Tag Archives: Library

Can’t Wait Wednesday (Reading Natasha Lightfoot)

This book blog meme (CWW or Can’t Wait Wednesday) popped up in my feed via Curious Corners of a Writer’s Cluttered Mind just now and after, what, it’s Wednesday?, this writer’s brain thought, sure, I’ll play. After all, the book I’ve been most thinking of this week is right up this blog’s alley. Wadadli Pen, if you’re new here, is the online platform of a project, now a non-profit, meant to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda.

That book – Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation by Natasha Lightfoot

I’m almost ashamed that I haven’t read this yet – almost, because I am one person and only have so much time in a world of too many books I’d love to read but this has been one of those books (I always thought I’d get to it sooner than this) since I attended the launch at the Public Library years ago now.

#history #nonfiction #Caribbean #Black

Blurb –  In 1834 Antigua became the only British colony in the Caribbean to move directly from slavery to full emancipation. Immediate freedom, however, did not live up to its promise, as it did not guarantee any level of stability or autonomy, and the implementation of new forms of coercion and control made it, in many ways, indistinguishable from slavery. In Troubling Freedom, Natasha Lightfoot tells the story of how Antigua’s newly freed black working people struggled to realize freedom in their everyday lives, prior to and in the decades following emancipation. She presents freedpeople’s efforts to form an efficient workforce, acquire property, secure housing, worship, and build independent communities in response to elite prescriptions for acceptable behavior and oppression. Despite its continued efforts, Antigua’s black population failed to convince whites that its members were worthy of full economic and political inclusion. By highlighting the diverse ways freedpeople defined and created freedom through quotidian acts of survival and occasional uprisings, Lightfoot complicates conceptions of freedom and the general narrative that landlessness was the primary constraint for newly emancipated slaves in the Caribbean.

I don’t read a ton a ton of non-fiction but when I read Natasha, who is an associate professor at Columbia University, it always does to me what good fiction does which is transport me wholly in to the world of the story, with rich characters, strong narratives throughines, pacing on point, with a real and grounded sense of the stakes, and the reason why Troubling Freedom is on my mind is because I had the opportunity recently to read a chapter from her book in progress (after telling her that I missed her James McCune Smith Annual Lecture at the University of Glasgow). Such a privilege! The talk she gave was based on the same topic. I can’t share either but when I tell you I was riveted – as in this could be a Hollywood film, and please can I write it, riveted. And now I can’t wait for this book; I want to believe that the previous article of hers that I read about Eliza Moore, an enslaved woman who bid for her freedom based on the Emancipation Act in the territory of her birth though not the territory in which she was resident, is part of this book – I can see a throughline, and I can’t wait.

Reading these shorter pieces has me as eager to dive in to Troubling Freedom as I was at its launch – I just need to get my hands on a copy and get through at least four of the books that I’m currently reading (one is an edit job, one I’ve been asked to blurb, one I’m trying to finish for a book club discussion, and one was the most advanced of my previous reads in progress). It’s a lot but that book is on my mind and hopefully will soon be in my hands. Check it out if you haven’t already.

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

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Cushion Club Release

“The Club coordinator admits that one of the current disappointments is that more than a year after the opening of the new library, the hours are such that access is still limited. The library does not currently open after regular working hours or on weekends. Among the Club’s hopes was to get the kids into the library at least once a month – but with the library not open on Saturdays when the Club meets, that’s not possible. Among the hopes was to get the children into an environment where there are books – though, with the lending programme on hold since its move, not necessarily borrowing; getting them to learn how to use a library and understand the value of a library; and contributing to the library being an obstacle-free community space.” (Read the full release)

Good news though, the library is now reportedly lending books on a limited basis.

How long has the Cushion Club been around? One of these children is getting ready to finish university and one is getting ready to finish high school in just a couple of years.

How long has the Cushion Club been around? One of these children is getting ready to finish university and one is getting ready to finish high school in just a couple of years. Both would have come of age with either no public library or a library at less than full potential. We welcome the baby steps towards returning the library to the level of functionality (and more) that it enjoyed before the 1974 quake.

