UPDATED TO ADD: I don’t have any more stops scheduled at this writing but never say never – as approached this time around it was manageable and even fun. And if there was patronage to cover in-school writing workshops and/or support book giveaways to the students, even better. Hit me up if you’re either a potential school or potential patron, and I’ll keep you in the loop re future plans as and if they develop.
Pulled in to my last tour stop on my February schools tour, Antigua Girls High School, today. And after a very fun session, I’m having thoughts and feelings…hope you’ll indulge me…I’ll even give you some pictures to look at as you do so…
…and yes, I still get nerves, no shame in that… the challenge is to rise to the occasion…and usually once I get in to the reading, I do that. Usually. To that end, the impromptu dance competition as three of the girls and their always game teacher Ms. Airall attempted one of the dance moves from the book Musical Youth, from which I read.
I normally sign books for young readers with something like “dream”, “keep striving”, “Aspire!” while adult readers tend to get an “Enjoy” and a “Thanks for the support”. Talking to someone today about the power of high expectations in the lives of young people (in our own lives where our parents expected us to push beyond mediocrity to our personal best), I got a sense of where this impulse is coming from. We need to let our youths know that we believe in them, encourage them to believe in themselves, challenge them to resist settling…knowing that we’ll have their backs either way but we love to see them replace can’t with try …(*awkward segue ahead*) as the ones who stood before the entire auditorium to give Zahara and Shaka’s dance in Musical Youth did; try, that is…yes, they tried it…and for daring, they got copies of Burt Award winning titles All Over Again by A-dZiko Gegele, Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis, and (not a Burt title) my own Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, contributed, respectively by Burt Award sponsors CODE and my schools tour partner the Best of Books bookstore.
I was thinking afterwards as well about my answer to the question about planning/outlining (my stories, pre-emptive to writing them) which I admitted I don’t do a lot of – not in a methodical way – when it comes to writing; explaining that I like to discover the story as I write it; that’s what keeps pulling me back to the page. I should have explained though about the multiple rounds of redrafts and edits that that first draft goes through…it’s not all write blind, then publish; there is craft and purpose involved in this crafting. Hopefully, they read between the lines.
I tell the truth because, in addition to the moral issues, like Zahara in Musical Youth , I don’t have the energy to remember lies and I’m not good at it anyway, but these kids challenged my best intentions with some of their questions… do you make money as a writer? Not nearly as much as I’d like to but God usually opens up a way for me to make what I need (*fingers crossed for a best seller or Oprah book club selection some day*)… have you ever thought about giving up writing? I would except I don’t have writing, it has me… I just can’t quit it #BrokebackMountainreference … what inspires you? … what doesn’t? … Who inspired the character of Vere in The Boy from Willow Bend?… Vere was his own unique, patch-worked creation who stepped in to what was to me a familiar world, as my world of first memory, a dead end willow tree lined alley… Was the character of the grandfather based on anyone? … sigh, now why’d they have to go and ask that…
I want to shout out the girls of Antigua Girls High School who, under the guidance of drama coach and their teacher, Zahra Airall, won the local secondary schools drama festival; happy to give them copies of Musical Youth as congratulations and encouragement…
look forward to them bringing home the prize from the Caribbean leg of the competition… and even if they don’t proud of them for doing what the kids in Musical Youth do: do something they love, meet the challenges that come with that, dare, and surprise themselves.
Thanks, Ms. Airall and AGHS for hosting us (me and the Best of Books) – it was a blast!
Previous stops on my February Schools Tour with the Best of Books: Clare Hall Secondary School & St. Mary’s Secondary. Also this month, an interview on Good Morning Antigua Barbuda Teen Edition on ABS:
Are you doing this so others won’t think badly of you (because there’s no guarantee that they won’t even if you do)
Are you doing this because you don’t know how to give a straight no (and managed to talk your way into a bent yes)
Are you doing this because, okay, sure it’s an inconvenience but it’s the right thing to do
Are you doing this because you think you should
Are you doing this because you want to
Are you doing this because you really, really want to
…why are you really doing this?
