intersected – the epic loss of life during the tsunami w/ the personal loss of his father and brother etc etc – a reminder that big or small, wealthy or poor, we are all human, we all love and suffer. It’s just a matter of scale. The stories carried emotional resonance for me, unexpectedly, such as when reading of the way his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, went over and over the details of her son’s last minutes before his suicide (I knew that feeling, that hopeless grasping at clues for the unexplainable; the grief, and the ways Anderson closed himself off from it). Sometimes the analogies stretched belief (the loss of his nanny when he entered high school juxtaposed with a family’s grief in war torn Sarajevo, for instance). But there’s so much that’s real here, it’s hard not to be drawn in and moved by it (and, as a journalist, fascinated by the insider perspective on some of the greatest global tragedies of our time); and by Anderson’s at time self-deprecating, at times self-critical, touching and honest retelling of the journeys of his life and his own emotional journey. In fact, part of what endeared him to me was how self-questioning he is – that he takes nothing, not his personal wealth nor life itself nor the wisdom of the choices he makes as a reporter for granted. Also, I mentioned the immediacy of the prose earlier; and true enough it puts you right there, up close and personal with the real bloody and pussy casualties of war and tragedy; the smell and sound of it, the loss of life and the casual cruelties, careless mishandling, and hypocritical opportunism that can worsen it. But part of the sad beauty of being up close is seeing the real individuals often forgotten when looking at the larger picture; this book doesn’t forget them. By turns, it had me tearing up, wrinkling my nose, chuckling, cringing…If you’re looking for a voyeuristic window to the life of a famous family, you won’t find it here; what you will find is a deeply touching journey of loss and life across continents and to that inner place where our humanity lives.top

After reading The Fall of Rome, I’m quite eager to read more of Martha Southgate’s work (including the pending book she previewed during her summer ’08 reading at the Breadloaf Writers Conference). It was that reading, about another fish out of socially and racially familiar waters that made me curious to read more; and the tale of an inner city youth, Rashid, starting over and trying to make his way at a mostly white prep boarding school doesn’t disappoint. True, the white female teacher, who becomes the boy’s ally, is almost too good to be true, and the black male teacher, who becomes his nemesis, frustratingly locked into his narrow world view (’til you think, uh-uh nobody can be that blind!).  Still neither is a caricature. Rather, they’re quite interesting and compellingly drawn (if at times, frustrating) characters. In fact, part of this relatively quiet book’s power is how, with shifting points of view and deceptive simplicity (and heavy doses of irony), it tackles quite complex personal and interpersonal issues and the subtler racial challenges facing Americans, black and white, in the post 1960s era. A quick and fulfilling read (a rare combo). A big part of it was Rashid; he was sympathetically drawn and I just, found myself rooting for (and identifying with) him, turning page after page, invested in the outcome. top

Espinet in white stands to George Lamming’s right, and I in black and white stand to his left at the BIM conference Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers

The Swinging Bridge – Ramabai Espinet – Of the songs sung by the rand – a word which means both widow and whore – Espinet wrote, “They told a  tale of love and loss, distance, journeying, hope, hardship piled upon hardship, and, in the end, the triumph of fidelity.” When I read these lines near the end of her outstanding work, it occurred to me that this also described the book I was then wrapping up (the fidelity in this case I’d say the main character/narrator’s commitment to unearthing her family’s buried past). It draws you in with, in addition to a rich and engaging storytelling style, the tale of a brother’s death from AIDS and how this forces the main character/narrator to deal with her own past and effectively the largely unexplored past of not just her family but the many generations who’d come to Trinidad from India to work as indentured labour. Like the seeking narrator, I was aware of this journey and had seen it in passing in my high school history books, but never have I seen someone explore the heart and soul of it; what they kept, how it changed them etc. (Much as I complain about the erasure of the African and Afro-Caribbean identity from my own childhood texts, the telling of my ancestors’ enslavement solely from the enslaver’s perspective, this book reminds me that that’s far from the only historical crime of the Caribbean’s colonial legacy). And Espinet’s tale is all the more compelling for not only making the linkages and being so densely layered, but also so personal and frank about everything from the hypocrisy to the prejudices to the abuse/oppression of women. My greatest difficulty with this book was keeping track of the multitude of characters and I’ll admit to losing a person here and there and having to go back to find them (is a whole ton of people) but I never lost the desire to press on. It’s a history lesson and a deeply personal tale in one. In the interview published in this edition Espinet said, “My main purpose is to enlarge the horizon of the reader, but also to delight, entertain and educate.” Mission accomplished, I’d say. top

