Tag Archives: Toi Dericotte

Reading Room XIII

This page is for sharing links to things of interest around the internet. It’ll be sporadically updated; so, come back from time to time. For the previous reading rooms, use the search feature to the right, to the right.


“‘I didn’t know blacks were Catholic!’ she stammered.” – Toi Derricotte


with Mary Robinette Kowal:
“It’s okay that you don’t understand it, she wasn’t speaking to you” – Read More. Trivia: I’m mentioned in this interview for my involvement in this project (i.e. the book she’s discussing Of Noble Family). Listen to the interview to find out how.


with Erna Brodber:
“Well, I write because I am too shy or too lazy to do something else—go around and preach, for instance. If I could do other things, I don’t suppose I would write.” Read more.


with Quincy Jones:
“You want to see kids getting into music instead of shooting each other.” Read more.


with Angela Davis and Toni Morrison:
“This is a bit of an aside, but it relates to what you just said about creating firm boundaries with people. Once, I saw you reading at Columbia University, and a woman stood up and said, ‘Toni Morrison, I would love to read you this poem I wrote,’ and you said, ‘No.'” – Read more.


with Isabel Allende:
“I don’t have a plan when I start writing. On January 8th, my starting date, I turn on the computer and open a vein. Books are written with blood, tears, laughter and kisses. Usually I have a vague idea of a time and a place where the story may happen and that’s pretty much it. In the daily exercise of writing the characters come out of the wallpaper; at first they are vague shadows but soon they become real people. My job is to be flexible, not to impose on them my own ideas, allow them to act and tell me their stories, like actors in a play. I never know when or how the book will end and often I can’t even describe it until I print it and read the whole manuscript on paper. Only then I know what the story is about.” Read more.


with author Edwidge Dandicat:
“I think mostly in English and in Creole. There’s a constant flow of translation going on in my head. I hear the characters in whatever language they’re speaking—mostly Creole and sometimes also French—and I’m like the scribe in the corner taking notes.” Read more.


with author Stephen King:
Lahey: Great writing often resides in the sweet spot between grammatical mastery and the careful bending of rules. How do you know when students are ready to start bending? When should a teacher put away his red pen and let those modifiers dangle?

King: I think you have to make sure they know what they’re doing with those danglers, those fragmentary and run-on sentences, those sudden digressions. If you can get a satisfactory answer to “Why did you write it this way?” they’re fine. And—come on, Teach—you know when it’s on purpose, don’t you? Fess up to your Uncle Stevie!

Read more.


with Mud Season editor Rebecca Starks:
“What I’ve learned is that it’s no good rationalizing, as a writer: the poem, the story, the essay—they have to work. Readers feel the flat lines, they puzzle over plot or characters that feel under-motivated, they are really looking for something in some way transformative. Once you realize that real people are reading what you’ve written—taking it very seriously, debating it, wanting to root for it—you realize that what you send out has to be able to stand up to that. You don’t abandon the work—you go back and finish it.” Read more.


“But I am woman


to nurse

my scream

like a mute child” – Madness Disguises Sanity by Opal Palmer Adisa


Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit is still haunting, still iconic. I used it recently in a workshop, looking at the symbolism, imagery and other literary devices employed by the writer of the song, Abel Meeropol.

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

I recently came across this NPR report about the writer of the song, and this page about the evolution of the song. Both are work checking out.


“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?” – Marianne Williamson


Ernestine Johnson, not your average black girl…


It’s White House Def Poetry featuring Esperanza Spalding. It counts.


“…but you know my food in de wild
going be fasting and prayer, my Mums.
I sure you don’t want my Papa up so…”

and him turn him eye up to de sky,
“to vex wid me right as I start out?”
“Why you can’t pray here, son?

I will keep food and drink far from you.
I will honour your fast. Is a thing I do for
Joseph plenty times when him was still wid us.” Read More of Pamela Mordecai’s Jesus Takes Leave of Mary and Goes in to the Desert from De Book of Mary a Performance Poem by Pamela Mordecai


“I couldn’t go anywhere without thinking about the brutalities of the past and wondering what happened here, in this particular spot where I am standing now.” – Australians Halcyon McLeod and Willoh S. Weiland re their residency at Fresh Milk in Barbados.


