Thankful Thoughts

So, this was my celebration of my 2012 literary year.

Recently (it might have been for American Thanksgiving) another writer posted on her facebook: “What are you thankful for about your writing this year?”

So, in response, here’s the 2013 edition of taking-a-moment-to-celebrate-my-literary-year-in-spite-of-all-the-ways-life-worked-over-time-to-bum-me-out-and-in-celebration-of-the-fact-that-improbably-I-am-still-a-writer-writing:

Wadadli Pen – Sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel. Then the Challenge entries start coming in; and getting the chance to read the first efforts of what could be our next generation of writers is a bit of a high. Then it gets crazy again. Then comes the awards ceremony and an even bigger high seeing it all come together, seeing how thrilled the winners are.

Me, centre, with two of the 2013 teen winners - Michaela and Asha. (Photo courtesty antiguachronicle.net)

Me, centre, with two of the 2013 teen winners – Michaela and Asha. (Photo courtesty antiguachronicle.net)

And when it hit me that we were coming up on 10 years, in 2014, well the biggest high of all because in spite of the ups and downs we’re still here working to nurture and showcase the arts in Antigua and Barbuda. I’m looking forward to celebrating that – with a glass of wine this time.

Milestones – The Boy from Willow Bend turned 10 this year. It’s still unbelievable to me that this book which set everything in motion even happened and is still being read by kids, and not just in Antigua (speaking of which, how do I wish I could share that picture a mom sent me of her son reading it over his breakfast, eyes glued to the pages). While not a runaway hit that’s put me in the lap of luxury or anything, I know Willow Bend is being read here and there in other parts of the Caribbean because I get emails from the kids sometimes. Dancing Nude (my second book) turns 10 next year and I re-read it for the first time since writing and publishing it, and was surprised to find myself drawn in, as I hadn’t since writing it, with the romance of Michael and Selena… excited about it again, I found myself plotting its future.

Publishing and other signs of acceptance/recognition – This year my creative writing is in So the Nailhead Bend, So the Story End; Columbia Review; She Sex; WomanSpeak; and forthcoming in Pepperpot – due next year but which I was tapped this year to participate in. Pepperpot1-524x800It’s tagged as the best new writing from the Caribbean (or from Caribbean entries to the Commonwealth Short Story contest anyway). It’s delightful to be selected to be in such company; this isn’t something that I pursued, this is something that came to me – very unusual. Incidentally, the story in that collection is the same story recently short listed for the Small Axe fiction prize. With Nailhead, meanwhile, not only did I love reading it, I also love that there’s a collection of Antiguan and Barbudan writing out there – because, yes, we exist, Arwe Ya, and we are writing our world. As much as it thrills me to be on the pages of this book, part of a tradition and community of Antiguan and Barbudan writers, I’m also thrilled at opportunities to grow in new directions whether on the page or in this literary world where I’ve had to scratch for every opportunity.  So I keep scratching. Among the year’s publications, finally, is my first children’s picture book Fish Outta Water. reading from Fish Outta WaterI am thankful for Zavian Archibald. I’ve gushed about this before but I really, really, really love the art work she did for the book. Just looking at the pictures makes me happy.

Reading – As usual I didn’t read as much as I’d like this year but as far as my writing year goes, reading Stephen King’s On Writing was a highlight. It both taught and reinforced literary lessons and made for good reading too. I’m also thankful for Dorbrene O’Marde’s book on Short Shirt (and the memory of singing Short Shirt calypso in a darkened Deluxe calypso while watching a documentary on the Monarch). Both, and especially the book, provided opportunities to revisit the writings of masters like Shelly Tobitt and the music that helped shape my consciousness – though I’m still trying to figure out how that happened as, thanks to the discography in O’Marde’s book, I realize some of my favourites came out either before I was born or before I knew myself.

Readers – I was thankful every time I discovered a new reader review of Oh Gad! or, occasionally, one of my older works. I don’t write for that but I’m woman enough to admit that it feels good to see one’s efforts stirring reaction of different types in those who read it – now if only more people would read it.

Scholarship – I was interviewed a couple of times this year by academics – one out of Puerto Rico who was doing a paper on Willow Bend and a Ph.D candidate who’s writing about Antiguan literature; also there was being referenced in an academic paper by another Ph.D candidate who interviewed me last year about my writing. It’s kind of trippy…and unsettling (but, I think, a good thing in the end) I had similar mixed feelings when being interviewed by a journalist from Norway who’d read Oh Gad! and thought I might have something to say about Antiguan culture. That seems to have turned out okay; so, fingers crossed.

Travel opportunities – I’m thankful for any opportunity that allows me to travel and share with other writers and readers. Two opportunities stand out this year; being invited to be a guest reader at the opening of Greenland Books and Things in St. Kitts and to present at the Congress of Caribbean Writers in Guadeloupe – intimidating as the latter was given the big name writers also in the line-up (Russel Banks, Earl Lovelace, Erna Brodber, Kendel Hippolyte and others).

Reading in Guadeloupe before a group of Caribbean writers.

Reading in Guadeloupe before a group of Caribbean writers.

I enjoyed my time in both islands, for the opportunity to connect with a wider literary community, to learn and grow and feel all writerly and t’ing. Plus they were just fun. So,  you can have your cell phone on the beach if you want; me, I’ll take a time out and feel refreshed.

Writing time – I’ll be honest, there was less of this than I’d like. I do strive to do a little something something every day but the hustle is real, and I have struggled with my inability to get any real momentum going on my longer works – read, possible next novel. But there were some moments. Engagements and exchanges with other writers here in Antigua or with writers overseas with whom I’d connected at off-island workshops; giving each other feedback and encouragement. This year I finished edits on a story I workshopped at Callaloo last year with the help of feedback from one of the writers I met there and had the opportunity to reciprocate by giving her feedback on her writing. I’m thankful for exchanges like that…and for finally finishing the edits on a story (a story, not a book, if you can believe that) with which I’ve wrestled for the past couple of years. Meanwhile, my October writing binge in which I finished something like 45,000 words in a little over a week, taking on a genre I’d never tackled before, stands out as an invigorating experience albeit one marked by too little sleep (what else is new in my world). I took a leap of faith with that one and whatever happens, I’m thankful I did. It was, also, a reminder too that sometimes life makes it difficult to find time to write, yes, but sometimes that’s just an excuse because when you find something you have to write about, you will, time be damned.

Blogging – yeah, blogging, you’re a part of my writing life now and I’m thankful for you too. I didn’t think I’d ever say that but I enjoy the opportunity to share freeform thoughts and passions not otherwise fit for publication; to promote my writing (netting both sales and business), of course, that’s why I started it (so yeah it is self-serving in that sense), but also to share what I discover and continue to learn about this writing life, and other things, light and heavy, that catch my interest….and might be of interest or use to all who venture here. So, I’m thankful to all of you who venture here and hope you find some takeaways in my ramblings.

The Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project – The kids had fun and learned stuff too (or so they tell me)…and I had fun and learned stuff, too. Sometimes when I need a pick me up I can just re-watch the vid of the experience  because it was a delightful experience.

It’s a struggle, I’m not going to lie (IT. IS. A. STRUGGLE. AND. LIKE. MOST. PEOPLE. I’M. JUST. TRYING. TO. GET. UP. AND. STAY. OPTIMISTIC)  but I’m most thankful and challenged to keep finding creative ways to keep doing this writing thing because God knows I’m not fit for anything else…besides, I love it too much.

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