The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books – Issue 1 – This is a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in Antiguan or for that matter Caribbean fiction. Here several authors provide probing analyses of several Antiguan texts. Some were for me a revelation and discovery. Notably, I’m even more eager to read David Barry Gaspar’s Bondmen and Rebels now (so, another one for the wish list). Sounds like the kind of history book that would have made this subject come alive for me; with respect to insight to Antiguan society during the sugar/slavery/plantation era. Kudos to editor Dr. Paget Henry for pulling this inaugural issue together, and hopefully, with contributions, keeping it going. I’d like to see this archived in the university libraries in the region, simply because I remember how difficult it was during my days at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica to get information on any Caribbean territory that wasn’t Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and Guyana. It’s one of those experiences that drove home to me the importance of this kind of research, analysis and documentation of island arts, history, and culture in terms of writing one’s self into the dialogue.top

BIM: Arts for the 21st Century
– Volume 1 No. 2 – The second issue of the new BIM, Celebrating Women Writers was dedicated to some of the female pioneers of Caribbean arts and letters Amy Jacques-Garvey, Louise Bennett, Una Marson, Edna Manley, Beryl McBurnie, and Daphne Joseph-Hackett. And it came alive for me on July 26th (2008) when I got to share the stage with some of the contributing women writers at a symposium organized by the publishers of BIM. These included The Swinging Bridge author Ramabai Espinet, talented young poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortune, and three others whose words can only be described as compelling Curdella Forbes, Angela Barry, and Dana Gilkes. These women and others have amazing entries in the second issue of BIM and it was a treat hearing them read in person, much less getting to read alongside them. Also in this second issue of BIM and featured in a separate panel at the symposium were some of the Caribbean’s deepest thinkers – Carolyn Cooper, a former professor of mine, Margaret Gill, and Patricia Mohammed. Already, in my view, BIM’s impact is being felt and I look forward to it launching and re-launching other careers but more importantly providing a much-needed platform for the Caribbean literary arts. For the purposes of this blog, however, perhaps the most important thing is that it’s a good (a really good) read. As I do with collections of any kind, I’ll list my favourite reads (selected, fyi, before I met any of these women): Goree, Point of Departure by Angela Barry (really look forward to reading the full novel), Boodoo-Fortune’s poetry Oleander and Mother in the Morning (symbolic, lyrical, beautiful), Margaret Brito’s The Rivers of Babylon, Unfinished Lives – a narration in parts by Patricia Mohammed (a very interesting look back at her parents’ lives in pictures), Death 1 and Death II by Ramabai Espinet, Ruth by Tanya Batson-Savage, and Say by Curdella Forbes. It’s the kind of collection where it’s hard to choose favourites (the editors did well in attracting high caliber work) but these are the ones that specifically spoke to me in some way. To subscribe or maybe find out about submitting your own work to BIM, email the editors at etherphillipsBIM@gmail.com or cubest@uwichill.ebu.bb top

