Skin Deep

As mentioned in this recent vlog on my YouTube channel (are you subscribed?), my contributor copies of Skin Deep came in the mail from the UK roughly a year after publication (after pandemic related delays followed by post office frustrations). I have three poems in this collection (Grandmother and Child, Weather Patterns, Waste Not), which is kind of cool for a not-quite-poet.

Thinking back on the whole imposter syndrome post, with more than 30 poetry publishing credits, I may have to own up to also being a poet – as to how good or bad of a poet, that’s not for me to decide but it is true that some of what I have to say finds expression in this form. Yes, as I say in the video, I’m not as confident in this form, and that editor who once told me my poetry is not up to the standard of my fiction is still there with a bullhorn in my head, but every now and again something lands. I’ve had poetry accepted for publication in Ma Comère (my first international publication of any genre), PEN America, Calabash, Mythium, The Caribbean Writer (5 times), Anansesem, SX Salon, Womanspeak, The Columbia Review, The Missing Slate, Moko, Artemis, Interviewing the Caribbean, She Sex, Caribbean Homophobias, and Skin Deep – incidentally the first time (outside of the poems I included in the Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Editions and Other Writings, some of the journaled and anthologized poems, my poem in the Commonwealth Education Trusts’ River of Stories anthology, and my self-published collection on which I think I broke even On Becoming) I’ve been paid (not a big pay day but still) for publishing my poetry.

I shared one of the published pieces (Weather Patterns) in the video above but, a year on, why not, I’ll share all published pieces here. Here you go (click the arrow to go forward and read).

Buy the magazine here. I look forward to reading it cover to cover now that I have it. That’s it. That’s the post (a Sunday Post even – haven’t linked up with the Caffeinated Book Reviewer in a while). Watch the video for #whatimreading.

ETA: I was approached to include my story The Other Daughter, previously published on the Commonwealth Writers platform Adda and excerpted in the first and forthcoming second edition of the Collins CSEC English A Revision Guide, in the first Heady Mix anthology of 2021. Heady Mix is a UK book box service that curates diverse books and stories for subscribers. The theme of this issue of their anthology is Windrush.

It’s Launch Day! (or Covers That Look Like Us, Stories that Reflect Us – Why #OwnVoices Stories Matter)

When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, there weren’t a lot (read: very few read again: I can’t think of one) #ownvoices picture books for children if said children weren’t white (obviously such books…probably… existed but they were few and didn’t come in to my orbit even on a predominantly Black island in the Caribbean… read up on colonialism for possible reasons for that), which means that so many children not named Snow White in their formative years didn’t get to see themselves reflected back at them (read my blog post ‘Why With Grace’) .

January 7th 2021 was UK publication day for these two children’s picture books – The Jungle Outside and Turtle Beach – by Caribbean authors from the island of Antigua (one of them, yours truly).

One of the things that crossed my mind as I looked at these covers side by side, in this pub day post on the Spectator on Facebook, is look at all that beautiful black hair (read Althea Prince’s Politics of Black Women’s Hair or watch Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair and Matthew Cherry’s Oscar winning animated short Hair Love for context re black women’s complicated journey to self love and hair love). Shout out to #ownvoices artists. A character from famous Black hair naturalist Whoopi Goldberg’s one woman show back in the day is a child tossing her hair, via a white shirt on her head, back and forth while looking in the mirror and fawning over (and dreaming of the world she could access with) her “long, luxurious blond hair”.

Her dream for “pretty” hair (we might know it as “good” hair round here) resonated with so many who never got to see themselves reflected and had to imagine for themselves a world in which they were beautiful as they were (read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for context). There was, to then, no Barbie (read: very few dolls… “and nobody on TV” a la Whoopi) that looked like that girl looking at herself in the mirror (read my Essence article Mirror Mirror – if you can find it – on having a doll that looks like you and why that matters).

With artists who recognize you because they are you and see themselves and the people they love reflected in you, the narrative (by which I mean the visual) begins to change. There’s a reason why one of my visual notes to my publisher was a desire for the characters in my book The Jungle Outside to look like people who look like me, to be unambiguously, beautifully Black (and why my follow up notes were probably something like yes, but more Black and with a a fun funky 4C fro – paraphrasing).

This isn’t the point of the story but I smile at the idea that some little girl in the Caribbean and beyond will see that little girl in the purple dress on Barbara’s book, imagined by Antiguan and Barbudan artist Zavian Archibald and say, mom, I want all that beautiful Black hair in a purple ribbon. Because that is beautiful. I want that funky natural updo right now, with my purple ribbon thank you very much. #Blackgirlmagic …also my Tanti character in Jungle may be decades ahead of me but #afrogranny

It is for books like this that the campaigns #readdiversely #weneeddiversebooks #readCaribbean #readSoullit #readtheworld #Blackbooksmatter #readCaribbeanwomen and especially #ownvoices exist.

