Caribbean Authors this week (April 11) @marshagomes #VolcanoStVincent #Joinourshowcaseofbooks #CaribbeanBookMagic #BrooklynCaribbeanLiteraryFestival #FireonMontserrat @catherineDorsetteCaribbean Authors this Week (April 11) — Caribbean Authors
I just got my latest yes, a poem, ‘Antigua at Night’, forthcoming May 2021 in Volume 10 of BIM: Arts for the 21st Century. It was a nice lift, especially since I opened the email certain that my submissions had been rejected (I’ve been on a roll with the rejections). I was surprised that of 6 submitted poems and one submitted short story (a short story that’s been workshopped and edited), this poem was the one to be picked. I think of myself as a story/fiction writer and don’t feel as confident of my poetry though I have had a comparable number of poems published as fiction. So, yes-I, a poem was picked.
This brings me to my first big yes.
I came across this question/statement in a LitHub article in which several writers shared their first big yes.
“When I think of the first Big Yes, I think of the moment that marks the first big shift, either external or internal, in the trajectory of a writer’s career or their understanding of themselves as a writer. I’ve carried the question with me through my own development as a writer, because, in an industry that oftentimes feels obsessed with national awards and accolades, most-anticipated and bestseller lists, it’s easy for me to convince myself that when I get there—wherever “there” may be—I will have finally made it. That “there” will be the achievement that defines or legitimizes my career as a writer.” (Benjamin Schaefer)
And I thought I’d play too here in my playground.
So, my first big yes was in 2000. I had a poem published in Ma Comère: Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars Volume 3, and it was my first internationally accepted anything. It was a very short poem, Philly Ramblings 8, part of a series of poems I wrote during a summer (I think it was summer) spent in Philadelphia, 1997, which was a changing season for me – as I left my first post-university job for my second that year, and was still feeling restless about the path I was on (journalism) relative to the path I wanted to be on (creative writing). In 2000, I feel like I was at another crossroads, having again switched jobs, out of journalism in to public education. I had never stopped writing creatively. Quite the opposite. I had in the years in-between worked on what would become my first and second books, The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and, once I went freelance, in time, my various professional paths would converge. But, in 2000, I was still very uncertain that I would ever get my breakthrough as a published writer. I remember being very excited to have a poem, a very short poem, accepted. I remember the contract came in the mail (snail mail). I could cry at how encouraged I felt (notwithstanding it not being a great contract). I was in print!
Full circle moment. And lots of nerves.
How about you, writer or not, what was your first big yes?
RIP, DMX. One of the best to ever do it.
Also praying that La Soufriere goes back to sleep.
Evacuation of Caribbean island St. Vincent ordered even as the region (and the world) continues to grapple with the fallout from COVID.
This is a thing’s literary update which I’ll link up with Bookshelf Fantasies’ Shelf Control which requires me to share a book on my shelf that I haven’t read yet but want to…and I will. But first.
Bookish things (and other things of broader interest) from my mailbox
The Bocas Lit Fest is coming up. The Trinidad based book festival is a 2021 Wadadli Pen patron (Wadadli Pen being the not for profit programme I run to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda). My former mentor (during my time at the University of the West Indies), Mervyn Morris, former poet laureate of Jamaica, will be presented (jointly with Edward Baugh) with the 2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters at this year’s festival. … which begins on April 23rd (World Book Day), the same day I’m planning my Live with illustrator/writer Danielle Boodoo-Fortune.
Georgia Clark’s recent newsletter included a breakdown of the process of choosing the cover for her latest It had to be You (which is now on my everlong wish list) which I added to the latest Reading Room and Gallery over at my other blog, Wadadli Pen, a one stop spot for interviews, essays, poetry, and more curated by me.
A part Antiguan-Barbudan activist sent an announcement re the launch of the Black Feminist Fund. I’ve bookmarked to review for more details and I’m also passing it on so you can do the same.
The Freelance Creative spoke about mental health for freelancers. It’s been a rocky week. I need to read this. Bookmarked. Sharing, because maybe someone else – freelance or not – needs to read it. Hmmm must be the season for it, there’s also this from the Globe and Mail.
Speaking of Freelance, here’s a link to The Practicing Writer who shares publishing (creatively) and paying (non-creatively) opportunities. And, of course, you can always check out the Opportunities, Opportunities Too, and Resources pages on Wadadli Pen.
Have you read anything by Arnold Bennett? I haven’t but I did learn via LitHub that he died of typhoid in London, shortly after a visit to Paris, where he drank local water in attempt to prove it was safe. … so many questions. This issue of LitHub also asks Are climate change novels a form of activism? (bookmarked) Well, I just started reading Diana McCaulay’s Daylight Come about a possible dystopian future if our behaviour re the environment continues unchecked and hot as the sun is (it is Caribbean set and the sun is deadly), it is chilling and makes me want to do even more to prevent this probable future. So, I would say, yes.
Other books I’m dipping in and out of include Joan Underwood’s Manager’s First Aid Kit (a former coaching client).
Will I ever get to all my bookmarked articles and videos (like the PEN Out Loud series, the Brooklyn Book Festival’s conversation of Love and Resistance with and about LatinX authors and Of Mystic Men, Women, Witches, and Tomboys)? Look I have an active reading pile, a TBR shelf, an ever long wish list, and books keep coming out…plus books of my own to write, workshop prep, editing deadlines, Wadadli Pen judging, a YouTube Live to figure out (anybody have a link to a youtube live stream for dummies?), other appearances to prep for etc..plus life (including one of those unexpected turn of events that disrupts everything over the Easter weekend). But a girl can dream.
Oh and Lil Nas X’s Montero is catchy.