Poems by Martin Carter – Ever since discovering Martin Carter’s words in university, I’ve found them to have remarkable and enduring power. I, therefore, looked forward to reading this collection of his works collated by decade from the 1950s to the 1980s. What was revealing about the approach was the change in the tone and construction of his poetry; how the spit and fire of the earlier stuff gave way to a kind of reflective simmer with age and time and likely disillusionment. … Undeniable, meanwhile, is that this is a poet with the rare talent to speak for and to the masses while encapsulating in his discourse on their life and struggles really epic themes. In that sense, it’s like the very best calypso. I admit a preference for the earlier stuff, the ’50s and ’60s, for it is there that some of my favourites are to be found. These include Looking at your Hands, You are Involved, Death of a Slave, Death of a Comrade (“Death must not find us thinking that we die”) and so much more. There is a certain poignancy too in pieces like Letter 2, wherein the author, from behind bars, escapes to the memory of “…green mornings/naked children playing in the rain/and even fishes swimming in a pool – ” and asks of his wife “tell me, the young one, is he creeping now…?” These personal notes add power to the larger concerns permeating his work. Still, it’s not for nothing that Carter is known as a protest poet. You have only to refer to the way he catalogues the dark times for the masses in poems like, another of my faves,This is the Dark Time My Love (“It is the season of oppression, dark metal and tears/It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery”). If you’re not familiar with this poet, let me just say, you should be. top

Obsession, Compulsion, Bones & True Detectives by Jonathan Kellerman
– Going to cheat hear and lump my Kellerman favourites from the original blog together or we’ll be here all day. I don’t read a lot of crime thrillers these days, but this author and in particular his Alex Delaware series remain my not-so-guilty-pleasure; it gives me the happies every time I see a new one on the shelf at the book store because I know they’ll be taking me on an outlandish (borderline implausible) criminal adventure with people I’ve come to know – Milo and Alex – over the course of the series. Oh, I’m a fan of his wife Faye Kellerman’s Peter Decker series as well but hardly as compelled to buy them. Obsession had all the goods – suspense, good character chemistry, a seriously sick baddie, a well-paced plot. Compulsion, which came out after Obsession, was the usual delicious brain candy. This one featured a cross dressing culprit, a long buried secret, and colourful minor characters. Not my fave, not my least fave Delaware novel: as always, I enjoyed the relationship between Alex and Milo (as essential to this series as its star), and the mindless distraction of a good whodunit (though there were more whodunits than I’m used to in a Delaware novel in this one). Bones was quick paced as always, but maybe I’ve read too many, I kind of picked up who the killer wasn’t pretty early on. Didn’t matter, I still enjoyed the roller coaster ride. True Detectives – As ever it was the character dynamics that drew me in – and of course the addictive pacing of a well done whodunit. Here the bros introduced (along with the tensions that define their relationship) in the last Delaware instalment are the featured players with Alex and Milo as bit players but there enough to anchor the Kellerman regular. Evidence, as the name suggest was all about the evidence – the physical evidence moreso than Dr. D’s psychological insights. Milo’s interrogation skills and the CSI-esque clues are showcased in this one with the doc mostly along for the ride. It was nice to see the ‘Big Guy’ do his stuff; also enjoyed the cameos by some peripheral favourites though I’d like to see more of them in future Delaware novels. They will go on forever, right? top

Elizabeth Nunez’s Prospero’s Daughter
is a compelling read. It’s essentially, the re-imagining, in a colonial Caribbean setting, of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Incidentally, this is the first Shakespeare play that I ever did during my high school days, when I was still too young to really appreciate it and had to memorize large chunks of poetry in a foreign tongue that claimed to be English. Thankfully, as I matured I really came to appreciate the beauty of Shakespeare’s poetry; and how relatable to the colonial experience his Tempest is. Here, Prospero is a fugitive English doctor, the deserted island is a leper colony off the coast of Trinidad, the enslaved fairy Ariel is an enslaved Trinidadian servant girl etc. The story, though an original in its own right, is therefore firmly framed by Shakespeare’s tale, and emerges as an indictment against colonialism in pre-Independence Trinidad. In fact, the claiming of the tale, giving a voice to Caliban (here, Carlos a Creole boy trying to reclaim what is rightfully his) is an act of rebellion in itself, as surely as Carlos’ defiance of his place in the colonist (Prospero/Dr. Gardener’s) mind. The psychology of the enslaved being, the arrogance of the enslavers, the contradictions (and misconceptions) of the relationship between the two are explored through the personal relationships of these epic, symbolic, yet all too human characters. Unexpected (perhaps I need to re-read Tempest) was the sometimes unsettling sexual sub-themes. The love story ideal – that of Carlos’ mother and father and that of Carlos and Prospero’s daughter, Virginia – serve as book ends to this tumultuous tale. There is the abuse and incest that infect Prospero’s relationship with Arianna/Ariel and Virginia. All of these interesting and thought-provoking ideas would have been for naught, however, if Nunez didn’t write such lovely, flowing, descriptive prose. But fortunately, she does. top

