New interview: Talking Musical Youth, Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project

So, this aired…

Thanks, Anderson Edghill for reaching out and ABS for broadcasting.

Since I’m all about Musical Youth in this, this seems like a good time to remind you, if you’re reading this, and are a young person resident in Antigua and Barbuda, that there’s a challenge on and then a specific Musical Youth challenge within that challenge.

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The other thing they asked me about in this interview was the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project. The registration deadline for which is Friday 24th July. That’s for participants. If you want to support this project financially, there’s still time to Contact me.

Thanks for viewing, for listening, for supporting the page, the hustlethe books, the passions, this journey. Blessings as you pursue your own passion. We only get one go-around; let’s make it count.

Mali Olatunji’s Jumbie Aesthetic Comes to Light with Launch of First Book

Mali A. Olatunji took the photo of me that forms a part of this image in a park in New York, in summer 2012. Hillhouse Read's Kincaid's Lucy, (06.2012)In it, I am reading Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy: A Novel. I think he saw a certain link there, how ever tenuous, given that I was in New York for the launch of my novel Oh Gad! and Kincaid was and remains the most high profile writer from my home country Antigua and Barbuda, and an influence on my becoming as a writer (referenced in many interviews, including this one). Given that last statement, obviously, I’d read several Kincaid books to that point, beginning with the pivotal Annie John: A Novel, but not Lucy. And, yes, I’m actually reading not just pretending to. When you’re posed for as long as I was, it’s inevitable that you’re going to start reading the book you’re supposed to be pretending to read. And, boy, am I glad I did; it became one of my Kincaid favourites.

Anyway, this picture is part of a series of images (I believe) included in Olatunji’s new (first ever, long overdue) book.

Olatunji as you’ll read in this Colin Sampson article has a long record as a professional photographer both here at home and in New York, where he worked for more than two decades as the official fine arts photographer at the Museum of Modern Art. Sidebar: you’ll also note in the Sampson article a critique of how the community fails to utilize people like Olatunji who want to pass on what they’ve acquired over the years.

On that point, you’ll further note that the launch (details at the end of this blog) will be taking place at the Youth Enlightenment Academy, in the former BBC facility on the Sea View Farm Road at Lightfoot, where I held my adult writing workshops earlier this year but which didn’t have its formal opening until this month, July 16th 2015.  For more on YEA, follow the link and/or contact founder and president Lawrence Jardine (770-6955) or Mali Adelaja Olatunji, who serves as the executive director (781-3999). This is a project Olatunji became involved with in an effort to take another stab, not his first, at passing on what he knows – as a photographer, as a student of philosophy with his own unique insights, as an aesthetician, and as an authority and aficionado of Antiguan and Barbudan culture. I can attest from the many spirited discussions and debates we’ve had over the years of our friendship that he is passionate about all of these things.

I’ve known about this book project for a while, and I’m looking forward to it, because in my understanding it’s not just another book featuring pretty pictures (nothing against pretty pictures; I love them too) but a book forwarding a particular philosophy, a uniquely African Antiguan philosophy, but doing so visually and in the process experimenting with a fresh aesthetic.  I’ve variously heard Olatunji refer to it as a jumbie aesthetic and also as woodism. Here’s how it’s explained on the website of his publisher, Hansib, incidentally also the publisher of the second edition of my own The Boy from Willow Bend:

“Like surrealism, cubism and other original aesthetics, woodism is a visual summary of Olatunji’s way of looking at life. In particular, it is an aesthetic that sees the world through the wooded eyes of jumbies. Your jumbie is your soul or the spiritual part of you that survives the death of the body. In Antigua and Barbuda and much of the Caribbean, jumbies are believed to make their post-body home in trees, and in particular silk cotton trees. Hence we can see why Olatunji associates them with a woodist vision of existence.”

Olatunji’s approach involves layering images of trees and leaves over the objects and subjects to reveal the “jumbie’s vision”.
Given the way we still grapple with the jumbie iconography, it’ll be interesting to see how people respond to that idea. Given the breadth of Olatunji’s expression, it’ll be interesting to see how people engage with the artist’s vision. Sidebar-sort-of: you can read more of Olatunji’s insights re art Euro-to-Africa to the evolving Africa-inspired expressions of which he is a part, here.

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That the book, The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda (pictured above), is now coming out is credited largely to Dr. Paget Henry. a professor of Africana studies and philosopher in his own right (his publications include Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy (Africana Thought)).

The book will be launched (and will go on sale) on July 23rd at 7 p.m. with a companion art exhibition featuring the photographic art off Mali Adelaja Olatunji. The night’s scheduled speakers are Lawrence Jardine, Founder, A&B Youth Enlightenment Academy; Paget Henry, Professor, Africana Studies, Brown University; Karen Allen Baxter, Exhibition Curator; Managing Director, Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre, Brown University; Mali Olatunji, Photographer; Executive Director, A&B Youth Enlightenment Academy

Remember, the venue is the Youth Enlightenment Academy in the old BBC building.
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I plan to be there. Do you?

