The Reading Room and Gallery is a space where I share things I come across that I think you might like too – some are things of beauty, some just bowl me over with their brilliance, some are things I think we could all learn from, some are artistes I want to support by spreading the word, and some just because. Let’s continue to support the arts and the artistes by rippling the water together. For earlier iterations of the Reading Room and Gallery, use the search feature to the right. This is the 22nd one which means there are 21 earlier ones (can’t link them all). Remember to keep checking back, this list will grow as I make new finds until it outgrows this page and I move on to the next one.
‘Goodison, who is married to the author and academic J. Edward Chamberlin, divides her time between Toronto, British Columbia, and Ann Arbor, where she teaches Caribbean literature at the University of Michigan. Though she no longer lives in Jamaica, the country, she insists, will always be the focus of her writing. “Part of it has to do with the sort of ways in which I feel a lot of people don’t know Jamaica,” she says. “They only have one image of Jamaica, from the news, or from meeting some Jamaican person who’s a creep or something, and they think all Jamaicans are like that.” She describes the Jamaica of her childhood as “a very complicated, complex, rich place” but concedes things have gotten worse. Does she feel a responsibility to correct the misconceptions? “I don’t know that I can do that, but I can just tell you — I can be a witness. I can say, ‘In my life I saw this, and I knew this about Jamaica. If it doesn’t exist now, believe me, it used to exist, and hopefully it can exist again.’ ”’ – from She comes through: Lorna Goodison is one of the best writers you’ve never read by Mark Medley
“I had this image of throwing yourself out into the water, only to have it spit you back out, over and over again. I didn’t need to ask why he’d kept trying, what he was looking for, because the answer was apparent. If there is nothing where you are coming from, then you are looking for something, for anything. No matter what you find, it will be better than what you had before, it will fill your empty hands. It was like casting a net out, if you were the net, your life unfurling out into an unknown adventure, falling over danger, looking for something to pull back in. I couldn’t imagine the kind of leaving that entailed—where your family faded into a previous life—what home could mean then, if every ship-taking was a search for somewhere else to belong.” – The Texture of Joy: A Stowaway Story by Akwaeke Emezi
CREATIVES ON THE BUSINESS
“While my own experience as an editor informs my approach to my writing, as a writer I’m still learning about working with other editors. Having your personal essay red-inked by someone at The New York Times is a different experience than having your roundup of local Irish pubs tidied up by your regional paper. And working with a professional on a novel you’ve labored over for years is another thing entirely.” – Jessica Strawser on 4 Truths that will Change Your Perspective on the Writer/Editor Relationship
“Mastering other things taught me that one becomes something not by wishing to be, but by learning to be. Mastery is the result of hard work. And ardor. And the slow accretion of knowledge that comes from study and from practice.”- Mary Jo Bang
“After each morning run, we would come home and raid the mango tree.” – go here to view Danielle Boodoo Fortune’s Mango Morning
Eric Fischl’s A Visit To/A Visit From/The Island uses two adjoining large canvases to contrast vastly disparate groups of people seemingly in the same setting. On the left he depicts what appears to be a white upper-middle-class American family of four vacationing at a sunny, holiday resort. The second panel portrays a frantic scene in which a group of black men and women, who appear to be refugees, try to pull themselves from a bluish black churning sea. Rendered in much darker, ominous hues than those of its counterpart, the frenzied image was based on a photograph of Haitian refugees arriving on the Florida coast. While the two canvases depict jarringly different scenes, the similarities between the images also emphasize their polarity. For instance, both depict foreshortened naked bodies lying diagonally in the foreground, highlighting the stark shifts in color and context between the panels. The relaxed laziness of the tourists pitted against the desperation of the Haitians emphasizes the inequalities between the two groups and the irony in the choices that racial difference and privilege allow—the whites are paying to visit an island that the residents risk their lives to leave.
Artist: Eric Fischl
Image: “A Visit To / A Visit From / The Island,” (1983)
Source: The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York website
“Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.” – Stephen King and his big desk
“Normally I enjoy the writing process, but in this case it was making me miserable. I would spend most of the day procrastinating before sitting down and forcing myself to hit my word count (1000), and even then I would find myself adding adjectives to beef it up. More than once my mother commented on how I’d clearly lost my love for writing, which she found alarming. But I didn’t listen to her because I thought I could get through it and turn my uninteresting story into something worthy of publishing. I was wrong.” – Maria Murnane on When to pull the plug on your book
‘We need to be humble and dedicate ourselves to a lifelong study of the craft of writing. What I think he meant by “contempt” is trying to take shortcuts. Becoming a writer must involve reading widely, learning techniques from others and committing to a daily practice of developing the craft. If you don’t do this, if you just write something and publish it, then write more and publish that, then you’re showing contempt for writing.’ – Andrew Blackman reporting on a workshop he attended at the BIM lit fest
“Currently completing the fourth draft, stalling somewhat as I approach the last eight passages that I believe need to be added in; experience has taught me that determining the end of a draft is rather like running towards the end of the rainbow.” – Louise Mabey blogging What an Unfinished Novel Looks Like
“You have to learn how to interpret and not just imitate” – Jake Gyllenhall, breaking down his process
“Don’t tell anyone the story until you’ve written it. At least this is advice I wish I’d heard and listened to, early on. I’ve found that if I tell my friends about any story or book I’m working on, I begin to lose enthusiasm for it – not because of their reaction or anything they’ve said but because, having said it, it’s like I feel less need to actually write it. That’s difficult to explain but perhaps other writers will understand.” – Eugenia O’Neal blogs ‘My Top Writing Tips’
“A slight girl with fawn’s eyes offers a plastic cup of water-angels to my mother. A fallen bamboo ceiling swallows the moon whole. There is so much wonder, awe and terror in every gesture, every movement. The moon washes the dust from her face, becomes her true self in the forest. Then it solidifies, comes together…” – Danielle Boodoo Fortune blogging on her Moon Water series of paintings
“Here I was trying to get my daughter to stick to a specific formula for writing, and she was forging her own path. What worked best for her was writing by the seat of her pants, starting on the computer and editing as she wrote. The funny thing is, it is the same method I use.” – from One Size Fits All by Jewel Amethyst
“On my way home from work tomorrow, I will bring myself to stop at Kinko’s and print out all one-hundred and seventy pages of my crappy first draft. I will hole-bunch the pages, stick it into a three-hole binder and get up Saturday morning, procrastinate a lot, curse out my editor, and then bring myself one step closer to the sweet pain of publication.” – Kara Stevens on what you need to know if you’re serious about becoming an author
“Brown men crowd an island hilltop,
voice French-Creole and Spanish,
not the English patois of generations
assembled there before them.” – The Nation Builders by Althea-Romeo Mark, read it on her blog at Aroma Productions or view her reading of it (above) at the Medellin Poetry Festival in Colombia. Romeo-Mark was born in Antigua, grew up in the USVI, and has lived in the US, Africa, the UK, and now Europe.
The street light began
Coming on and off,
Plunging me into bouts of
Darkness and light.
Buzz, crackle, darkness,
Buzz, crackle, light.” – From Kimolisa Mings’ Dark Warrior
“One thing that I went in to Yale with was to make to sure I left exactly how I came in, because that’s who they accepted. Take what you need, get what you need for your tool belt, but don’t lose the essence of who you are. I think I did it.” – Atlanta’s Bryan Tyree Henry (aka Paper Boi)
“The revolution for all Black lives starts in the mind and manifests in the physical, so I hope this book that contains so much true history mixed in with fiction can help people understand that nobody gets free unless we’re all free.” – Brooke Obie
“Sometimes I’d stare in the mid-darkness at how white he was. If I pressed his skin, he’d bruise deep fuchsia and you’d be able to see it even in the dark. I was very dark compared to him. He was so white it was freaky, sometimes. Othertimes it was kind of cool and beautiful, how his skin would glow against mine, how our bodies together looked like art.” – from Gideon by ZZ Packer
This page is for sharing links to things of interest around the internet. It’ll be sporadically updated; so, come back from time to time. For the previous reading rooms (I, II, III, Iv, v, vI, vII, vIII, Ix, x, xI, xII, xIII, xIv, xv,xvI,xvII), click the links or use the search feature to the right, to the right.
“#3 Not following guidelines.
Double check all guidelines before submitting to a magazine. Is there a word count requirement? Should your name be removed from the piece? Should your document be in Word, pdf, or rich text format? If it’s an email submission, do they want the document attached, or pasted into the body of the email? Do they accept simultaneous submissions? Don’t risk getting your piece being tossed out because you didn’t follow the rules.” – (here at Wadadli Pen I know this one well) – read the rest of the list of mistakes writers make when submitting.
CREATIVES ON CREATING
“My advice for young writers is to keep reading widely and for pleasure. And don’t get discouraged! So much of it is just mule-like persistence. That’s what I feel I learned this time around. There were many times when Swamplandia! failed and I had to pick it up and try and write it again. There were stories in my collection that were just duds, they’ve been voted off the island, and it was only because I had this material commitment to getting them out the door that I was willing to keep working at them. I really do think that’s the best advice—to keep at it.” – Karen Russell
“An interesting insight into the process came when the pair considered how they had arrived at rather different descriptions for the location of the windmill-giants – Jull Costa has them ‘on that same plain’, whereas Bush situates them ‘in the nearby field’. It transpired that, rather than seeking a literal translation of the Spanish ‘en aquel campo’, each had pictured what they read the original to mean and then found a way to render the image in English.” – Ann Morgan on dueling translations of Don Quixote
“Not only do I not see movies as I write, I can’t visualise, well, anything. At all. I don’t even dream in pictures. I have absolutely no concept of what it would be like to see things that no one else can see.” – Jo Eberhardt
“It happens too often that beginning fiction writers fail to give their characters jobs or occupations. Weak stories by beginning writers often feature adults who are wealthy without any discernible means of income or who perform the indiscernibly ambiguous task of “work.” Characters are described as working each day, but the reader is never told what they do or how their daily jobs affect them or their interactions with others. Characters do not earn money; they simply have it. There are no bills, no expenses, and, of course, no financial struggles.” – Amina Gautier
“You start from building this world with their rules, and then you just follow logic in order to come up with the rest of the details. So once you have this simple fact that you’re treating couples in a certain way and single people in another way—and there’s a bit of a concept that this is almost like a prison drama or something, at least in the first half of the film—then you pick up on those things and you borrow things from other kinds of situations … We tried to get into the heads of people that would be in charge and what they would come up with.” – Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos on the making of his film The Lobster
“I use traditional women’s techniques, such as sewing, beading and applique. I incorporate found objects in my work; they are clues towards understanding my story and that of women in general.” – Heather Doram
“So much of what the filmmakers did in creating and then editing their work is what we writers strive for when polishing a manuscript: pinpoint the heart of the story and stay true to it, cut what can be lost, and always direct conflict and pacing.” – Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton w/ Elena Greene discuss The Lord of the Rings’ adaptation from book to film and what writers can learn from the choices the filmmakers made. It’s a five part series that begins, here.
A long form interview on the arts is a rare thing, especially in a Caribbean print publication, so kudos to Jamaica’s Observer for this series of poetry month features, this one spotlighting American Tim Tomlinson, co-founder of the New York Writers’ Workshop, in conversation with Jamaican-American poet and artist Jacqueline Bishop. Tomlinson’s book Yolanda, an Oral History in Verse, is focused on the Phillipines but his connection to the Caribbean – his time spent visiting and diving in various islands and countries but most especially the Bahamas is explored as well. Essentially, this interview is about both his journeying as a person and how that has informed his writing, how he creates, generally, and specifically in the case of Yolanda. W/thanks to Jacqueline Bishop for sharing, here have a slow as you sipping your iced tea kind of read:
“That was one of those magic moments. That came out pretty much whole cloth. Every now and then you ride the tiger. Most days the tiger rides me, but every now and then I ride the tiger. That’s my favorite chapter in the book. The opening chapter of The Given Day is another example. It’s my favorite chapter in The Given Day. It was written in two nights. It was rewritten extensively for prose, but it just came out.” – Dennis Lehane
“Nature is completely indifferent to the human endeavours whether they are good, evil, otherwise, whatever.” – Lori Landey and Beth Harris discussing Joseph Mallard William Turner’s Slave Ship
“How many times over the years
I have explained
Celie and her “prettier” sister Nettie
are practically identical.
They might be twins.
But Life has forced on Celie
all the hardships
Nettie mostly avoids…” – Is Celie actually Ugly? By Alice Walker
“Why, I asked my brother, did you like the film so much? So many messages. Look at the title. Everyone has problems underneath. Just because you are smart doesn’t mean u can work everything out yourself.” – Sejal Shah writing on Ordinary People
Kei Miller’s essay in this BBC piece resonates with me – it’s truthful and thoughtful and bold as so much of his writing is even when speaking of his tentativeness writing the issue of race -how our whiteness and blackness mediate our interactions. That said, I feel that same prickle of disagreement I feel stir in me whenever a black person, black writer (especially if they’re from colonized or formerly colonized places like I am) say, I didn’t know I was black until… because it’s not my truth (my blackness didn’t limit my sense of possibility but the reality is that, like class and other things, our blackness or shades of blackness was and remains a way of separating ourselves from ourselves) even in the predominantly black places I have lived (including Kei’s Jamaica). The Caribbean is not insulated from these issues, though they are not as starkly or sharply or consistently experienced in whiter places like the US and UK. Beyond my own experiences (some touched on in my February 2016 Essence article Mirror Mirror and issues of colourism/shade-ism explored in my book Musical Youth), this fairly recent memory comes to mind: being in a roomful of children of different shades of black, in a public child-friendly space, right here on our predominantly black island, only to have another adult, call out to one of the children, “black boy, black boy” with a tone and cadence that suggested “bad boy, bad boy” and to have him look up, in full acceptance of this (internalizing it). My aside aside, give the audio clip a listen; it’s a really engaging and touching reflection from one of the Caribbean’s best.