Pink Tea Cups and Blue Dresses by Floree Williams – With these snapshots of childhood and adolescence in Antigua (crab hunting, hunkering down and waiting out a hurricane, losing a pet rabbit), Williams gently ruminates on the theme of innocence and innocence lost. Weaving through the seemingly innocuous moments, Williams colours in the details of coming of age with easy affection. A light and engaging read , especially for a teen or pre teen female. top

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – This book was a delight; fun, revealing, and inspiring.  What an adventure – through Italy (my favourite part for the pure sense of indulgence sans the angst of the other chapters in the journey), India, Indonesia. It not only moves through all these places, but a rich internal landscape. Thanks to my friend Jane for insisting I read it. It was just the book for this time in both our lives. Usually I don’t like the smugness of books that tell you you’d be happy if only you had the balls to do ‘X’; but though it sometimes had me yearning (it’s an amazing journey after all…), mostly I enjoyed the ride. The writer, she takes you along every bumpy side road, as she faces demons familiar to us all (or is that just me?), laughs at herself, and dares. It’s the sense of daring that’ll have you reaching for your own dreams; and yearning for your own great escape. top

The CLR James Journal Antigua Issue – I was sometimes out of my depth with this one, but when it clicked (and it did pretty often) I found it to be a comprehensive and probing look at issues related to Antigua. We, in Antigua, need to see (do) more of this in the interest of understanding our journey to date and charting a future. Kudos to Dr. Paget Henry for pulling together such thought provoking pieces in such varied disciplines – aesthetics, philosophy, politics, media, literature, economics, history, psychology etc. My favourite was Mali Olatunji’s African Aesthetics in Motion: The Probability of a Third Jumbie Aesthetic in Antigua and Barbuda. I liked the creativity/experimentation, the shaping of an artistic paradigm that honours our African ancestry and incorporates the folk culture so often taken for granted, the context he brought to the subject (using his considerable knowledge to good effect but communicating it in a very reader-friendly way), and his obvious delight in his subject matter. He made the subject matter very accessible and the prose often bordered on the poetic. top

The Writer on her Work – a collection of seventeen essays on writing by American women writers (Ed. Janet Sternburg). While I also responded to the articles by Joan Didion, Mary Gordon, Margaret Walker, Ingrid Bengis, Janet Burraway, and Gail Godwin, My favourites were…

Anne Tyler’s ‘Still Just Writing’. I literally laughed out loud in line at the bank; haven’t done that since Deryck Bernard’s Going Home and Other Tales from Guyana though for different reasons. In Bernard’s case, it was the comedy of life. This time it was at Tyler’s recounting of an individual’s query: “Have you found work yet? Or are you still just writing?” Then again, perhaps the reasons aren’t that different after all; ah, the comedy of life. This article was just delightful and delightfully resonant in many ways.

Michele Murray’s ‘Creating Oneself from Scratch’. Riveting and sad, revealing and, again, resonant. The fears, the moods, the disappointments, the realizations…all echo on some level, at some time.

Alice Walker’s One Child of One’s Own: A Meaningful Digression within the Work(s). ……..Alice’s writing always strikes a chord with me and invariably stimulates me to think, feel, write something. It was there when I read The Colour Purple; there when I read the Temple of My Familiar; there when I read Living by the Word; there when I read In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (an all time favourite read of mine). It is here. Her inclusion in this collection is important I think, especially in light of her very relevant criticisms of the way in which black women have basically been shunted to the margins of the great waves of the women’s movement and literature (and art). As for the question of whether women artists should have children, I liked the cheekiness of her answer.