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Read the entire newsletter: Vol9No1-1


September 19th and 20th

Brooklyn Book Festival

Joanne Hillhouse to appear on

September 20, 2015 at 1pm

Brooklyn Historical Society Library

128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, NY

October 2, 2012 @ 6:30pm

FOAPL’s Book Club Meeting

Selection:  John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James

At The Antigua & Barbuda House

12 West 122 Street, NYC

Sunday Dec. 6, 2015

FOAPL’s Author In Residence

Featuring Dr. Natasha Lightfoot

The Antigua & Barbuda House

12 West 122 Street, Harlem, New York

Sunday Dec.  13, 2015

Ole Time Christmas & Lighting of the Tree

Antigua & Barbuda Progressive Society

12 West 122 Street, Harlem, NY

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Do our children lack the abilty to imagine?

I was asked to present at the public library camp over the summer, as I did last summer.DSC_0346Couldn’t do it. But it provided the opportunity to introduce the children to the writing of one of our Wadadli Pen Challenge winners (or so I hoped).

Margaret Irish - winner of the Lead by Example Teachers Prize collects her gifts courtesy Caribbean Reads Publishing and plaque sponsored by Joy Lawrence.

Margaret Irish – winner of the Lead by Example Teachers Prize collects her gifts courtesy Caribbean Reads Publishing and plaque sponsored by Joy Lawrence.

Margaret Irish is the winner of the Lead by Example Teachers Prize 2014, and, from the beginning, the idea behind that was encouraging teachers to write, and getting them to get creative in a way that could inspire their students to do the same, inspire them to share their own stories. The teachers were Challenged to submit entries that they could share with their students. Margaret’s The Skipping Rope is a good example of this and that’s why I thought she’d be a good match for the library programme. She readily agreed to do it (thanks to her for doing that) but as she informed me in a subsequent email (shared with permission) she didn’t share her story after all. Instead, she said, “I took them through an exercise in learning to use their imagination” I’m still disappointed she didn’t share her story but adjusting to the circumstances in the field is perfectly reasonable; matter of fact, absolutely essential. Her adjustment was driven by her observation that “students are unable to write creatively, simply because they cannot, they have not developed their imagination.”

As I write this, I remember one of the judges making a similar comment in her review of the 2014 Wadadli Pen Challenge submissions (a comment that echoed the 2005 judges’ report, in which the judge commented about the writers playing it safe, if I’m remembering correctly). The 2014 judge wrote: “The talent is there but I think they need to be taught a few techniques in story writing. I think they suffer from writing too many structured school stories. It is as though they don’t know they can use their imagination.”

This judge’s comment also has me considering another part of Margaret’s email. When she asked the 80 or so students (campers) how many of them liked writing compositions, only five or six raised their hands; when asked how many hated writing compositions “you should have seen the frustrated looks and defiant hands. It was sad.”

Sad indeed.

Possibly, part the problem is in the phrasing. One of the participants in my summer media training workshop at the Department of Youth Affairs comes to mind. She was distracted and disruptive throughout, but, as our rap sessions revealed, sharp as a tack and quite articulate and opinionated. Like most of them she resisted settling down to the work. I remember when she was required to present her review of the first film we’d watched. She hadn’t written a thing and I know she expected me to skip her but I told her she was still expected to present. And she did; she winged it. Interestingly, she did a pretty good job, there was good recall and clear insights in her ramblings and I couldn’t help thinking she’d have had a pretty good presentation if she’d taken the time to even organize her thoughts into bullet points if she didn’t want to write. I remember my one on one with her to discuss the article that each participant was required to produce at the end of the two weeks. She identified her topic, one of the topics we’d discussed earlier in the week but as I pressed re her action plan, trying to get her to focus and to draw on the tools and techniques I’d been sharing with them, it was clear she had no interest in the assignment or the topic. The assignment I dug in my heels on – I was determined that each person would at least try – but why would you pick a topic you had no interest in? So I threw it out and opened up a conversation with her about her genuine interests; it was a bit like pulling teeth at first but eventually I got her talking about one of her biggest interests and suggested to her how that could be a story. She hadn’t finished by the end of the week, and, frankly, I was doubtful she would, but she’d started. When she showed me her progress, it was primarily structured as responses to the questions I’d thrown out to guide her and I realized she’d need more time learning to structure them into prose. But I counted the baby step of getting her started on something as a win. The connection I’m seeing between that story and Margaret’s observation and the judges’ comments is the way we sometimes get locked into this square way of thinking, everything inside the box. One of the reasons I do Wadadli Pen is to awaken that idea that the stories are right there in their own backyard, in their own lives, not remote from their reality. Sometimes it’s enough to get them thinking and talking about the stuff they actually want to think and talk about, a little difficult to do in a one-off session with 80 people (with anything over, say, 15 – 20 really). Sometimes you have to jump start the conversation with films or songs or really whatever works. And, as I tried to do with the breaks and journaling activities at the DYA workshop, sometimes you need time to just be still within yourself, idle even, let your brain just float.