“A writer always benefits from being a kind of outsider. That is why I try not to belong to anything too much. [Alienation] makes you an insider-outsider . . . sharpens [your] sense of observation. You look at things with detached eyes. Even some words. Pondering these English words with your Creole eyes. . . . There always is a sort of dialogue going on [within] most artists anyway. They just soak things in that they ultimately try to reproduce some other way. I think having this dual lens has been very helpful.” – Edwidge Dandicat
“Shorter doesn’t mean faster or easier! Short story writing is a very different art from that of the novel, from pacing to character development. So for a novelist, it can actually take longer and be more of a stretch to try her hand at writing a short story. A rewarding challenge, certainly, but definitely a challenge.” – Lauren Willig
“I remember myself as a young child, my mother had books inside here, and one of them dealt with the Haitian Revolution. I was ever so proud of Toussaint L’Ouverture. I was just proud. I mean, there he was, sitting in the same book with Napoleon and all of these other great men. So, for me, the Haitian Revolution was very significant. I don’t know how it is in popular memory, because right now everybody’s sorry for the Haitians—and “sorry for” in the sense of, “We’re better off” or “They can wear our old clothes.” So I don’t know about it in the popular memory. But certainly historically, Haiti served to frighten late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century governments. Frightening them, and as a matter of fact, had them even more repressive towards their black enslaved workers because their fear of Haiti was so strong. So, I don’t know that it has popular resonances, but certainly for nineteenth-century politics, it did.” – Erna Brodber interview at SX Salon, a Small Axe Literary Platform
“What’s interesting to me is that of the women who have read this, every single one thinks that it is absolutely sexy and totally horny. Then I was like, ‘oh, so this is erotica’. And I was reminded again that erotica does not need to be explicit. And, of course, what is erotic and what we find sexy and will respond to viscerally in that way is entirely subjective.” – Leone Ross
“There’s a place for everything…” – says Barbados’ Shakirah Bourne in this NIFCA interview:
“To move past the ugly parts of history, you have to acknowledge them, on all sides, and this is what I think historical fiction can do so well: show how we got from there to here, but told through characters who see themselves not as history but as completely modern.” – Andrea Mullaney, author of The Ghost Marriage, 2012 Commonwealth Short Story winner for Canada and Europe
“The area where I spent my childhood years was surrounded my trees, and always seemed just on the edge of wilderness. That area has changed so much, but there is still that space in my imagination that’s the same…” – Danielle Boodoo Fortune, Woman of Colour interview
“What I’m trying to bring out is the power of words themselves, the power and musicality of words.” – Clifton Joseph
“In April of 1945, after facing only minimal resistance, Rhett was part of the Allied force that liberated a concentration camp named for the beech forests that surrounded it. The day was damp and overcast, with a heavy ground mist that sometimes hid the heaped bodies and sometimes revealed them. Living skeletons stood at the fences and outside the crematoriums, staring at the Americans. Some were horribly burned by white phosphorous.” – Cookie Jar by Stephen King
“In death, we live far more richly than we do in life. Our lives are pale shadows in which we are preoccupied with the business of living. It is in death that we take on nuance and colour. We seep through the floorboards of houses, spread out and nestle there. We whistle through windows, ruffle curtains and inhabit the minds and memories of others. We take on a resonance that only memory provides. We become deities. We become ancestors.” – from Ayanna Gillian Lloyd’s Walking in Lapeyrouse
“There was no rebuttal. She ended the call. From the decanter on side board, she poured herself a drink. The rum quelled the chill in her stomach — a chill reminiscent of rain-fly wings brushing against her skin. Where did they find him? They were hunting him for so long. Did he put up a fight? Errol had a point: There was really no need for her to kill him herself. But she wanted to.” – H. K. Williams’ Celeste in Moko
“They’ve taken you, in the rolling melody of their steps and song, to the river Aripo inside the forest, and when they sit and beckon you to come join them, their feet, you notice, are not as they’re supposed to be. It’s a peculiar thing to miss, really, backwards feet. You sense that your own feet have been treading air when they come into contact once again with the marshy forest floor. You look back into the bush where you think you came from, and you want to go home.”- Wenmimareba Klobah Collins
“My wife is happiest on Sunday afternoon, when I leave the house. We have been married five years – too soon for us to take pleasure in each other’s absence.” – from Radio Story by Anushka Jasraj – Commonwealth Short Story winner for Asia
“After years of working like a dog, clawing his way to fame and fortune—forfeiting family in the process—Desiree and the people of the island had broken down his mighty reserve and rewarded him with passion, friendship and the happiest times he’d ever experienced. He loved living in a place where everyone was aware of who he was, but not impressed or intimidated by what he had done. He admired the lack of social divides, that the Chief Minister played dominoes with ‘The People’, and that his best friend and “liming partner” was her cousin, and his Captain.” – Trudy Nixon’s Anguilla Boat Race, part of Akashic’s Mondays are Murder series
Mary Akers said about ‘Viewing Medusa’ after it had been posted at The Good Men Project: “For all you writers out there, this story’s publication is a testament to persistence. It won the Mary Mackey Short Story Prize, it was the story I submitted for my successful Bread Loaf waiter application, but for ten years, I tried unsuccessfully to get it published. I submitted it to 101 journals, 100 of whom rejected it before Matthew Salesses believed in it and brought it out into the world.” Here’s an excerpt from the story: “I found myself unable to look away as she slurped her soup, dipping the pieces of dasheen in the broth and sucking them dry after each dip. When the soursop was served, she peeled away the bumpy green skin and slurped the fruit into her mouth, rolling it around until the smooth brown seeds were free, spitting them onto her plate. Soursop juice ran down her wrists and dripped off her elbows to the floor. I thought of Miss Connie, later, on her hands and knees, wiping up the stickiness while shaking her head at the lack of manners displayed by scientists.” – the voice/point of view and descriptions work well together to create a clear picture of the part of Dominica in which the story (which feels less fiction and more here’s how it happened) is set – the beauty and ruggedness in the landscape and the character of the people as compared with the visiting (presumably white) scientists, to create as well a certain mood of foreboding, and to suck the reader in…even if it spits that reader out the other end with questions, or rather one lingering question: so wait, she nar go do nutten? – Read the whole of Viewing Medusa here.
“The fuel tank was empty. He’d collapsed from sunstroke and dehydration. He’d been raving incoherently. When he finally recovered he’d lost all memory of where he’d left his men. A Lysander was sent out to look for them but nothing was ever found. The unforgiving maw of the Sahara had simply swallowed them up.” – Bully Beef and Biscuits by Guy Carter – this was the 2015 winner of the Mogford Prize for Food & Drink Writing
“There’ve always been Sunday mornings like this,
when God became young again
and looking back you see
that childhood was a Sunday morning.” – Kendel Hippolyte (Sunday) – be sure to also check out the Dunstan St. Omer Red Madonna that accompanies the poem.
“I think I had a very different vision of myself when I was young, and definitely thought I’d have a family and be a loving parent by now. Instead I’ve birthed books” – Zetta Elliott
“Neglected authors fascinate me. While the particulars for their disregard may vary over time and from culture to culture, one thing remains constant: their perseverance despite official recognition. Such is the case of Eliot Bliss, a ‘white, Creole, and lesbian’ Jamaican novelist and poet whose collected poems have been resurrected by Michela A. Calderaro in Spring Evenings in Sterling Street.” Geoffrey Philp
“Getting to the place in yourself that is beyond influence is the radical edge.” – Brooke Warner
This page is for sharing links to things of interest around the internet. It’ll be sporadically updated; so, come back from time to time. For the previous reading rooms, use the search feature to the right, to the right.
“So, Damian spent his time climbing trees in our backyard, acting like those TV monkeys. He mimicked them: jumping on me like those babies did their mommies. It’s cute when they do it. But when he did it . . . well, things broke. My arm, leg, and, once, he yanked so hard on me I herniated a spinal disc.” – Read Mindy Halleck’s full story.
I’m putting this in the fiction category though Moko’s Firing the Canon includes visual arts and poetry as well, because I mostly talk about the fiction here (you can and should read the whole issue though).
“Although you the writer are indeed doing the writing, your narrator is the one telling the story. And that narrator is not you. Sure, your narrator could be a slightly more neurotic or jealous version of you, or someone very different from you, or somewhere in between, but he or she is not you. Yep, even when you’re using first person.” – Janelle Drumwright
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything. Or a broken billboard. Or weeds growing in the cracks of a library’s steps. Of course, none of this means a lot without characters the reader cares about (and sometimes characters—‘bad guys’—the reader is rooting against).” – Stephen King, read more at Writer’s Digest.
From Antigua to London to the US to the Bahamas…Linisa George’s Brown Girl in a Ring is indeed well-travelled. In this post, a Bahamian actress reflects on performing it in the country’s annual Shakespeare Festival. Check out what she had to say about the experience in this posting – You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do on her blog The Little Lady’s Diary.
“Never give up” plus *bonus* Supernatural gifs. Read more on self-publishing after publishing by Jennifer Armentrout here.
“Instead of sending the manuscript out to other potential markets, I waited…and waited…and waited for a response from Arabesque. I eventually got despondent and put the whole publishing idea on indefinite hold. (Pro tip: DO NOT DO THAT!)” – Liane Spicer at Novel Spaces
“Books have an extraordinary power to take you out of yourself and into someone else’s mindset, so that for a while at least you look at the world through different eyes.” – Ann Morgan talking about her journey Reading the World. (click on the image for the vid)For For my thoughts on the book that her journey birthed, check Blogger on Books ll
“And somewhere inside him, he wanted/ to be here for all of it: all the repeating shapes and pegs/ of that life-long game where the more things changed,/ was the more they stayed the same.” – Vladimir Lucein’s Overseer: Detention
This one started showing up in my social media timeline after the November 2015 Paris attacks. I decided to look it up and share it. It’s by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered where does it hurt?
‘A former lawyer, Baldacci still attacks his writing career as if preparing for a high-stakes defense. His typical day currently involves a few hours of work on his second Decker thriller, another few hours drafting Book 3 of Vega Jane, and another few hours on a screenplay. “During the course of the day I might work on three or four different projects, but only when I run out of gas on one do I move on to another,” Baldacci says. “I write until my tank is empty each day. I don’t count words or pages or whatever—that seems like an artificial goal for me.”’
‘“Because white men can’t/ police their imagination/ black men are dying.” What was in your mind when you wrote that line?
When white men are shooting black people, some of it is malice and some an out-of-control image of blackness in their minds. Darren Wilson told the jury that he shot Michael Brown because he looked “like a demon”. And I don’t disbelieve it. Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people.’
“When I struggle to think of ‘what’s next’ in a story, I draw a blank. But then I’ll be listening to NPR or shopping for groceries or having a random conversation with a stranger, and something sparks an idea. Meeting someone with an unusual occupation always makes me wonder, could one of my characters do that for a living?”
“At some point you have to accept writing bad on the way to getting good. That you can write one hundred pages and only use twenty. I’m at the stage where that is no problem for me. I’m a very sloppy writer and I don’t rewrite, I don’t reread, until I’m done. I write everything straight to the end.”
Pamela Taivassalo Wikholm travelled from Sweden to Antigua in 2015 and interviewed a handful of local artistes – Joanne C. Hillhouse (writer), Tian Winter (singer), Mark Brown (painter); see interview links for all three below.
“The writers from here that I knew and I have great respect for them were the calypso writers people like Shelly Tobitt and Marcus Christopher because when I was coming up calypso was the literature that I would hear that had some relevance to my community,, the other literature that we read was mostly from America or from Britain.”
“The characters come to me. They don’t always reveal their stories fully, so for me writing is a journey of discovery. Like I can’t always see where it’s going but I’m kind of wandering my way through it and trying to figure out what is it all about.” – Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse on Sweden’s Popreel TV.
“If you have a dream, don’t let anybody, no one, not your mother, not your brother, no one, kill that vibe, kill that dream out of you, don’t let them out that fire.” – Antiguan and Barbudan soca artist Tian Winter on Sweden’s Popreel radio.
“I walked from the undergraduate degree in Computer Systems Tech, but I carried the knowledge with me. Every class I had taken at the University of Memphis to complete those requirements; from English, to Physics, to Sociology, to Latin, to Electronics, to kicking it in karate class with Bill Wallace, it all went with me.”
“CaribbeanReads is a small publishing company dedicated to serving talented Caribbean authors. Our aim is to make publishing more accessible to potential Caribbean authors and to increase the number of high-quality books about and for the Caribbean.”
“I know there are some people who are just born with exceptional talent, but for the rest of us, I recommend workshops with reputable poets, constant revision of the work, an openness to criticism and an insatiable desire to read poetry.” (Tanya Shirley in S/X Salon interview)
“When someone dies their silence becomes a sort of held note, a key on the piano pressed down for so long it becomes an ache in the ear, a new sonic register from which we start to measure our new, ruptured lives. A white noise. Maybe this is why there is so much music in dying: the funerals, the singing, the hymns, the eulogies. All those sounds crowding the air with what the dead can’t say.” – Read all of Ocean Vuong’s The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation
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. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, 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.