Both of The Jungle Outside and Turtle Beach are also cool and fun introductions for children to #environmental #matters in a way that can make them feel like part of the solution (see also my book Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). This is important as, while children are more aware than ever of #climatechange issues, it can also be a stressor and these books are reminder that small positive actions, learning to value and engage with nature, can be a net positive; can shift young readers from feeling defeated and like our environmental challenges are insurmountable to feeling empowered.

But mostly look at all that beautiful Black hair. And thanks to for the Petra Williams – The Spectator (on facebook) side by side that prompted this reflection.

Epilogue

I know this is a post about children’s picture books but I just have to spin this throwback fave one time.

Let’s Talk About Imposter Syndrome

I saw that I wasn’t there and I was disappointed. I convinced myself that they realized they’d made a mistake and quietly omitted me. I told myself it was okay. I knew the bona fides of everyone else there and I knew I didn’t measure up. And then I realized it was the complete opposite. I was being singled out, not omitted. At that, I had to pause everything. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t take it in. Imposter syndrome is doubting your own capabilities, second guessing yourself, questioning whether you have a right to be there, swimming in your insecurities, fearing you’re a fraud and everyone can see it – and then when they don’t confirm it for you, being confused and overwhelmed by the possibility, the small possibility that you may have earned your spot, imperfect though you are, with hard work and diligence and talent, and that you do have a right to be there. It’s then giving yourself permission to celebrate though you know the work continues.

This is my celebration post of 2020. Not because I think I’m dope but because I do battle imposter syndrome.

It’s good to work hard and challenge yourself, it’s good to head check your ego, it’s good to know that you will be challenged and, yes, will experience uncertainty in the face of challenges, you will misstep and even fail but that failure or misstep is not a commentary on your everything, it’s a stumble you can recover from with reassessment because you have the tools, you have the experience, you have the drive, you can learn and grow, and you also have amassed enough experience to teach – even if sometimes that student is yourself. Rewiring your instinct towards imposter syndrome is a work in progress, but it begins with this, an acknowledgment that at a certain point questioning whether you have a right to a seat at the table becomes a form of self-harm.

I could write some quippy caption about self-care but let’s be real I just wanted to revisit this moment right here.

What’s Good, Joanne (2020-2021)

Joining the bandwagon of celebrating the celebration-worthy moves and moments of 2020, despite it being one of the worst years in my lifetime (that’s not just me talking – at one point, the whole world shut down!). Because, per the theme song to one of my childhood shows, “you take the good, you take the bad, you take em both and there you have, the ‘Facts of Life’ – a reflection:

Hard to believe this was 2020 but early in the year I received a literary award, nominated and voted by the people of Antigua and Barbuda (wow) as one of the inaugural Women of Wadadli awardees. Highlights for me included having my dad with me at the event and my fabulous skirt (a Miranda Askie original – look for her in a future CREATIVE SPACE), and being in the company of so many women I admire. (national TV station ABS interviewed me about the prize here).

Another nice surprise was making the longlist of the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Competition for Writers in the Caribbean for my story ‘Vincent’.

Musical Youth made Kirkus’ top 100 indie books of 2020 list and its lists of top teen/young adult and top romance indie books, after receiving a starred review for its second edition earlier in the year. It was featured in the Kirkus year end print magazine. One of my more joyful moments was that December call from my publisher at Caribbean Reads informing me of the book’s Kirkus selection. File this under things I didn’t expect but absolutely am happy to receive. As illustrated above, the local press picked it up as well. (Link) I also want to add my gratitude not just for this but for the readers especially who keep amping my books up across social media. I can’t share each one (which is a good problem to have – thanks especially to bookstagram for the love) but I do try to share the ones I find on the reviews and endorsement pages, in the reader reviews section of each page. You can check those out starting here.

Rebel Women Lit book club out of Jamaica launched the the Caribbean Readers’ Awards, inviting readers to nominate and vote for their faves; Antigua and Barbuda made out pretty good when the winners were announced on January 3rd 2020. Specifically 2020 Wadadli Pen winner, Andre, won the best single short fiction award, and I was the honoree in the category of critic. Not a prize I ever expected but thanks to every voter who thought I deserved it. My non-fiction piece for Caribbean Literary Heritage also earned a nomination in the individual short fiction writing category but that prize deservedly went to Queen Olive (Olive Senior) for writing about the writing of her pandemic poems, delivering a master class on writing through a pandemic in the process.

