The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 winner was announced on June 5 and the prize this year went to American author Tayari Jones for her novel An American Marriage, published by One World, who brought us my favourite book of 2018 Kintu by Ugandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Renowned for publishing: “emotionally engaging stories with […]
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. Share by excerpting and linking, so to read the full story or see all the images, or other content, you will need to go to the source. No copyright infringement is intended. Let’s continue to support the arts and the artistes by rippling the water together. For earlier installments of the Reading Room and Gallery, use the search feature to the right. This is the 30th one which means there are 29 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. – JCH
“The tiny footprints you made on the home we shared, I could never erase them, and you had me wrapped around your finger while his fingers were wrapped around my neck.” – Catalayah by Wendy Hara
“How many tied cotton bags of crystallized sugar were you and your father’s other bastards given to suckle? So you could, years later, find yourself” – Poems by Jacqueline Bishop
“You need an agent because you’ll be so eager to publish that you’ll pay them” – Tayari Jones
‘More forgiveness and understanding. I talk quite unexpectedly to Ronald Bickram. (There’s no such thing as an innocent introduction.) He was an entrant in the non-fiction category for the Bocas Prize. He admits his work needed more vigorous editing. “I went back and found a mistake on every page!” We have a frank talk about the need for work to be in the best place possible before being released to the world, and for judges and entrants to have conversations similar to ours. “For writers like me to know what to do—how to make the work better,” he says. We shake on this, and he tells me he has a relative in Black Rock, St Michael, not far from where my mother grew up in Barbados. She has a Chinese restaurant with local flare, Wing Kwong. “Tell Rene you met me!”’ – NGC Bocas Lit Fest 2018—Day by Day by Robert Edison Sandiford
CREATIVES ON CREATING
‘Lovers Rock is also about what she goes through in the industry: “I walk into a room and I’ve had my own label for the past five to seven years and the energy is still like, ‘Who do you think you are?'” she says. “I finally was like, ‘No, no, no, you’re not gonna keep disrespecting me.’ The response to the question, ‘Who do I think I am?’ is always, ‘I know who I am, a queen. Who do you think you are?'” – British soul-pop singer Estelle talking to NPR about her new West Indian inspired lovers rock album.
“People assume all kinds of things about you when you’re silent. That you’re stupid. That you’re smart. That you can’t hear. That you can’t communicate. That it’s a religious thing. That it’s an attention-seeking thing. Over the years, Ghillie heard them all. The religious thing was closest to the mark, although truth be told, his motives were far from holy. He made a vow to speak only when he had something worth saying, but he persisted with it because of how crazy it made people. Social workers, teachers, policemen, doorsteppers, they couldn’t bear his silence. Sympathy turned to rage in a surprisingly short space of time, particularly if he didn’t meet their eyes. It gave him a perverse sense of pleasure, saying nothing as they wheedled and cajoled, pleaded and threatened.” – Lynda Clark’s ‘Ghillie’s Mum’
‘We would make up games to entertain ourselves. There were always so many kids, babies, and toddlers around that you had to kind of invent an activity that would be good for all ages. I excelled at this (probably my need to entertain, or just my inherent geekiness). There was the game “questions in a hat,” where we’d rip up small pieces of paper and write anonymous, naughty questions for each of us to pull out of a hat and answer (I’ve since turned it into a drinking game with my friends). We made up dances to show off in the club. We’d play characters and perform skits for one another. We were all the entertainment we had and it was glorious.’ – Issa Rae