+Prayers up for DMX.
Now what is a book on my shelf I can’t wait to read? Lawrence Scott’s Dangerous Freedom. I requested and received a review copy from the publisher, UK’s Papillote. It is about Dido Belle, the Black daughter of a Lord in plantation times and is based on a real person. Captured in an iconic painting and also in the film Belle. Scott, per his recent virtual launch, is looking to paint a fuller (albeit fictional) portrait of the woman, who has been something of an avatar to this point. Can’t wait.
Why do I want to read this? Because it’s a mystery (she’s a legit historical mystery) and because of Belle’s connection with Lord Mansfield who I read about in history class due to his precedent setting legislation on slavery.
I’ll make this my contribution to the It’s Monday, What are You Reading book blog meme… though technically I’ll be talking about what I’m reading only in passing. I’m reading Maeve Binchy’s Chestnut Street. It’s basically a short story collection or a montage of lives lived on a single street in Ireland. At a certain point, I started wondering if I hadn’t read it before and I’m still not sure I haven’t, but I realized it was probably the structure and the single road location because intersecting lives is one of her things, so this could be Evening Class or The Lilac Bus or Quentins or Night of Rain and Stars or, especially, Tara Road. Yes, I’ve read a lot of Binchy. And she still tastes like comfort food. That’s not a slight, I love Binchy and her characters are largely simple folk whose lives sometimes take complex turns, and you root for the best of them, and though the books have a cosy feel they are not without danger and conflict. Still, it tastes like comfort food (largely because of those simple, good-minded folk she
writes wrote with such affection) which is likely why I grabbed Chestnut Street from my pile. It’s pretty stressful just now, I could use some comfort food.
BUT I actually came here to talk about zoramedium.com’s The Zora Canon: the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written by African American Women. This is not about what books I would take off or add to the list but which books are new discoveries I definitely want to check out, books already on my TBR, books I may have read (as in they seem familiar but the details are blurry), books I’m certain I’ve read, and books I’ve not only read but consider to be faves. I decided to share these lists as a sort of a continuation of my Black History Month project – I hope you found at least one book from that list to read, but I also hope that you take to heart my suggestion that you make it more than a Black History Month thing, that you’re reading Black and reading diversely all year round; while reading what you like, of course. One of the things that’s frustrating for me as an author is my books being segregated to the Black books section (only). By which I mean, I embrace my Blackness, my femaleness, my Caribbeanness, my Antiguan-Barbudanness, my multiple identities, they are indistinguishable from me. And the lack of opportunity and prominence is why we boost books that slot in to a marginalized identity in their respective seasons. But it’s not for nothing that I stress we not limit our engagement with that art to those very limited seasons. In one section of the bookstore. I’d also like, for example, for readers of teen/young adult novels to be able to find my book Musical Youth any time of year in the teen/young adult section (not only the Black books or Caribbean books section) of your local bookstore. I guess my thing is why can’t they be in multiple spaces to increase visibility all year round – so that the reader who is looking for an environmental themed children’s book in the children’s book section may come across Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure there (as well as in the Black books and Caribbean books section). That’s one of the things I hope my BHM list and the Zora list prove, that Black books are written in just about every genre you can think of if not always allowed to take up space on shelves other than the ones in the Black books section, on the shelves where the lovers of whatever genre can find them. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
Anyway, my Zora inspired sub-lists from which I hope you may find another Black book to read.
New ‘discoveries’ now on my TBR
There is Confusion by Jessie Fauset
Fish Tales by Nettie Jones
Fledgling by Octavia Butler
Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith
Already on my TBR
Quicksand by Nella Larson
Passing by Nella Larson
The Street by Ann Petry
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks
Ain’t I a woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor (I watched and loved the mini-series years ago)
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
May have pretty sure I read but the details are blurry (might be time for a re-read)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words
Ugly Ways by Tina McElroy Ansa
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Our Nig by Harriet E Wilson
Brown Girl, Brown Stones by Paule Marshall
The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
Read – Faves
Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (I also liked the film)
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry by Lorraine Hansberry
Sula by Toni Morrison
For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozoke Shange
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (book and movie)
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan (book and movie, though I was always a bigger fan of Disappearing Acts, the book)
The Fifth Season by N K Jemison
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
These lists include contemporary drama dealing with social issues, speculative future fiction, speculative historical fiction, sci fi, fantasy, books about relationships between women (the sisterhood), books with LGBT content, fiction specifically about the Black female experience, historical fiction, romance, coming of age dramas, domestic dramas, historical non fiction, memoir, biography, commentary, books for young readers (somewhere between what the industry calls middle grade and teen dramas) and so much more just among what’s listed here. Surely, you can find something to read beyond the industry default of the white western gaze while still reading in your preferred genre.
I’m interested in finding out what books that might be outside of your comfort zone (if your comfort zone is the industry default) that you’ve picked up this year. Share in the comments. I’m always looking for new reads for my TBR
I’m going to do two unfiltered reaction lists – what I’ve seen and what I haven’t seen among the nominees – listed faves to least faves in terms of the ones I have seen, and ones I’m most eager to see and down for the ones I haven’t seen; with my thoughts on their nomination and prospects drizzled in. I’m omitting the international films, documentaries, and shorts (live action and animated) because I haven’t seen any of them – but I will try to; I’m also omitting song because, honestly, none of the listed songs registered. My take on snubs should become clear in the conversation. Weigh in in the comments. And re new site content, be sure to check out my latest CREATIVE SPACE re the impact of COVID on a local artisans collective, how they came together and how they see the future. Okay, let’s have some fun (and keep in mind, these are all just opinions; keep it respectful).