I was able to pitch and negotiate terms that brought CREATIVE SPACE, a series spotlighting local art and culture, to the pages of the Daily Observer newspaper every other Wednesday (returning January 6th 2021). The last installment of the year occasioned the launch of its video component (above). While the series is now paying for itself (a 2020 glow up), I’m still trying to crack the code to further monetize especially the online content (anyone interested in banner ads, sponsored posts, or even product reviews should contact me). However, I’ve been working on this project for a while and I’m happy with how it blossomed in 2020. The extended edition with extras runs here on the blog, just one of an increasing amount of original content (which in addition to my regular books posts have included a number of author interviews, film reviews, cultural commentary, and other fun stuff).

The #CatapultArtsGrant was a timely gift, and, as a recipient specifically of a Caribbean Creative Online Grant, an opportunity to share my work. I was one of three Antiguan-Barbudan people and of many Caribbean people who applied and got grant money specifically available to artists in the challenging year that was. From salons (which I have been particularly enjoying listening in on) to residencies this was the kind of intervention we needed (and not just in a crisis year). Props to the entities that made it happen. And check out my video (above) – it took many hours to produce.

Cover reveal day is always a big day and so it was with The Jungle Outside, my forthcoming children’s picture book (with Harper Collins, UK), inspired by my mother and one of my nephews. My words are again being illustrated by Trinbagonian artist Danielle Boodoo-Fortune. It drops early 2021, and is available for pre-order; buy early, boost sales. (Link re the Caribbean titles in the Big Cat international series of children’s book of which this is a part)

New Daughters of Africa netted an NAACP Image award nomination for best fiction, which, as my story Evening Ritual is a part of it, feels like me netting an Image award nomination for best fiction alongside 200 of the best women writers in the world; late in the year the release of the book’s print edition was announced.

Another group of Caribbean artivists with whom I had the opportunity to interact was Intersect. I had a thoughtful engagement (via an instagram live interview) on themes in my book Musical Youth (video above) and had a piece, Carnival Hangover, re-published with them – a highlight for me was listening to their audio recording of that story.

2013, not 2020. Photo from Jhohadli Writing Project 2013, courtesy workshop participant Kurne. My major workshop activity in 2020 while adhering to COVID-19 protocols was also with young people.

Editing work (including several children’s book and novels, short stories and essays, artist statements and commercial projects) made up the bulk of my freelance activity in 2020; plus some workshop activity (really one major workshop activity which necessitated for the first time, contractual COVID-19 protocols), some writing assignments, like this article for Publishers Weekly (off of this series) – both also highlights! There’ve been many bumps, not enough rest, and various financial and logistical challenges (the freelance high wire act), but in a year when the world stopped, I have been fortunate to be too busy to bake bread. (Link to my services)

Also not 2020 but turns out writers don’t have a lot of pictures of them writing.

I struggled all year with time and energy to create; short story collection inching along, finishing stage draft of With Grace. Then, in December, as the sky fell, I filled pages of a blank book with possibly the beginnings of …something; happy to be writing again, though needing time and the money to take time to create… and buy a new laptop. All of which is to say, patronage to support the work is welcomed – something I wouldn’t have been so bold in declaring before but philanthropy is part of the arts ecosystem, none of us can do this alone and there’s no shame in that (look at me growing). (Link to my published Writing)

I became more active in the authortube and booktube communities, and various such communities across social media. There’s a mix of networking, brand building, and revenue earning goals but also, talking books and creativity is fun (though not as much fun as reading and creating). There’s a learning curve troubleshooting tech issues and such, but growth is good. That said, I am hoping to handoff management of the new Wadadli Pen YouTube channel I set up (and which I encourage to go like) to a tech savvy intern.

The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize awards happened during lockdown and, as such, was my first virtual event of the year – and only my second live (like I said, learning curve), and getting the prizes to the winners was a challenge in a climate where everyone was afraid to o out. It was imperfect, but it happened. We got it done and blog activity continued (with increasing attention to wider Caribbean arts content while keeping local literary arts as a priority). Speaking of, I think that I can hint that the book of the year initiative will be back in 2021 plus, of course, the Wadadli Pen Challenge. Plus the process of making us legal is in progress. Hopefully announcements re any or all of this soon – progress has been affected by there only being 24 hours in the day and the team being made up of five women with very busy and full lives.

Most of my reading this year (in terms of public reading) has been from my bed (lol – seriously check my YouTube channel for some of the reading from my bed I did during lockdown – it won’t take long, there are like two). Most of my actual reading – only 18 books this year – has been listed in my Blogger on Books 2020 page (so you can check that out). But if we’re talking actual readings of my writing, I can think of only two (apart from the involvement of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure in theread2me_TT bedtime readings) – The Caribbean Writer virtual event (video above). It was special to me (considering how hard it was for me to get in to TCW in the first place) to share two of the first pieces (Rhythms and Ode to the Pan Man) accepted for publication. Also special (if somewhat stressful given all the tech specifications) was the invitation by the St. Lucia Tourist Authority to read an excerpt from my work for their Caribcation Author Series. I read from Musical Youth (and re-watching it was a good reminder to slooow down).