I have been to St. Mary’s Secondary School a few times but as the principal reminded me this morning I was invited back last year and had to opt out. Where I live, these school visits are voluntary time and volunteering that time isn’t always possible. But because I’d had to pass in the recent past, I was glad that they, like Clare Hall Secondary a week ago, responded positively to my invite to secondary schools to register for a stop on my February 2015 Schools Tour (as it was my hope that the schools I’ve had to tell no the last year or so would have been the first ones to take up this offer).
Best of Books’ Glen Toussaint and I made the drive to the school on February 10th. I read my story What’s in a Name from the latest issue of BIM: Arts for the 21st Century and sections of my book Musical Youth – and was surprised to discover as I did so that both stories had a Big Head and an Accident… seriously, Joanne, what’s with the names?
Well, this wasn’t the purpose of the names but never let it be said that funny names don’t make for good ice breakers because from the jump there was laughter from the group of students packed into the library, and, thankfully, they seemed to stick with it as the stories grew more sober. Glen was a hit with his supernatural Caribbean lore – Slapping Hands to Soucouyant. There are Dominicans and Antiguans in my family so I was fed a diet of lore from both countries, and given that much of traditional knowledge is passed through the maternal line, Dominican lore aplenty, but the Mousee was new to me and the children alike. He’s been collecting and blogging these mostly oral tales. The group of teens had lots of what ifs for Glen particular as relates to that last folk tale after and I tried to encourage them to turn those what ifs into stories of their own.
I spoke briefly with one of those teen reader-writers as she perused the books table who made my day when she said, “this book especially makes me want to write”, referencing Musical Youth - I’m happy she found this story of teens, music, friendship, young love, really relatable; and I hope she does indeed feel inspired to tell her own stories.
Much like the group at Clare Hall, they asked questions about what inspired my stories and how long the writing process takes. With how fast I was reading, I’m just surprised they could keep up.
I’m doing a few school stops this month. First stop Clare Hall Secondary. Below are some highlights (a couple courtesy of my tour partner the Best of Books and the rest provided by the school).
I did two presentations that day. The first was with Ms. Davis’ fourth formers. Ms. Davis, of the school’s English department, had actually reached out to me some time ago to come speak to her students, maybe do a session on writing with them. It took a while to make it happen (time, you know). But then when I hit on the idea of doing a schools tour in February and wrote to the various secondary schools, Ms. Davis was one of the first to register. Then, as fate would have it, I was subsequently contacted by Ms. Shadrach, from the school’s Library Services department, about her planned author’s day – I informed her of my already planned visit to the school. Somehow these two things converged, so that I spoke with Ms. Davis’ students (though perhaps for a shorter time than anticipated) and with the students Ms. Shadrach had gathered in the auditorium for the author event – where my tour partner Best of Books also set up their display. I read from Musical Youth twice that morning (February 3rd).
One of my favourite memories though is the two boys who came up to the Best of Books table, after the author presentations had broken up. They asked if I’d written the Boy from Willow Bend (or rather if I’d really written The Boy from Willow Bend) and told me they’d read it in class (and acted out parts and everything). “I played Vere,” one said and I wish I’d been there to see that because seriously how often do you get to see students bringing your characters to life?
I’m happy that they seem to be still embracing The Boy from Willow Bend. Hopefully, Musical Youth will prove to be as enduring. The students did seem to enjoy the excerpts read, so fingers crossed.
The author gathering in the auditorium included presentations by Floree Williams, Lionel Max Hurst, Sylvanus Barnes, and Timothy Payne – whose bag of props – bush tea to bull bud – was a particular hit with the kids.
Below is the press release issued by Insomniac on the publication of the 10th anniversary edition of my book Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. Also here’s the PDF: Dancing Nude in the Moonlight f14 press releases 3
“A narrative that is rich in issues, values, intercultural conflict, and gender relations as
they present themselves in Antigua today… (the) love story is sensitive, sensuous, well nuanced…”—
Dr. Elaine Olaoye (Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books, 2008)
Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Antiguan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse’s novella about love across
cultures, was published in 2004 to critical acclaim in the Caribbean. The book is taught in Antiguan
and Barbudan high schools, and gives a touching picture of the problems a young couple
face as they attempt to build a life together.
