Independence Lit Youth Forum

On Friday 21st October, 2016, I participated in an Independence literary arts activity (for off-islanders November 1st is Antigua and Barbuda’s 35th anniversary of Independence, yes we’re that young, and there are a number of activities in the build-up to that date. Typically, literary arts is the left out stepchild, at least since the lit arts comp was shelved after a seven year run, but this year we got a little corner of a leaf on the programme). It was a last minute add to my schedule…very last minute.


Me, Joanne C. Hillhouse, (left) and Natasha Lightfoot (2nd from right) with a couple of the students who came out to the Independence literary arts event. They’re holding copies of my books Dancing Nude in the Moonlight and The Boy from willow Bend, and Natasha’s Troubling Freedom. (Picture not mine; lifted from the Antigua and Barbuda Student Association – USA’s facebook)

But I must say I did enjoy the time spent with my panel and the roomful of young people at the Multipurpose Centre. The panel included Gordon George, one of my English teachers during my time as a student at the Antigua State College; Natasha Lightfoot, Columbia University professor and author of Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation; and Joy Lawrence, poet and folk historian – author of village histories like The History of Bethesda and Christian Hill. The young people in the audience, meanwhile, were drawn from several secondary schools and the Antigua State College.

I was especially impressed with the way Natasha, the last speaker, was able to engage a, by then, roomful of restless – and hungry – teenagers, a group younger than the group she typically engages with, in a discussion that linked their dreams as young people on the cusp of their own future with the dreams of the formerly enslaved Antiguans and Barbudans who walked in to freedom in 1834. Mr. George, meanwhile, introduced them to the work of Eileen Hall Luke who published (the Fountain and the Bough) in the 1930s. The poem he shared was called ‘Obeah Woman’ which was written in Caribbean creole and drew on Caribbean references (the titular obeah woman) in its depiction of the breakdown of a relationship due to faithlessness or maybe its endurance in spite of faithlessness …because a woman scorned becomes an obeah woman prepared to do whatever she has to to keep what is hers. There are different interpretations and that was Mr. George’s point, I believe, as he guided them to use the clues in the work to interpret it for themselves.
Interestingly, it was the boys especially who engaged, not just with this exercise, but in general – something Dr. Lightfoot took note of as she voiced the wish to hear from more of the girls during her Q & A with the students. Oh, yes, the students had the opportunity to ask questions after each presentation. Joy Lawrence’s might have been the most spirited as she pushed back at some of the students questions – why Bethesda…why not Bethesda; where is Bethesda… she refused to even engage with that one, and gave point blank answers to some others – are there enough Antiguan and Barbudan books on the CSEC syllabus…no. She spoke of her early love for writing, her entry in to writing publicly after Hurricane Luis in 1995, the sense of duty she felt to do the work that she was doing in terms of our folk history – “to go forward is to look back”.

I was the first speaker, after Festivals Minister Chet Greene. Event MC and organizer Maurice Merchant had connected with me only days before the event and my participation was confirmed pretty much the morning of, so I really had no concrete idea of what to expect. But it went surprisingly well. I say surprisingly because even as I stepped to the mic, I had no idea what I was going to read or share…about publishing, which was what I was technically asked to speak on. I decided to share my publishing journey beginning with why I write via my poem Ah Write! which has been published in the Caribbean Writer and the PEN online and print journal, and is now available in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight: 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings.

I talked about the road to publication with the other books, and shared a bit of the most recently published one – and the one that seemed most likely to engage this group of teenagers – Musical Youth. Not surprisingly, one of the first questions was of the so what happens next variety. But there were a fair amount of publishing related questions – how does one go about getting published to how much do I make (note, not how much do writers make or how do writers make their money…I took the latter approach in answering the question, by the way, discussing advances and royalties and prize monies and touching on how I monetize my skills). There were questions some related to things more personally literary as well – favourite genre to book I’m proudest of (and really how does one choose?). There were process questions – where do I find inspiration to whether or not some of my writing being in the local vernacular has been a hindrance to publication in the wider market (knock on wood, not so far). Merchant had arranged purchase of books by participating authors (specifically Lightfoot’s Troubling Freedom and my The Boy from Willow Bend and the original edition of Dancing Nude – yep, there are still a few of those floating around) and distribution of said books to libraries of participating schools. An unusual/unexpected and commendable gesture – supporting the work of local authors while giving young Antiguans and Barbudans access to their writings.