This page is for sharing links to things of interest around the internet. It’ll be sporadically updated; so, come back from time to time. For the previous reading rooms, use the search feature to the right, to the right.
“‘I didn’t know blacks were Catholic!’ she stammered.” – Toi Derricotte
with Mary Robinette Kowal:
“It’s okay that you don’t understand it, she wasn’t speaking to you” – Read More. Trivia: I’m mentioned in this interview for my involvement in this project (i.e. the book she’s discussing Of Noble Family). Listen to the interview to find out how.
with Erna Brodber:
“Well, I write because I am too shy or too lazy to do something else—go around and preach, for instance. If I could do other things, I don’t suppose I would write.” Read more.
with Quincy Jones:
“You want to see kids getting into music instead of shooting each other.” Read more.
with Angela Davis and Toni Morrison:
“This is a bit of an aside, but it relates to what you just said about creating firm boundaries with people. Once, I saw you reading at Columbia University, and a woman stood up and said, ‘Toni Morrison, I would love to read you this poem I wrote,’ and you said, ‘No.'” – Read more.
with Isabel Allende:
“I don’t have a plan when I start writing. On January 8th, my starting date, I turn on the computer and open a vein. Books are written with blood, tears, laughter and kisses. Usually I have a vague idea of a time and a place where the story may happen and that’s pretty much it. In the daily exercise of writing the characters come out of the wallpaper; at first they are vague shadows but soon they become real people. My job is to be flexible, not to impose on them my own ideas, allow them to act and tell me their stories, like actors in a play. I never know when or how the book will end and often I can’t even describe it until I print it and read the whole manuscript on paper. Only then I know what the story is about.” Read more.
with author Edwidge Dandicat:
“I think mostly in English and in Creole. There’s a constant flow of translation going on in my head. I hear the characters in whatever language they’re speaking—mostly Creole and sometimes also French—and I’m like the scribe in the corner taking notes.” Read more.
with author Stephen King:
Lahey: Great writing often resides in the sweet spot between grammatical mastery and the careful bending of rules. How do you know when students are ready to start bending? When should a teacher put away his red pen and let those modifiers dangle?
King: I think you have to make sure they know what they’re doing with those danglers, those fragmentary and run-on sentences, those sudden digressions. If you can get a satisfactory answer to “Why did you write it this way?” they’re fine. And—come on, Teach—you know when it’s on purpose, don’t you? Fess up to your Uncle Stevie!
with Mud Season editor Rebecca Starks:
“What I’ve learned is that it’s no good rationalizing, as a writer: the poem, the story, the essay—they have to work. Readers feel the flat lines, they puzzle over plot or characters that feel under-motivated, they are really looking for something in some way transformative. Once you realize that real people are reading what you’ve written—taking it very seriously, debating it, wanting to root for it—you realize that what you send out has to be able to stand up to that. You don’t abandon the work—you go back and finish it.” Read more.
Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit is still haunting, still iconic. I used it recently in a workshop, looking at the symbolism, imagery and other literary devices employed by the writer of the song, Abel Meeropol.
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop.”
“At Barnard, then-Marlene Boyer had been a theater major. Jess had seen her perform in several college productions: The Wife of Bath from ‘The Canterbury Tales’, a brown Hester Prynne in a modernist version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’. But now Marlene had the stage to herself. And she wanted Jess there to witness it and to tell the world about it.” – Quality Control: a short story by Edwidge Dandicat
“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.” – so begins The Lottery by Shirley Jackson; read the full story here.
“Tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories that other people can tell. Because [as a] starting writer, you always start out with other people’s voices — you’ve been reading other people for years… But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell — because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.” – Neil Gaiman
“The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure. It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.” – Neil Gaiman
WRITERS ON PUBLISHING
“It’s a reality check for many authors just how much editorial work may be needed before their manuscript is publish-ready. And editorial work is largely undervalued. Most authors expect to pay good money for design. Less so for editorial work. Many authors think that because they’re a good writer, they’re a good editor. Not so. I’ve had writers tell me they don’t think they need an edit because they’ve taught writing. Believing you can be the editor of your own work is presumptuous at best. It’s important to remember that you don’t have distance from your own work when you’ve been toiling away at your project for months or years. Few people have the discernment required to execute a final draft of a manuscript that only needs a proofread.” – Brooke Warner
I like Kenyon’s Why We Chose It series in which they explain, well, why they chose a particular story for publication. It can be instructive to writers. And as I write this I’m reminded of what we try to do with Wadadli Pen, this labour-intensive system of having the judges provide edit notes, returning the short listed pieces to the writers with these notes so that they can consider ways of improving their submission before re-submitting for the final round of evaluation. I’m reminded that not every person submitting appreciates how rare that is; with most contest and/or journal submissions either you’re in or you’re out (rejected! rejected! rejected!) and they don’t have time to hold your hand. So it’s always a little baffling to me when the short listed writers don’t take up the opportunity to at least consider the edits. It’s not obligatory and failure to take up the edits won’t result in penalization but as a budding writer why wouldn’t you take the benefit of the wisdom of those with a bit more experience wrangling words? I remember in particular this poem from a few years ago that was a favourite of the judges but parts of it were messy; the writer though opted not to revisit it and another strong piece made stronger by the writer taking the opportunity to review the editors’/judges’ suggestions edged it out. At least in my mind that’s how it played out; maybe it wasn’t that close. But I do remember the piece being strong and I do remember the writer blowing off the idea of revisiting the piece (just seeming disinterested); and I do know that though the writer didn’t go home empty-handed, another writer’s name made it on to the Challenge plaque that year. Anyway, the Why We Chose It series reminds me of those kinds of opportunities, missed. The explanation in the post linked here made me not only think of Wadadli Pen but of my own submission experiences and of being on the other side of this when editing Tongues of the Ocean. In the latter role, there was a part of me that wanted to give every story submitted a shot and so for the more promising ones I tried to work with the writer, offering edit suggestions…some of which were considered, some of which were completely ignored (not ignored as in, yes, I’ve looked at it, I disagree with you and I think it works as is; but ignored as in editing what’s that, huh, I can’t be bothered). In the end, I’m happy with how the issue turned out but I think I gave myself more work than I needed to (I should’ve just let go of the ones that were non-responsive or the ones that needed too much work to be publishable). But I really wanted to SHOWCASE the NOW Antiguan and Barbudan literary arts scene. We are here-ah we yah became my mantra but sometimes it felt like I was the only one who gave two bleeps about that. The process gave me a better appreciation, even after my years managing Wadadli Pen, of how a story can come just that close and still not make it across the finish line. Kenyon Review is one of those publications I’ve submitted to but failed to get into. But I’ll keep tinkering and *knock on wood* someday get across that finish line. Until then, I keep paying serious attention to posts like David Lyn’s Why We Chose It – The Seige at Whale Cay by Megan Mayhew Bergman.
“Sooner or later, despite your best efforts, your book will go out of print. Either the publisher will notify you, or royalty statements will indicate that the book isn’t being sold any more. If you’ve protected yourself by including the contract clauses I suggested, you’re in good shape.
Not sure what your contracts say? Go to your files and check all contracts for your existing books. There’s a good chance your contracts contain these clauses. If you don’t have a clause reverting the rights of your out-of-print book to you, the going will be tougher, but not impossible.” – Robert W. Bly on What To Do When Your Book Goes Out of Print
“My two cents is this: Be aware of the sea change we are in right now. Don’t assume anything. Do your homework and ask questions. If you get a traditional deal with no advance, I’d advise you to look elsewhere, or at least negotiate for much higher royalties. Save for publicity, no matter what path you choose. And if you have a publisher—whether it’s traditional or hybrid, be the squeaky wheel, though not to the point of becoming so annoying you start to alienate the team that’s working for you. You’re competing for attention at every turn on this journey, so don’t be afraid to make yourself noticed. To ask questions. To think creatively—and big. Work with your team to think outside the box about creative publicity and platform opportunities. Copy what’s been done well. Try to have some fun while you’re at it. Don’t ever ever give up on your publishing dream.” – Brooke Warner
“Most important of all, I’m writing most days. I now understand viscerally (I took a while to really get this) that since the only variable I can control is the writing, I should make that my unrelenting focus. I get the occasional editing job, which I also enjoy. And from September, if all goes as planned, I’ll be teaching again–part time, of course. Writing must come first, whatever the hell is happening on the publishing front.” – More from Liane Spicer on her publishing journey.
“send it out there and risk the rejection” – Maeve Binchy
Arianna by Antigua-born filmmaker Shashi Balooja:
“(Peter) Minshall in his stunning and definitely spectacular King and Queen costumes employ(s) kinetic constructions, animated by the wearer and sometimes by modern technological devices such as the electric compressor in the King costume Man-Crab (1983). compressor pumped blood over a canopy of white silk. Minshall’s band, in this Morality Play, with Man-Crab as an allegory for the destructive power of modern life…and the Queen – Washerwoman who was the embodiment of purity and harmony. Washerwoman was killed, a surprising victory of Evil over Good. It is a stunning piece of visual collective art.” – Tim Hector in the Art of Carnival and the Carnival of Art, originally published in his Fan the Flame column, recently reproduced in The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 Fall 2015. Images taken (borrowed) respectively from the online photogallery of Noel Norton and a Caribbean Beat article on the man himself.
In this short film, a 13-year-old girl and her grandfather, hiding out in a wooded cabin after a plague, meet the challenge of their lives when her birthday trip to a trading post goes horribly awry. Starring Frankie Faison (The Silence of the Lambs, “The Wire,” “Banshee”) and introducing Saoirse Scott (“One Life to Live”). It’s directed by Luchina Fisher and is based on a short story written and adapted for the screen by Tananarive Due and Stephen Barnes – you may remember them from the first Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival in 2006.
“I am always far more impressed by writers who are able to craft complicated plots, for example, since this is an aspect of writing I find difficult.” – Writing Dialogue by Rowena MacDonald
“A few years ago, at a venue in Manhattan, I read the title story from my collection — when I only hoped it would be a collection. There was a nice little audience — other writers, friends, friends of other writers….my mother. It went well, there was lively response and positive feedback afterward. But most of all, the next day my mother sent me an email that said she was “proud” of me. My West Indian mother, a woman of a certain age. She’s encouraged me and supported me throughout my life, but she is not one to boast or to throw around words like “proud”. That’s a level of permission, no Permission, that is invaluable.” – Anton Nimblett, author of Sections of an Orange
“On writing, my advice is the same to all. If you want to be a writer, write.” – Anne Rice. Tips from my favourite author of vampire lore plus Madeleine L’Engle, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Joss Whedon, E. B. White, Doris Lessing, Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury, John Green and much more. Read them all here.
“The truth is, in real life I’d treated this man poorly. The couch had been my sister-in-law’s doing — she’d been moving a bunch of stuff out of the apartment we shared, and she had the movers drop the couch at the car-repair garage where this guy worked. (It was actually pleather, the first lie.) I didn’t even know she’d done it until he called to thank me. He said nobody had ever done anything like this for him, given him a couch. He said it was like coming home to a room full of rose petals.It got me thinking: What if I had given him that couch? What if I’d been a person turned generous by pain, rather than stingy? So I wrote a story — created a kind of fictional terrarium — in which that possible version of myself might thrive. I tell this story to suggest that writing doesn’t correspond to lived experience just by reflecting or deploying it. The relation can take other forms: inversion, distortion, opposition; not merely wish fulfillment but hypothetical catastrophe. Fiction offers a set of parallel destinies.” – Leslie Jamison on Is It Okay to Mine Real Relationships for Literary Material? in the New York Times
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, Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad!, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. 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. And using any creative work without crediting the creator will open you up to legal action. Respect copyright.
I didn’t think I had posted so many quotes but apparently I’ve posted enough to warrant creating a new Quotables page. Apparently I do collect more quotes than I realize. To see some of the earlier ones, go to the first Quotables.
“The ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.” – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
“I spent three days a week for ten years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves—you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of ten years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.” – Ray Bradbury
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde
“I think, too, that the novel is a quagmire that a lot of younger writers stumble in to before they’re ready to go there.” – Stephen King on the short story
“No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. She will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author in her closet.” — Lady Montagu, providing advice on raising her granddaughter, 1752
“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.” — Marilyn Jager Adams
“The beginning is generally the end; (it) sets up the promise of what will unfold later.” – Maaza Mengiste (on writing – at Callaloo)
“What I really want is that intimacy in which the reader is under the impression that he isn’t really reading this; that he is participating in it as he goes along.” – Toni Morrision, The Site of Memory, P. 121 of Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
— Emilie Buchwald
“The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” – Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” — Stephen King, from an interview in the London Independent (March 10, 1996)
“When I started writing Disposable People the story came out with such violence that I thought of it as therapy and catharsis rather than art. I knew from the outset that the novel was unorthodox; because of this, and the fact that it was self-published, I worried about whether it would be accepted by a mainstream audience. I am so encouraged by this recognition.” – Jamaican author Ezekel Alan after his book, Disposable People, won the Regional Prize – Caribbean in the Commonwealth Writers Prize annual competition.