Selena is from Dominica, and Michael is from Antigua. She is a single mother, struggling to
make a living in a new country. He is a former West Indies cricketer, forced by injury to coach a
school team instead. In spite of their mutual attraction, their path to happiness is a rocky one as
they try to bridge the gaps between their two cultures and their different lives.
In addition to this work, the new edition includes “fan fiction” and poetry based on the story,
and other short stories and poems depicting life in Antigua. Hillhouse’s clear-eyed social observations
and deep understanding of the issues facing women in the modern Caribbean in particular
make these stories tender and powerful. A social worker comes to terms with her own past as
she struggles to help a girl who has been abused; a teacher forms a complex bond with a former
student; and a widow tries to hold onto her memories of her happy marriage in spite of revelations
about her late husband.
Joanne C. Hillhouse is the author of Musical Youth, which placed second in the 2014 Burt
from Willow Bend; Dancing Nude in the Moonlight; and the children’s picture book Fish Outta
Water. She has also been published in several international journals and anthologies, including
Round My Christmas Tree, Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, For Women: In
Tribute to Nina Simone, and In the Black: New African Canadian Literature. Hillhouse lives in
Antigua. She runs the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize writing program to nurture and showcase the literary
arts. Visit jhohadli.wordpress.com and wadadlipen.wordpress.com.
November • Fiction • Trade paperback • 978-1-55483-140-1
Canada $19.95 • U.K. £9.95 • U.S.A. $19.95
The noise is loud. It’s distracting and at times unsettling. The gong of the su-su, the certainty we all have that we know what’s real and true, the illusion that this is firm ground we’re standing on, the fear that we are completely, completely wrong.
The noise is life. And it’s what you’re likely to find yourself thinking about after perusing Emile Hill’s latest show. The artist that a few years ago launched a photography book all about angels, dips his brush into more earthly and eclectic themes with a sense at once searching and sardonic.
I am moved to write of the noise of life as I consider Emile’s efforts to meld sound and visual, so that as your eyes catch on the piercing stare – daring or bravado, you’re not sure – of the subject in Titanium, you listen to Sia’s voice soaring over a deafening David Guetta rhythm (performing, what else, Titanium) through the headphones provided. The effect is to block out the world and draw you into the world of the painting. The world of the painting is always inspired by the world we live in, of course, but in the twisted way of dream, nightmare, projection – distorted, softened or hyper-focused in some way. Done well, it not only pulls you out of your world but pulls something out of you that is sometimes even hard for you to pin down. Why do we respond to this piece of art over that?
For me, the ones I responded to include the one I think of as the eerie (can’t remember its name) – its mixture of birds and mists pointing to gothic allusions; Sisterhood – a line of females half nude, so at ease in their natural skin, so at ease with each other that even as you admire the photographic storytelling – this was one of the few straight up photographs in the show – you jealously wish you were in that space with those women, a part of the sisterhood; and the denseness of Forest for the Trees, the world it projects, so big, you only belatedly notice the the girl – who is that girl, is she you? – at the edge of it.
The wry humour of pieces like Pregnant Pause and the one (again the name escapes me) about the lie/line between who we are and who we project to the world (this latter a visually quirky piece which with its juxtaposition of tea, the most formal and pretentious of beverages, and the use of a box as the head, also advertently or inadvertently says something about the affectations we ourselves take on and at the same time the boxes people try to put us in).
There is no clear, single narrative or technique, rather a sense of an artist exploring, adventuring, discovering, and that’s always interesting.
And if amidst all of it you find yourself sinking into ruminations on life, melancholic ruminations on what it is to be in this space of unencouraged potential and petty politics, and on what it is to be an artist in this space where art or even the impulse to create is neglected, well, that’s kind of the point isn’t it. The image from the show of the stripped figure, slumped shoulders, blue aura, taking off his (heavy, box) head like it’s the weight of the world, and putting it down becomes emblematic of what it all means, how it can weigh you down, everything, and how in the midst of that, being able to paint it, sing it, write it, express it in some way, is a gift.
So kudos to Hill for being able to ‘speak’ it in some way that ushers others into a conversation, not with him necessarily, or even with others, but with themselves.