After the formalities, there was some informal interaction, and it’s always a pleasure to have these engagements with young people and to see their enthusiasm whether for a book of yours that touched them in some way (The Boy from Willow Bend in the case of the young girl from Ottos Comprehensive School who asked me about writers’ block) or their own projects (the boy whose SBA is about the linkages between Africa and Antigua and needed some tips on getting started with the writing now that he’s gathered all this research); but mostly – perhaps because we have this idea that they are sooo over it, sometimes – their enthusiasm for life. I continue to wish them well in the embrace of their dreams – and had a we’ve come a long way, baby moment when in voicing said dreams, there was one accountant-athlete who spoke up and not a doctor or lawyer among them…not a knock against doctors or lawyers, or accountants, but there was a time when it seemed that these were the only professions our young people thought or had been told were worthwhile. It’s nice to see them thinking outside the box.

p.s. I’ll share more/better pictures if and when I get them.

p.p.s. for information on the books mentioned in this post, visit the Antiguan and Barbudan Poets, Fiction, and Non-Fiction lists at Wadadli Pen.


November Sale


november-saleJhohadli Writing Project – what it means – Jhohadli (this refers to my pen name/alter ego), Writing (this refers to what I do and what I teach), Project (a piece of work or an activity towards a specific purpose; a study of a particular subject). Beginning with my first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project (in 2013),  the Jhohadli Writing Project has evolved in to the umbrella under which I offer my writing workshops and courses. More on Jhohadli Writing Project here, then come back here and register for one of these new series of workshops.

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November Sale


Jhohadli Writing Project – what it means – Jhohadli (this refers to my pen name/alter ego), Writing (this refers to what I do and what I teach), Project (a piece of work or an activity towards a specific purpose; a study of a particular subject). Beginning with my first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project (in 2013),  the Jhohadli Writing Project has evolved in to the umbrella under which I offer my writing workshops and courses. More on Jhohadli Writing Project here, then come back here and register for one of these new series of workshops.

Hillary Clinton Meets Tracy Flick

Okay so I don’t usually post about politics here and I certainly don’t have a vote in the upcoming US elections. It’s been hard to escape it though or the ways in which it intersects with pop culture. No, I’m not talking about Melanianade (which is everything!)

but about Election.

Back in July (July 21st 2016), when Senator Al Franken said to reporter Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC about the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, “She works every day, she never comes unprepared; he always comes unprepared”, my brain, as it does, made a leap from Hillary Clinton to Tracy Flick.

Flick was Reese Witherspoon’s character in the satirical 1999 film, Election. In the film, a high school election is the back drop for all kinds of political shenanigans. The story is told from the point of view of Jim McAllister, a well-respected teacher played by Matthew Broderick. He really hates Tracy Flick. He’s not alone in this; there’s always the sense about Flick that she is prominent and capable but not liked.

But Jim McAllister, Broderick’s character, dislikes her so much, he decides to block her otherwise pretty clear path to student body president by urging the more likable Paul (played by Chris Klein) – effortlessly popular, infinitely unqualified – to oppose her candidacy. He’s overseeing the elections so really shouldn’t get involved. But he finds Flick so insufferable that we, the audience, kind of do too… for no clear reason. Well, okay, she’s the kind of Type A-plus-plus-plus-plus overachiever whose earnestness and self-importance instinctively rub people the wrong way. Plus, she’s not above mean-girling anyone who gets in her way. It’s more complicated than that though; turns out McAllister’s colleague’s life had been ruined by an affair with the teenage Flick – that point muting any sympathy I might have for him. But to McAllister’s  mind she is an evil vortex sucking all goodness from the world.

