Tag Archives: Review

Growing up Barefoot in Montserrat: a Review

With apologies to the author who gave me this book for review a lifetime ago, especially since, as a writer I know waiting for the review can be a slow kind of torture.

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

David R. Bradshaw’s Growing up Barefoot Under Montserrat’s Sleeping Volcano: Memories from a Colonial Childhood in a British Caribbean Island 1952 – 1961 has an entirely too long title. It is a sign of things to come though in a self-published book in which not even minor details are swept into the corner. Perhaps because Bradshaw is not just telling a story, he’s investigating a mystery and laying out the sometimes sparse evidence before the reader. Think ‘Who do you think you are?’ (TV show).

It is, in a superficial sense, also in the spirit of narratives like To Shoot Hard Labour and Journeycakes (both by Antiguan authors) except it doesn’t quite, as they do, elevate the personal to broader social import. There are common touch stones; for instance, the role of the extended family, in particular Bradshaw’s Grandma Joanna, in childrearing, often in the absence of parents who have either died or migrated. That story (and the grandmother/tanty at the heart of it) is a familiar chapter in the story of the Caribbean in the 20th century, a feature of my own fictional work The Boy from Willow Bend.  And Bradshaw in an interesting and insightful note, speculates that at some point, she who has carried many – maybe too many –children on her broad shoulders “may not have had any reserves left” for the kind of affection a child needs; that child being him (and all the children of that generation), of course.

So there are broader insights to be gleaned if you’re looking for it. But telling the social history of Montserrat is, on the surface of it, incidental to Bradshaw’s purpose. He’s looking for himself. The book – though readable and at points quite vivid and poignant – in the end feels less a public product; more a private journal-slash-scrap book of memories and mysteries (with blurry, faded memorabilia such as ticket stubs and passport pages to complement).

But inasmuch as it provides some insight to the process of pulling the scattered pieces of a life together – part memory, part deduction, interviews, following the paper trail, invention at times;

Some snapshots of life in the Caribbean-then from the hen pecked black dog in the backyard to the pits of the school yard to the complications (if not the personal cost) of travel and migration;

And periodic access to moments of genuine drama and emotion – the uncomfortable chapter on the abuse he suffered at the hands of an old white neighbor, and the image of this man, the author, struggling with this confession, comes to mind …

It does rise above the self-indulgent “everybody has a story in them” mantra that opens the book.

I use the word self-indulgent with reservation because while it could be argued that everyone has a story in them but not everyone will be interested in that story, in the Caribbean, among afro-Caribbean people, who have seen so little of themselves in literary canon, there is precedent and meaning behind the desire to tell their story too. In the spirit of the slave narratives that gave voice to the voiceless, these latter day memoirs are about underscoring their humanity. There is value in that as well, and invaluable social history is being captured in these personal stories as much as their cousins, reflections on village life like Joy Lawrence’s Bethesda and Christian Hill. And the compulsion to re-capture that time, re-capture that self, doesn’t change simply because you’ve gone on to become a lawyer in London as Bradshaw has; in fact, that distance from home probably makes it even more urgent, the questioning like a nagging ache who am I? who am I?

“Out I popped, head first I presume, on the eighteenth day of September 1952.”

So it begins, a reflective and humorous undertone, a balance of detail and speculation, a jump-right-into-it there-ness.

“My birth certificate states that I, David Reinford Bradshaw, was born at Ryner’s Village on the island, to my father James Alfred Bradshaw, ‘labourer’ of the said village, and my mother Margaret Ann.”

The author questions:  “Why did my mother leave me to be brought up by a non-parent during my late infancy/early boyhood?” And then he goes digging, lining up the evidence as he finds it, then interprets that evidence. That pattern is repeated throughout, and the investigation detailed – whom he approached about what and why, what information they were able to supply, what he was able to make of it, and so on. It’s interesting, the connections this allows him to make, but gets a bit tedious at times (and at times leaves the reader reeling; the mathematics involved in figuring Joanna’s actual age for instance). As noted earlier, though, it can read as a handbook for this kind of personal research and an at times touching tale of a man’s discovery of his personal history – a history with which Montserratians and Eastern Caribbeaners of a certain time can surely identify.

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.


Filed under Caribbean Plus Lit News


“We tend to accord the full measure of our respect to singers, authors or intellectuals only when they have been properly certified elsewhere. Predictably, this neglect encourages a widespread exodus of creative talent and leaves little behind to inspire or nurture the next generation of artists and writers.” This was just one of the interesting points made by a staffer at Guyana’s Stabroek News, reporting on the recently wrapped Bocas Literary Festival in T & T. Go here to read more.

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*This is the table of contents for the forthcoming fourth edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books edited by Dr. Paget Henry. The launch is set for the night of August 5th at the University Centre. See article here, and table of contents below.