“Cap’n Tim Meaher, he tookee thirty-two of us. Cap’n Burns Meaher he tookee ten couples. Some dey sell up de river. Cap’n Bill Foster he tookee de eight couples and Cap’n Jim Meaher he gittee de rest. We very sorry to be parted from one ’nother. We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one ’nother. Derefore we cry. Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama.” – Zora Neale Hurston ‘Barracoon’ excerpt
“I was reluctant to ask him where he was going, what he was doing these days. Part of me was always reluctant to ask this of my friends from primary school, absurdly afraid to embarrass them. At 14, I had been awarded a partial bursary to a private boarding school in the city, which got its prestige from selling itself as an international school, thus attracting children of ministers, ambassadors and the wealthiest in the country. My single mother was a primary school teacher, with a permanent government job, so in primary school I had been considered fairly well-off. As a boarder, I was one of the school’s poorest students, often called to the principal’s office because my mother had missed paying her share of my tuition. The fact that I attended this school, taking French and Drama lessons, around students who spoke English all the time and talked back to their teachers, meant that the trajectory of my life had taken a sharp turn from my primary school friends. Whenever I saw them, I worked hard to reassure them that I had not changed, that I was still the same person who had gathered with them over the soft sorghum porridge we ate at break time.” – Good Manners by Gothataone Moeng
“I think it’s important for us to be honest; to say, yeah, we’ve overcome but also talk about the ugly side of it. Because I’ve found in my experience sometimes you wonder if it’s you alone going through this. If, you know, why isn’t it coming as easy as this particular person. And you’re not hearing the ugly part of it: the I can’t feed myself part of it, the I don’t know where the school fee is coming part of it, the my God I wonder if I can be like one of those women that, you know, sell their bodies to make a dollar part of it, the ugly part of it, the whole you know what I need some new underwear but I’m going to wear the old tear up ones because school fee need to be paid ugly part of it. I just think it would be better if people shared that because we overcome it and it helps us to feel less alone.” – Zahra Airall in Candid Conversation with Alicia Ward
“I’m also aware that of the 400 or so writers featured on the BBC’s ‘Caribbean Voices’ programme over 15 years, only 71 were women and that’s only 1/5th of the voices featured. It was bit of a ‘boys club’, as Alison Donnell says in her essay ‘Heard but Not Seen’ [in The Caribbean Short Story Evans, L., McWatt, M. and Smith, E. (eds.) (Peepal Tree Press, Leeds, 2011), 29-43]. Many of the female Caribbean writers of that time have evaporated into thin air. There are over 200 private collections of papers in the West Indiana Collection at UWI in Trinidad. I was the first West Indian woman to add my papers, four years ago, in 2014. I was shocked to find this out.” – Monique Roffey
“I’ve been immersed in 19th century newspapers and memoirs, mostly from Trinidad. They are fascinating and, because of the blatant blind spots and racism, disturbing.” – Rosamund King
“SE (Summer Edward): Seven Stories, the UK’s National Centre for Children’s Books, recently acquired the archives of UK-based award-winning Guyanese children’s authors, John Agard and Grace Nichols. I find it unsettling that institutions in the UK are more concerned about preserving Caribbean children’s literature as cultural heritage than we here in the English-speaking Caribbean are. What do you see as some of the advantages of creating our own repositories to collect archival material related to the Caribbean children’s literature?
JRL (John Robert Lee): The advantages are that we are better placed to understand the roots and sources of our literature, to identify the authentic stories and storytellers, to make connections between the stories, our histories and our community lives, and to see how the older stories can provide a continuity into the present and future, and even generate new stories that have an authentic foundation in the traditional experiences and values of the past. Our own repositories provide national archives of what we recognise as important records of our literature and history.” – Read the full interview in Anansesem
“PS: When did you decide to pursue your art and writing full time?