I think we’re in to the miscellaneous category here, and this post has run much longer and taken more time to put together than anticipated. But this was a moment too, when the cover of my book With Grace (which has so far underperformed in terms of potential sales but which I still absolutely have faith in) was selected for the cover of volume 5 issue 2 of Opal Palmer Adisa’s Interviewing the Caribbean, with part 1 the first issue with the University of the West Indies Press (there’s also an interview with me inside of part 2 and a past Wadadli Pen winner interview and poem in part 1). This thick journal is in the mix of my active reading pile and is so far quite a good read. Full disclosure: technically the pub date for this is December 2019.

Other media highlights.

*

Whoever needs to hear this, online life is a heavily curated version of real life. I try to be real online or off, but I’m not one to share my times of absolute collapse on the internet. But I have them -Trust! And we know 2020 has been a lot. This post is not a denial of any of that. Just, some good stuff.

In addition to all the end of year reflection running through my social media, an early motivator for this post was Trinidad and Tobago writer Lisa Allen-Agostini blogging the light in the shadows. So, shout out to her for reminding me to celebrate, and look out for the 2020 North American edition of her book Home Home.

For any of my books mentioned in this post, see my books page.

In 2020…My Life in Books

Merry Christmas and tons of goodness for the new year to all who read this.

I haven’t done a round up or anything book meme-ish (or, in this case, taggish) in a while – due to time constraints and due to hoping to finish more books which I might have to acknowledge I won’t due to aforementioned time constraints. So I thought I might do this one along with shellyrae @ Book’d Out Just for Fun (as that old Singing Althea Calypso goes).

The challenge is to complete the prompts using the titles from the books you’ve read in 2020. Consider yourself tagged.

2020 was the year of Greyborn Rising by Derry Sandy – not just because it was one of my faves but because, like in the book, things seen and unseen – looking at you COVID-19 – were coming at us out of the woodworks and we had to stay #cutlassready.

#cutlassready

In 2020, I wanted to be Storm (Storm Limited Series 1, 2, 3, 4) – not necessarily talking plot here but Storm is a reflective, complicated, powerful badass (who needs her own Origins feature film by the way) who Black women and girls can project themselves in to – or who can remind us of our own potential for greatness…even if we can’t harness the wind.

In 2020, I was Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo – technically, I still need to read the full book but, yeah, this fits.

In 2020, I gained Art Exposed by Chavel Thomas – I actually interviewed this artist this year but I’m choosing this book to reference all of the art created in 2020 during the pandemic that I’ve been privileged to have a front row seat to, interviewing artists for my CREATIVE SPACE series. A favourite day is still the private tour of Heather Doram’s studio overflowing with art created when, column aside, I was still struggling to write (oh, btw, I’m writing again…finally).

In 2020, I lost The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – just no travel, no travel for the foreseeable future and that makes me sad.

In 2020, I loved The Old Guard (Book One: Opening Fire and Book Two: Force Multiplied) by Greg Rucka (words) and Leandro Fernando (art) – easily one of my top 5 (who’m I kidding top 3, maybe 2) movies of the year and my most fun movie experience to return to for a boost since and great on the representation front between its Black female director, first for a comic book action feature film (Gina Prince-Bythewood), its gay lovers (beautifully played by Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli), Black female co-lead (Kiki Layne), female lead in a comic book action film (Charlize Theron), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (existing), passing the Bechdel-Wallace and the Duvernay tests without hitting you over the head with its wokeness, just by telling a simple and complete story, not to mention an action flick with nuance re its villainy (ah, Booker) and historical scope and complexity re its character origins, in addition to some dance-like John Wick-esque choreographed fight scenes.

In 2020, I hated racism (see Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes) – I mean, I always hate racism but this teen/young adult novel captures some of the inner and outer complexities of being Black in a world of systemic and overt racism and proved the perfect book for the 2020 season of racial reckoning as propelled by the #BlackLivesMatter uprising; easily one of my favourite reads and definitely my quickest read of the year.

In 2020, I learned Creole Clay: Heritage Ceramics in the Contemporary Caribbean by Patricia J. Fay – there were things about my father’s family and his mother specifically that were new to me and I ended up revisiting family business in my newspaper column.

In 2020, I was surprised by The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemison – One of my favourite reads of the year but in the real world I was not ready for this dystopian future in which we’ve found ourselves nor the reminder that we are our own worst enemy (just wear the damn mask! …and stop voting for would-be fascists).