“It’s exhausting for every artiste, to feel the world’s projection onto you of what you should be” – Lady Gaga
“I think it’s important to be open for surprise, to surprise yourself every stage of the way and it doesn’t have to happen at the beginning. It may happen when you’re working over material and something jumps out at you. Then you reorganize everything around that insight.” – Robert Hellenga, in Quiddity, 2008
All Writers are midwife of a kind, standing between those who have a capacity to persecute them and the people.” – J.O.J. Nwachukwu-Agbada, in Quiddity, 2008
“People have no problem telling writers exactly how they think the writers have screwed up. I don’t think people realize it’s something you’ve produced.” – Brock Clark, in Quiddity, 2008
I haven’t read Kevin Stein’s poetry but his 2008 interview published in the journal Quiddity makes me want to. Here’s some of what he said:
“Writing a poem is a wonderful thing to do. It’s like making a table or making a chair. And I love that aspect of ‘making.’ When I sit down to write, however, even if I had the wood in front of me, I wouldn’t know if I were going to end up building a table or a chair or an ottoman. But I start putting things together and if I’m lucky, the mind, the imagination, the muse, or whoever that is, helps me make something I didn’t know I was going to make in the beginning. To me that’s the most important element of a poem.
Part of what I like about writing and being a writer is being surprised by where I go. I like being surprised by how others influence me as well as how my own experiences influence and change me.
It was Wallace Stevens who said that poetry is what you turn to when God is dead. I don’t know that I agree with Wallace Stevens in that regard, but I do think that working with language and thinking about one’s life and one’s connection to others is a way of redeeming the self and others and one’s relationship with others.
Many of my poems have autobiographical elements I cook into some other weirder soup. And, like most poets, I’ll lie if I can make a better poem; I’ll lie because poetic truth supersedes factual truth. Imagination is the lie that tells the truth, as Picasso suggests.
To find a way to live one’s life fully is probably the best obligation of a poet.”
From about 2006 to 2010, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse) wrote a blog on My Space called ‘Read Anything Good Lately’. In 2010, when I left My Space, that migrated here, sort of; that is, I started adding favourites or books which I found interesting in some way to Wadadli Pen. I’m still moving some of those earlier reviews (and marking them with an asterisk*). That initial posting was called Blogger on Books and continued to late 2012. Which is where this begins. As before, I won’t necessarily write about every book I read, but if there’s something I feel like commenting on, here’s where I’ll do it. Feel free to join in in the comments section and keep checking back, this is a growing list. To see books featured previously just use the site’s search feature and search for ‘Blogger on Books’. Oh and for reviews by others of my books, go here.
Marlon James’ Book of Night Woman – I kind of hate this book and I also could never turn away from it…if that makes any sense. It is completely absorbing; completely an immersive experience, and because that space and time into which you’re being immersed is a slave plantation in the Caribbean in a time when white men had the power of gods over the lives of black people and wielded that power like the devil, it’s not an easy place to be. But the book also doesn’t allow you the easy, familiar, often simplistic narratives and responses – even as a black person who KNOWS that they were wrong and we were done wrong. As such, and because of the visceral nature of the writing, it feels like an emotional pummeling with next to no relief. Violence is treated casually, just a normal part of life on the plantation, which it was, hard though it is to read – to have, for instance, a vibrant character like Dulcima introduced only to be thrown away in a matter of pages with such deliberateness as if to punish us, the reader, for being foolish enough to care for her, for forgetting where we are. Main character Lilith’s reactions in such times mirror our own or vice versa; she is getting a schooling in the ways of her world as surely as we are. It is also true of the book though that tragedy with no ease up is not the sum total of the slave experience – not when the enslaved African (not the beast his enslaver tells him/herself they are though they will f*ck that animal and have the temerity to act disappointed and hurt when the abused ‘animal’ bites) has the capacity, as most humans do, to love and be loved, to form trust, to dream. Even the one who betrays the rebellion has a dream, after all, a narrative beyond just her role as traitor. Book of Night Women doesn’t let you stay in your comfort zone of feelings – anger toward whites, empathy toward blacks etc. For instance the first time Lilith has sex with the white man she falls into a ‘love affair’ with, the reader’s feelings are as confused as hers because there’s an eroticism to the writing of it that makes you feel guilty because your brain is telegraphing this is rape, this is rape…only it’s not written like rape…and Lilith is as perplexed as we are by her feelings, musing that the pain makes it easy to remember why you’re supposed to hate but the niceness is dangerous. Needless to say, for me anyway, the book is a roller coaster of emotions and an uneasy narrative …but one you appreciate certainly by book’s end. Yes, the ending is unexpectedly somewhat satisfying, notwithstanding that near the end of the book I had to pause to talk sense to myself, to remind myself not to expect a happy ending – and it’s not, happy – but it left a powerful impression if nothing else of the power of story, of being able to tell your own stories, to write your history as you lived it, not as it was told to you by an other. Long and short of it, Book of Night Women, highly recommend, even if historical fiction (or historical magical realism – as this has some elements of that) really isn’t your thing. Good story is good story and this is a good story.top
The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda by Mali Olatunji and Paget Henry – I finished this just a few days before Christmas and ended up drafting in a single night a long form review for submission to the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books. In part because I was trying to distract myself from the need to punch someone (long story); in part because the book inspired a lot of thoughts. The images are technically inventive and imaginative, critical and captivating, and sometimes confounding as they explore what Olatunji calls the jumbie aesthetic using his woodism technique, the layering of precise pieces of bark or other parts of trees over specific images to create a commentary on the images and suggest a jumbie perspective. Part coffee table book, part technical photography book, part philosophical read, it’s not entirely clear who the preferred audience for the book is but what’s clear is that this is a photographer with a perspective and the technical skills to indulge it, a human searching for meaning in the world around him, and a man trying to connect with his departed ancestors. It’s an interesting book and I can honestly say I haven’t come across one quite like it before.top
Juletane by Miriam Warner-Vieyra proved to be quite compelling (and melancholy) – though I admit it took a couple of attempts for me to get into it. Set in the French Caribbean, France, and a Muslim-based African country, this feminist protest novel tracks one woman’s descent into madness after an ill-fated polygamous marriage. The narrative is unambiguous about polygamy (and quite possibly marriage generally) being ill-fated, if you’re a woman. Everything in the book angles towards that; characters not so much inhabiting their world as playing their roles within a narrative with a point to make and a tragic endpoint to get to. Structured as a series of journal entries, the writing is strongest when the title character is at her least lucid, floating between dream and reality. Of course, by virtue of that it’s among the hardest sections of the book to read; delving as it does into a fractured consciousness.top
Whew! That’s my first thought on completing Bob Marley Lyrical Genius by Kwame Dawes, a book I picked up in 2007 at the Calabash festival because one, I’m a Bob fan and two, I’m the kind of music fan who enjoys reading liner notes for the history and insights on how the songs came together. This was more weighty, of course; it dug deep, it felt epic, and, frankly, it was slow going and took me forever…well since the second quarter of 2008 at least. Still, though not as reader friendly as anticipated, it was a worthwhile read and quite insightful in terms of breaking down the lyrics through a social, cultural, political, and personal lens. Also, it reinforces my view that Bob was one of the great songwriters of the rock era, as dismissive as some are of his skills and the weight of his message. Dawes comes to the work as someone who clearly loves the music, knows the culture, and has the chops to break it down musically, lyrically, and in terms of context. It was no doubt challenging, but also inspiring; reminding me of my own desire (some years in the making now) to chronicle Antigua’s calypso journey. One other thing though, more extensive quoting of the song lyrics would have helped, especially with little known or less familiar lyrics.top
Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis’ The Road to Wadi Halfa – I actually read this a few years ago, but I can’t find any evidence that I posted my thoughts here, so here…An intriguing read, perhaps the first political spy/international thriller novel by an Antiguan author with ripped from the world headlines immediacy. I felt the plot could have been considerably streamlined but, while it took a while to draw me in, all in all it ratcheted up the tension and invested me as the reader in the outcome. Once I got into it, I was in.top
The Caribbean Writer Volume 28 – It takes me a while to get through the Caribbean Writer (it’s thick, as journals go) but it’s always a worthwhile read for discovering new Caribbean voices and/or re-familiarizing myself with ones I’ve previously enjoyed. In Volume 28, the 2014 edition, favourites included Rebellious Roots by Shelly-ann Harris, At the Karaoke Bar, 21st Century Hotel by Ann Margaret Lim, Rivers by Khalil Nieves, Saint Ignatius by Guillermo Rebollo-Gil, Abeng in Beijing by Fabian Thomas, and The Lemon Cure by Joey Garcia in poems; the short story Soldier by Jacqueline Bishop; in non-fiction Roster and Genealogy of Emigrants from the British Antilles Settled in Chiloe by Pablo A. Perez; and in reviews Junot Diaz bring Yunior and his Views on Racism and Hyper-Masculinity to El Barrio by Lavern McDonald.top
Maeve Binchy’s Evening Class – in a book with adultery, petty crime, deception, rape, abuse, threats of murder, murder (well, manslaughter), a book that though primarily located in a small village in Ireland moves between world capitals, it’s reassuring to know all’s well that ends well – and it did, no spoilers – that’s just Maeve Binchy for you – lots and lots of characters, richly detailed, the subtle shifting of a society in transition but which still has not lost its soul, a world where dark things happen but the majority of people are essentially good …her books are as ever filing, satisfying, with hints of home…wherever home may be.top
Through the Window by Floree Williams – this didn’t charm me the way her first book Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses did. This is not to say that it lacked charm, the quirk of my lips at odd times in the reading testify to some of that lingering charm – and the prose is as clear and the characters as affecting (yes, affecting) as I’d come to expect. Here, Williams graduates from girlhood to the dramas and ‘dramas’ of young love with mixed results.There’s a breezy rhythm to the telling that makes the story feel buoyant in spite of the angst and drama – contrived or other wise. But it is a mite predictable (it is a romance and they tend to be). At the same time, it is a quick read that will entertain especially but not exclusively lovers of the genre. For those who are not fans of the genre…it’s hard to tell…there’s nothing in particular that sets these characters apart …but I think once you pick it up you’ll get in to it. There is a groundedness to the storytelling that made me care about the outcome – root for Anya to make the right call whatever that is in situations like this – and there was at least one instance where I was still carrying vexness for her when she had clearly already moved on – so Williams does make you care about her characters without being too heavy handed about it. There’s a bit of overwriting in the descriptions – noticeable because simplicity is her style. Plus, the editing and/or proofing could have been tighter (things will slip through the cracks, yes, but I’m inclined to mention it when it proves to be a distraction from the story itself and, if I’m being honest, at times it was). Overall though a light, quick, mostly fun. long lazy day read; and one any one who’s ever been young and in love…and a little bit paranoid…will likely be able to relate to.top
Mio’s Kingdom by the renowned Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren…so definitely not a book for my age group. But I found it appealed to my sense of fantasy and adventure – albeit relatively uncomplicated fantasy – and deals with fairly adult concepts such as the loneliness felt by an unloved orphan child, overcoming great – seemingly insurmountable odds, facing death, finding courage even when feeling great fear etc. but in a way relatable to a young child and in a way that resolves it while preserving their innocence. The language is a bit old timey and occasionally rhymey but I actually quite like the in-built poetry of it at times and can see it appealing as a bed time parent child read aloud over a series of nights, given the sometimes lulling effect of the language. And no “lulling” there is not a euphemism for boring, there’s plenty of adventure here to keep young minds entertained (there’s even a flying horse…or hundred). I can picture this book as a film, that’s the other thing, an adventure film with appeal to the same kids and grown-assed-kids (like me) who flock to films like Lord of the Rings. The evil here is pretty straightforward and the magic simple but there’s a certain beauty and appeal in that especially for younger readers. If you’re looking for reads with good lessons, you can’t go wrong here – for instance when Mio promises to stay by his dying friend’s side because the love and companionship of a good friend is worth more than glory. The actual battle is not Helm’s Deep, in fact it’s fairly anti-climatic considering the build-up (so low on the action)…also the adult in me was hoping for some clarity as to why the big Danger had to be this single boy’s quest, and perhaps certain death, while his father remained behind and greeted him with open arms on his return. Huh? Aren’t parents supposed to throw themselves in the way of danger for their kids, not send them in to it …but then I have a feeling that’s the adult in me, only 80 percent not 100 percent committed to the fantasy like a kid might be. Besides the book is from the kid’s perspective and this question never comes up (but adults are gonna adult, you know). Bottom line, Mio’s Kingdom is fun read-together read for parents and kids alike.top
Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan – This phrase “…the linguistic and cultural jolts and jarrings as two languages grind against each other…” inadvertently, I think, drive home Ann Morgan’s point about the awkward beauty of things getting lost in translation. In my Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean culture, grinding can call to mind heavy (sometimes brutal) teasing or an especially sexy wine (a certain type of dance rooted in Africa and synonymous with the Caribbean where a twerk by any other name is still a wine) involving a man and a woman…guess where my mind went? But, yes, back to the text. What a remarkable undertaking, what a compelling read! I felt genuinely happy at times wading through this highly sourced book which probably just reinforces that I’m a nerdy bibliophile but, whatever, nerdy bibliophiles need their Carnival rides too. And British writer, Morgan’s project is nothing short of a Carnival ride with its jolts and wide turns, stomach dropping plummets and more. If I’d been there at the beginning when she decided to read the world in a year, I might have said, “girl, yuh crazy?!?” even while rooting for the audacity of the experiment. Likely she felt like giving up along the way (even given her tangible passion for the project) but I’m glad she didn’t. If, like me, you follow Ann’s blog, you’ll have already read her thoughts on the books she read (and if you follow this blog, you might have read her thoughts on some of the Caribbean books she’s read) and even so you might be somewhat surprised that the book isn’t about the books she read nor is it simply about the process, though it covers that in spades, and about the community she discovered along the way, even in this vast world
“Many were the mornings when, stumbling bleary-eyed to the computer in the grey half-light of dawn, I was galvanized by an enthusiastic comment, an offer of help, or news that a stranger thousands of miles away had turned up a lead on a story or manuscript for me out of no other impulse than the desire to see me succeed in my endeavor.”