Danielle: There was one very clear moment in 2011 when I just could not ignore the pull toward a creative life anymore. It felt like drowning very slowly, little by little each day. I had no idea how I would make it work financially, but I had to leap anyway and have faith. Before this I was an English teacher, and although I loved, and still love, working with children, my heart was pulling me toward something else. Not one day goes by where I am not thankful for the chance to live and work in my purpose.” – Danielle Boodoo Fortune interview
“When I actively started thinking about what I wanted to publish, Una Marson’s Pocomania was on the list. I had been coming across the name of that play as a quintessential Jamaican work since I was doing my BA. I then learned that it was housed in the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) and I thought, that needs to change. If that play was so important, why don’t more contemporary people have access to it? One of the key things to know is that without the printing press, we would probably have forgotten Shakespeare by now. We need to give more of our playwrights similar access. Publishing the works of our playwrights is a part of how we acknowledge, celebrate and keep good work from disappearing into the ether. I, therefore, made my first proposal to publish the works more than a few years ago and the timing wasn’t right. But finally, last year it came to be, and the more I learned about Una Marson, the happier I was that we had managed to publish this.” – Tanya Batson-Savage
“Many of the older writers are still important: Walcott, Brathwaite, Naipaul, Harris, Rhys, Lamming, Hearne among others. Lorna Goodison, Mervyn Morris, Earl Lovelace, Ian McDonald, the late Victor Questel, Dionne Brand and those who follow that first ‘Golden Age’ generation. Many new voices have arrived, many of whose works are rewarded by big prizes: Kwame Dawes, Claudia Rankine, Marlon James, Vahni Capildeo, Kei Miller, Vladimir Lucien, Tiphanie Yanique, Ishion Hutchinson, Shivanee Ramlochan, Ann-Margaret Lim, Richard Georges, Jennifer Rahim among others. These and their many other colleagues are important. Time will tell, of course, how truly important and significant they are. Then there are many Caribbean writers who have grown up in the diaspora: Caryl Phillips, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy and others. Peepal Tree Press, Carcanet and Papillotte Press are doing a great job in publishing the works of the older and newer writers. And we have not even touched writers from the other language areas of the Caribbean.” – St. Lucian poet and archivist John Robert Lee interview with Caribbean Literary Heritage
“In Ghana, I had worked in theater and for Ghana Television. In Barbados, I wanted to carry on theater directing. Since the theater companies were self-segregated, I (being white and nervous about intruding across evident racial lines) went to the one known for white or near-white members and a lot of European plays. They asked me if I had a play to suggest. Death and the King’s Horseman was an ambitious project to do outside Nigeria, requiring a lot of solid grounding in Soyinka’s cultural contexts. It was also ambitious as to the casting, in Barbados. It is a powerful story about English colonial intrusion on an ancient culture, told, as Soyinka carefully explains in his introduction to the play, from within Yoruba social space, focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the title character. He and his society are the core of the play, and so most of the main parts require actors of African descent. To find those actors, I needed to upset the self-segregation common in Barbados theater at the time, and I approached a group of black actors and writers. Earl Warner, later very well known as a major theatrical figure in the region, agreed to play the main role, Elesin. The white actors for the colonial parts came from the company producing the play. The production involved about fifty people, a fairly large budget, and a lot of work.” – Elaine Savory interviewed by Kelly Baker Josephs
“What I find myself most drawn to and excited by (both in my own reading and in programming the festival) are voices and perspectives which are not what anyone would expect. I think that many of us, even here at home in the region – we should know better – we sometimes have very narrow ideas of what the Caribbean is, or should be. What is a Caribbean subject or voice, or topic or question or anxiety, and I’m not keen on that. I think we are far more various than we give ourselves credit for.” – Nicholas Laughlin interview for Caribbean Literary Heritage
“The irony of the Internet, which was supposed to rob us of our attention span and be the death of journalism, is that it has actually promoted a new passion for longform nonfiction. It’s also given us more opportunities to find and discover poets, who are a big part of the movement towards essays as well, since they are doing work that is increasingly hybrid. In general, the best thing I can say about social media and the Internet is that it has allowed a lot of people to bypass the gatekeepers, such that I don’t know if there’s a real gate any more.” – Alexander Chee
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 installments of the Reading Room and Gallery, use the search feature to the right. This is the 26th one which means there are 25 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. – JCH
“When the blackness of winter descends, small signs of ordinary life are especially pleasing. People use the decorative rituals of Christmas as if to wave at their neighbors and call out, “We are still here!” The human race resists obliteration; our spirits are not so easily destroyed.” – Leslie Kendall Dye
“So he argues that it was natural for Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was farsighted, to create poems that themselves capture a wide scope, with their far-off vistas, mountain ranges, and expansive landscapes. Nearsighted Keats, on the other hand, favored images that are self-limiting, close-up, and auditory rather than visual. The sense of hearing, Trevor-Roper suggests, is intensified in Keats’s work for neurological reasons: when the sense of sight is damaged or limited, the other senses develop greater sensitivity in order to compensate for the loss.” – Myopic Keats by Ann Townsend
“The place where someone grows up molds a person. So does an era. Fiction is no different; setting is deeply embedded in the history of a character, and therefore integral to the story’s development and the character’s journey.” – Lorena Hughes
– “I ain’t one of you all peers/I’m the sum of all fears” – Black Thought of The Roots, planting his boot in the Greatest Of All Time debate #topfive
– Black Thought, “who is he?”