In 2020, I went to Small Island by Andrea Levy – because that’s where I live; on a small island in the Caribbean and this was the year to tap ah yuh yaad (also I got to see this free for a time during lockdown stage adaptation from home – still need to read the book).

In 2020, I missed out on Buzz and Bingo in the Monster Maze by Alan Durant and Sholto Walker – because this is a children’s party book with costumes I feel fine using it as a euphemism for Carnival because Carnival was cancelled in 2020 because 2020 didn’t want us to have nice things (just look at those maskless fools back in 2019).

In 2020, my family were An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – by which I mean to say as dysfunctional as ever, like every other family – bookwise though this is another one I’d recommend for any one still scratching their heads over why BLM activists put their health at risk to take to the streets seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others – too many others.

In 2021, I hope August Issue 1 by Fallen Angel T.J.G with illustrations by Sonalli Andrews – chosen not for the plot but because in 2020 we want that August, that summer, feeling back all year round, mangoes in full bloom, Carnival on full blast, and that feeling of freedom and possibility, no state of emergency, no curfew, warm sun and fresh air breathed freely, hopefully we the people of the world will through responsible action be on track to getting our lives back; and with reference to the book, because it is the first graphic novel out of Antigua and independently produced, may it remind us to try new things in the new year.

I read (calling it!) 18 books this year – 4 less than last year (sigh) – and my reviews are linked; check em out. If you do the tag, post the link in the comments so I can check out your books as well.

Thanks, Shelly, by the way for ballooning my TBR to which The Lost and the Damned, Love in Lockdown (did you really gain love in lockdown, Shelly, do tell?), and Little Wonders have now been added.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – My Views *with spoilers*

The Real Ma Rainey, mother of the Blues, in a 1994 postage stamp.
Viola Davis as Ma Rainey

Right away the movie plays with our expectations – dark woods, eerie wildlife sounds, the discordant rhythm of running feet, before dark figures running come in to view, and heavy breathing and barking dogs sound; we are seasoned viewers, we know the language of film and we have seen this scene before from Roots to Underground; runaways, it is a trope of the slave narrative, our bodies remember the pain and begin to despair that it’s going to be one of those movies. It’s Christmas and we’re not in the mood to be traumatized by art. Then before we can stay or not stay, it – psyche! – inverts our expectations as the tent appears on screen, a spot of light in the darkness. It lets some of the air out and rewards us for staying with a joyous and raucous stage-tent scene, a big performance set piece that introduces the key characters and the music at the heart of the film, letting us in to a space where Black people in 1927 can be themselves fully, no white gaze. A space where the Blues belies its name by bringing the people, by bringing us, euphoria.

This is not a review. Just a review of moments that resonated.

Moments…

Like the way sound is used to transition out of the tent from music in the rural backwoods to the sounds of sewing machines and factories, the train whistle, car sounds, the bump bump bump bump base sound in the score as the members of the band begin to move through the city, specifically Chicago, a city at the heart of the great Black migration from the South, a city on the up, where Black people are hardworking and stylish and things are happening. A city we leave outside for the sealed, dinghy sweatbox of the recording studio – helmed by two tightly wound white men.

Also the cut of Cutler’s suit, that tight top button. And Levee’s $11 yellow shoes.

And there he is, Chadwick Boseman (thinner now that we know what to look for but so full of life) in his last role…ever. RIP to the King, long live the King.

The conked hair.

Classism and possibly colourism. Though Ma is apparently staying in a quality Black establishment, the looks she gets – for being showbiz? dark-skinned? a lesbian? gaudy (unrespectable)? – as she descends the stairs, is telling. That this introduction to the Ma character overlaps with the conversation between the “boys” in the band about old and new style of music, country v city sensibilities (apparently she’s packing them in in Memphis but her records aren’t selling in Harlem) is an effective directorial choice.

The foreshadowing – the stepped on shoe, the irritation it sparks but that irritation doesn’t blow over the way it will later when Levee’s pent up, misdirected rage needs an outlet.

Levee’s line about Toledo’s shoes “he ain’t nothing but a sharecropper” and its signaling of how material things are used to reinvent the self – in Levee’s mind Toledo is less and country, lesser still, for not having the flyest (in our era we would say certain name brand) shoes; meanwhile, Toledo’s established as someone who reads and thinks, and largely minds his own business, but is mocked by Levee, and the others in a rare moment of companionship, for not having the ‘right’ shoes. There’s layers to this story. It’s not just about recording music, it’s about negotiating Blackness within and beyond the Black community in a sweltering time for Black people in America – while 1927 had no major uprisings (the Black History timeline shows it as the year the Harlem Globetrotters were formed, the year Black nationalist Marcus Garvey was deported, and the year Black radio was born), the period generally is one of the peak period of the great Black migration (from the racial oppression of the American south to the racial inequities of the American north) was not without significance. Racial violence was at a peak, the Tulsa massacre was only six years earlier in 1921; Rosewood just four years earlier in 1923. The newspaper in Toledo’s hand screams LYNCHING in all caps.