“I took the  mission to heart because I had to find out for myself what is possible, what can be done, when The Work is more important than feeding The Suits. Some got it, totally. Many others poked fun at our efforts.” – Joanne Gail Johnson speaks of answering her soul’s question


“Can this be death?” Prince Andrei wondered, with an utterly new, wistful feeling, looking at the grass, at the wormwood and at the thread of smoke coiling from the rotating top. “I can’t die, I don’t want to die, I love life, I love this grass and earth and air . . .” – The Death of Prince Andrei Excerpted from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Constance Garnett


“At Barnard, then-Marlene Boyer had been a theater major. Jess had seen her perform in several college productions: The Wife of Bath from ‘The Canterbury Tales’, a brown Hester Prynne in a modernist version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’. But now Marlene had the stage to herself. And she wanted Jess there to witness it and to tell the world about it.” – Quality Control: a short story by Edwidge Dandicat


“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.” – so begins The Lottery by Shirley Jackson; read the full story here.


Beautiful and powerful and heart maddeningly sad …Light by Lesley Nneka Arimah


“Tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories that other people can tell. Because [as a] starting writer, you always start out with other people’s voices — you’ve been reading other people for years… But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell — because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.” – Neil Gaiman


“The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure. It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.” – Neil Gaiman


“It’s a reality check for many authors just how much editorial work may be needed before their manuscript is publish-ready. And editorial work is largely undervalued. Most authors expect to pay good money for design. Less so for editorial work.  Many authors think that because they’re a good writer, they’re a good editor. Not so. I’ve had writers tell me they don’t think they need an edit because they’ve taught writing. Believing you can be the editor of your own work is presumptuous at best. It’s important to remember that you don’t have distance from your own work when you’ve been toiling away at your project for months or years. Few people have the discernment required to execute a final draft of a manuscript that only needs a proofread.” – Brooke Warner


I like Kenyon’s Why We Chose It series in which they explain, well, why they chose a particular story for publication. It can be instructive to writers. And as I write this I’m reminded of what we try to do with Wadadli Pen, this labour-intensive system of having the judges provide edit notes, returning the short listed pieces to the writers with these notes so that they can consider ways of improving their submission before re-submitting for the final round of evaluation. I’m reminded that not every person submitting appreciates how rare that is; with most contest and/or journal submissions either you’re in or you’re out (rejected! rejected! rejected!) and they don’t have time to hold your hand. So it’s always a little baffling to me when the short listed writers don’t take up the opportunity to at least consider the edits. It’s not obligatory and failure to take up the edits won’t result in penalization but as a budding writer why wouldn’t you take the benefit of the wisdom of those with a bit more experience wrangling words? I remember in particular this poem from a few years ago that was a favourite of the judges but parts of it were messy; the writer though opted not to revisit it and another strong piece made stronger by the writer taking the opportunity to review the editors’/judges’ suggestions edged it out. At least in my mind that’s how it played out; maybe it wasn’t that close. But I do remember the piece being strong and I do remember the writer blowing off the idea of revisiting the piece (just seeming disinterested); and I do know that though the writer didn’t go home empty-handed, another writer’s name made it on to the Challenge plaque that year. Anyway, the Why We Chose It series reminds me of those kinds of opportunities, missed. The explanation in the post linked here made me not only think of Wadadli Pen but of my own submission experiences and of being on the other side of this when editing Tongues of the Ocean. In the latter role, there was a part of me that wanted to give every story submitted a shot and so for the more promising ones I tried to work with the writer, offering edit suggestions…some of which were considered, some of which were completely ignored (not ignored as in, yes, I’ve looked at it, I disagree with you and I think it works as is; but ignored as in editing what’s that, huh, I can’t be bothered). In the end, I’m happy with how the issue turned out but I think I gave myself more work than I needed to (I should’ve just let go of the ones that were non-responsive or the ones that needed too much work to be publishable). But I really wanted to SHOWCASE the NOW Antiguan and Barbudan literary arts scene. We are here-ah we yah became my mantra but sometimes it felt like I was the only one who gave two bleeps about that. The process gave me a better appreciation, even after my years managing Wadadli Pen, of how a story can come just that close and still not make it across the finish line. Kenyon Review is one of those publications I’ve submitted to but failed to get into. But I’ll keep tinkering and *knock on wood* someday get across that finish line. Until then, I keep paying serious attention to posts like David Lyn’s Why We Chose It – The Seige at Whale Cay by Megan Mayhew Bergman.


“Sooner or later, despite your best efforts, your book will go out of print. Either the publisher will notify you, or royalty statements will indicate that the book isn’t being sold any more. If you’ve protected yourself by including the contract clauses I suggested, you’re in good shape.