“They don’t see creative industries as serious. We dissuade young people from pursuing the arts as careers. We dissuade them from studying literature, we dissuade them from studying film, or art. We shepherd them in to industries that we think are more conducive to the two main revenue streams that we see in our budget – financial services and tourism…they don’t see the economic value to the country; what do we benefit by having theatre, books…” – Richards Georges’ TEDx in the BVI
“If it’s that serious . . . ,” said the younger woman. She paused a moment. “Then you’ll have to make some concessions.” – from The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi, translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright.
“The child she was carrying seemed to grow twice as heavy, and the sky, whose clear blue had been such a welcome contrast to the gray clouds of the past few days, began to stir with an unseasonal southerly wind. As they turned out of the alley where the clothes shop was situated, the contrast could not have been greater: from a lonely place where gusts of wind pursued fallen leaves and scraps of plastic lay idle in the gutter, to the vast expanse of the central road.
There, where the mass celebrations would soon be taking place, the street looked like some fierce wild beast, shaking its mane and roaring. Bristling with posters and placards, strong sharp lines of red writing that made the eye wince to look at them; lined on both sides with innumerable flags, their fabric snapping taut in the wind; pierced by shrill whistles, underlining each new announcement or command; rent down the middle by a dark blue broadcast car, blaring slogans through its loudspeaker, again and again so that the whole street rang with them. Punctuated every so often by a plane looming low in the city’s skies, rising from takeoff or coming onto land; even their engines seemed to explode into an unprecedented roar, agitating the figures who moved below, causing them unconsciously to quicken their step.” – A short story smuggled out of North Korea. From Bandi’s (aka ‘Firefly’) Newly Translated Collection of Fiction.
“Hyacinth Ike wanted to kill himself because he had lived a fulfilled, successful life and couldn’t think of anything else he was loitering in the world for.” – By Way of a Life Plot by Kelechi Njoku
‘People think they are interested in women who don’t play by society’s rules, but when they see it in action, it is too disturbing. A question I kept getting was why is she “like that”? My question was “like what?” After all, in my view, Celestial is a person who wants the same things that anyone wants—to live her life in a way that fulfills her. This emotional limbo of being married but not really, of having one foot in her life as an artist and one foot emotionally serving the needs of her husband—it was too much.’ – Tayari Jones
“I wanted to include self-published works because it can be hard for those authors to get readers to discover their work. A lot of authors who are self-published have reached out to me in hopes that We Read Too can be a place for them to get more reader discovery for their work. I know that for authors of color it can be hard to get into the publishing world, so I want to support those who haven’t gone through the traditional routes. I want all authors of color to have their work highlighted in We Read Too, regardless of how they got their work out there.” – We Read Books Too app founder Kaya Thomas
‘I have a beanbag chair in my office, and there are days when I am sitting in it, looking from my window overlooking Central Park from the 36th floor of the Hearst Building and thinking, “They’re paying me to read?”’ – Leigh Haber
“CaribbeanReads …How did that day dreaming influence your illustrations, Danielle.
“Always close to home, it has been a delight seeing a private student, a little girl of eight whom I tutor, experiencing the antics of Anansi for the first time through Philip M. Sherlock’s Anansi the Spider Man. She had never before read or been read the stories. An essential primer, the book can be enjoyed either way. I was told by Ayesha Gibson-Gill, the National Cultural Foundation’s literary arts officer, that the Bajan book stall at Carifesta XI in Suriname couldn’t stock enough Anansi titles by our authors: everyone was after the trickster. One of the other books I have on Anansi is actually a Dutch title purchased in 2003 at Carifesta VIII, also in Suriname.” – Robert Edison Sandiford on Carifesta Xlll
“The IndyList, as we like to call it, is a selection of 12 Barbadian books to make friends with over the coming year.” Check them out.