Ma bellying up to that cop is a rare incidence on film of a Black person challenging the police state on film and walking away unbruised; I don’t mind saying that scene made me tense – while establishing Ma as someone unafraid to confront the power structure. Of course, the situation is only resolved by the white manager greasing the palms of the white cop – which underscores that Ma only really wields power in that situation inasmuch as the white manager still needs something from her enough to intervene.

That moment of Ma ogling her girlfriend Dussie Mae’s ass (her irritation with Dussie Mae’s “flaunting” said ass later when she’s irritated). Something about that feels like an LGBTQIA moment we haven’t quite seen on screen before. I should add that growl she gives as she feels Dussie Mae up and croons to her. Dussie Mae catering to Ma, slipping on her more comfortable shoes while Ma sings playfully about her corns. New shit.

The way Viola sits as Ma – like the rare girl who’s never been told “close your legs”, or who’s heard it a million times and decided, fuck that.

The battle over which version of Ma’s signature song they’re going to sing – Ma or Levee backed by the white men – who do we expect to win that fight, expectations subverted again. Ma knows what power she holds while they want something from her and is not hesitant about wielding it, though she knows (as we later realize) that her power is waning (that battle between the old, represented by Ma, and new represented by the likes of Bessie Smith – as played by Queen Latifah in the also very good biopic Bessie, in which Monique played Ma Rainey). Bessie Smith, Ma herself acknowledges, is nipping at Ma’s heals, outselling her in terms of records if not (yet) live performances – a commentary on the record industry, which does this to this day, deciding on the more palatable idea of Blackness which may not always gel with the people’s own tastes. We’ll see an extreme example of this by the very end when the practice of white singers doing over and popularizing Black songs is illustrated. (ETA) Because I just saw a YouTube video in which a white YouTuber, who otherwise praised the film, wondered what was the significance of the white band doing Levee’s song at the end, saying how he didn’t see how it connected back to the film – a film in which Ma explicitly says all they want to do is take/use, in which we explicitly see them take Levee’s song for $5 and not give him a chance to put his own band together and record it fueling the climactic tragedy, using that same song, the jelly roll song we hear him working on throughout, for the final scene – like did you watch the film, sir, and have you never heard about Little Richard (or maybe not, since Pat Boone re-recorded his songs like ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’). Sigh. (end ETA). A(nother) real life example is ‘Hound Dog’, made popular by the ‘King of Rock ‘n Roll’ (Elvis Presley) in 1956 and performed initially in 1952 by the lesser known Big Mama Thornton (and frankly making more sense sung by a woman). Appropriation (the use of someone’s, usually an ethnic, marginalized group’s, art or culture without credit or acknowledgment, or as explored in the Netflix documentary The Lion’s Share re The Lion Sleeps Tonight, originally Mbube from South Africa, compensation, framing it as your own) isn’t new; the sad thing is, it still happens.

The performances – Viola as Ma, Chadwick as Levee, but also Colmon Domingo as Cutler – the line delivery on “I don’t think nobody so much give a damn…Sylvester, look here” (moving on) when Levee says “you don’t know me, you don’t know what I’ll do.” Of course, the sad irony is that maybe we should have given a damn, maybe things would have turned out different.

The whole “coldcocacola” sequence. I feel you, Ma.

Viola’s Oscar clip “they don’t care nothing about me; all they want is my voice”. A moment that reveals she’s as aware of her vulnerability as her power.

Ma scratching at her wig ’cause her scalp itches – as she talks – if that isn’t an authentic hair moment (eclipsed only by another Viola character Annalise Keating in How to get away with Murder taking off her wig to reveal her natural low fro).

“Music will do that, it fills things up… we don’t sing cause we feel bad, we sing cause that’s a way of understanding life” – one of Ma’s quieter and more meaningful moments. I feel the same way about music.

My most laugh out loud moment – and I didn’t expect there to be so many of them – is the moment when her manager tries to move things along as her nephew struggles with doing the intro to the title song through his stutter; she turns and gives him a look – these kids today don’t know bout the look but the look had the power to stop foolishness. And it stopped him right away.

Watching Toledo and Slow Drag play, you realize that much as Levee down talks the music, they enjoy playing it.