Not sure what your contracts say? Go to your files and check all contracts for your existing books. There’s a good chance your con­tracts contain these clauses. If you don’t have a clause reverting the rights of your out-of-print book to you, the going will be tougher, but not impossible.” – Robert W. Bly on What To Do When Your Book Goes Out of Print


“My two cents is this: Be aware of the sea change we are in right now. Don’t assume anything. Do your homework and ask questions. If you get a traditional deal with no advance, I’d advise you to look elsewhere, or at least negotiate for much higher royalties. Save for publicity, no matter what path you choose. And if you have a publisher—whether it’s traditional or hybrid, be the squeaky wheel, though not to the point of becoming so annoying you start to alienate the team that’s working for you. You’re competing for attention at every turn on this journey, so don’t be afraid to make yourself noticed. To ask questions. To think creatively—and big. Work with your team to think outside the box about creative publicity and platform opportunities. Copy what’s been done well. Try to have some fun while you’re at it. Don’t ever ever give up on your publishing dream.” – Brooke Warner


“Most important of all, I’m writing most days. I now understand viscerally (I took a while to really get this) that since the only variable I can control is the writing, I should make that my unrelenting focus. I get the occasional editing job, which I also enjoy. And from September, if all goes as planned, I’ll be teaching again–part time, of course. Writing must come first, whatever the hell is happening on the publishing front.” – More from Liane Spicer on her publishing journey.


“send it out there and risk the rejection” – Maeve Binchy


Arianna by Antigua-born filmmaker Shashi Balooja:



Noel Norton photography Washer Woman

“(Peter) Minshall in his stunning and definitely spectacular King and Queen costumes employ(s) kinetic constructions, animated by the wearer and sometimes by modern technological devices such as the electric compressor in the King costume Man-Crab (1983). compressor pumped blood over a canopy of white silk. Minshall’s band, in this Morality Play, with Man-Crab as an allegory for the destructive power of modern life…and the Queen – Washerwoman who was the embodiment of purity and harmony. Washerwoman was killed, a surprising  victory of Evil over Good. It is a stunning piece of visual collective art.” – Tim Hector in the Art of Carnival and the Carnival of Art, originally published in his Fan the Flame column, recently reproduced in The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 Fall 2015. Images taken (borrowed) respectively from the online photogallery of Noel Norton and a Caribbean Beat article on the man himself.


In this short film, a 13-year-old girl and her grandfather, hiding out in a wooded cabin after a plague, meet the challenge of their lives when her birthday trip to a trading post goes horribly awry. Starring Frankie Faison (The Silence of the Lambs, “The Wire,” “Banshee”) and introducing Saoirse Scott (“One Life to Live”). It’s directed by Luchina Fisher and is based on a short story written and adapted for the screen by Tananarive Due and Stephen Barnes – you may remember them from the first Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival in 2006.


“In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal torments Clarice with memories of lambs being slaughtered on the farm where she lived as a child.” – Amanda Patterson on Torturing your characters


“I am always far more impressed by writers who are able to craft complicated plots, for example, since this is an aspect of writing I find difficult.” – Writing Dialogue by Rowena MacDonald


“A few years ago, at a venue in Manhattan, I read the title story from my collection — when I only hoped it would be a collection.   There was a nice little audience — other writers, friends, friends of other writers….my mother.   It went well, there was lively response and positive feedback afterward.  But most of all, the next day my mother sent me an email that said she was “proud” of me.  My West Indian mother, a woman of a certain age.  She’s encouraged me and supported me throughout my life, but she is not one to boast or to throw around words like “proud”.  That’s a level of permission, no Permission, that is invaluable.” – Anton Nimblett, author of Sections of an Orange




“On writing, my advice is the same to all. If you want to be a writer, write.” – Anne Rice. Tips from my favourite author of vampire lore plus Madeleine L’Engle, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Joss Whedon, E. B. White, Doris Lessing, Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury, John Green and much more. Read them all here.


“The truth is, in real life I’d treated this man poorly. The couch had been my sister-in-law’s doing — she’d been moving a bunch of stuff out of the apartment we shared, and she had the movers drop the couch at the car-repair garage where this guy worked. (It was actually pleather, the first lie.) I didn’t even know she’d done it until he called to thank me. He said nobody had ever done anything like this for him, given him a couch. He said it was like coming home to a room full of rose petals.It got me thinking: What if I had given him that couch? What if I’d been a person turned generous by pain, rather than stingy? So I wrote a story — created a kind of fictional terrarium — in which that possible version of myself might thrive. I tell this story to suggest that writing doesn’t correspond to lived experience just by reflecting or deploying it. The relation can take other forms: inversion, distortion, opposition; not merely wish fulfillment but hypothetical catastrophe. Fiction offers a set of parallel destinies.” – Leslie Jamison on Is It Okay to Mine Real Relationships for Literary Material? in the New York Times

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight,  Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad!, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. And using any creative work without crediting the creator will open you up to legal action. Respect copyright.

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