During the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Hillary’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, spoke to the hyperbole that’s been used to shape the Caricature Hillary who stands in stark opposition to what he described as #therealdeal Hillary. Guarded is one of the nicer adjectives I’ve seen used to describe the presidential aspirant. Her rival on the other side takes joy in calling her Crooked Hillary. It all adds up to a perception of her as …an evil vortex sucking all goodness from the world. Much like Tracy Flick, many dislike her without even being able to articulate why (Benghazi! emails! Bill cheated?!), and those who like her have to lead with disclaimers like I know she’s a politician but, I don’t expect her to be perfect, it’s not just because she’s a woman, lesser of two evils, and so on.

But likability issues aside, Flick is up against a nice-enough but unqualified, dumb as a box of rocks jock (no disrespect to jocks) and Hillary is up against …well. Both are visibly frustrated that this is even a race.

There’s been no strong rebuttal re her qualifications – President Obama asserted uncontroversially during the DNC that the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State was more qualified than both him and her husband when they had applied for the job. And we know she works hard, that she’s tenacious, that she doesn’t bend easily much less break (11 hours, people) – her opponent, in contradiction of his own assertions re her lack of stamina, said in the second debate that he admires her tenacity (“she doesn’t give up…she’s a fighter”).

Hillary stands poised, if she wins, to potentially break the political glass ceiling – well, as refers to women in American politics (countries like India, Israel, Germany, Brazil, Liberia, England, and Jamaica are among those that already installed female leaders). This comes less than a century after American women earned the hard fought right to vote (well, white women, who were enfranchised with the 19th amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 while blacks of both genders didn’t access full voting rights until the 1965 Voting Rights Bill). It’s a moment that theoretically should stir enthusiasm. But there is, at best, tepid acknowledgment of the moment. Some, after her more than 30 years of public life, still need time to get to know her better (this is a reference to live interviews with some of the female undecideds during the MSNBC DNC coverage), like she’s auditioning for the role of best girlfriend instead of president. During that coverage, a reporter contextualizing polling to that time, said, “… most Americans feel like they don’t necessarily know her, don’t necessarily trust her, don’t necessarily like her.”

So, for all she’s accused of,  Hillary’s biggest crime seems to be that she’s not as likeable as people apparently need their politicians to be. Sure she knowns her way around global politics and the ins-and-outs of how government works but …I don’t know if I like her, like her…seems to be the mindset among this set. She’s too full of herself, too entitled, too smug by far (shades of Election and McAllister’s repulsion at Tracy and all earnest, high striving, high achieving, less than perfect girls).  A variation of this is the I know what she does but I’m not sure I know who she is argument. I have to wonder though if being defined by what you do, your work, is a bad thing to have in someone for whom work is going to be life for at least four years. I mean, assuming she gets the job, which is still a very big if.

Honestly, I don’t think Hillary is Tracy, not really, surface comparisons aside, but I do think some of the criticism of both is gendered in that “ruthless overachiever” is not typically a deficit in politics…if you’re a man.

One significant departure from the Hillary is Tracy narrative is the moment in the film when Tracy, in a fit of rage, tears down all of Paul’s posters. But only because Hillary is so guarded, it’s hard to imagine her acting out publicly in a fit of rage. If she does have Tracy type rage-outs, it’s possibly in a soundproofed room with no cameras, where she can shoot darts at orange oompaloompas undisturbed and laugh freely and bigly to her heart’s delight.


Questions Writers Hate

We’re a contrary bunch. We want attention (on our books) but we want to be left alone (to just write). We appreciate your interest in our writing but we really don’t want you asking us about our writing. Well, that last one deserves more nuance. We appreciate that you appreciate our writing, but this question – when’s your next book coming out? – or its variations – you working on another book? – can send us spiraling.

Our inner responses, the things we dare not say out loud can range from the snappish – I’m not working on an assembly line, it takes time, back up off me – to the utterly despairing – I don’t know, I’m stuck, I’m a fraud, I know you see it, don’t pretend.

There’s always that vague sense that you’re disappointed that we don’t have that next book ready to go – (insert real favourite writer’s name here) has a new book out every six months, why do you write so slow? Of course, you may not be thinking this at all, your when’s the new book coming might just be your version of “hi!” but given that writers live in the uncertain space of will I ever write anything worth writing again (and again not all writers, some are blessed like that), your “hi!” can feel like you’re digging your finger into an open wound and wiggling it around…and delighting in the pain it causes and the squishy sound it makes. Why are you so mean!