Judas and the Black Messiah (best picture, supporting actor, original screenplay, cinematography) – great film, great performances – delighted that Lakeith Stanfield who is never not interesting got a nomination though the major arc in that film was his which makes him being in the supporting category a head scratcher (he was the protagonist); great to see it gather steam and net a best picture nomination even though it seems to have directed itself (Shaka King, a one time student of Spike Lee, was robbed). A case could also be made for Dominique Fishback in female supporting not necessarily in terms of screen time but in terms of her impact on the transformation and stakes for the Fred Hammond character played by Daniel Kaluuya (yay, Daniel Kaluuya). And, yay, Fred Hammond and the Black Panther party for finally getting the opportunity to reclaim a narrative that’s been twisted in to hate when it was all about community and love and standing up for social justice for Black people and other oppressed groups. Timely.
Da 5 Bloods (score) – Yes it could have done with some tightening in the third act but it was such an interesting premise, and executed in such a non-standard way – though there are some similar choices to Spike’s other war film Miracle of St. Anna which I saw after Bloods (e.g. Hanoi Hannah has echoes of Axis Sally). Both films have in common rare insight to the experience of Black servicemen (WW2 in case of Miracle and Vietnam in case of Bloods). One of the most impactful sequences in Bloods is the Black servicemen reacting to the assassination of Martin Luther King and explosion of racial violence while fighting for America – it is in this sequence that I think Chadwick Boseman merited Oscar supporting actor consideration; he is in the movie so little but his impact is such that he’s there even when he isn’t. And the performances, oh man – Clarke Peters to Veronica Ngo (also seen as Quynh in The Old Guard last year) to Delroy Lindo who has delivered outstanding performances in Lee films before (e.g. as West Indian Archie in Malcolm X and the dad in Crooklyn, but everyone seemed to agree this was a career high but not even his home country the UK tapped him for a BAFTA …make it make sense). If you’re a regular here, you know I do movie roundups from time to time, and you may know that Da 5 Bloods was the only movie I saw last year to get a solo post. I really don’t understand why it has been so overlooked.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (best actor, best actress, production design, costume design, make up and hairstyling) – really good. really really good. Didn’t feel static. LIked the colour and setting and music and wardrobe and performances – several performances. After seeing it, I thought Viola Davis was a shoe-in for Best Actress, not the nomination, the win – she’s suffering from being so good so often, she’s overlooked. I knew Chadwick Boseman’s Oscar woudn’t be a pity Oscar because he died (and because I loved his performance in Da 5 Bloods even more than this, I thought it was cool when he got a Best Supporting nod for that as well, and thought he could pull off the one-two win but the latter performance has faded as Spike’s film has been egregiously overlooked). Coleman Domingo was my outside chance for a supporting nom (as much as Nicole Beharrie was my outside chance for Best Actress for Ms Juneteenth – she only got an Independent Spirit award nomination). And Coleman Domingo who does such interesting, subtle things in this performance, got nothing.
The Trial of the Chicago Seven (best picture, supporting actor, original screenplay, cinematography, film editing) – this was a good film and timely – and it was informational for me as I really didn’t know anything about this ‘riot’ and the court case that followed nor of the involvement of some characters (Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale, for example) that I knew in different contexts. I will say that as it’s pushed ahead of films I liked infinitely more like Da 5 Bloods its become more serviceable, even overrated to me – like is it that great. I’m cool with Sacha Baren Cohen’s nomination though it does feel like more of an ensemble cast, he is a standout in that cast, and Aaron Sorkin is, of course, one of the greatest writers of film and television period, but I don’t want him winning by default, and his choices as a director are…safe.
One Night in Miami (best supporting actor, adapted screenplay) – I will always show up for Regina King, and Aldis Hodge…and Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X, and Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown…talk about icons …and their stories intersecting in such a pivotal moment (really interesting). I remember Leslie Odom Jr from Supernatural and Smash, and I know Hamilton launched him in to the mainstream. Wish him well. It wasn’t the standout performance for me in the film – there was no real single standout performance for me (though cases could be made for the actors playing X and Ali), but they were all good performances. The gut punch moment for me in the film was at the beginning, the moment at the door with Beau Bridges because, damn! Regina did a good job, not an outstanding job, but a pretty good job of making an adapted play set largely in a room feel not as static as it could but the other (unnominated) adapted play August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom had more pop and sizzle, with more limited set pieces, for me. That Ma Rainey is not nominated for adapted screenplay is one of the obvious snubs for me.
Soul (animated feature, sound, score) – I actually watched this because of the social media conversation around it – the raves and the criticisms…and it was alright. I still like the Lego Movie better. *sings* “everything is awesome”. No but seriously, it’s got layers, it’s philosophical, it’s well acted… but it’s also not the greatest thing ever like some were raving. Maybe I got my expectations set too high.
Love and Monsters (visual effects) – I am a sucker for a fictional dystopian future and this one was alright. I saw most of it- I feel like I missed some stuff there at the end but I think I get the idea. Fun enough though. Merle was in it and that kid from Teen Wolf as a foolish love lorn fool, a robot with about 15 minutes of battery power left, jelly fish and other monsters, the jelly fish were pretty though. I mean it was pop corn fun-ish …I didn’t peg it as an Oscar contender. But, hey, it’s better than Suicide Squad and that has an Oscar (for make up and hairstyling) so so so films can get Oscar love too.
Started Watching; Didn’t Finish
News of the World (production design, cinematography, sound, score) – I fell asleep. I’ll try again. The premise – a guy travelling town to town in the Civil War ish era landing an unwanted travelling companion – is not uninteresting…it’s just not terribly interesting either.