Toni Cade Bambara’s What Is I think I’m Doing Anyhow. On her struggles with the pen. I especially enjoyed the explorations of the challenges experienced bringing certain stories to life; something I’m not sure I could be quite so lucid about.

Erica Jong’s Blood and Guts: The Tricky Problem of Being a Woman Writer in the Late Twentieth Century. This article affected me deeply, speaking as it did to the ‘fear’ with which we greet the page and the world daily and the ways we push through that fear and keep walking, keep writing. As for the walls people and even the movements (such as feminism) with which you identify would construct around your creativity, I feel as Jong “we must consider ourselves free to explore the whole world of feeling in our writings”. I dislike fence…ironic, since I‘m was in the process of constructing a fence around my own home, to keep the cows and goats out so that the flowers and especially the mango tree can grow. top

Rita Marley’s No Woman No Cry, which literally moved me to tears. A book of dreams, trials, struggle, triumph, and survival. Bob is undoubtedly a musical legend and lyrical genius, but this book reminds that he’s also a flawed human being just like the rest of us; and Rita like so many other strong Caribbean sisters deserves nuff respect. The emotions leap off the page in this one; and it’s a down to earth, honest read. It got me and got to me. As it did this fellow Antiguan and Barbudan writertop

Antiguan Author Althea Prince’s Ladies of the Night proved to be a pretty quick and engaging read. Favourite stories in this included ‘How You Panty Get Wet?’ and ‘Body and Soul’. Highly recommended. top

Gumbo (by the people behind the Hurston Wright Foundation; it’s a collection of stories by largely established African American writers) – Liked this. Here are my 20 favourite stories in no particular order:

Museum Guide from A Young Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood – Excerpt: “Don’t take only what life give you, reach out and take what you want,” he said.

Eva and Isaiah by Valerie Wilson Wesley – Loved this. Loved it. A hot musician, forbidden fruit; steaminess. I need to track down the book, Ain’t Nobody’s Business, to see how it turns out.

An Orange Line Train to Ballston by Edward P. Jones – because, I guess, I yearned for a different outcome for Velle.

The Knowing by Tananarive Due – This one made me sad. You kind of suspect where it’s going, but hope that you’re wrong.

Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes – It was a gripping action tale, for one; also a riveting account of flawed heroes and the death of innocence. Also, I guess I’m just fascinated by writers who can so confidently claim and fictionalize real life icons or iconoclasts.

To Haiti or to Hell by Alexs D. Pate – It was a kick reading a tale of a black pirate; and a very plausible (as well as exciting and at times tense) one at that.

My Heavenly Father by Dana Crum – It struck a chord and a memory.

Mirror Image by Amy Du Bois Barnett – A tale of the masks we wear, and the flawed selves we are underneath; the confusion we are inside. I guess I could relate.

My Mama, Your Mama by Connie Porter – because of the things we cannot tell, and the comfort we need. This is from Imani all Mine; and I definitely want to read the rest of it.

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Dandicat – This story opened the book. It was a strong opener, with characters hiding from themselves and others, desperately trying to keep hidden a stain that can never truly be washed out.

Fire: An Origin Tale by Faith Adiele – I guess I’m always drawn to stories about identity. Plus, there was a mystery involved that compelled me to the end.

Between Black and White by Nicole Bailey Williams – Because, when I got to the end, I wanted it to continue; I wanted to know what Lionel was trying to forget but wasn’t ready to tell her.

Clarity by David Wright – For me, there were two different rhythms in this story, one playful and ambling, one tight…and while you rode the more pleasurable beat of the dominant rhythm the underlying tension was always there.

Fortune by Erica Doyle – I loved the beauty of the language.

The Boy Fish by David Anthony Durham – an uncomfortable and unforgettable read.

Excerpt from Sap Rising by Christine Lincoln – because it’s filled with questions I’ve asked myself since I’ve been self-aware and ideas I defend to this day.