Registration Closing

The extended registration window for the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project will close on Friday of this week (July 24th 2015). I need to cut it off if I have a shot at planning a meaningful experience for participants. If all I have is one interested young writer, and I currently have only a little better than that, I will proceed and give them my undivided attention on their quest to explore their creativity and potentially improve their writing.

Here’s the back story if you’re hearing of this for the first time. It’s also where you can find the registration form.

If you’re on the fence, maybe this recent post I did on linkedin about the 2013 experience will nudge you in the right direction.

And, yes, donor/patron interest is still welcomed.

p.s. if you’ve called me and not received a call back, I’m not ignoring you…I haven’t been able to reach you. I’ve tried to answer every possible question here on the site to get around that kind of thing but… to address some of the more recent questions. The fee is $100 per day per person. Donor funds will help to offset some of these fees so that what the individual person will have to pay will be less depending on the number of registrants and the number of days (currently the public library is booked from August 10th to 12th…subject to expansion). I can’t confirm how much less until I close off registration which I will be doing at the end of this week.

What else? Oh, where to send the form. Forms are to be emailed. Each posting on the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project has had a Contact me option (click on that). And please note that the last update said:

Participants: Registration is now in progress. Please download, complete and email this form: Registration Form

A & B SUMMER READING CHALLENGE GETS “MUSICAL”

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Teens in Antigua and Barbuda, this one’s for you! As part of the Cushion Club Wadadli Pen Summer Reading Challenge, Antiguan and Barbudan teens, 12 to 18, are being invited to read Musical Youth, a Best of Books’ teen summer pick, post a musical or otherwise creative review to the social media platform of your choice, and send the link to submissions@caribbeanreads.com

This is a challenge within a challenge.

You don’t know about the original Cushion Club Wadadli Pen Summer Reading challenge?

Here it is in 50 words or less: Read as many books as you want, write a really-really-really short review of each book read, email your list of books completed and reviews to cushionclub@yahoo.com at the end of August. Maybe win a prize. There are discounts and minimum requirements; search “reading challenge” at the Wadadli Pen website (http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com) for details.

The Map Shop and the Best of Books helped compile the reading lists, so you know the books can be sourced locally. The Best of Books and Cindy’s Bookstore are offering 20 percent discounts to anyone “taking the challenge”. Now, Caribbean Reads Publishing and Joanne C. Hillhouse – publisher and author, respectively – have made the challenge just a little more “Musical”. As Musical Youth, second placed for the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature in 2014, is targeted at teens; they want to know what teens think of this book. This additional prize – sponsored by the publisher and author of Musical Youth – will go to the most creative review.

Keep it honest: you’re not going to be graded up for gushing over the book if that’s not how you feel. Keep it creative: the internet and social media provide infinite ways for you to express yourself. So, in keeping with the book’s theme and cast of characters who embrace music and creativity, share your review in a way that shines a light on your creativity. Once you’ve posted to your YouTube, Instagram, vine, tumblr, twitter, or wherever, email the link and your contact information to submissions@caribbeanreads.com. Feel free to tag as many people as you want in the meantime. You can tag Hillhouse and CaribbeanReads via any of their social media platforms – but you still need to email the link to submissions@caribbeanreads.com. Check caribbeanreads.com and http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com for more details.

You must be based in Antigua and Barbuda to participate. And remember this is part of the Cushion Club Wadadli Pen Reading Challenge. So, you know what you have to do first: read…and remember, get creative and have fun with it.

Mission Possible: Read

This summer, in Antigua and Barbuda, we (meaning me and Cedric of Wadadli Pen and the Cushion Club, respectively, with some overlap in between) decided to challenge our young constituency to spend part of their summer reading. Now, obviously, Cedric who volunteers his Saturdays with the reading Club and I who have done the same with less frequency (and not at all, lately) and who also run the annual Wadadli Pen writing challenge, believe that reading is its own reward. But we got ahead of ourselves and before long were offering a prize to the child who reads the most from an extensive reading list we came up with with the help of the Map Shop and the Best of Books (two local book stores). Cedric’s already collected the first of those prizes from a generous donor at which point we were like well, I guess we’re doing this and we put the word out to the media and on social media. Next thing Best of Books and Cindy’s Bookstore were offering discounts to anyone shopping at their stores and taking the Challenge. Then my publisher CaribbeanReads was getting in on the action with a Musical Youth Challenge within the larger Challenge (more on that in another post, another time). The reason for this post, on realizing that I’ve been blogging about this over at my other blog but have been so busy pushing my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project over here that I forgot to mention it here – crossed wires. But then I came across this picture of me reading to children at the Public Library Summer camp in …I wanna say 2013 (?)…DSC_0344and it seemed a good time to mention it.

Parents, read with your children, go sign them up at the library – the public library (they can’t take out books just yet unfortunately but they could pass the day or part of it reading) or other community libraries, buy them the books (take advantage of those discounts), or trade or borrow books as I used to do back in the day, some of these books may already be in your family’s personal library (and make family there as extensive as you need it to be). Take the challenge, not just for the prize, but for the discovery, the adventure, the joy of reading. Details here.