Pieces of a Woman (best actress) – I wasn’t fair to this film. I don’t know what it’s about. I realized it was on the awards track and decided to check it out. I started watching it. But I didn’t know going in that Shia Lebeouf was in it and it’s complicated with me and Shia. So I couldn’t get in to it and stopped watching. From all accounts Vanessa Kirby is good in it though and I don’t believe in letting women pay for the crimes (allegedly) of men; so I WILL try to give it another go before the Oscars.
Mank (best picture, supporting actress, best actor, best director, production design, cinematography, costume design, sound, score, make up and hairstyling) – I started watching it and lost interest in a big way. I thought I’d like it because when it comes to Hollywood stories, I’m the inside baseball/how the sausage gets made girl. Plus it’s about the making of one of the greatest films of all time, the writing of that no less; all things I nerd out about. And I couldn’t; I just found it so overrated; and, unpopular opinion, the weakest link for me apart from how dry it all was in the execution was Gary Oldman. He is (not one of my faves but) undoubtedly talented; however, I’m not a fan of his go-big performances (e.g. I prefer Sailor, Tinker, Solider, Spy Oldman over The Darkest Hour Oldman) but I know that’s just me. I do feel like he’s holding the spot that should have gone to Delroy Lindo of the criminally overlooked Da 5 Bloods in the best actor race. I’d be okay with Amanda Seyfried taking supporting actress though.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday (best actress) – this is this high because I stan Billie Holiday and someone whose opinion I respect told me the movie’s a mess but the performance is next level. Good thing too because I was about to give it a pass. And for those who thought Andra Day’s Golden Globes nom and then win was a fluke, I’m happy for her upsetting expectations. Come through, sis.
Promising Young Woman (best picture, original screenplay, best actress, best director, film editing) – the premise is giving me Fatal Attraction, Thelma and Louise vibes, not in the details but in its ability to move the conversation re sexual politics. I’m in. Also I dig the bubble gum visual aesthetic counter pointing the hard themes (consent).
Also I do think Carey Mulligan is such a competent performer she does get overlooked and this is my introduction to the director Emerald Fennell and it seems like a bold one. I’m here for it.
Minari (best picture, supporting actress, original screenplay, best actor, best director, score) – Yay, Glen.
I just wanted to say that somewhere but was afraid it would seem like I was minimizing Steven Yeun if I misnamed him on social media. It’s all love – love to see people from any of my shows (in this case The Walking Dead) blow up. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this one – a fresh take on the American dream/immigrant experience. Love it already and can’t wait to see it.
Borat Subsequent Movie Film (supporting actress, adapted screenplay) – The first Borat was irreverent and funny as hell and crass as fuck but funny, right; it’s weird to see it in awards conversation (ETA: the original Borat was also nominated for adapted screenplay) – not because I don’t think comedies should be in awards conversation. I do (and it is political satire and social commentary not just laugh for laughs sake). But because it’s odd to me that Borat has become one of those prestige films that the pundits deem Oscar Worthy. Eddie Murphy (Dolemite, Nutty Professor) wept. But good for Maria Bakolova and good for Sacha who seems like a good guy, and also comedically daring (talk about being committed to the bit). The adapted screenplay nomination is a stretch though – yes, as a sequel, it’s based on a previous character but though I know it’s not totally improvised it does have to leave a lot of room for improvisation and is not based on an adapted script.
Wolfwalkers (animated feature) – I have no idea what this is about but I know it’s the only real challenge to Soul and I find the title interesting. That’s it. I want to see it.
Tenet (production design, visual effects) – I actually do really want to see this – though it’s been spoiled for me. Chris Nolan is good even when he’s bad (Inception is a favourite of mine and I liked Dunkirk a lot more than most). But I want to see it properly and haven’t been able to figure out how to do that.
Nomadland (best picture, adapted screenplay, best actress, best director, cinematography, film editing) – I like Francis McDormand, and David Strathairn (low key had a crush on him, in his grizzled rumpledness, back in his The Firm years), and I like that a woman and an Asian one at that (important in this time of Asianphobia), a former student of Spike Lee by the way, is in the director conversation. So I’ll catch this at some point. It does look kind of bleak and gritty though so I have to make sure I’m in the right frame of mind to not look away.
Sound of Metal (best picture, supporting actor, original screenplay, leading role, sound, film editing) – I’ve read of how hard and long Riz Ahmed worked on this and I like to see hard work rewarded; plus independent films, I love to see those boosted. I’m not sure what the tone of this one is or if I need to be in a special space to absorb it – someone having to let go of their artistic dream would gut me, someone losing everything to a disability can be grueling. But the way I’ve heard him frame it – it’s less a disability and more about new insight to a community that does not see its differentness as a liability which would be a cool take. The last movie I’ve seen of this type was Children of a Lesser God, so it’s about time.
The Father (best picture, supporting actress, adapted screenplay, best actor, production design, film editing) – great actors (they’re not my faves but objectively dem nar drop na points pon de acting), rough topic; the latter (dementia/alzheimer’s) has me hesitant to see it (as yet). But I hear the execution is good and interesting; and interesting will get me every time.
The White Tiger (adapted screenplay) – I have no clue what this is about; so I have no expectations up or down. A lot of the Oscar watchers and critics I follow seemed surprised though. I don’t mind it getting in. The race gets boring when it’s too predictable.
Another Round (best director) – It deals with alcoholism right? Not my favourite topic. I don’t know…I’ll check it out. I do love seeing an international film in the main race – Hollywood can be so insular.
Onward, Over the Moon, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (i.e. the other animated feature noms) – they’re all at roughly the same level of interest.
Pinocchio (costume design, make up and hairstyling) – Okay. I don’t know. I’m just hearing of this. We’ll see.