Because the imagination is key to everything: without the imagination there  is no writing, without the imagination there is no creativity, without the imagination there is no visioning, no seeing beyond where you are to the impossible. This is not just about writing now because seeing beyond where we are is something we need as individuals, period, and as a nation; it is this imagining that guides our feet, and lifts a song of promise and possibility in our souls, staving off stagnation and cynicism. So what is it about our environment that has them so uninspired and how can this be addressed not by way of one-off sessions but consistently?

Questions to ponder. Because it’s not that our kids lack imagination. As author Andre Dubois lll said, “We’re all born with an imagination. Everybody gets one.” And it is the font from which writing flows, and not just writing but everything that’s magical in the world.

During her session at the camp, Margaret read C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, instead of her own story (and I still, all said, have some issues with that decision because why not do both). She chose that story though I think to reinforce the idea that “when using one’s imagination, the events do not have to make sense.” It opened up the opportunity for her to engage them in an active exercise in which they would make up a story on what one could find on entering a wardrobe. And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t looking for shoes…maybe unless they were ruby red slippers which, clicked three times…conjured up a magic carpet that spirited you away to…Wonderland???

It sounds like she did it as a chain writing exercise, which I do too, as it’s a great way to get everyone involved and a good way to get out of the safe zone as you never know what the person before you is going to add to the story so you can’t over think it, you just have to go with it. Which reminds me of another quote (for you writers still reading this) from the Dubois article: “I love that line from E.L. Doctorow: ‘Writing a novel is like driving at night. You can only see as far as your headlights—‘ but you keep going until you get there. I’ve learned over the years to just report back anything that I see in front of the headlights: Are they yellow stripes or white? What’s on the side of the road? Is there vegetation? What kind? What’s the weather? What are the sounds? If I capture the experience all along the way, the structure starts to reveal itself. My guiding force and principle for shaping the story is to just follow the headlights.” It’s a good way to get out of that zone of what writing is supposed to be and just letting it be, a good way of just imagining where the story could go. It sometimes takes them a minute to warm up to it, to embrace the freedom inherent in the idea that everything doesn’t have to make sense. At least not the first time around; that’s what revisions are for.

To answer the question headlining this piece, no they don’t lack the ability to imagine, though it sometimes needs to be nudged awake, even as we put to sleep this idea that writing is this daunting, insurmountable, dead, and deadly boring thing.

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Library building project, new librarian and more


New newsletter from the Friends of Antigua Public Library. Click  Vol5No3

Have a read.


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New contest opportunity – “Stories Handed Down”

Stories Handed Down is the theme of the Friends of Antigua Public Library’s annual story contest.

In a nutshell, it’s a short story and visual arts competition open to Antiguan students enrolled in forms 1 thru 5. To participate you must have a valid library card and will need to upload the stories before October 22nd.

In many ways, it’s an oral history project as much as it’s a short story/visual arts project as it requires participants to interview an elder. Samples of last year’s winning entries can be found among the other writings on the FOAPL’s Collecting Memories site.

For more on the competition itself visit them online

See samples of standout art entries from 2009 below:

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