Nah, I’m kidding, writers love readers – you are our air. And now I’m overstating.

But not about the question though, we hate it. Yes, we. It’s one of the things we gripe about at our secret writer meetings when you’re not around. And, yes, we totally have secret writer meetings. A secret knock and handshake too.

In all honesty, though, the question can send us (some of us) spiraling depending on where we are in the process. I should just say me, right? Except I’ve heard enough writers gripe about this (no, not at the secret meetings; there are no secret meetings…unless you count workshops) to know it’s not just me. But it did sort of happen to me, yesterday.

I’ve been hearing some variation of this question since my first book The Boy from Willow Bend came out.


Not the actual Boy from Willow Bend but a student project inspired by the Boy from Willow Bend.

The beautiful thing was, back then, before Willow Bend had even been published, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight had been acquired by the same publisher and was ready to go. That’s how publishers – and writers – like it. But a book takes time to write and both of those books between writing (months) and revising (more months) took what added up to years; it just so happened that a book also takes a while to sell so that when the publisher asked, got anything else, I could honestly answer, yes, yes I do.

It doesn’t always work like that. When I published Oh Gad! that was all she wrote – well technically she had her first two unpublished manuscript in a do-not-open mailed-to-self envelope somewhere (see poor man’s copyright) but …yeah, not so much. Oh Gad! was published in 2012. Since then I’ve published Fish Outta Water (a children’s picture book), Musical Youth (a teen/young adult novel and finalist for the Burt Award), re-issued Dancing Nude in the Moonlight as part of a larger collection Dancing Nude in the Moonlight: 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, have With Grace (a second children’s picture book) getting ready to drop, been published in A River of Stories, Round My Christmas Tree, Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, A Letter for My Mother, She Sex, In the Black: New African Canadian Writing, So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End, For Women: in Tribute to Nina Simone plus journal publications, hustling and juggling writing and editing assignments, workshop activities – the ones I facilitate and the ones I go to to work on my craft, voluntary activities (especially Wadadli Pen which can feel like a full time job) and then some. (sidebar: check out my books, my projects, my workshops, my fiction, my poetry)


Elated in January 2016 after nabbing bylines in two dream publications.

And still I’m plagued in such times, when that question inevitably drops as it did yesterday, by doubt that I’ll ever write anything worthwhile…ever?…again?…take your pick. And as unsatisfying as my I’m always working on something response is (I can see it in your face), it is the truth – because carving out time to write is what I’m always trying to do, and in fact I just started an online writing course, not because I need more on my plate but because I need to make my writing a priority. The works in progress have been works in progress for so long, I kind of just want to trash them and move on, and yet I know they’re not done with me yet. I’m as frustrated by my progress as you are to see what my next book is going to be. And I am truly grateful for the interest all 10 or 9 of you have in that next book – grateful to have any kind of fan base. But that question just underscores my failure to deliver, and the truth is my or any other writer’s frustration with that question has very little to do with you. The person we’re really frustrated with is ourselves.

Yesterday, the last time someone asked me that question, had begun with a rejection in my inbox. If you’re a freelance writer, you’re always pitching something; if you’re freelance writer-editor-workshop-facilitator-writing-coach, you’re always casting a net because you’ve got to draw business to yourself. You get used to being ignored or being rejected, and you catch enough business to live to fish another day and on good days to have a fish fry in which friends and fam can share (okay, putting that belaboured metaphor to bed…sorry…but see what I mean?)

Usually you don’t get in your emotions about rejections (not every one, because come on, how would you function?) But something about the casual “we’ll pass” in this particular rejection (random as it was) hit me funny – had nothing to do with the market itself and only a little bit to do with the off-hand tone, and everything to do with where I was before opening that email. I powered through like I always do but by evening I was weepy and depressed, and I’m not delusional enough to think it had everything to do with that rejection or was because the when’s the next book coming out (and its cousins what are you working, what exactly is it you do again) triggered that frustrated feeling.