Greyhound (sound) – No idea what this is. I’ll give it a google at some point. Maybe.
The One and Only Ivan (visual effects) – Same as Greyhound.
The Midnight Sky (visual effects) – Is this the George Clooney dystopian future one? Cause I saw that and it was giving me Tomorrowland vibes. Not in topic maybe but in high concept but ultimately boring execution, a vibe I’ve gotten from several of his films since the days of Good Morning, Good Night and Oceans 11 which were highlights for me. George is capable but I’ve never been over the moon – Cary Grant he is not. I might catch it eventually though.
Mulan (costume design, visual effects) – Remember the cartoon fondly but am over these mediocre live adaptations. The only way I’m likely to watch this is if I stumble upon it some late night and am too lazy to move.
Emma (costume design, make up and hairstyling) – No interest in seeing this and this single nomination is not likely to change that.
Hillbilly Elegy (supporting actress, make up and hairstyling) – I love Glenn Close and Amy Adams (both beyond overlooked for great performances over the years) but I thought this film was parody when I saw the trailer and nothing I’ve seen or read or heard since has disabused me of that notion. After so many iconic performances, I’d kind of hate for this to be the one for Glenn (The Scent of a Woman all over again).
Am I wrong about anything? Of course I am. Let me know in the comments. Respectfully.
Impulsively, at the start of February 2021, Black History Month, I shared a book by a Black author and each day at around midnight pulled another one at random and shared it across my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At mid-month, I did a rundown on my YouTube.
(ETA 03/03/21 – end of month rundown vlog below and embed the mid-month blog above)
This was just for fun, though perhaps inspired in part by, seeing several online readers in 2020 announce via social media their plan to #readBlackbooks while unironically showcasing stacks with many non-Black voices. Also in 2020, in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter FedUprising, movies like The Help (based on the bestseller of the same name, often in those named stacks) started trending in response to well-intentioned but misguided efforts to understand the Black experience. This was misguided because books like The Help are not #ownvoices (i.e. underrepresented voices being given the space to tell their own stories) and they perpetuate the white saviour trope (i.e. centering whiteness in a story purportedly about the Black experience), and that’s before we even get to the charges of appropriation alleged against that particular book by Ablene Cooper, the reported inspiration for The Help’s Aibileen Clark character. – as far back as 2018, Viola Davis even expressed regret at playing the Oscar nominated role. That was not at the front of my mind but was plausibly somewhere at the back of it. For inspiration, I turned exclusively to books I have not only read but written about in my Blogger on Books series – I quickly learned that even drawing from this specific space, there was so much to pull, more than the shortest month of the year could contain. But hopefully, it’ll be an inspiration to anyone who engages with any of the content around this BHM series to read more – specifically to #readBlack more.
I’m sharing them not in the order I posted them but in the order of popularity – least to most popular, based on insta-engagement with my posts (not necessarily on the popularity of the book itself). As I noted in each post, some of my books are included as well but it’s all about sharing the love. My reviews are linked (with the exception of my books in which case I link reviews by others).
Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy is technically of the same universe as The Colour Purple and The Temple of My Familiar.
Review excerpt: “The story jumps around from Africa to America to Europe, and back to Africa, and digs painfully in to the issue of female circumcision; but more thematically in to the subjugation of women and the role women are called to play in their subjugation (the ways in which women become some of the most ardent supporters of the patriarchy), and perhaps more specifically still, in to the fear of a free and self-possessed woman.”
Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker
Full excerpt here.
Review excerpt: “Family, community, and rituals – rituals for living, rituals at the time of dying – are the meat of Turn Thanks which strikes a tone somewhere between reflection, gratitude, and sadness.”
Turn Thanks Poems by Lorna Goodison
Full review here.
Belizean novelist (1st after Independence + 1st to achieve international renown) Zee Edgell died in December 2020.
Review excerpt: “Beyond plot, this is a masterclass in characterization and perspective, one in which there are no handlebars or guides available to the persona, one in which mistakes are made, repeatedly, and yet, and yet, it never feels like the writer has lost the plot. A plot which by the way makes a sub-plot of eco-commercial globalization, simple people and big business, capitalism and rural innocence in a way that does not feel improbable to any Caribbean reader. She intertwines these threads of malice and power, family and faith, yearning and terror, heartbreak and hope.”
The Festival of San Joaquin by Zee Edgell
Full review here.
Eric Jerome Dickey (who died in January 2021) writing for two of the most iconic Black superhero characters Storm/Ororo and the Black Panther/T’Challa in this six part mini-series. “It’s got action (each book ending on a cliffhanger), it’s got larger themes, but at its core (it’s) boy-meets-girl-bickers-with-girl-cant-live-without-girl …” which made it ideal for a Valentine’s Day pick.
Storm: Prelude to the Wedding of the Century by Eric Jerome Dickey
Full review here.
Review excerpt: “The collection is tonally an emotional roller coaster. Its imagery is precise and evocative. Its energy and word flow; use of symbolism (e.g. her father’s watch in ‘TimeXemiT(ion)’), metaphor (“This beloved mango tree is recovery” in ‘My Sister and I are picking Mangoes’), anthropomorphism, allusions; its play on words (e.g. the use of GoD, shorthand for the government of Dominica, suggestive of God-God, in ‘Housing Revolution’ to underscore the dis-ease one feels post-disaster when dependent on powers greater than oneself to reorder one’s life especially when uncertain that their motives and values align with yours), and blurring of the lines between realism and mythology. All of this elevates it.”
Guabancex by Celia Sorhaindo
Full review here.