Like the title says, this is the tenth reading room. Use the search feature to your right and the term ‘reading room’ to find the others. Nine came before, pack-full-0 good reading: poetry, fiction, non fiction, and some visuals too. Good reading makes for good writing. So use the reading rooms like your personal library and enjoy. And remember, keep coming back; they’re never finished. As I discover things, things get added. And don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts re not only what you read here but also possible additions to the reading room.
“De sun come idlin’
over de hills,
removin’ de shadows
from de tree limbs…” The poetry of Antiguan born poet Althea Romeo Mark, from her collection Palaver. Read more.
“Reading inspires me and reminds me how much I love everything about literature. It makes me eager to join in the conversation.” – Tayari Jones. Read the full at her website.
“Stories are incredibly powerful. They shape our understanding of history, culture, and ourselves. It’s why readers of all ages clung to the viral hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks recently: Seeing an honest representation of someone who looks like you when the world reflects a different norm can be life affirming. It says that your story matters. This is a fact that Andrea Davis Pinkney, an award-winning, bestselling children’s author and a vice president and executive editor at Scholastic, knows.” Read the profile and interview with Pinkney here.
As well as directing The Coming of Org, you were also responsible for shooting, editing and scripting it. Will you continue to oversee every element of your work like this, or does it get quite exhausting?
It is quite exhausting, but I am a control freak, which is not good all the time because you don’t get enough distance from the project. Now, as I have stepped away, I see areas where I could have made the film much better. It is my first narrative film so I hope to learn from this experience; in follow up projects I want to focus on directing and writing… maybe editing too, but I can’t guarantee that I won’t shoot as well.
“My challenge to other publishers of Caribbean children’s titles would be: try and make books available throughout the region and beyond, make them affordable, translate as many titles as possible, and especially help create a literature with the readers in mind, not in a monolithic sense of “Caribbean,” but rather giving margin to different forms of expression that might work at regional levels. That means taking chances on local unknown writers and illustrators who may do well connecting with and inspiring their communities, if given a chance to reach them.” – Mario Picayo, publisher, Editorial Campanita/Little Bell Caribbean, participating in a discussion over at Anansesem on Broader, Better Conversations for Caribbean Children’s Literature
10 x 10 podcasts, a series of 10 minute podcasts with presenter and journalist Rosie Goldsmith. In each podcast Rosie spends 10 minutes talking to authors from five different parts of the world. This includes from the Caribbean region Jamaican writer Lorna Goodison and Belizean writer Ivory Kelly.
This is one of my favourite writers Edwidge Dandicat (whose Farming of Bones and Create Dangeroulsly are among my all time favourite books) talking about another of my favourite writers Jamaica Kincaid (whose Annie John, My Brother, and Lucy are must-reads in my book). She also reads two Kincaid shorts including a personal favourite which I have actually used in workshop, Girl. Listen here.
The essay featured in this post is the Texture of Fiction and in this excerpt you get to sample the texture of Kei Miller’s writing: “I remember a tree in Jamaica that bore as its fruit, prophecies. That’s what it seemed like to me. The tree was in a dust bowl right outside of my high school and there must have been a man or woman who used charcoal to write words like ‘Repent’ or ‘The Prime-minister must fall’ or ‘Know ye this day who you shall serve’ on squares of cardboard. These cardboard signs were hung up in the tree, and the branches had become overburdened with them, like a mango tree in season. Sometimes the wind would rattle these words, the cardboards would hit against each other, such a strange and terrible sound, as if angels were crowded together, back to back, and were beating their wings.”
This edition of Antigua and Barbuda’s Historical and Archeological Society’s newsletter has information on early villages, traditions, why Guiana Island is an ecological gem (something to think about, all things considered), and the Silston Library – have a read: HAS Newsletter 2015 FINAL
“What am I supposed to say to her?” I ask. “That it will get better twenty years from now? It sure didn’t get any better for me.” Read all of Saving April by M. J. Fievre.
“Write the best short story you can, submit to competitions and be ruthless about the quality of the piece. Of the millions of short stories written, there are a handful that are good enough to catch the attention of readers, and if they are good enough to do that an agent will be interested. Practice is essential – not every short story written, even by an experienced writer, will be good enough to be published, so working through any idea until you feel it can be held up to the light is part of the process.” More from literary agent Lucy Luck.