And you will enjoy watching Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The writing is great; it’s based on an August Wilson play…duh. The performances chef’s kiss. And while it is a bit stagey…again duh… it is not static. It doesn’t dip; the quiet moments don’t cause the pacing to lag, they draw you in to the emotion and remind you that the recording of Ma’s record is the least of what’s happening. The atmospherics – the browns and greens, yellow to white colour palette of the scenery and some of the costuming, the heat evidenced by the washed out sky, the wet skin, and Ma’s ever present fan – put you in the space, the head space, yes, but also the physical space. I know some of you all are worried that it’ll be a bit like healthy eating – good for you but no fun. And this isn’t empty calories, true, but it is fun. Go watch.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is currently streaming on Netflix.

I Made One of Those Year End Lists (Hell Yeah, I Did!)

ETA (December 27th 2020): In addition to making Kirkus’ list of top Indie 100 books, Musical Youth was also named among Kirkus’ best indie romances and best indie teen/young adult books of 2020, in addition to being featured in Kirkus’ year end magazine.

ETA (December 21st 2020): The List.

I got an early Christmas present. Musical Youth has been selected as one of Kirkus Reviews top 100 Indies of the year – that’s one of the top books they’ve reviewed in the past year (according to them) by an Independent press (Caribbean Reads Publishing).

Here’s the official release (circulated by Caribbean Reads to the media) – bolds are mine:

St. Johns, Antigua (December 16, 2020) The second edition of Musical Youth by Antiguan and Barbudan author, Joanne C. Hillhouse has been named as one of the top 100 Indie books reviewed by Kirkus Reviews in 2020. The starred review calls the book “overwhelmingly joyful” and ranks it “in the tradition of the best YA stories” with “convincing” characters that are “unfailingly realistic in their interactions, interests, and struggles.”

Kirkus Reviews is an American company founded in 1933 and focused on providing reviews that are high in integrity, honest, and accessible. According to their website, they review more than 8,000 books per year, and award starred reviews to “books of exceptional merit.” Musical Youth’s starred review will be featured as one of the Best Indie Books of 2020 in the December 15 issue of Kirkus Reviews magazine, in a special email newsletter on December 21, and on their website starting December 21.

On receiving the news of the award, author Joanne C. Hillhouse was particularly pleased that the reviewers saw the joy in the book. “I wanted to write a book that teens would want to pick up and read even if they were not required to read it for school.” Hillhouse has authored several other books for adults and children including Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure published by CaribbeanReads.

Musical Youth is a coming-of-age story set in Antigua. The main character, Zahara is brilliant on the guitar but struggles to fit in in school. She meets Shaka, also a musician, and a romance blossoms between them. By chronicling one summer in the lives of these characters and their friends, Musical Youth, touches on a number of issues that our Caribbean youth face such as class differences, colourism, and relationships-romantic, familial, and platonic. First published in 2014, Musical Youth is not new to recognition and praise. The book was the third-place winner in that year’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature by CODE, a Canadian NGO. In the first week of its release it ranked among Amazon’s hot new releases in YA Performing Arts Fiction, and it was mentioned in the February 2016 Essence Magazine. Caribbean authors and educators have praised it repeatedly, as a “must-read” that is “absolutely brilliant” and “beautifully crafted” with “unforgettable themes, setting, and language.”

The first edition of Musical Youth was not submitted for a Kirkus review because traditional reviews typically require a book to be submitted at least three months before publication and the Burt Award prize required that the book be published within a very tight deadline. The second edition, released after the first run of books sold out, opened the door for an opportunity to submit the book for review.

Carol Mitchell of CaribbeanReads stated that “CaribbeanReads’ books have received very positive Kirkus Reviews in the past, but this is our first starred review, so we are very excited. To have Musical Youth chosen as one of the top 100 books by an Indie publisher this year is even more gratifying. It is a wonderful book and this is well-deserved.”

Musical Youth is taught in select schools in the Caribbean. It is available in bookstores and libraries throughout the Caribbean and online. More information can be found at caribbeanreads.com or by contacting the publisher at info@caribbeanreads.com


What to add really but gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. This is one of those moments a writer dreams of and I’m living it. Gratitude.

This is not a Test

I wanted to drop a quick note to share that CREATIVE SPACE continues to grow. This week I talked with graphic designer Sonalli Andrews about the art of storytelling via his visual medium. There is now a video component. Here it is.

That’s right, CREATIVE SPACE 22 of 2020 (as in the 22nd installment since the column found a new home in the Daily Observer every other Wednesday early in the year) also has a video component. I conducted the interview via Zoom and then I edited and uploaded it to my YouTube channel, Antiguan Writer. That’s three iterations of the column if you’re keeping count, the newspaper edition , the extended (i.e. with extras) online edition here on the blog, and now the video edition (my first attempt to take it on to this platform). It took a lot of doing but I’m excited and hoping you will check it out. Like, comment, share, subscribe.

My goal is to grow this and to do so I’ll need to build the audience and get some money coming in through branding and/or sponsorship and/or advertising. So that I can get some help and continue to pump out this content and do it better.