…but it’s primarily about what she learned along the way not just about her own privileges and prejudices but about how the world is configured, about the value of story even in the increasingly IT world (and she has some thoughts on that increasingly IT world as well)
“Increasingly, what we see reflected back at us when we look for something online is not the world but a reading of our world – a mathematically calculated reflection of the insides of our own heads.”
I understand better the context for her comment in her review of Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean in which my story “Amelia at Devil’s Bridge” appears, “A number of the writers have chosen to represent the dialects of their characters for a Standard English-speaking reader (so that someone who uses British or American English could pronounce the words phonetically and get them to sound as the characters would say them). While there are practical reasons for this choice, it has the effect of implying a reader who comes from elsewhere…” which mildly bugged me at the time of reading as it does when any critic implies that I’m/we’re deliberately pandering to an American/British audience. Having read Reading the World, however, I understand better that Ann’s concerns are coming from a deepened awareness of the imbalances in the publishing world…and the conscious…and, yes, unconscious influence of colonizing forces, still. Still, assumptions shouldn’t be made. That said, and there’s no denying this, and if the book has an overarching theme, it’s in its reinforcement of the idea that stories can shape and erase culture, can define the character of a nation and speak to one nation’s relationship with another, with another hemisphere, with world history. For someone interested/invested in such issues, this was an illuminating read. For the Caribbean leg of her journey, Ann read Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua and Barbuda), Thine is the Kingdom by Garth Buckner (the Bahamas), Song of Night by Glenville Lovell (Barbados), On Heroes, Lizards and Passion by Zoila Ellis (Belize), Afro-Cuban Tales (Cuentos negros de Cuba) by Lydia Cabrera – translated from the Spanish by Alberto Hernandez-Chiroldes and Lauren Yoder (Cuba), The Snake King of the Kalinago by Grade 6 of Atkinson School (Dominica), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic), The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins (Grenada), Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo (Guyana), I am a Japanese Writer (je suis un écrivain japanais) by Dany La Ferriѐre (Haiti), John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James (Jamaica), Only God can make a Tree by Bertram Roach (St. Kitts-Nevis), Neg Maron: Freedom Fighter by Michael Aubertin (St. Lucia), The Moon is Following Me by Cecil Browne (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), and One Scattered Skeleton by Vahni Capildeo (Trinidad and Tobago). If you’re wondering where’s Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Martin, Anguilla et al… you’ll need to read Ann’s chapter on the nightmare of configuring the world…who knew that this deep in it wasn’t definitive? For the full list of Ann’s world, check her site or get the book; it’s a worthy addition to your collection – especially for booklovers and among those for those with a particular interest in world literature, and isn’t it all world literature?top
All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele – I’ll be honest, my copy of All Over Again was inadvertently left behind between switching from one street car to the next in NOLA when I was only one page from the end. This means that I didn’t really get to finish it (I mean I tracked down a copy and read the words but I was no longer in the story); it also means that I don’t have direct quotes (since I don’t have my dog-eared copy to remind me of pieces I absolutely had to share). Buuuut I do know that this Burt Award winning book is one I sincerely recommend especially for young readers, especially boys. It is steeped in the young boy’s perspective with all of its cockeyed (makes perfect sense to me) justifications and frustrations as it episodically moves from one life defining or life changing chapter in his life to the next. The interesting cast of supporting characters include his unintentionally annoying little sister Mary Janga, his mom who practically passes on life lessons to him, his terrifying father who may get him after all, his cousin who is like his moral compass, his arch rival at school, the whole world of ‘unfairness’, and the girl, you know there had to be a girl right? The writer achieves the feat of seating you firmly in his point of view with her use of the second voice, effective use of the second voice; the pacing and comic timing of the book are to be applauded; and yet for all the humour we get a real sense of the all too serious world of the boy, a world not without its struggles including and beyond his personal dramas. Adults will enjoy it, teenagers (it’s intended audience) will be able to relate to it, but as the boy is on the line between boyhood and young adult hood, younger boys may enjoy taking the ride with the boy as well. In fact, I’m pretty sure they will.top
The Dancing Granny by Ashley Bryan – When I wrote this originally, we had just 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. ETA: Bit of trivia about my book Musical Youth; Ashley Bryan’s Dancing Granny is the literary work the characters interpret for their summer production.top
The Whale House and Other Stories by Sharon Millar – “She is a Trinidad writer who eschews Port of Spain and the more familiar geographic, ethnic, and emotional landscapes of the land and the literature of the land for something a bit more on the fringe, something not as easily categorized. And she does it masterfully – I almost want to coin something like Mistressly there because she is most decidedly a woman writing women, primarily, and digging into the hurt, grazing her fingers familiarly over the spots where the hurt has scabbed over.” This is an excerpt from my full reaction to (not review of) this book which ran long. Read the full, here.top
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – I read and remember enjoying Jane Austen in college (Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice) though the details are vague now – with the exception of Pride and Prejudice thanks to Kiera Knightly’s Elizabeth Bennett and Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy (love that film!) Still it wasn’t nostalgia that made me pick up a copy of Mansfield Park when the logos ship of books came through one time. Or it might have been, I don’t know, but I know the fact that the book referenced my island-home Antigua (so I’d read) was part of my curiousity. In the end, that became the most difficult bit to separate because when I think of Antigua in the time that Sir Thomas would have visited, I can’t help thinking of the horrific reality of the Africans (my ancestors) working on plantations there (the wealth which made communities like Mansfield Park possible). It didn’t stop me from engaging with the book but there was an awareness of this genteel, class conscious society being propped up by something much darker. No, what kept me from engaging with it as much as I would have liked was main character Fanny – I just found her judgmental and puritanical and passive(aggressive). Her silent disapproval of the play her peers intended to put on (what’s wrong with putting on a play? Even if for fun and flirtation), her silent (and classist) disapproval of her former home (it’s urban, it’s chaotic, horrors!), her silent disapproval of, well, everything. She’s initially quite sympathetic. Pried from her family and reluctantly brought to the much more affluent but much colder Mansfield Park with the intent of improving her station – but never being allowed to forget her place in her new family. Like Edmund, her (first) cousin, the reader is meant to feel sympathetic toward Fanny and does for the most part but her lack of spirit in time gets wearying. By turns I find myself wanting her to speak up or loosen up, or something, but to be fair she is a young woman from a different time and it is never a good idea to impose your time on the world of the narrative you’re reading (I know this!). And I do agree with Fanny on some things – for instance her disregard for men who like Mr. Crawford play with women’s feelings. Still. By the end, I’m supposed to be charmed by her and convinced of her “mental superiority” and I’m just not – though of her steadiness, longsuffering-ness, and a certain amount of discernment, yes…I suppose. I mean, as far as that discernment goes, okay, yes, I know she was right in the end about Mr. Crawford who turned out to be, as she had correctly assessed, frivolous and all of self, lacking in steadiness and a moral compass. Still, even with that, there’s an awareness on my part that few but ‘perfect’, compassionate, but kinda dull Edmund could stand up to Fanny-level judgment. And (no doubt Fanny’d find my compass broken too but) I never quite got what made Ms. Crawford a villain, as opposed to just a young woman being young (okay, this is a tale of manners so her spiritedness would be contrary in such a world, and yes, she is sort of frivolous; but she was always nice to Fanny who was nothing but cold toward her, so as far as manners go, I find it hard to see Ms. Crawford as the villain she’s meant to be). Fanny’s aunt, Ms. Norris, is a totally different matter altogether – nothing redeeming there. Still, I never feel quite as disapproving as Fanny does of everything and in fact find her censure and weepiness (the only real emotion we see her overtly exhibit) tiring …and tiresome. And this grand inevitable love between her and Edmund, assuming I could put aside my own modern biases and accept that in such times and such families there’s nothing objectionable in marrying your first cousin, I just don’t see any chemistry between them. Friendship, yes, but no more, really. I’m adding this here nonetheless because overall I still find Jane Austen’s crafting of the narrow world of her times and her ability to make drama even when very little happens quite interesting, her subtle way of critiquing that world and its “manners” instructive, and her use of language quite beautiful (so beautiful I found myself quoting long excerpts of it much to the consternation of the fans of my facebook page no doubt). She remains a pioneer in women’s lit (writing at a time when women writers were very scarce indeed). So, if Mansfield Park wasn’t my cup of tea, some of that is my baggage; you may quite enjoy it. For a much more enthusiastic (and frankly, ,more informed) review, read http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10987048/Mansfield-Park-shows-the-dark-side-of-Jane-Austen.html.top
Le Freak – I know I saw Nile Rodgers performing at the Grammys not that long ago – that Daft Punk song, Get Lucky – so I know he’s alive and still making music…right? But the end of his autobiography Le Freak still felt like a cliffhanger. He’d just got a cancer diagnosis, and made a decision to die living rather than live dying. And though I’d seen him since the publication of the book in 2011, my brain still short circuited over, what happened next??! Thank God for Google; according to Wikipedia, he announced in 2013 that he’d beat the cancer. Well. Can you tell that I got caught up? I may not be a fan of reality shows but, though my definition of celebrity is specific to those who rode their talent to success not those famous just because, I certainly understand our obsession with celebrity culture; my enjoyment of celebrity biographies and autobiographies – my ingestion of celebrity ‘news’ – may be categorized as light-hearted distraction but it is somewhat voyeuristic. And in Le Freak, Rodgers throws all the windows and doors wide open and walks around naked. Not just figuratively. Sex, drugs, and the decadence of rock ‘n roll are on full display. But as my friend who recommended it noted, what makes it most interesting, is the insight to the creative process, his creative process. You’ll have a new appreciation for his disco tracks after reading this and new perspective on some of your favourite pop hits. Nile has literally worked with everyone, every one. His take on their interactions and how they worked together make for interesting and enlightening reading. His life is a bit of a horror show at times – seriously, stay away from drugs kids – but there’s no denying that he lived. And created some indelible music that will survive him. And his candor about his struggles with esteem and his creative struggles make Le Freak more than just a voyeuristic thrill, but a real look beyond the flash, at the soul of a man.top
Okay, so I just finished Prince Lestat, the latest in the Vampire Chronicles, a series I fell in love with as an undergraduate in university. I mention that to underscore the fact that Louis, Lestat, Armand, the whole gang and I have been together for a while. I loved Interview with the Vampire, the Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil (when I finally got around to reading it)… these were probably my favourites in the series. I have mixed (like 65/35) feelings about Prince Lestat. Not because it feels overpopulated – though sometimes it does – because some of the back stories were quite fascinating; not because there wasn’t nearly enough Louis – because when he started his melancholy musings at the end, I remembered just how melancholy his musings can be, a reminder that Louis is probably best in small doses. Not because I couldn’t get into the Rose storyline, though I couldn’t. I think because the bulk of the book was all about the build-up (so much so that when Lestat in a fit of pique jumped onto a table and took decisive and bloody action I practically pumped my fist realizing how much inaction there’d been to that point) but then the climax was somewhat anti-climatic – the Brat Prince is now an actual Prince, Prince of the immortals if you will. Meh okay. Someone who’s minded his own business forever and ever is suddenly so easily manipulated (no, I’m not talking about Lestat, and I didn’t buy it, but there’ve been debates and I may be alone in this).The referencing of the book that started it all showed how far Louis has come, though far for Louis is still baby steps, he’s still the most handwringingly human of the blooddrinkers, but it was also a reminder of how self-referential the book felt at times. All that said, I still love this series and you should read the book for yourself – Anne Rice still writes beautifully lush prose, intriguing characters whose moral dilemmas and the choices they lead to can be compelling when they are, narrative which probes at the bigger questions – where do we come from, why are we here, what does it all mean, and as far as Vampire lore is concerned she remains the Don (her Vampires are out there walking the night, they are!). Even a weaker entry in the series is readable if you’re a fan of the series, and if the book reads as a set-up to a new direction in the series, then that means there’ll be more in the series. Right? Right? If you’re not, the book is actually a pretty good primer.top
BIM Arts for the 21st Century – this elder of Caribbean literary journals is as always well balanced and insightful. I am happy to be a part of this collection with my story What’s in a Name. On reflection, and oddly given that I primarily read fiction, I especially enjoyed the poetry followed by the non-fiction sections. My picks for poetry at once accessible, aesthetically pleasing, and rich with layers of meaning are Velma Pollard’s Kicking Daffodils?, Winsome Minott’s Meeting a Fake West Indian – (even the title’s funny, right?), As Usual Thursday Morning by Ann Limm, The Language Situation in Puerto Rico by Loretta Collins Klobah – (and I appreciated the opportunity to read, or attempt to read it, in both English and Spanish), A Birthday Reflection in Verse for Fidel by Kendel Hippolyte, also his Unlife. On the non-fiction side Tennyson S D Joseph’s piece on Hilary Beckles – Ploughing in Hard Soil – was particularly interesting to me. The journal was a balance of revered and new voices, and some that are both new and revered – making for a solid view of some of the best of Caribbean literature now.top
