I want to say thank you to Dr. Robertine Chaderton, UWI accounting lecturer, member of the Caribbean Consulting Group, financial journalist and author. First for opening the most perfect little book store Greenland Books and Things with its extensive collection of Caribbean and African books (Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun to many other voices I’m yet to discover) which hold pride of place alongside the usual bestsellers – yes, including 50 Shades of Grey which was the topic of the bookstore’s first book club discussion. I was happy to see among those Caribbean books, by the way, Antiguan and Barbudan authors Marie Elena John (Unburnable), Floree Williams (Through the Window), Dorbrene O’Marde (Send Out Your Hand), Jamaica Kincaid (Annie John) and my books (The Boy from Willow Bend, Oh Gad! and Dancing in the Moonlight). Second, I want to thank her for inviting me over to St. Kitts to be a part of the bookstore’s first authors’ circle. It was different from readings I’ve done in the past. No barrier between the reader and listeners, a very informal atmosphere, a very intimate vibe, the conversation circulating.
I can honestly say that I appreciated and enjoyed every presentation on the afternoon of Saturday 23rd February and am thankful to the authors for gifting me copies of their books because I must read more. Sir Probyn Innis is a former governor general of St. Kitts and yet if he could dedicate all his time to researching and writing history, I kind of think that would be his preference. He has a clear passion for it. He states it modestly – “lots of people find it useful and I’m happy that I’m able to make that kind of contribution” – but there’s a sense that his books, especially Historic Basseterre and Forty Years of Struggle: the Birth of the St. Kitts Labour Movement, have opened up his people’s understanding of their social, economic, and political history in the way that perhaps Smith and Smith’s To Shoot Hard Labour did in Antigua. Speaking of that book, I found the historical commonalities as interesting as the contrasts in the journey of these two neighbouring islands and wondered out loud if it wasn’t time for a collection which took the same folk history approach but looked collectively at our experiences…within the Eastern Caribbean… to begin.
Of course, one of the things we discussed in the discussion portion of the evening was funding for projects such as these. This was a point initially raised by Dr. Milton Whittaker, author of Medicinal Plants of St. Kitts and Nevis, who spoke of the funding challenges he experienced – “funding is important but also incentives; last time I attempted to reproduce (my book) I ran into VAT”. It was a reminder, anyway, that country to Caribbean country, writers and artists face the same challenges (though some moreso than others). But as the event, the exchange with these writers reminded, writers and artists rarely let limited resources or lack of state support or lack of grant money or lack of private sector philanthropy stop them. As Sir Probyn said, “if you don’t get on with it…you’ll do nothing.” So we get on with it.
I should say something about my reading which followed from the historical presentation by Sir Probyn, with whom I also enjoyed talking afterwards. Serendipitously, I had elected to string together three or four extracts from Oh Gad! dealing with the clash of history and development; it made for a natural flow. So, too, did Clement Bouncin Williams’ autobiography of his early years. I especially enjoyed his recollections about the Christina – though given the nature of the tragedy that was the sinking of the boat linking St. Kitts with its sister island Nevis, and the lives lost, enjoyed is the wrong word, but it was certainly riveting, somehow both touching and humorous as he interwove his personal experience and unique perspective.
The gathering was small, but the exchange was big. And I agree with Sir Probyn, it was “enriching”.
In this era of audio books and ebooks and film (no I haven’t read the book but I saw the movie) adapted from books …and every other diversion but books, it also takes a bit of daring to invest in a project that’s all about the paper based books and the conversations they can stir.
Keep daring, Dr. Chaderton, and thanks for having me along for the ride. I think you’re on the right track with making a trip to the bookstore not just another shopping trip but a social experience.
Finally, one of my favourite quotes of the night (and no recollection who said it): “we need to release the energies of our people, let them have a sense of ownership of their own history.”
*Please note, all photos in this post were taken by Randy Taylor; so thanks to him as well.