If you need added incentive to view the video, there’s a story, inspired by the video cover image, included in the conversation – beginning, middle, end? Not saying. Watch to find out; I believe you’ll find the whole conversation (and it is a conversation more than an interview) interesting.

Though this wasn’t a #Catapultartsgrant funded initiative, I daresay my experience troubleshooting the challenge I experienced creating the video I did for that emboldened me to tackle this project. I always planned to expand CREATIVE SPACE’s possibilities but this past week I decided to just do it, and I did. Let me know what you think.

What’s on My Bookshelf (or an Incidental Rec Post)

The number and order of books on my shelves keep changing, but looking the other day (as I edited) at the video I did for the #Catapultartsgrant

I wondered which books were actually visible. I do most of my vids from my cocoon and this vid in fulfillment of my Caribbean Creative Arts Online grant was no different. But when you’re spending hours, days, weeks working on something like this, you notice things and you wonder. I wondered which books were currently visible in the three stacks behind me…and then I decided to check and maybe share. That’s right, you’ve stumbled upon a book recs post. As they appear by row behind me in the vid above (with my reviews or reports linked) are…

The Whale House
and Other Stories

by Sharon Millar
Author
by Beowulf Sheehan
Their Eyes were watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Time to Talk by Curtly Ambrose with Richard SydenhamBlack Writers: a Book of Postcards photography by Jill KrementzCaribella by Phillis Gershator
Point of Order by Ivory KellyThe Fall of Rome by Martha SouthgateInner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis
Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulaySong of Solomon by Toni MorrisonTurn Thanks by Lorna Goodison
Closure edited by Jacob RossJust as I am by E. Lynn HarrisPossessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker
Nobody Go Run Me: The Life and Times of Sir Mclean Emmanuel (King Short Shirt) by Dorbrene O’MardeSilver Sparrow by Tayari JonesValour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
Create Dangerously by Edwidge Dandicat Glorious by Bernice McFadden
Night Rising (Vampire Babylon, Book 1) by Chris Marie GreenWithout a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Black Rose by Tananarive DueSaint Lucian Literature and Theatre: an Anthology of Reviews edited by John Robert Lee and Kendel Hippolyte
No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley by Rita Marley with Hettie JonesThe Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon JamesEvening Class by Maeve Binchy
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera My Life: The Early Years by Bill Clinton
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Living by the Word by Alice Walker
Dido’s Prize by Eugenia O’Neal
In addition to these three rows, there’s another row visible to my left, your right.
Being Black by Althea Prince
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
West Indian Folk Tales by Philip Sherlock
Communication 1 by Muriel A. Affleck and Katherine G. Therrien
The Nakedness of New by Althea Romeo-Mark
The 3 A. M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley
Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma
Bad Boy Brawly Brown by Walter Mosley
The Politics of Black Women’s Hair by Althea Prince
I Love Myself When I am Laughing and Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive by Zora Neale Hurston
Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice
Poems by Maya Angelou
Poems by Martin Carter
Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference by Selwyn R. Cudjoe

This post wasn’t inspired by that one director bad talking that one actor’s apartment on Zoom (he thought he was muted). I’ll still be doing most of my virtuals right there in front of my bookcase and maybe the books will have moved around, because they do that. But referencing that actor and director, be kind to each other. The room rater app is one thing (most seem to take it all in good fun) but talking behind someone’s back is another. Letting so many people in to your space is already vulnerable-feeling (which is why some of us find a corner and stay there – I see you Trevor Noah). Anyway, hope you find some books you like in the table above, hope you watch the video of me in front of those books (and like, subscribe, comment, and share), and just be kind to each other.

Stats Spiking and Books on My Shelves

Re Stats Spiking

When I signed in to the blog today, I got one of those your stats are spiking posts and decided to see what people were viewing/reading for the last quarter

…the last 30 days

…and the last 7 days

If I was to Venn diagram it, the central subset of overlapping interests in the middle would be (beyond the homepage)

The Boy from Willow Bend Study Guide (Author Edition)
The CREATIVE SPACE main page
I won a Grant; Now Ask Me Anything
BOOKS
First Pages – The Boy from Willow Bend

Good to know. The interest in my first book probably has something to do with it being on the schools reading list (in Antigua-Barbuda, Anguilla) and this being the first term of the 2020-2021 school year. The interest in my BOOKS generally is always welcomed. Glad to see CREATIVE SPACE, my local art and culture column, is performing well. Delighted that there’s interest in the #Catapultartstgrant, specifically my Caribbean Creative arts online grant. Now let’s spike those video views.

This post is running long so we’ll talk about Books on My Shelves in the next one. Thanks always for reading and supporting and helping me spike the views.