She Wanted A Love Poem by Kimolisa Mings – It’s good to see Kimolisa, a favourite of the Antiguan open mic poetry scene, begin to put her poetry to print. Her self-published collection moves through the stages and variations of love. The best pieces are the mini-stories; the details of mood and moments, character and plot, things observed and things unsaid – as in Ago – laced through her seductive flow, helping to lift some of those stories above the easy clichés of love poetry. Edit: I will add this. I think Kim has talent, I love her flow, but I don’t think this collection is the best of her simply because it feels there are moments that could have been …sharpened, if feels there are times she could have dug a little deeper, it feels there are times when it could have benefited from a critical eye (the specific input of not just a lover of poetry or language, or even a general editor, but a poetry editor in particular). But it’s a pretty engaging read overall with some quite poignant moments and there’s no denying the music (jazz, blues… maybe) in her words and the fact that the collection tries to probe at more than the obvious definitions of love. Look forward to more.top
40 Dayz – Motion – (this is not a new read; it’s newly added here though) – I have to admit I found her Motion in Poetry to be a more satisfying read. But there’s no denying her way with words and the power of her voice. Here are two excerpts from my article on the book, to be published in the Daily Observer: “My favourite section is WombStory and my favourite poem, I think – this changes – blues. Like the blues themselves, it sings of one thing while seeming to sing of another and does so in a tone at once mournful and yearning.” and “In 40 Dayz, the images flicker in and out, sharp and precise but almost too quick to grasp; in my case a few readings were required for it all to begin to sink in. In the end, I found a collection that startles and questions – no, demands – as it pushes and prods at things.”top
Just finished reading Kei Miller’s Writing Down the Vision and, sigh, wrote the author another fan letter. You’ll remember I did the same after reading Fear of Stones. Let me say this, this book isn’t just for writers and though it’s fairly Jamaican-centric, it’s not just for people from Yard. It’s a book that delves into the social-psychology of what it is to be a Caribbean person and a Caribbean artist writing that Caribbean person in this time. Kei articulates it well.top
The Other Tongues – I didn’t understand half of this but I’m glad I read it…and I think I get the gist in terms of the span and general tone of Scottish writing…interestingly there’s a bleakness in the imagery and experiences that seem, on the surface of it at least, to be the opposite of the Caribbean experience…and yet pull at something very, very familiar and relatable. I kept being drawn to things…a stray line, a stirring image, a sense of a complicated history and people.top
A letter for my mother is an emotional read, and isn’t that an understatement. As one of the contributors, I can honestly say I’m not half as brave as these other women who left everything about the most complex relationship most women have right there on the page. It’s the kind of book that will make you tear up as you encounter the jarring recognition that grown as we are, we are still sometimes just little girls in need of mommy’s love, even as we stand up and move through life, sometimes dragging a bag of hurts behind us, sometimes striding purposefully as she taught us whether through words or in response or opposition to her example. The book is especially powerful because I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in the African American as in the Caribbean community, you just don’t unpack your personal history like that – not without getting creative about it. Unadorned like that and laid out for other people to chat ‘bout would have taken, to borrow a Junot Diaz turn of phrase “ovarian fortitude”. They likely would have had to retreat to a quiet place inside themselves to where it was okay to be vulnerable. What results is a book that does what so many things claim but fail to to do, it keeps it real. I recommend it for mothers and daughters.top
I just finished reading Volume 27 of the Caribbean Writer and I’m going to hold it to the same high bar it set for Caribbean writers to hurdle over; there were some messy aspects to this issue – the lack of order and absences in the contributor section and the need for additional proofing to address some repetitions and errors that may be a result of formatting leap immediately to mind. But there’s no denying that the United States Virgin Islands publication, under the stewardship of new editor Alscess Lewis-Brown, remains the gateway for new, quality Caribbean voices. Many who themselves now set the bar among modern Caribbean writers saw some of their earliest works published here. And now we have – among my favourites from Volume 27, the 2013 issue:–
Yashika Graham’s Directions from the Border (in which she maps the way to her place of origin and her heart in the uniquely Caribbean way of giving directions), Figment (in which she uses language beautifully to map the empty space between daughter and daddy), and My Mother (a loving ode to same) – her first publications in print according to her public facebook page; fellow Jamaican, award winning poet Monica Minott’s instructive and evocative Reggae Until Jesus Come and in celebration of another musical icon, Shabba; Rashad Braithwaite’s rumination on geography and opportunity in We Who were born of the Ocean; Rohan Facey’s brief but striking Postcard Image and the Artful Fist, both about illusion and reality; Darryl Roberts’ Tourist and I want to Learn Flamenco Guitar, both capturing certain rhythms of island life; Shanarae Matthew-Edwards’ nostalgic and somewhat epic Fish and Fungi; Antiguan-Dominican Glen Toussaint’s booming Dat; and, rounding out my poetry favourites, Joey Garcia’s haunting Deep.
Whew! How’s that for an over-loaded sentence!?!
The short fiction list is lighter though, since fiction is my love, no less significant. The ones I dog-eared, and mention them here hoping you’ll keep an eye out for these stories and the writers who penned them, Lizards by L J Swanson; My Jumby by Jody Rathgeb; the Annual Christmas Cuss-out by Cheryl Corbin; the Imported Wife by Dwight Thompson; The Hechicera’s Ace by John Russo; Miss Tally’s Last Dance by Ashley Ruth-Bernier; Island Joe by Ryan Rising; Where Dreams Die by DC Laidler; and Paradise Just for Us by Rosalyn Rossignol.
Yes, here you will find some of the all too familiar tropes of Caribbean fiction, and it’s a challenge to not allow ourselves to be ensnared by them, but there are also write-arounds, jump-overs, and the turning of fresh soil in some of these pieces, all of which made for entertaining – and sometimes, deep – reading.
Thanks to the reviews, some new selections are added to my to-read list. Well, some like Dorbrene O’Marde’s Nobody Go Run Me, which I’ve recently been invited to review by the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books have already been read, but D. Gisele Isaac’s enthusiastic review, not always in agreement with the author always engaged by him, make me eager to revisit it. Edwidge Dandicat’s Claire of the Sea Light was already on my to-read list, because I have never not absolutely loved anything she’s written, but Patricia Harkins-Pierre’s review provided additional incentive. New to the to-read list, though, are Frank Mills’ The Last Witness, reviewed by S. B. Jones-Hendrickson because, hello, a Caribbean murder mystery, the very idea intrigues; Ann Margaret Lim’s Festival of Wild Orchid, reviewed by Loretta Collins Koblah, who stands tall among contemporary Caribbean poets in her own right; and And Sometimes they Fly by Robert Edison Sandiford, a most interesting and unusual read based on the review by H. Nigel Thomas.
A feature of The Caribbean Writer – in addition to sharing new works by new and established writers, introducing additions to the Caribbean canon, coverage of a wide cross section of genres – that make it a tribute to everything Caribbean arts is the tributes section where even when you don’t know the artiste, the writing can make you feel the loss of that, such was the case with Jane Coombes detailed and stirring tribute to Smokey Pratt
I must add that it’s thrilling to have several of my pieces – poetry, fiction, and an extract from a screenplay – included in the Caribbean Writer Volume 27, it’s been a long journey from that first, first of many rejections, to this point, even knowing that this is not a point of arrival, because with the Caribbean Writer you have to earn your place every time, which is as it should be as they continue to set the bar for good writing in the Caribbean.top
The White Witch of Rosehallwas interesting to me not so much for the character themselves (in fact, their limited dimensionality was one of the book’s shortcomings in my view) but what it says about the nature of Caribbean slave society – the sickness that it was to all involved. In such a situation, the tale suggested, it’s inevitable to become infected with either megalomania or mistrust; and given that the tale is set in a time when Jamaica is on the cusp of an uprising of the enslaved people, all involved would have been well advised to sleep with one eye open. It all moves very quickly, three weeks, give or take, from beginning to end, too quickly for all that happens to the characters internally (from how the main character adapts to the world to how suddenly and unbelievably outside of a Mills and Boon maybe the various romances manifest. But the detailed rendering of atmosphere and setting, most of it filtered through the newbie eyes of the main character, does attempt and largely succeed in slowing the pace, and grounding the story. I also think that though the language and narrative style is understandably dated (the book was first published in the early 1900s and the story is set in early 1800s), the writer has a good sense of the layers of meanings in words or in certain words grouped together, and of the weight of the situation he reports upon, so for all that’s unlikely about it, it did from time to time prompt me to pause and reflect. So, while it’s not a favourite, it was not without effect. One of the book’s strengths is its effective handling of the supernatural elements – there is a spook factor that both the characters and readers are aware of – though with reactions ranging from fear to doubt to something like, well maybe. The end itself holds no surprise though I realized that I had come to care, however mildly, when news of Rider’s fate stirred a tinge of regret. I’m sharing my thoughts on it because, all told, I’m glad I read it finally, this classic of West Indian literature based on a reality that haunts the Caribbean to this day.top
Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean – Outstanding entries from the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize with a preface by Olive Senior. I just finished reading this collection and it’s a good one. I really liked most of the stories but my top five might be Janice Lynn Mather’s Mango Summer, Sharon Millar’s The Whale House, Barbara Jenkins’ A Good Friday, Ivory Kelly’s The Thing We Call Love, and Dwight Thompson’s The Science of Salvation possibly tied up with Kimmisha Thomas’ Berry. But it really comes down to preference because the crafting of all of these stories is exquisite and …experimental, and the Caribbean landscape they reveal has shadows, not just sunlight; there is heart and humanity but there is also darkness. Really well done; and I’m happy to be a part of it.top
I’ve owned Strunk and White’s Elements of Style since my college days; I re-read it recently prompted by Stephen King after reading his On Writing in which he really talked it up as the definitive book on writing. On re-read, I found myself tugging against some of the rules but even then have to admit that S & W though somewhat conservative know their stuff and back up their chat. So that just as you’re tugging against “Do Not Use Dialect”, which I’ve been known to do, you have to admit they have a point when they complete that thought with “Unless Your Ear is Good”. Their information is sounder than sound; so much so you’ll find yourself re-learning grammar, vocabulary, and writing rules you forgot…and, frankly, learning some for the first time. Bottom line, if you’re a writer or want to be one, it’s a good an essential reference book to have to hand. You’ll need to refer to it again…I know I will.top
She Sex, Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman (edited by Paula Obe and Carol N. Hosein) – Just finished reading She Sex Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman (edited by Paula Obe and Carol N. Hosein), a collection of writing by Caribbean women. The fact that I took this long to read this is not an indication of its quality, as I actually recommend it as a read and not just because I’ve got pieces in it. In fact, true confession, I’m not terribly confident about the two pieces selected for the collection. Another true confession, I write more poetry than fiction probably but I feel more sure-footed in the world of fiction. Of my pieces in the collection, One is probably my favourite; it grew out of a visual prompt, a painting by Antiguan artist Glenroy Aaron. I remember the thing that struck me about the image was how intertwined the man and woman were, almost like they were extensions of the same body; hence the poem title ‘One’ – “I want to be so deep inside you/it be like/I’m wearing your skin/when I touch your nipple/it be my lips tingling.” Though it’s blatantly physical, I wanted to suggest emotional intimacy equal to or beyond the physical, and I wanted it to feel like a seduction not at the beginning of a relationship when they barely know each other, but when they’re already in – deep. My other piece – “A Religious Experience” is borderline sacrilegious since it’s using sacred terminology for something considerably less sacred. But the choice of terminology is meant to suggest the reverence with which they’ve embraced this connection they have – “and so we prayed/then the breeze sang a Holy song.” I’m hoping their selection suggests that I communicated something of what I was trying to communicate. But you, readers, will be the judge. As reader, my favourites included: READ ON.top