The Known World is so good, and so heartbreaking, also so complicated I had difficulty finding a clean pull quote from my review for this post. Just know that I described it as a “page turner” … “in spite of a measured storytelling pace and tone” … “searing and jarring”. It is that, all of that.
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Full review here.
Review excerpt: ‘The book handles its shifting tones well – a certain sex scene comes to mind. It really works because of how well the characters have been defined. Oh and the writing is delicious. “And what do they even call this? It’s not a threesome, or a love triangle. It’s a two-and-a-half-some, an affection dihedron (and, well, maybe it’s love).”’
The Fifth Season by N K Jemison
Full review here.
Review excerpt: “What Yellow Sounds Like is all about the Blues – the angst and grit, sass and rhythm of it.” Read more of my thoughts on this book here
What Yellow Sounds Like by Linda Susan Jackson
Full review here.
Review excerpt: “So I suppose my first note is that the teen drama featuring two mixed race brothers – one Black presenting, one white presenting – is a quick read. It drops you right in to the book’s central conflict from the first scene; the fault line between whiteness and blackness, and the resulting quakes caused by anti-Blackness.”
BLACK BROTHER, BLACK BROTHER by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Full review here.
Just re-released as an audio book. I read the print edition years ago and wrote, “It’s genuinely funny and then clocks you in the middle of the laughter with some hard truths – rooted in our Caribbeanness but also in our humanity.” The audio book, what I’ve heard of it, and especially so Four Angry Men, reminds me of listening to Paul Keens Douglas stories of Slim and Tanty Merle at the Oval on the radio as a child. The Caribbean, and Four Angry Men in particular, is well suited to the audio book format given an oral storytelling tradition that makes it less a reading and more a radio play of ole talk and a weaving (and at the same time specific and grounded) narrative. The Caribbean and the collection’s natural, sometimes absurd, humour comes through, but this is not all easy laughs, there is a certain poignancy within the broad laughter of the rum shop. The production is atmospheric, without crowding out the story, and the voices, distinctive Bajan voices, are well cast and directed by Barbadian literary media arts company StoryShyft. White Sand, the story of a naive girl stepping in to the lion’s den, has a light and hopeful tone and an undertone of dread. And I absolutely loved The Five-Day Death of Mr. Mayers as much as I did on the page – the story is still funny and thanks to the characterization and imagery, the layering of voices and addition of a score, almost cinematic. In Time of Need is Story Shyft’s first audio book production. Look out for Shakirah’s Josephine Against the Sea, which releases in the US this year.
In Time of Need: A Collection of Short Stories by Shakirah Bourne
Full print edition review here.
All the Burt (Caribbean) titles. Burt is an awards programme that invigorated the teen/young adult Caribbean market by boosting three books a year and independent/small press publishing in the Caribbean in particular between 2014-2019. If you and/or your teen are looking for something to read, you can’t go wrong with any of these titles. So many good books, such a range of themes, styles, and genres; and while the authors are a mix of ethnicities (which I only mention because this is a #Blackbooksmatter type post), they are all Caribbean (we are a diverse region), it actually fits the spirit of the post when you consider the purpose and impact of the Burt Awards. “The Burt Award, named for Bill Burt and administered by CODE, a Canadian non-profit, stimulated the production of teen/young adult fiction specific to communities whose voices are not often heard in the vast publishing world. He presented the first Burt Award (for teen/young adult African literature), in Tanzania in 2009. The programme subsequently expanded to Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Canada (specifically among First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people), and the Caribbean.” The Burt Caribbean programme sadly doesn’t exist anymore. But thankfully these books do. Read about them in this article.
My Day 28 #BlackHistoryMonth #bookoftheday was… not a book … Rather in recognition of the launch this week of the 2021 season of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize challenge, nurturing and showcasing the literary arts in Antigua & Barbuda since 2004. This is a link up to all #WadadliPen winning stories and visual art to date (including the winning Ms Anansi image from 2013). It felt fitting to end with Anansi whose mythology travelled with us on the slave ships from Africa, whose oral takes introduced us to story, and who, as illustrated, continues to be re-imagined (see everything from Philip Sherlock’s Illustrated Anansi for children to Imam Baksh’s Children of the Spider for teens). The Wadadli Pen challenge encourages us to imagine our Caribbean specific stories. Read the winning stories through the years. And help us share the news that March 26th is the submission deadline for the 2021 challenge (click the Wadadli Pen 2021 tab on the site for details). Support the work if you can from wherever you are (we have big dreams for this project); email email@example.com
Review excerpt: “not just a book for writers or artistes, but a very human book (with nuance and heart). A must-read.”
Create Dangerously: the Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Dandicat
Full review here.
Review excerpt: “But what strikes me is the brevity of the language and the way she efficiently, and beautifully, blends and ‘confuses’ the senses and gets to the heart of the matter.”
Like the Singing Coming off the Drums by Sonia Sanchez
Full review here.
This biography of Antigua & Barbuda’s winningest calypsonisn King Short Shirt, named for one of the icon’s songs, was long listed for a Bocas prize, the first and to date only book from Antigua and Barbuda to be so honoured.
Review excerpt: “The book is important too for marking the societal shifts in modern Antigua and to some degree the wider Caribbean.”
Bonus link, find the song on Short Shirt”s classic Ghetto Vibes album.
King Short Shirt: Nobody Go Run Me: The Life and Times of Sir Maclean Emanuel by Dorbrene E. O’Marde
Full review here.
Review excerpt: “It’s a timely read, as an indictment of America’s prison industrial complex and its hunger for Black lives.”
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Full review here.