First there’s this “It felt like possibility. It felt like hope” and then there’s this “I thought about where I submitted my work and what the editors would think. I imagined how the piece would fit in with the journal’s aesthetic. I wondered whether or not my work was too experimental or too trite or too coy. I worried that my work was too wrong for the journals I submitted to, too wrong for any journal, really, too wrong to be read by anyone at all.” Eventually, you realize though “(it’s) out of our hands.” – Emily Lackey on submissions.
“I’m not sure where the idea got seeded that author platform equals social media, but it’s time to dislodge that from your head if you believe it to be true. Social media alone is pretty ineffective at moving people to action.” Read what else is needed.
“You give your character opinions, needs, likes, and dislikes; you give him fears, joys, anxieties. Let’s call these ‘personality markers.’ What are her pastimes, fantasies, hopes, memories, and preoccupations? Be sure that some of these are not connected directly to theme and story. Diversify. That’ll avoid creating a character who seems controlled by the needs of her creator, simply a representation of a type. A protagonist might be a lawyer, but certainly not all her waking hours will be spent thinking about the law. These personality markers serve to add surprising and interesting layers to your characters that may indirectly connect to the needs and movement of your story and the themes that compel you.” Read More.
LIke Bridgett M. Davis infers in this piece, there’s no rush; you finish your novel when you finish it. So ease up on yourself. And keep writing.
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
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, 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.
Judy Blume wrote of puberty in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, a favourite of mine going way back. Tayari Jones’ blogging here at shewrites.com and later a facebook ‘friendship’ had landed her acclaimed Silver Sparrow, a tale from the perspectives of two daughters of a bigamist, on my to-read list. I just happened to be here this week for the NY launch of my book Oh Gad! (June 23rd 4 p.m. at Antigua and Barbuda House 12 West 122nd Street, Harlem, NY), and in the midst of mixing promotion with playing tourist (hitting everywhere from Tribeca to Central Park, MOMA to the MET), I found my way to the Barnes and Noble where these two literary ladies would be dialoguing. Lucky me and the 150 or so others ‘eavesdropping’ on their enlightening engagement. A few things that stuck with me… READ MORE
The stacks were overflowing at the original Reading Room and Gallery; I decided to expand. ETA: At this writing, I’ve expanded all the way up to 10 Reading Rooms; use the search feature to the right to find them.
DISCLAIMER: By definition, you’ll be linking to third party sites from these Links-We-Love pages. Linked sites are not, however, reviewed or controlled by Wadadli Pen (the blog, the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize nor coordinator/blogger Joanne C. Hillhouse); and Wadadli Pen (the blog, the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize and coordinator/blogger Joanne C. Hillhouse) disclaims any responsibility or liability relating to any linked sites and does not assume any responsibility for their contents. In other words, enter at your own risk.
Here you’ll find stories, interviews, reviews, poems; you name it…a totally subjective showcase of (mostly) Caribbean written (sometimes visual and audio visual) pieces that I (Joanne) have either personally appreciated or which have been recommended (and approved) for posting/linking. If you’re looking for the winning Wadadli Pen stories (and I hope you are!), check Wadadli Pen through the years. You can also see the Best of Wadadli Pen special issue at Anansesem which has the added feature of audio dramatizations of some of the stories.
As I write this I’m reading Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda (in Spanish and English) and amidst the lush language, I found this gem that seems timely (it being pre-Valentine and all at this posting) – Sonnet XVII which reads in part
Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de si, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.
Quirky, interesting tale from the New Yorker; A Man Like Him by Yiyun Li.
This origin story from the Shonga People in Zimbabwe, published in Anansesem, was quite engaging. Favourite line: “After this they knew that when they listened to the beat of their hearts, they would not feel trapped or lost.”