Editor’s Introduction

A Tribute to Charles Ephraim by Natasha Lightfoot

Review Essay: Charles Wm. Ephraim’s, The Pathology of Eurocentrism by Lewis R. Gordon

Beyond the Man of Ressentiment: Charles Ephraim and the Reconstruction of Africana Philosophy by Corey D.B. Walker

Charles Ephraim, Black Redemption and Existential Philosophy: A Review Essay by Paget Henry

Birthing My African Poems by Edith Oladele

Feeling the Ghetto Vibes by Joanne Hillhouse

The Reviews

Joanne Hillhouse, The Boy From Willow Bend

by Natasha Lightfoot

Emily Spencer Knight, Growing up in All Saints Village, Antigua
by Bernadette Farquhar

Antigua History as seen From the Villages

by Susan Lowes

Book Discussion

Paget Henry & Anthony Bogues in Conversation: Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda

Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda

by Adlai Murdoch

Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda

by George K. Danns

Paget Henry, Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda & Lionel Hurst, Luther George

by Patrick Albert Lewis

Paget Henry’s Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda: The life of V.C. Bird: A Review Essay

by Tennyson S.D. Joseph

Papa Bird in Perspective

by Paul Buhle

V.C. Bird, Politics and Philosophy: A Reply to Critics

by Paget Henry


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Spotlight – Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival

I’ve been meaning to post on the Lit Fest for a while. It’s had its bumps  but after last year’s cancellation it has to be counted as a plus that it’s back. But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Read a full report here written by me off of interviews with the organizers. For my part, I thought the numbers were down, and the cancellation of the star attraction didn’t help matters. But I still think the lit fest has potential both from a tourism standpoint and from the general perspective of developing the literary arts through workshop activity, interaction with authors at various levels of the game, and fun activities for kids. Mistakes have been made, no doubt. And I certainly I don’t have the answers really for the things that aren’t working though it seems pretty clear that it needs more ideas and more hands on deck, more communication, more publicity, more support generally. The organizers seem to be doing some soul searching on all this and have extended an invite for input (as noted in the article linked above). I hope people will take them up on this as this won’t thrive without a real public buy-in. Here are some reminders of why the lit fest matters.

Celebrating Talent

Celebrating literary excellence: Here we see Althea Prince collecting the ABILF lit award. None was given out this year but I for one hope it returns.

Dame Gwendolyn Tonge (center) received a special award for her contributions to Antiguan society from the Hon. Hillson Baptiste, Member of Parliament, as Festival Founder Joy Bramble observes, during the Saturday noontime session of the 2007 Antigua & Barbuda Literary Festival.


Met Eric Jerome Dickey at the festival and he's proven to be a gracious, gracious man in person to me and other Antiguan writers



Bringing writers, local and international, starting out and advanced together: pictured here in 2006 are Althea Prince, Elizabeth Nunez, Verna Wilkins, Nalo Hopkinson, Marie Elena John, and me. Wilkins and Nunez have returned each year of the festival.


Elizabeth Nunez and Verna Wilkins, year 1.


on this panel Elizabeth Nunez, Verna Wilkins, Althea Prince, Nalo Hopkinson, and Marie Elena John


Panels like this 2007 one with Donna Hill, Verna Wilkins, Dawne Allette, and Victoria Christopher Murray provide insight to the writing process and the publishing industry.

Author Elizabeth Nunez makes a particular point about writing as novelist Eric Jerome Dickey looks on during a session at the 2007 Antigua & Barbuda Literary Festival.

Learning Opportunities

Ava Hutchinson conducts a session on raising creativity at the 2007 Antigua & Barbuda Literary Festival, held at the Anchorage Inn.

The Word

Marita Golden reading 2006

One of my favourite activities at the 2010 ABILF was the poetry night; listening to readings by Lorna Goodison, Esther Phillips, John Agard, Grace Nichols, Zee’s Youth Theatre and the Young Poets Society of Antigua and Barbuda. Also their after words about crafting and commitment to shaping the work into the best it can be spoke to the writer-still-becoming in me. I was busy with the Children’s Tent on Saturday so I didn’t get a chance to hear them under the big tent (below) but I didn’t feel cheated.

Esther Phillips, editor of BIM


Grace Nichols; Guyanese poet and winner of the Commonwealth poetry prize


John Agard

Generation Next 


The children's tent was sponsored by Western Union



Me, reading to the kids from Ashley Bryan's Dancing Granny


Marita Golden signs autographs for a group of young Antiguans. I remember her reading and workshops were personal highlights for me at the 2006 festival.

Motion 2008 at the Children's tent


...and Jason Cole and his bag of tricks


...and Verna and her Tamarind Books


Moments like this

A reading by Jamaica Kincaid, in Antigua, as rare as...as...rain in drought season

Antigua's youngest writer at the time, Akilah Jardine, signing copies alongside it's best known writer, Jamaica Kincaid.

one of the highlghts in all the years of the festival for me was reading at the Antiguan Authors Luncheon...when I was a little kid I didn't even know we had Antiguan authors!

...but, boy, are there; pictured at the first fest in 2006 are (standing) S. E. James, Marie Elena John, Rosalyn Simon, and me; and (sitting, from left) Althea Prince, Akilah Jardine, and Jamaica Kincaid.


2007 - kids from the Cushion Club meet Eric Jerome Dickey


face painting!


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Craving some Antiguan and Barbudan literature?

The Antigua and Barbuda Review Book is only three years old. It is as good an analysis of Antiguan and Barbudan literature as exists anywhere. Do you have your copy of the 2010 edition?  For more on the edition, launched in August, check http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=135312225&blogId=538092827

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