Review excerpt: “London Rocks is the story of Dante, a Black British youth – of Caribbean, specifically Antiguan-Barbudan descent. Don’t let the book’s deceptive thinness (novella length at just 93 pages, including a glossary) fool you, it’s a weighty volume made lighter by the rhythmic flow of the narrative, the precise use of language, the way it captures inner visions by being both symbolic and real, and the atmospheric rendering of setting – that setting, a London rarely seen, and even more rarely understood (by those who think race issues for Blacks in a metropolis is purely an American problem).”
London Rocks by Brenda Lee Browne
Full review here.
This UK publication is successor to the seminal Daughters of Africa, also edited by Margaret Busby, released 25 years earlier. It is an NAACP Image Award (fiction) nominee. I have a story in #NDOA alongside more than 200 writers from across Africa and her diaspora.
Review excerpt: “Bold and insightful, brilliant in its intimacy and universality” (review by New Beacon Books).
New Daughters of Africa: an International Anthology of 20th and 21st Century Writing by Women of African Descent edited by Margaret Busby
Full review here.
No review as I am also a contributor but here’s a link to an #aboutthebook.
So the Nailhead Bend, So the Story End: an Anthology of Antiguan and Barbudan Writing (edited) by Althea Prince
Review excerpt: “… in a children’s books, children should get to see themselves, dream, feel joy, and on Turtle Beach on Anais’ birthday on the occasion of the hatching of hundreds of new life, there is that.”
Turtle Beach by Barbara A Arrindell w/illustrator Zavian Archibald
Full review here.
Randall Kenan died in summer 2020.
Review excerpt: “I like that it isn’t myopic, that it embraced the opportunity to move beyond the obvious cliches and stereotypes and temptation to romanticize or, alternatively, condemn; that it attempted to capture the day-to-day realities, inner life, and philosophies of varied Black people in America.”
Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century by Randall Kenan
Full review here.
Review excerpt: “She (Trevor Noah’s mom) is very familiar. She is African and the women I grew up knowing are African-Caribbean, but they have in common a particular strain of strength and resilience, and manage to regard the fact that their life is more struggle than not with a mix of humor and resolve. The fact that they don’t bemoan their existence but push through it, well, I can only aspire to have half their strength.”
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Full review here.
#MusicalYouthbook which started life as a CODE Burt Award teen/young adult Caribbean lit finalist and was recently named a top 100 indie of the year by Kirkus Reviews. Review excerpt: “I’ve just this minute finished reading Musical Youth. It’s absolutely brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I think it should be read by young adults across the Caribbean. The themes are so powerful.” – Carolyn Cooper (professor emeritus, UWI)
Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse
More reader and professional reviews here.
Review excerpt: “I hardly know where to start. Maybe with the good people who make up the uneasy alliance of ‘heroes’. The remaining members of a decimated house in a very old order (secret society stuff) watching and guarding like the Watchers (Highlander) or the Talamasca (Anne Rice worlds), a soucouyant and apprentice soucouyant, a shape shifter of some sort, a clairvoyant, dog and dog like beings, an underworld king, a university student with the gift of tapping in to whatever supernatural power she needs, a child ghost, another child ghost, a former trans prostitute cum vampire, some machine gun wielding humans, a dead obeah man and former enslaved man. That’s just some of the people and other beings in this fast-paced, high stakes novel. There’s also a sentient house.”
Greyborn Rising by Derry Sandy
Full review here.
My second book Dancing Nude in the Moonlight was originally issued with Macmillan and later re-issued with Insomniac as Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings – the other writings being stories and poems of mine, most previously published in various journals and anthologies. One Amazon reader review said about this latter collection: “Why it took me so long to read some of Joanne’s work? I don’t know – perhaps when you live on a small island you too busy looking out to see what’s under your (nose), but her writing rings so true for someone who has spent a good part of their life in Antigua. ‘True that’ I found myself saying: first as I read ‘Dancing (Nude) in the Moonlight’, and again – even more so – when I read the ‘Other Writings’ – even though the dialect sometimes got away from me. Time for a ‘Collected Works of Joanne Hillhouse’ I think with lots of her short stories that might keep you awake at night, and more of her poems – so sparely worded, but so powerful.”
One Amazon reader review said about the latter collection (above, right, including the original novella and other short fiction, non fiction, and poetry): “Why it took me so long to read some of Joanne’s work? I don’t know – perhaps when you live on a small island you too busy looking out to see what’s under your (nose), but her writing rings so true for someone who has spent a good part of their life in Antigua. ‘True that’ I found myself saying: first as I read ‘Dancing (Nude) in the Moonlight’, and again – even more so – when I read the ‘Other Writings’ – even though the dialect sometimes got away from me. Time for a ‘Collected Works of Joanne Hillhouse’ I think with lots of her short stories that might keep you awake at night, and more of her poems – so sparely worded, but so powerful.”
Dancing Nude in the Moonlight by Joanne C. Hillhouse
More reader and professional reviews here.
“A wrenching read, and yet a hopeful one” tackling “heavy issues (mental health, lesbianism, race, differentness, acceptance, young love, parent-child conflict, homophobia, first v. developing world issues) with candour, quintessential Caribbean humour (“No, girl, you’re not dying”), and, at the same time, care.”
Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini
Full review here.
This is my first book. Two of the covers pictured were never used; and one is the first and one the second published edition.
Reader review: “The figure in the straw hat spooked me, though, but it would not have been a true Caribbean story without the presence of an apparition of some sort. The author had demonstrated enviable skills in economy of words – covering so much with so little. For those who grew up reading-loving-stories from The Sun’s Eye, you’d definitely appreciate this book. Read it.”
The Boy from Willow Bend by Joanne C. Hillhouse
More reader and professional reviews and endorsements here.