i’m still on a learning curve with this publishing business. But I can report that much of what this writer says is true, from my experience; and that I read it with an eye toward checking off what I’d done and what I still needed to do. Turns out I’ve done most of it and hope to see it pay off. For anyone thinking of publishing – either independentally or with a publishing house – this is useful information re marketing: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/five-marketing-tips-to-drive-excitement-and-buzz
Anyone who knows me (well) knows how much I love and relate to the music of Lauryn Hill and even to her particular brand of ‘crazy’. It’s why I feel the need to share this: http://vigilantcitizen.com/latestnews/lauryn-hills-tumblr-letter-on-the-music-business/ which says among other things “I Love making art, I Love making music, these are as natural and necessary for me almost as breathing or talking. To be denied the right to pursue it according to my ability, as well as be properly acknowledged and compensated for it, in an attempt to control, is manipulation directed at my most basic rights! ”
“…knowledge of one’s own history and culture has intrinsic value.” Read more in this Carolyn Cooper response to a critic who calls into question the relevance of a course in reggae poetry at the University of the West Indies. Personally, I’d like to see a course in calypso poetry too.
“I thought that publishing a book meant I was a writer, but I was wrong. Convincing yourself each day to keep going, this means that you are a writer.” Read more of Last Lecture: Am I a Writer? by Cathy Day.
This blog entry by Tameka Jarvis shares her review of Rita Marley’s No Woman No Cry, a book I’ve reviewed here in Blogger on Books and which remains one of my favourite autobiographies.
Love this blog entry by Brenda Lee Browne… as I prepare for the launch of my new book, I can relate to the hesitance to dip your toe in the water. This is a scary, scary path we choose when we pour our heart, soul, energy, years of life into this thing that we then have to let go and await the world’s judgment.
This is actually a blog entry by Silver Sparrow author Tayari Jones. Silver Sparrow is on my to read list, NaNo which challenges you to write a certain amount of words in a month, is decidedly not on my to do list, her blog sums up why. Mostly, I like what she suggests about writing being a process not a destination. While challenges like the one mentioned can help a writer develop the discipline needed to finish a book, to take up pen and declare I want to write a book rather than I want to be a writer misses the mark; the latter requires investment in the discipline of actually developing craft and perspective. Read, live, grow, write (and edit, and redraft, and redraft, and redraft…), then (maybe) publish.
The Bronte sisters aren’t Caribbean, unless you count the literary link between Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea or the fact that many of us children of the Caribbean grew up reading both books; either way, I thought this article on the Brontes might intrigue you as it did me.
I’m sharing this interview with Cara Blue Adams, fiction and non fiction of the Southern Review literary journal in the U.S., for two reasons – and, no, one is not her delightfully quirky name. One, I think her insights on the process submissions go through provide some insight and perspective for writers. Two, I found interesting the discussion about fewer women being published (and perhaps) writing…because with Wadadli Pen it’s actually the opposite. A grad student actually asked me about this once i.e. the level of participation among girls versus boys in Wadadli Pen, and it broke down that in 2004 only 12% of the participants were boys, 18 percent in 2005, 29 percent in 2006, 0 percent in 2010, 16 percent in 2011, 23 percent in 2012. The arts in Antigua, I think, are not seen as manly things, and many of the literary folk I come across (not just in Antigua but in the wider Caribbean) tend to be female, but, interestingly, many of the region’s literary legends are male. Interesting.
Their Eyes were watching God is not only one of my favourite books, Zora Neale Hurston, its author, is one of my literary heroes. For more on her, I recommend Valerie Boyd’s Wrapped in Rainbows. This is not an interview but a discussion with Alice Walker, Sonia Sanchez, and Ruby Dee on Hurston’s writing and legacy. It’s lengthy but worth checking out.
Jamaica Kincaid, uncensored…but then isn’t she always. And then there’s this one, I’m struck by how pretty she looks in this interview and by these words “I understood the book much better when I was writing it” (I understand this feeling so much as I try to answer questions now like ‘what inspired you to write this book i.e. Oh Gad!’ when that impulse is now a vague memory).
Surprise, surprise American Scholar Henry Louis Gates is a bibliophile. But do you know which Antiguan author is on his list of essential reading? And which Caribbean writer he’d readily take to the beach again? Check it out.
Author of the Caribbean Adventure Series Carol Ottley-Mitchell’s visual tale featuring the resourceful monkey Chee Chee. Perfect for classroom storytime.
Jamaica Kincaid reading at Columbia “the beauty, economy and precision of Kincaid’s prose transports even the most curmudgeonly and aloof reader into the abject state of gushy fandom.” – Saidiya Hartman, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia university
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.