Dido’s Prize by Eugenia O’Neal – Dido’s Prize is old school romance like I haven’t read in a good long while – you know the template; boy meets girl, he tall dark and strapping, she a beautiful spitfire, they feel something intense for each other but amidst misunderstandings and other obstacles tug-o-war until inevitably they find their way to their happily ever after. That’s not a spoiler – that’s what this genre promises. That is to say that like most romance novels you know the end from the beginning because in romance novels the hero always gets the girl and the girl always gets her man. But its alignment with the genre notwithstanding, in Dido’s Prize, British Virgin Islands author Eugenia O’Neal deftly ups the ante – intricately weaving in tension, excitement, and uncertainty – by setting her historical romance against a backdrop of piracy and adventure. Pirates are popular these days, from Pirates of the Caribbean to Black Sails. But you’ve never met a pirate quite like this plucky heroine who masques her true identity and holds her own as deals with the uncomfortable realities of being a woman on a ship full of rowdy men. By turns spirited and fool hardy, Dido’s a pirate you root for – but still a pirate who tries to hang on to her principles even as she gets her hands bloody. what Dido’s Prize does that most pop culture pirate tales don’t is meet the reality of the world – the reality of slavery (and misogyny) in their world – head on (well, not as head on as say Roots or 12 Years a Slave but it doesn’t ignore it as they do in the world of Captain Jack). Kudos to O’Neal for managing that; for confronting the harsh realities of that world and yet keeping the story buoyant – not always edge of your seat but never dull. But because she adhered so closely to historical reality I doubted at times, even as I had my fingers crossed for, O’Neal’s ability to deliver on the happily ever after; especially as the pages wound down and the lovers remained separated – him beaten and facing the hangman’s noose, her resolved to free him and sail off into the sunset. Together. But deliver she did, even managing to make it somewhat believable that despite the realities of a world in which people who look like our heroine and her hero are commonly enslaved, they could find a space where they, their families, and a whole community of others like them could live free. And to do so in a way that feels, okay a little bit fanciful, but not strictly speaking out of sync with history. It’s my kind of romance; there’s too much else going on – pirate raids, slave rebellions etc. – for me to get bored, as I’ve been known to do, given the predictability of the genre. In fact, not only did I enjoy reading Dido’s Prize (which I won in an online contest on O’Neal’s website), if it did make it to the big screen, it’d be a fresh take on the genre of pirate films, one I’d pay good money to see. Think Hollywood would go for it?top
Little Rude Boys Girls by Deshawn Browne– First things first, the author of this book was 12 years old at the time it was published – the book and his improved grades came of a challenge put to him by the book’s publisher Dr. Noel Howell, a doctor and filmmaker who seems to have made it something of a mission to work with talented young people. I wasn’t keen to read and review the book because the authors’ a kid; so one, I’m not really the market, two, if I didn’t like it I couldn’t say that I did and I didn’t want to discourage a young boy admirably rising to a challenge. After all challenging young people to realize their potential and find their voice is what Wadadli Pen is all about. So the book’s merits or demerits as a literary work wasn’t really the point….I read it recently and while it’s not a masterpiece, it delivers an entertaining story with a bonus moral arc to its demographic (late primary boys and girls) and was quite enjoyable (for me, an adult). It’s a book about rivalries (harmless rivalry between boys and girls), family, and, unexpectedly, HIV/AIDS – it’s about pushing yourself, rising to the occasion. It reads less like fiction and more like a pretty detailed and vivid how I spent my summer – a very organized, episodically plotted, lively report from the perspective of a mischievous narrator who shows growth by the story’s end. I suspect good editing is also at play here but the young writer also has good story sense. It’s a bit overcrowded – a lot of characters to keep track of and not enough shading to give you a real sense of them beyond the roles they play in the book – but it’s neither exhausting nor, at the other end, is it ever dull. In fact it’s pretty satisfying and in the end shows itself to have a lot of heart, as well. I’d definitely recommend the author take some writing classes as he continues to grow and he may, down the road, have a book that is closer to a masterpiece in him because I’d say there’s potential there.top
Womanspeak (2013) – This is a well ordered collection, at times inspirational, at times provocative, at times beautiful, at times disturbing, universally insightful. It is also a fun and compelling read. Fun is an odd word for it given that this edition of Womanspeak speaks so profoundly to so much of what women go through and yet as the language wraps its colourful self around ideas of self and independence and the other big issues women grapple with it is, fun. I am delighted to be a part of it, happy that my poems and short story feel a part of it, part of this community of women Bahamas’ Lynn Sweeting has called together on the page. From a purely reader standpoint, my favourites included Althea Romeo-Mark’s A Kind of Refugee/Living in Limbo (which I may or may not have read before, I can’t be sure, in her collection If Only the Dust would Settle) from the essays section which also included interesting entries by Vahni and Leila Capildeo, Victoria Sarne, and Ashley Akerberg – stories that show women finding their footing with the rug pulled out from under them and to reference the Capildeo piece, “(creating) better circumstances, not the endless coping with situations”. In the fiction section which opens the journal, I think I responded to each of the stories on some level – landing each in the favourites category as well. My lip curled up in distaste three short paragraphs into Vashti Bowlah’s Vindira’s Day, a strong opener to the collection. My displeasure wasn’t with the story but with the man who was so distasteful he hadn’t even done anything to that yet and I already wanted to wash him off me. In Cherise A. Charleswell’s story, the way the story describes the character’s reaction to the male gaze and the pssst is very familiar to me; could relate as well to the way some became particularly menacing, the way you can feel abused by those encounters, even when nothing specific happens, even though it’s not something others would describe as particularly abusive. I was reading Shakira Bourne’s story We always smile for Photos in two places (it’s also in the Trinidad and Tobago anthology She Sex) and liked both experiences of it, and especially her use of irony; as I did the use of detail and the foreshadowing in the pre-Columbian world of Rhonda Claridge’s In the Distant Waters Land. The poetry section was rich as well, and I found myself finding things to like, images and insights that stopped me, even in the poems I didn’t love-love like the mother and daughter murdered for making a video of themselves laughing in the rain (Lynn Sweeting who also writes profoundly of masks and priorities in I like the Disguise). Poems to make you ponder, as Angelique Nixon’s Occupying Dissent Long Time if we haven’t in fact gone back to sleep despite its assertion that this is our time and its challenge to “us to stay woke together”; poems like ARM’s that make you marvel at the way she grounds the poems with earth-bound details – “rain-soaked clothes (clinging) to her frame. Cold (gnawing) at her shoulders. Her beige skirt, grass-stained, (and) hemmed in mud” – and yet untethers them with more abstract imagery – “dark clouds (crossing) her moon. Her thoughts (scattering) leaves after a storm”; poems, defiant in spirit like Opal Palmer Adisa’s; poems that pack a punch like Lynn Sweeting’s Woman of God which is stronger for its simple telling sans editorializing of an encounter between a pious woman and a domestic violence survivor. This is not passive poetry…these are revolutionary pieces about women’s (and men’s – e.g. “the forest man willing to die rather than step aside for the bulldozers because without the forest he will die anyway” – LS) encounters with the ‘justice’ system, about the failure of love, their anger, their defiance…and yet there is considerable beauty (variously dark or delicate but beauty nonetheless) to be found in poems like Charlotte Dunn’s Sea Grape Leaf Jump, Tanya Evanson’s Apocalypsiata…other poems that come to mind for various reasons as I write this reflection on a stirring collection are Anita Macdonald’s Seized, Sonia Farmer’s This is not a Fairytale, Nancy anne Miller’s Life Jacket, and Attilah Springer’s Dance Pretty Fight Deadly. In the fairy tale section – yes, there is a fairy tale section – my favourite was probably Barbara Arrindell’s feminist spin on an anansi tale – though there was much I liked about Brenda Lee and Lelawatee’s tales as well, most especially their freshness in an under-developed genre, stories perfect for that stage of childhood where you’re defining reality through imagination. In some way that’s all stages of life if you’re open to seeing…and if you’re open to seeing one of the impressions this collection makes is the precariousness and fragility of reality and on the other hand the strength and strategizing required to be a woman in the Caribbean, and in the world.top
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – The thing Tayari does in this story that I find fascinating is how she ‘plays’ with the reader, this reader’s, emotions…I don’t mean that in a negative way….but…the story starts with the perspective of the daughter of the other woman, a girl who is always second best, or so it seems to her, in her father’s affections compared to his ‘real’ daughter and his ‘real’ family. We see the lawful wife and child as the other, the villains of the piece if you will, and the father as a weak man. Then, just when we think we have a handle on how we’re supposed to see this, how we’re supposed to feel about it, Tayari flips the script on us. Suddenly we’re in the perspective of the legitimate daughter, and suddenly she is the sympathetic one, and the one we’ve been following is, if not a villain, then a perplexing mystery. We find ourselves liking and feeling for this second daughter and her mother with equal passion, and even liking the father a little bit, seeing him, as we are, through the eyes of the daughter who has no reason to find him lacking. So, who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy? In Silver Sparrow, as in life, it’s complicated. In Silver Sparrow, as in life, things just sort of unravel…and in Silver Sparrow, as in life, the ending is bittersweet…no happily ever after, no matter what the fairytales promise. And yet, like a fairytale, Tayari makes the meeting of hearts, as pedestrian and messy as it gets, seem magical, fated, and epic:
“And this is how it started. Just with coffee and the exchange of their long stories. Love can be incremental. Predicaments, too. Coffee can start a life just as it can start a day. This is the meeting of two people who were destined to love from before they were born, from before they made choices that would complicate their lives. This love just rolled toward my mother as though she were standing at the bottom of a steep hill. Mother had no hand in this, only heart.”
Part of the genius of her approach is the telling of the story from the perspective of the children – the two daughters – on opposite sides of the story because of their mothers and their love for their mothers and their desire to be first in their father’s heart, but bound to each other in a way their mothers would never be and their father could never understand. They are both heartbreaking, these girls, and if I feel any dissatisfaction with the novel it’s in the way that it swings back, at the end, to the daughter we first meet, as though we haven’t come to know and care about the ‘other’ daughter as well, and aren’t just as curious about what became of her (or her take on it), after. SIDEBAR: I met Tayari, sort of, in summer 2012 when I went to a joint reading she did in New York with another favourite of mine (Judy Blume). Wrote about it here. And I had the opportunity to meet her when she came to Antigua last year, but, regrettably, missed that opportunity. I prefer meeting the writers I like on the pages of their books anyway; this is the first book I’ve read for Tayari (though I follow her blog and fb page) and she is officially an author I like. top
Nobody Go Run Me: the Life and Times of Sir Mclean Emmanuel by Dorbrene O’Marde is, in my estimation, a perfect marriage of writer and subject. O’Marde knows the players and the context of his story well, he respects them but isn’t hesitant to critique them. He understands the link between the movements in the world of calypso and the real world movements that inspired or were inspired by them. He has unprecedented access to personalities and insights that flesh out the tale, and he clearly knows and loves the art form.Read more.top
“Okay so, On Writing by Stephen King, mi lub dis book bad (English translation: I really liked this book). It’s hard to know where to begin with the sharing because it’s so bookmarked. What I can say, in general, is that it reads more like a memoir than a how-to book though at the end you will have learned a thing or two about how-to…including that some of it is a kind of magic that is unexplainable even to the person doing it, a fact King acknowledges up front when he said, “…most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.” And yet the only thing I disagreed with King about was the change of a character’s name in an edit of a sample from one of his stories at the end of the book; because the man knows his stuff and he reinforced some of what I already knew and added to it, teaching me new things. And because the book is memoir style, he teaches mostly by doing; as we read the stories of his childhood we’re learning how to tell a good story and then, bonus, he connects the dots. I’ll share some of my favourite bits.top
“I have climbed back into life over and over on a ladder made of words…” So Alice Walker says in the preface of Her Blue Body Everything We Know. There some crisp imagery especially in the Africa pieces, which are like emotional snapshots. Those are almost serene next to the angrier, lengthier, America pieces and the introspective anti-romantic pieces such as Warning which says, “to love a man wholly/love him/feet first/head down/eyes cold/closed/in depression”. One of my favourites among the latter is Never Offer Your Heart to Someone Who Eats Hearts – don’t you just love that title – as dark and cynical a piece as you’ll find in this collection but which ends on a hopeful note. There’s one about Janie Crawford, you know from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; loved that one too because it pretty much sums up how I saw the Janie character. I liked the one about Lorraine Hansberry too which is really about the fortitude it takes to be a revolutionary. Another of my favourites is How Poems Are Made: A Discredited View, “to the upbeat flight of memories./The flagged beats of the running heart.” I also liked Songless which asks “what is the point of being artists if we cannot save our life?” ; Each One, Pull One – another Hansberry inspired piece – in which Alice charges, “we must say it all, and as clearly as we can. For, even before we are dead, they are busy trying to bury us.” There are blatant activist pieces like These Days which I liked and you realize that for Alice writing is always political. And there is something searching and beautiful there too as in another of my favourites If There Was Any Justice in which she communes sort of with a favourite artist of mine Van Gogh. Two of the stronger pieces, for me, come near the end: A Woman is not a Potted Plant and Winnie Mandela, We Love You. I realize as I’m writing this that I actually liked this collection more than I realized, I read it over weeks of bus rides, bookmarking as I went. I shouldn’t be surprised. Alice is ever one of the more stimulating writers I’ve found, stimulating in that reading her work is not a passive exercise, it makes you think, feel, engage, write, and even without all that, there is enough truth here that I couldn’t dismiss it even if I had a mind to:
In These Dissenting Times
To acknowledge our ancestors means
we are aware that we did not make
ourselves, that the line stretches
all the way back, perhaps, to God; or
to Gods. We remember them because it
is an easy thing to forget: that we
are not the first to suffer, rebel,
fight, love and die. The grace with
which we embrace life, in spite of
the pain, the sorrows, is always a
measure of what has gone before.