Helter Skelter by Marita Golden – Is it possible to go back and retrieve something that was lost, when that something is a piece of ourselves?

The Way I See it by Terry McMillan – The maternal voice in this book, ‘A Day Late and a Dollar Short’, is so familiar.

Lucielia Louise Turner by Gloria Naylor – powerful storytelling.

Excerpt from Dakota Grand by Kenji Jasper – relatable, in some ways. top

Some other books read and enjoyed (pre-2006) …there’s more no doubt, but this is what I can remember (though not well enough to review without re-reading)…listed in no particular order but all highly recommended:

The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon
Caucasia – Danzy Senna
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Selected Poems and letters of Keats – Robert Gittings
To Shoot Hard Labour – Smith and Smith
Second Heaven – Judith Guest
Miguel Street – V. S. Naipaul
Women Race and Class – Angela Davis
Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – Alan Brown
Coffee will make you black – April Sinclair
Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy
Sula – Toni Morrison
Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
The Last of Eden – Stephanie S. Tolan
Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? – Judy Blume
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Roots – Alex Haley
The Autobiography of Malcom X – Alex Haley
Home to Harlem – Claude McKay
Their Eyes were watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston –
Valerie Boyd
I love myself when I’m laughing…then again when I’m looking mean and impressive – Zora Neale Hurston
Othello – William Shakespeare
A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry
The Farming of Bones – Edwidge Dandicat
The Deep End of the Ocean – Jacqueline Mitchard
Pearl – Tabitha King
The Gunslinger & The Drawing of the Three (from the Dark Tower series) – Stephen King
Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin
The Colour of Water – James McBride
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry – Mildred D. Taylor
Writing down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg
White Oleander – Janet Finch
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
The Temple of My Familiar – Alice Walker
Living by the Word – Alice Walker
In Search of our Mother’s Gardens – Alice Walker
Disappearing Acts – Terry McMillan
Orenda – Kate Cameron
My Life – Bill Clinton
I Know what the red Clay looks like – Rebecca Carroll
The Godfather – Mario Puzo
Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry
July and Joanne – Cnd
Jazz – Toni Morrison
Annie John – Jamaica Kincaid
Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice (who am I kidding, the entire Vampire chronicles especially The Vampire Lestat and The Tale of the Body Thief)
Poems – Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
The Heart of a Woman – Maya Angelou
Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now – Maya Angelou
Gather Together in My Name – Maya Angelou
All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes – Maya Angelou
Singing and Swinging and Getting Merry Like Christmas – Maya Angelou
Poems – Maya Angelou
With Ossie and Ruby in this life together – Ossie Davis and
Ruby Dee
Q The Autobiography of Quincy Jones (yeah, I seem to have a thing for entertainment biographies)
Chocolat – Joanne Harris
Selected Poems – Langston Hughes
Not without laughter – Langston Hughes
The Best of Simple – Langston Hughes
Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine – Bebe Moore Campbell
Brothers and Sisters – Bebe Moore Campbell
Just as I am – E Lynn Harris
Invisible Life – E. Lynn Harris
Buxton Spice – Oonya Kempadoo
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
Girl with a Pearl Earring

The Vemeer painting that inspired both the book and the film.

– Tracy Chevalier
Waiting to Exhale – Terry McMillan
She Stoops to Conquer – Oliver Goldsmith
Browngirl Brownstones – Paule Marshall
Miguel Street – V. S. Naipaul
Praisesong for the Widow – Paule Marshall
Breath Eyes Memory – Edwidge Dandicat
Unburnable – Marie Elena John
Ludelle and Willie – Brenda Scott Wilkinson
Abide with Me – E Lynn Harris
Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean M. Auel
The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
The Cider House Rules – John Irving
Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison
If this World Were Mine – E Lynn Harris.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 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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Publishing may be a numbers game, but writing isn’t

I have never checked Text Stats nor do I want to, but this article (The Secret Lives of Novellas by Daniel Torday) caught my interest for several reasons. One, because it referenced a couple of my favourite books, Annie John and The Great Gatsby: books which may not have met the standard for novel length but which are fulfilling and complete reads nonetheless, never mind what early critics and Fitzgerald himself may have thought of Gatsby in particular.

