…the neck bone’s connected to the back bone and the back bone’s connected to the …
Figuring out how this moment connects to that is not always that easy though in the world of writing and publishing. As I prepare for my fourth day here in Anguilla – as a guest of the Anguilla Lit Fest – some connections are clear. I know the invitation to be here came through the publicist at Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster, publishers of my book Oh Gad! and that thanks to that I was billed here as a first time novelist – a quirk of publishing I had to explain to the audience of my first panel who were like wait our kids have been reading your earlier book The Boy from Willow Bend for a while. And it’s Willow Bend, marketed when first published just over 10 years ago as a teen/young adult novella, not the full length adult novel that is Oh Gad! making the latter my debut in that category, that has me thinking this early morning about connections. The chair of my panel recollected reading about Willow Bend on the LIAT inflight magazine and how from that awareness sprung interest in bringing the book into schools in Anguilla and how from that interest the book is now part of the secondary schools’ syllabus, required reading for first formers, and how from that requirement came a genuine response to the book by students and, according to one teacher,
boy students in particular, boys who had to have their arms twisted to read in the past who were now finishing the book before the start of the school year, and evidence of that genuine response in the young people gathered for my panel, asking me questions about the novel – e.g. how do you explain the bond between characters June and Vere for instance after the boy realized she was his aunt? – and from that genuine response an autograph (and selfie) line where in lieu of their books they asked me to sign slips of paper that they could stick in the books because… I can hardly process it all, all these connections. Meeting these young ones (first during a presentation earlier at the public library and earlier today (yesterday?) during my first of two panels here) has been a highlight of my participation in the Anguilla Lit Fest, which this year has also attracted the participation of the likes of Zane, Elizabeth Nunez, Benilde Little and a number of others including…me, because, connections.
The night of my panel, there was a reception and soca music dance party during which I was approached by a mother, her daughter, and her daughter’s friend who, the previous night, had won the island’s spelling bee, I was informed. Both girls informed me that they were not only avid readers – one read about a book a day, the other had read both The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth and wasn’t shy about sharing her favourite and why – but also novelists…not budding novelists, novelists. They’d both written books…and someday, if they keep on that track, we may be seeing those books in print someday and maybe more books from them. Go, girls! Did I mention one of the boys in the audience of the earlier panel mentioned that he was seven chapters into writing and sharing his own book on WattPad? As getting young people to read and write is a big part of what I try to encourage at home in Antigua and Barbuda, especially through my involvement in the Cushion Club reading club for kids and the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize and its annual writing challenge, and professionally through the workshops I offer and other programmes like the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, this filled my heart.
When asked during a TV interview that night about how the government can support a literary culture, part of what I said was about continuing on that track – exposing young people to books that make them want to read, encouraging them to write, giving writers a platform to share their work and learn from each other, giving these young people opportunities to move among living, breathing authors from their world and beyond, and tangibly supporting the arts so that artistes can thrive.
The light in these young people’s eyes, their articulate presentation of their ideas, the fact that they have a perspective, are a reminder to me why it matters to back up our support for the literary arts in these and other ways.
…because the neck bone’s connected to the back bone, and the back bone’s connected to the…