It has to do with that sense as you cut through a path only you can walk that you could be headed in the completely wrong direction, hit a dead end, fall off a cliff. And that’s something I’d venture most writers – even those with the security of tenure or big bank feel at some point or other. In to that space of uncertainty comes the question-s, what are you working on, when’s your next book coming out, and your mind goes blank, because you truly don’t know; and that feels disorienting as fuck.

But you get up the next day, as I did today, and you …write.


No, this isn’t me writing this morning…sadly, I don’t have a photographer following me around documenting every time I write…most boring reality show ever, amirite?


How about you, what questions do you hate?

Jhohadli Writing Project – updated!

Jhohadli Writing Project – what it means – Jhohadli (this refers to my pen name/alter ego), Writing (this refers to what I do and what I teach), Project (a piece of work or an activity towards a specific purpose; a study of a particular subject). Beginning with my first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project (in 2013), the Jhohadli Writing Project has evolved in to the umbrella under which I offer my writing workshops and courses. Read more.

My real time reactions while watching episode one of Luke Cage

*spoilers probably*though this will make more sense if you’ve seen the episode anyway*




==not a review==just random thoughts that popped in to my head as I watched the premiere episode of the much talked about series==

Why did nobody tell me Alfre Woodard was in Luke Cage? People, you need to tell me these things. I mean, I like my comic superheroes so I would have watched anyway but also love me some Alfre – she elevates anything she’s a part of.alfre-woodard-mariah-dillard-luke-cage-banner

“Phil Jackson over rated, anybody can win with Jordan and Kobe” …I like this show… “Phil Jackson ain’t no Pat Riley” … I like this show.

Loving this barbershop scene…the humour and the realness of it…liking this show so far.

“Hey, Luke, what time you get off…black man working, ain’t nothing wrong with that.” Props for adding a female character who knows what she wants and isn’t too shy or too proud to reach to the top shelf and grab it. #flirtinggoals

I like this guy…he’s got demons but he’s working hard and looking forward. Why do I think he won’t be able to hide from his abilities (bulletproof, superstrength) for too long?

Is it in Raphael Saadiq’s contract that they’ve got to drop his name at least three times or something? I mean, I like his music…but we get it…that’s Raphael Saadiq and his music is dope.

Not riveted by this deal making…something something…something shady’s going on and Alfre is not pleased.

So about that flirtation at the bar …okay, this Luke guy has charisma and charm (note to self: google the actor).untitled

“I don’t like being up there by myself” – waitress to Luke – love how they work in social issues like sexual harassment.

Why am I remembering that blind dude at the magazine/news stand said he smells like bleach during the sex scene with the girl from the bar?

So, she’s what…a cop?

Okay, couple of things…I interpreted him throwing away the phone number of the woman at the barbershop as him being on a sexual and relationship fast…I was wrong…because he went hard on the girl from the bar…and he wasn’t just after a one night stand either, flip the script, he was the one trying to get the digits (the whole can I see you again thing) and she was the one being coy (I know where to find you)…interesting… also, yeah, sure she’s an …auditor.

Always amused when they cut from people falling in to bed and grinding on each other, fade to black, lovers waking up…but still wearing the briefs you had on before the fade…did you fade to sleep or did sex happen and if sex happened why’re you still dressed… well, they can’t all have Game of Thrones level sex and nudity realness I guess.

Visually, I love the colour palette…I don’t have the film language to dissect it but it works.

Yep, a cop.

Why’s this guy giving me Tom Cruise in Cocktail vibes? Must be the shades…because he is no Tom Cruise.

“For black lives to matter, black history and black ownership must also matter” – I see what you did there.

Stole a bunch of money, bad guy you stole from looking for you? By all means go to the strip club and throw money around. Smh.

The beating…groan…there’s a reason I don’t watch boxing.

Bad guy throws punch…and…damn, son…I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready

“I’m not for hire, but you’ve got my word, ma’am, I’ve got you” Pulls up hoodie, like a boss. #RIPTrayvonMartin

by Joanne C. Hillhouse who’s pretty sure she’ll be checking out episode two. Search the site for thoughts on other TV shows – like Underground, Supernatural, and the Walking Dead.