I like autobiographies. No surprise then that every time I left the house for the bus stop, I usually grabbed Makeba: My Story (by Miriam Makeba with James Hall) from by current active pile of books. It was more than that though. She is an interesting person who’s led an amazing life and whose story, as if that weren’t enough, is part of the tale of the shameful story of apartheid South Africa. There was weirdly so much that was relatable in this book (certain customs and attitudes really did travel with my ancestors across the Atlantic) but there is much as well that’s distant from my own experience (perhaps closer to what my ancestors would have experienced in a world when and where they were considered less than human). The reason I most liked this book, however, is that I was almost utterly charmed by Miriam; I say almost because there is one chapter much later on that hasn’t settled…we are, none of us, perfect….but her humility, her talent, her passion all make for a very charming tale indeed, even amidst the tragedies of her life. Here’s a taste of her music:top
Forty Years of Struggle: the Birth of the St. Kitts Labour Movement by Sir Probyn Inniss – This is not something I would normally pick up but the author (a teacher, lawyer and former Governor) and I met during a reading at Greenland Books and Things in St. Kitts and gave me a copy. As I’d found his reading interesting – mostly for how similar the experiences of these islands are when all is said and done – I decided to give it a go. it was an interesting read. Of course, the book makes a case for the uniqueness of St. Kitts colonial era experience and in so doing suggests that things weren’t as rough on other islands. I suspect those in neighbouring islands like Antigua who lived through the post-Emancipation, contract laws binding adult workers and their offspring to plantations (like slaves), and pre and post labour days would have their own – contradictory – opinion on that; hell, I didn’t live it and I found myself being contradictory on occasion while reading. For example: “Antigua, by contrast, experienced better relations between the different classes and racial groups. This was evident in Antigua since the early nineteenth century and no doubt contributed to the fact that Antigua had no Apprenticeship period, moving from slavery to full freedom in 1834.” Really? Yes, we had no apprenticeship but not because things were sweet as mango between the planter class and the working class…Statements like this made me question some of the book’s other judgments (not the facts, the book stands strong on facts, but the conclusions reached based on those facts). That said, it’s an important perspective, one that sits on the same shelf as books like Antigua and Barbuda’s To Shoot Hard Labour and (I suspect since I haven’t actually read it) No Easy Pushover both by Keithlyn Smith. That it explores – beyond the broad division between the two main classes of people, the white planter class and the black working class, and the ways their history shaped a society defined by race-based value and deep power imbalances as a result – the Portuguese and middle Eastern (Syrian, Lebanese) immigrants that came to dominate retail commerce and other areas of business, and the complex relationship between the Eastern Caribbean and the Dominican Republic (in particular the export of workers from these parts for work in the cane fields of the Spanish nation and their poor treatment there…a reversal of which we are now experiencing) adds a dynamic that’s important to understanding the social history and reality of our countries. One lingering question the one posed by the writer at the end is how much has really changed, how fully have we embraced the opportunity to move beyond the patterns put in place by colonial era politics that did not favour (in fact had no real interest in) the working man (the black working man). That’s a question with resonance in St. Kitts, in Antigua, and no doubt in other parts of the region.top
Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice -*warning: this is a long one* – I’ve read a fair amount of Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief, Cry to Heaven, The Witching Hour, Blackwood Farm and some others) but not in a good long while. I remember thinking that Memnoch the Devil wasn’t for me…probably the girl that was raised Catholic including Catholic school, Holy Communion, Confirmation classes etc unconsciously turning from the perceived blasphemy. I say unconsciously because chances are if I thought it was so I would no doubt have read it in rebellion (another characteristic of Catholic girls). No, I think at the time I had just become disenchanted with the authoress I discovered in my college years, the same way I eventually became disenchanted with romance novels and other genres I consumed once upon a time but don’t feel particularly drawn to now. So I have to give mad props to Glen of Best of Books Antigua for his ambush sale of Memnoch the Devil, thanks for re-introducing me to one of my favourite writers. This book remind me of all the reasons the reader and writer in me was drawn to Rice’s writing in the first place. She is a boundary pusher and rule breaker – the ultimate Catholic girl rebel – on an epic scale. You kind of feel like you’re pissing God off a little bit by reading it, as much as Memnoch did with all his questioning, but you read on anyway (like him, you can’t help yourself). Re writing rules, as far as exposition is concerned, teachers often rap our knuckles with show don’t tell show don’t tell…well huge sections of Memnoch is exposition, there’s some showing but there’s a fair amount of telling as well…but it never feels dull in part because one of Anne’s signatures is the delicious descriptiveness of her narrative. Her words are alive so that even when nothing in particular is happening, the grass is growing, can’t you hear it? You know what I mean, she milks sensation from each moment so that even the still moments are not stagnant. Another rule, pare it back, don’t overwrite…hm, well, Anne’s writing is as lush and showy/flamboyant as a Caribbean sunset, and just as beautiful. The atmosphere she created in rendering the New Orleans setting of so many of her stories is part of what landed this city on my bucket list, half doubting that the actual city can live up to the one that lives in my imagination. She doesn’t rush the moments and at the same time creates amazing tension, hooking the reader to turn the next page and the next and the next even as nothing much more happens than one Being in conversation with another Being, trying to make his case. I love her writing – lines like “the story devoured the night” – I really do and I’m glad I was reminded of that. Let me say a word about genre. I don’t really believe in genre-fiction. I read what I read, I like what I like, genre be damned; and I really feel that folks who dismiss not just Memnoch but Rice’s Vampire chronicles (and this can apply to other of her supernatural fare) are missing out. She’s a great storyteller and I look forward to reading both Servant of the Bones, thanks to the teaser at the back of Memnoch, and the Wolf Gift (because, yeah, I guess the idea of were-fic in Anne’s hands intrigues me). Thematically, she remains in Memnoch, as bold as when she created a vampire with a conscience in Louis and paired him with an unrepentant rebel rock star of a maker in the first book in the series. Not enough Louis in this for my taste (I love Louis with all his human angst and complexity) but Lestat is very much present if not the star of this tale. No the very nature of creation, of heaven/hell, of God and humanity hogs the spotlight –and how bold is she to take on such grand and controversial themes? Bolder still to cast God as the villain (or as too removed from human feeling to be relatable) and Memnoch/Lucifer/the Devil, the beleaguered hero (the one trying to do good, the one working in the best interest of humankind), maybe, depends on your reading of it. Bottom line, Memnoch is a mind trip. And Rice doesn’t allow the reader to look away from it, nor from the disturbingly erotic image of Lestat sucking on Dora’s womb blood (not my favourite image, uh, but my new favourite word for that by the way). I will add only that I don’t know what prompted Anne to write this; if it was just the next inevitable stop on Lestat’s wild adventure – he’d done everything else right? Or if it was driven by her own questioning about the nature of God (and especially God in relation to human suffering something many of us have grappled with). I don’t know; I do know that tonally, it feels a bit like a cry of frustration – “we are in the hands of mad things” – and of despair – “why are we never never to know”. These are characters’ words, of course, but the whole book, entertaining and thought provoking and epic as it is, also feels deeply personal in that sense. Or perhaps I’m reading into things.top
Pineapple Rhymes by Veronica Evanson Bernard – This poetry collection is a bit of a time capsule…a fair amount of the references (such as the celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday) are way before my time…think 40 years before my time as they reference the conditions and realities during the author’s coming of age in 1930s and 40s Antigua…but for an Antiguan of any age, or anyone with an interest in Antiguan culture, Pineapple Rhymes is a good blend of folk history and folk poetry in the folk language which is more than just a variation or bastardization of English as implied in the glossary. If you’re a regular to the blog or are at all familiar with my literary tastes, you already know that Women of Antigua was my introduction to the writing of the late Veronica Evanson Bernard. It remains my favourite poem in the collection, and a quintessential Antiguan and Barbudan poem in my view. Other pieces bookmarked were A Mudder’s Lament, Nutten Nar Bite, Shappin fuh a Wedding Frack, Laas at Sea, Congo Man, Wite Cloaz, Teachah Teachah, Twenty Fourth O’ May, and De Obeah Oooman. She writes the Antiguan as it sounds, the work is strongest when she uses that to get a good rhythm going as she chronicles the struggles and joys of the folk…without overly romanticizing it. It’s a book that calls to mind the now elusive Antiguan character.top
Living History by Hillary Clinton – I can’t imagine how at once scary and liberating it must be to write an autobiography; digging around the dark and uncomfortable corners of your psyche, revisiting your past triumphs and failures, exposing your soft underbelly. By comparison with others I’ve read, Hilary’s feels very controlled and as such didn’t draw me in as completely though she’s led a very dynamic and interesting life. The most interesting aspects for me were her early life; once Bill entered the picture, I felt it was too much about him (and having already read his biography and being a Hilary fan, I guess I wanted more of her and less of the president and presidential policy but when you’re a supporting player to the president, I suppose it’s going to shake out like that). The latter part of her journey (pre-senate) was interesting, and a bit more revealing, as well…but still restrained. Liked it enough to add it to this list though.top
Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World by Jon F. Sensbach isn’t my usual cup of tea but it was interesting and provided some insights to the experience of African enslavement (particularly with respect to the grey areas) that I hadn’t considered. And the roots of the Moravian church…wow, some interesting insights there.top
Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama – Beautifully written, insightful, engaging…and humanizing. He may be President but he was once upon a time just a confused boy seeking his place in the world. This book is evidence of that.top
Just got through reading New Writing: Poetry & Prose by Shoestring Press. It’s actually not that new anymore as it was released in 2001, and I’m not sure there are even copies in circulation any more. I borrowed a copy from one of the authors, Wadadli Pen chief judge Brenda Lee Browne. And I’m not just saying this because of her association with Wadadli Pen but she does a great job of capturing the rhythm of the island in her Diary from the Wet Side of the Moon and I was starting to get invested in the characters when the snippet ended so that’s good. As we do with older pieces she probably curls her lips when she looks back at this, if you’re a writer journeying, your work is going to keep on growing but if this was 2001, I’m even more eager to see what she’s come up with circa 2012. The other stories are all set in Europe, England especially and, I suspect, in East Midlands primarily. It was an alright read overall.top
The Shack by William P. Young – So, a friend insisted I read this…and I have. But honestly I’m not sure what to make of it. It starts out quite mysteriously and with deft pacing that mystery draws you in…then slows considerably after the big reveal (during the pages of exposition that follow)…but that big reveal (three in one, in fact) is significant and it does end satisfyingly with an open-ended (unstated) challenge to believe or not believe. It’s quite beautiful in parts, quite eloquent and insightful in parts, thought provoking (with respect to the nature of being, of fear, of surrender, of forgiveness, of our relationship with the divine). I can’t say this book had the powerful impact on me it did others (like my friend) but I appreciated reading it, in the end; and feel pretty certain the questioning it has provoked will linger. Post note: Actually it’s been a while since I read this and it hasn’t lingered as much as I thought it might but all other sentiments remain.top
Womanspeak is a literary and visual art journal edited by Bahamian Lynn Sweeting and featuring women writers from across the Caribbean. I’m in it, so this isn’t really a review, but I did have some thoughts about why I liked it. Yes, I do.top
Evening is the Whole Day – Preeta Samarasan
This book was written by my Breadloaf ’08 roommate Preeta Samarasan. I’m glad I discovered it and her, and discovered, too, that though from different parts of the world, there was a lot that connected us, in part due to the common cultural elements born ironically enough of our shared British colonial experience…or the residue thereof. As a Caribbean reader certain things will feel startlingly familiar when you read this; and the parts unknown, well that’s part of the discovery, isn’t it? I’ll admit it took me a while to get through it, it’s not an easy or light read; sometimes I was caught up, sometimes distracted, and sometimes I simply needed to look away. It’s very vivid and not always pleasant. Uncomfortable details aside, it is a stirring if at times claustrophobic tale (in the sense that I didn’t enjoy a minute spent with any of these people though I appreciated the author’s realistic and complex rendering of them). Speaking of style, I was immediately caught by the atmospheric punch (the thereness of the place) and by how the author captures the speech patterns of the Malaysian people in a way that makes it both relatable to the non-Malaysian reader and authentic (or at least authentic-sounding since I’m not qualified o speak to its actual authenticity)…it’s certainly one of the challenges I grapple with as a Caribbean writer, and I think this Malaysian writer does a good job of it here. The book is informative regarding the shifting mood in Malaysia for the span of the tale but really the country is primarily the context for a family drama marked by secrets, disaffection, hypocrisy, deception, and the politics of being.top
For In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, I decided, instead of sharing favourite stories or poems, to share favourite moments. Read More.top
I suspect for the Caribbean reader there will be much that resonates in Volume 26 of the Caribbean Writer. Though it deals with the natural environment, it is not about paradisiacal vistas so much as it is about the stories (in verse and prose) running through the veins of the natural environment. I count among my favourites Tregenza A. Roach’s poem The Grove in Bethesda which speaks of the bridges formed by the environment across which people choose not to cross (“…no love passes between”); and Meagan Simmons’ Drunk Bay Cliffs, a place of natural wonder and painful history (“we stand on the cliffs/and try to drink this place/in without feeling the violence in it:/this wide ocean/gaping like an open mouth”). The Last Crustacean by Shakirah Bourne uses perspective to effectively convey the disturbance caused by unchecked ‘development’. And while June Aming’s Two by Sea delivers bitter justice to those who take advantage of nature, Diana McCaulay’s Sand in Motion has the immediacy of a journalistic feature of nature being laid bare on the altar of development, and in Barbara Jenkins’ The Talisman (one of her two gems in this collection, the other being the adventure Healing Ruptures) nature is a vividly rendered backdrop for a complex and haunting tale of human interaction. Plus, there’s an honest to goodness ghost story, Aaron Adesh Singh’s The Duenne, while childhood takes an even darker, albeit less supernatural turn in Stanley Niamatali’s Girl-Child in which awakening sexuality, domestic violence, and violent nature converge. The protagonist in Thomas Reiter’s poem A Boy Harvesting wonders “Does everything on this island tell a story?” Yes, it does. The Caribbean Writer, the annual print journal of contemporary Caribbean literature, continues to gather the best of them.top
I have mixed feelings about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Lisbeth Salandar character was interesting, intriguing, and well drawn (though that made most of the other characters seem less so by comparison), the writer threads the tension tightly holding your curiousity and at times making you tense up the way a good mystery should. But it’s also fairly slow at both ends of that mystery, especially the back end (i.e. the section after the mystery of the missing girl is solved which feels both anti-climatic and emotionally unsatisfying though it did provide an interesting education on the world of international finance). Still, I’d lost interest in the outcome and still feel troubled that the many dead bodies were so quickly forgotten …but then moral ambiguity even by heroes and heroines is part of this book’s appeal so perhaps that’s intentional. I’d read another one in the series but I’m not hungry for it. I do want to see the film though.top
(excerpted from my review in the Daily Observer), Sugar Barons “is a lengthy read and the territory is generally familiar but the perspectives culled from personal journals, private communications and the like offer up fresh anecdotal tales and colourful personal narratives…” with contemporary resonance and/or ripples re the social and economic impact of sugar and its companion trade in African humans. An interesting read for history buffs and “…a reminder that the impact of the trade in indefinable ways is still being felt to this day.” Warning, the book does humanize the planters/slave owners, but even so slavery as practiced in our hemisphere was unprecedented in its level of brutality, so brace yourselves.top
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