Two, because I find there’s a bit of an obsession over word length by authors-in-progress – i.e. I did x number of words today or how many words blah blah blah…. I never know the answers to these questions because I’m not in the business of numbers, the tool of my art is words and words count for me in so much as they matter to the story. So how many words are in the book, as much (or as little) as it takes to tell the story completely.

Three, because I’ve had to contemplate the novel/novella classification in marketing my newest book Oh Gad! It is my third book of fiction and based on the distinction drawn along numerical lines, my first full length novel. I don’t consider it my first fully told story however and know of at least one friend and colleague who is critical of what she sees as the dismissal of my earlier work by referring to Oh Gad! as my first novel. But, to be clear, I do not reject either The Boy from Willow Bend or Dancing Nude in the Moonlight – and if you haven’t read them already, I hope you will after reading this. Because for me they are stories fully told as much as Oh Gad! is. But the writing of Oh Gad! did feel like a marathon in a way that they didn’t for many reasons. The length of it is one, sure. But it’s more than that. The sheer number of characters, comparatively speaking; the wandering into, for me, unfamiliar territory; the struggle to understand the characters, something that was not as much a struggle with my earlier work; the number of parallel plots, again comparatively speaking. It was just a lot more to keep track of and realize, and the realizing of it is a significant milestone for me as a writer. So it is third, but it is also a first for me, again not just because of the number of words (which I don’t know) or the weight of it (which I also don’t know). Though I have to admit the size disparity between it and Dancing struck me the night of the launch as they sat side by side ready to be signed. The next story may take a different form and represent another first in my growth as a writer – because I consider myself ever to be a student of this craft. But suffice it to say that on the subject of novel/novella, this is a case of size does not matter for me, but what’s contained in the package and I hope that readers will find in each of these books something of value.

So, the point of all this; when writing, tell the story, I’d say…numbers and classifications and all that is less about the art and craft of writing than the business of publishing. In order to fully immerse myself in the world of my characters and tell their story authentically, I have to keep these two things separate. I think the writer of the referenced piece kind of found that to be the case as well.

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 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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Circular re Express Yourself!

Starting this September, Joanne C. Hillhouse, author of The Boy from Willow Bend , is inviting you to Express Yourself!

You should check it out if you’re a secondary or tertiary student hoping to boost your writing and comprehension skills for all-round success; a young professional or entrepreneur in need of a literary boost; an older person who’s always wanted to write but never quite knew how to get started; a budding scribe with dreams of literary success; a seasoned writer with a project-in-progress in need of critical input; or someone who just wants to write, just because. Joanne is a practicing writer and journalist, coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize and judge of numerous literary competitions, with years of experience, a passion for the literary arts, and a commitment to the development of craft. As such, her programme could be a small investment towards realizing your literary goals.

Spaces are limited. For registration information email her at theboyfromwillowbend@yahoo.com before August 30th 2010.

Depending on the response, this workshop series will be ongoing; so if you’re interested, still email even if you’ve missed the deadline.

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‘Foxy Brown’ to star at Antigua’s Lit Fest


The organizers of the Antigua & Barbuda International Literary Festival are planning for an exciting 2010 Festival.

Among the leading authors to attend this year is actress and author Pam Grier, who will be talking about her new book “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts.”

Grier is, of course, famous for her kick-ass 1970s roles like Foxy Brown and, more recently, for her role in The L Word and films like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

Also scheduled to attend are Trinidadian novelist Elizabeth Nunez, Guyanese poet Grace Nichols, Guyanese children’s author John Agard, Jamaican poet and novelist Lorna Goodison, Belizian author Zee Edgell, publisher and author Verna Wilkins, and Antiguan authors Marie Elena John and Joanne Hillhouse.

For more, visit their website http://antigualitfest.com/

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