Reflecting on Rachel Renee Russell’s Writers Digest Interview

The Rachel Renee Russell Writers Digest (January 2015) interview that prompted this post is actually not available online; though you can find outtakes and insights from that interview on the WD website. I wanted to speak a little bit on a couple of things that jumped out at me just now from reading the interview.

Like this exchange about the publishing industry and writers of colour.

Q. Do you feel that minorities as a whole are underserved by the publishing industry?
A. Oh, most definitely! There’s always the fear that [a book with] an African American character is not going to sell as well, or is not going to be well-received by readers or the book-buying population. I can understand that, but I think some of it is created by the publishing industry.

There was a bookstore – I think it was Borders – that would file all of the African American books together in one section. If the books were non-fiction, I could see where it would make sense, because you do have African American history. But [they] put all of the African American books in the same section for fiction – which would not be such a problem for an adult author. But if you’re a children’s author, more than likely the children are going to be hanging out in the children’s section [where your books aren’t shelved]…

Then you have to worry about publishers thinking that your book is not going to sell to anyone but black people – and of course you want to sell to everybody. You want your book to be embraced by everybody in the world. As an African American author, there are challenges.”

As an African Caribbean author there are similar challenges so this jumped out at me. Of course, I’ve written across the spectrum – children’s, teen/young adult, adult – I don’t think black adult writers have it easier than children’s writers, and I guess I don’t quite understand why books can’t be filed according to demographics and according to genre – like, why is it either/or. But maybe there are just too many books in the world and though Oh Gad! for instance Launch photo Eustace Samuelmay appeal to readers who favour women’s fiction, or readers who favour adult dramatic fiction, or readers looking for black fiction, or readers interested in Caribbean or world fiction, it can only sit in one category never to be found by those strolling the other aisles. Assuming it makes it into the bookshop at all. Like I said there are a lot of books. I have to admit though I think a Musical Youth for instance Musical Youth could move more units if filed in the teen/young adult section, not only the black book or Caribbean books section. There’s a teen of whatever race who won’t wander over the black books section who might be able to relate to it, and it frustrates me a teensie bit that they might never find it. So anyway I get what she’s saying.

She also had an interesting comment about writing a character of another race as she does in her Dork series – “when Nikki popped into my head, she was a white girl. I don’t know why, but she just was…” This, I have to admit this is something I’ve struggled with. Not with Aeden in Oh Gad! though he is neither black nor is he from the same Antigua I’m from if we take certain class distinctions into account. But I never felt like I didn’t know him – even with him being a him (at least not once he corrected me about his name). But there’s a long-in-gestation work-in-progress with a caucasion character with whom the struggle is very real; I don’t want to hover on the surface of her so I’m working to get into her skin, to understand her though we are of different races, nationalities, ages, cultures…so many miles between us and yet she is insistent that she is a part of this story that I’m struggling to tell for reasons that have only partially to do with her, and of which she is only one part, but a significant one. I’m not resisting her, I like the challenge, and I also like that parts of her feel familiar. Then there’s the story I recently submitted somewhere where the man’s voice, though he’s black, is so different from the familiar Caribbean cadence all around me, to the point that before hitting send I worried that I would be perceived as both imposer and imposter, but after several go-arounds with him, I had to acknowledge that it was as surely his voice as if he was standing in front of me speaking to me. Point is when characters come, as much as I embrace writing my world, and through programmes like Wadadli Pen, encourage young Antiguan and Barbudan writers to do the same rather than defaulting to stories about the people and things we’ve been conditioned to believe stories are about, when characters seemingly out of step with the world we know or the world as we think we know it show up, as long as they’re true and themselves, a writer can’t help but listen to and try to understand them.

Finally, an interesting insight about her process; when writing, she can’t get more than a chapter ahead of the illustrations – as in she can’t write the whole thing and then say to the illustrator, okay, now, draw. The images help to inspire the telling. That was interesting to me and a reminder that every writer has her/his process and you have to do what works for you.

On to Read the World

Received a copy of Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan earlier this year. Anyway, I’m now starting to read it; looking forward to it to.finished-book I enjoyed her blog and her journey and, intrigued about the entire enterprise, was happy when she agreed to be interviewed for my other blog a while back. I thought I’d share the release that came with the book. It’s no less than I’d want any other writer and/or blogger to do for one of my books.

A thought-provoking and eye opening journey through world literature inspired by a quest to read a book from every country.
In 2012 the world arrived in London for the Olympics…and Ann Morgan went out to meet it. She read her way around all the globe’s 196 independent countries (plus one extra territory), sampling one book from every nation – from classics and folk tales to current favourites and commercial triumphs, via novels, short stories, memoirs, biographies, narrative poems and countless mixtures of all these things.

It wasn’t easy. Many languages have next to nothing translated into English. Then there are tiny, tucked-away places like Nauru and Tuvalu where very little is written down at all. Some countries have a culture of almost exclusive storytelling. Others have governments that don’t like to let works of art leak out to corrupt Westerners.

Her literary adventures shed light on the issues that affect us all: personal, political, national and global. What is cultural heritage? How do we define national identity? What constitutes a national literature? Is it possible to overcome censorship and propaganda? And how can we celebrate, challenge and change our remarkable world?

Turns the page…