Review excerpt: ‘To Shoot Hard Labour veers from your traditional slave narrative in that it begins in 1834 – the year slavery legally ended in the English speaking Caribbean, with the four year apprenticeship in all colonies but Antigua being a technicality that extended it another four years. I, therefore, describe it as a post-slavery narrative. Its main theme, beginning with Papa Sammy’s ancestor Rachael’s long walk across Antigua to re-connect with the daughter sold off years before, is the quest for freedom, life, humanity in a world determined to keep Black people underfoot. “Only when they find Minty they really believe that slavery was all over for sure.” (p. 32) But not without scars, “Minty had a brand on she hand.” (p. 32)’
To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan workingman 1877-1982 by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith
Full review here.
in doing this month long project, I tried to spread it around the globe – 7 local/Antiguan-Barbudan, 8 Caribbean, 9 American, but only 3 international – a sign to me that I need to read more globally. There are so many other books I could have pulled – from Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then and Lucy, to Althea Romeo-Mark’s If Only the Dust would Settle and The Nakedness of New, to Bernice McFadden’s Glorious, to Eugenia O’Neal’s Dido’s Prize, to the Collins Caribbean children’s books currently being rolled out, to the books currently in the running in the #readAntiguaBarbuda readers choice book of the year initiative, to Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, to Dreamland Barbuda by Asha Frank, to Caryl Philips’ Dancing in the Dark, to Hazel Campbell’s (RIP) Jamaica on My Mind, to all of these children’s books, and I could go on (but this is long enough).
Thanks for taking this month long journey with me and continue to #readBlack #readglobally #readdiversely all year round.
What’s new and different about the Wadadli Pen 2021 Challenge?
No age limit
Sub-theme focused on ‘2020’
Art+Text submissions welcomed
What’s not new
Open to residents of Antigua and Barbuda (only)
1000 upper word limit
Make it Caribbean
An opportunity to share your story (and win prizes)
A reminder that prizes are just an incentive, not the purpose
Submit with entry form (see Wadadli Pen 2021)
THE WADADLI PEN 2021 CHALLNGE INVITES REFLECTION ON ‘2020’
February 26th 2021
The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize returns with its latest challenge to writers and artists in Antigua and Barbuda. As in the past, the 1000 word (maximum) entries – of any literary genre or sub-genre – should be Caribbean in spirit. Entrants can write about anything but there is, also, an optional themed challenge.
The arts often flourish in difficult times as a way of channeling and expressing, also escaping, the turmoil and complexities of that time. For that reason, and the cathartic relief it can offer, Wadadli Pen looks back to ‘2020’, a year which has become a euphemism for struggle and uncertainty, as an optional sub-theme of the 2021 Wadadli Pen Challenge, with a reminder to reflect, imagine, and make it Caribbean. Both written and art-text combos (i.e. storytelling using both written and visual art)…
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Not my area of expertise but an opportunity to see how caught up I am on the shows in possible Oscar contention. So let’s play (once again) the Seen/Not Seen game. Your answers in the comments.
Period Feature Film
Mank – started, didn’t finish
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Seen, really liked
Mulan – Not seen (but why do I think of this as fantasy rather than period feature)
News of the World – Not seen
Trial of the Chicago 7 – Seen, mostly liked
Fantasy Feature Film
Birds of Prey – Not seen
Pinocchio – Not seen (didn’t even know there was a new Pinocchio)
Tenet – Not seen
The Midnight Sky – Not seen
Wonder Woman 1984 – Not seen
Contemporary Feature Film
Da 5 Bloods – Seen, really liked
I’m thinking of ending Things – Not seen (but curious…but also slightly…preemptively spooked)
Palm Springs – Seen, liked
Promising Young Woman – Not seen (but on the to watch list)
The Prom – Started, didn’t finish
Animated Feature Film
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – Not seen
Onward – Not seen
Soul – Seen, mostly liked
The Croods: a New Age – Not Seen
Wolfwalkers – Not Seen (but on my to watch list)
One-hour period or fantasy single camera series (what an odd combo, period or fantasy)
Lovecraft Country – Started, plan to finish
Perry Mason – Not seen, but a possible future addition to the to watch list
The Crown – Started, didn’t finish
The Mandalorian – Started, plan to finish
Westworld – Started, didn’t finish
One-hour contemporary single camera series
Killing Eve – Not seen
Ozark – Not seen
The Flight Attendant – Not seen (but on my to watch list)
The Twilight Zone – Started, may go back to it (though a little bit spooked)
Utopia – Not seen (in fact, never heart of it)
Television movie or limited series
Fargo – Not seen
Hollywood – Started, didn’t finish
Little Fires Everywhere –Seen, mostly liked
The Alienist – Not Seen (in fact, never heard of it)
The Queen’s Gambit – Not seen
Half Hour single camera series
Dead to Me – Not seen
Emily in Paris – Not seen
Mythic Request – Not seen (in fact, never heard of it)
Space Force – Not seen
What we do in the Shadows – Started, didn’t finish
Ashley Garcia – Not seen (in fact, never heard of it)
Bob Hearts Abishola – Not seen (in fact, never heard of it)
Family Reunion – Not seen (I don’t think)
The Neighborhood – Not seen (but on my to watch list)
Will and Grace (the revival) – Not seen (did see the original run but…)
Short form, music video, web series – Not seen (any of them)
Variery, Reality, or Competition series – Not seen, mostly (don’t watch reality shows but I have watched The Voice and Saturday Night Live in the past)
Variety Special – Not seen, mostly (only seen The Oscars and the Super bowl half time show with JLo and Shakira and liked the latter; as for the Oscars, I don’t really get the whole nominating award shows for awards thing)