I wanted to post on my visit to the Miami Book Fair (held at the Miami Dade College).
Highlights included the writers I got to connect with, however, briefly. Writers like Katia D. Ulysse (author of Mouths Don’t Speak and other books), whom I first met when we were both on a late night food run and subsequently kept bumping into each other, which is not a given at a festival as large and populated as this one. Writers like Vermont based cartoonist Rachel Lindsay with whom I had one of those discussions that can only ever really happen over breakfast in one of these spaces where writers gather and intimacy is accelerated. Writers like M. J. Fievre, who, as Caribbean Reads programmer and a real one, was partly responsible for me being there; she is a Haitian-American writer with whom I’ve interacted so much over social media and via email, in addition to interacting with her work (one of which I used in one of my workshops), that I kinda felt like I sorta maybe knew her, only I didn’t, not really. Writers like other writers who easily fit in to that category of writers I felt like I knew already only I didn’t, not really, like this man right here JAmerican writer Geoffrey Philp; I’ll remember Geoffrey always as one of the authors/bloggers who showed me grace when he didn’t know me from Eve and didn’t have to. Writers like Loretta Collins Klobah of the US and Puerto Rico whose poetry I’ve shared so much here on the blog and who has shared my work with her students – we were both looking forward to meeting each other and we did though it was all a bit of a whirlwind. Writers like her co-panelist USVI writer Tiphanie Yanique, whom I’ve gotten to know at other events where our paths have crossed and through our works over the years . Writers like, and this is a big one for me, if you know my fangirling ways when it comes to this writer, Edwidge Dandicat who, yes, I finally also got to meet and considering how much her writing means to me, which I told her, hopefully without embarrassing myself too much. She was on the panel with Tiphanie and Loretta, a panel about women writing hurricanes, such an essential discussion for these perilous times in which the vulnerability of each one of our island-nations has been exposed. Loretta’s reflections about how the Puerto Rico hurricane affected not just her life but challenged her to find spaces to continue her work was particularly poignant, and Tiphanie’s revelations re writer-editor Alscess Lewis-Brown ‘s hurriku (you know, like haiku) and other creative pathways to help people give voice to their trauma was particularly inspiring. Not writers but part of the scene, publisher Johnny Temple of Akashic, who co-facilitated an editing workshop I participated in a few years ago, and US literary publicist, Linda Duggins, whom I ran in to for the first time since meeting her right here at the literary festival in Antigua – because, yes, once upon a time we had a literary festival in Antigua and Barbuda that attracted top tier people in the business. Writers like, Donna Aza Weir-Soley, a US based Jamaican talent, our first time connecting in real time since my first writing workshop, also in Florida, back in the 1990s. Writers like Bernice McFadden, an acclaimed and award winning African American writer I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since we jointly facilitated a workshop at the BIM Lit Fest in 2016 and whose books I’ve read and blogged (seeing her was oddly like seeing an old friend – something to do with seeing a friendly face in a crowd to be sure but also something to do with her spirit).
I also hung out at the Read Jamaica tent where my publisher Carol Mitchell (Caribbean Reads Publishing) shared space with two of Jamaica’s hardworking independent publishers Tanya Batson-Savage (Blue Banyan Books) and Kellie Magnus (Jackmandora).
My event was Read Caribbean presents Adventures for Kids and I was delighted to share the stage and do a signing afterwards with co-presenters Marjaun Canady, who was a tough act to follow, Paula-Anne Porter Jones, whom I remember actually, as I reminded her, from my UWI years, and Francie Latour. That’s Francie reading in the image below.
My only complaint really about my visit to the Miami Book Fair is there was so much to do, who could do it all…all I could do in the end was be in the moment (after all the prep and over-prep this is the most important thing – as I said to another writer who asked me for advice as it was her first experience of this type – be present and remind yourself that you have a right to be there i.e. your work got you there – I have to say I took my own advice this time and had a lot more fun than I normally do with all the stress of public speaking, as a result). My reading aside, my goal was to enjoy as much of it as I could, from the live reggae on The Porch to the many tempting book stalls of books and books and books and books, getting some much needed exercise with all the running about in the process, and somehow managing to split my time at one point between two panels I was eager to attend, and wandering into another panel that wasn’t even on my radar (fantasy young adult adventure fiction) but which I was reluctant to leave when the time came, because whatever you fancy from comics to serious politics to mysticism to fiction of all stripes, it was all covered. And though my trip was short, there was just time enough for music, nibbles, good conversation, and book themed drinks on one of the many Miami waterfronts.
(The Spanish language edition of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure made its debut at the MBF. If you’re in the Miami area, signed copies of both editions are available at Books & Books)
Apart from being a part of my journeying as a writer, whenever I find myself in spaces like this, I am mindful not just of being a writer, but a writer from Antigua, a #gyalfromOttosAntigua, stepping in to spaces where we are otherwise absent (or at best our numbers are small) and adding our voice/s to the conversation.
In such times, I am at least as nervous about the interactions/the socializing as I am the actual presentation – life of an introverted (oftentimes read as aloof), awkward, Caribbean girl-cum-woman –but I challenge myself every time to step up because I will not stand in my own way. You never know how it will go. Writers and writing spaces can (like any other space where people congregate) be as cliquey as a high school cafeteria in a John Hughes film, there are associations and hierarchies, even at times when the space should feel familiar because you all bathed in the Caribbean Sea. One of the ways I calmed my fears was to remind myself not of the negative encounters (and there’ve been a few) but of the ones of generous laughter and communication and real bonding. I have to say the Miami Book Fair fell in to the latter category, not nearly enough time for real bonding but little in the way of posturing and offputtingness, and lots of joy in connecting for the first time or again with writers and others I’ve met along the way; in part, I have no doubt because I chose to stay open and in the moment, and quiet the negative self-talk. Let it be as the Beatles one time sang, and it was.
And so with thanks to everyone who made it possible for me to be there including my friends and family, and publisher and all the readers
(publisher Carol Mitchell with a reader)
and all the little ones who through the years gave this shy author lots of practice reading to little ones to prepare her for moments like this, and the MBF and anyone who’s ever shown me a little bit of grace.
The travels will hopefully continue (for a window to some past stops, see Appearances on my author blog).
As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). All Rights Reserved. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. You’re also invited to follow me on my author blog http://jhohadli.wordpress.com Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.