UPDATE! You have to understand that I love Essence so forgive me while I squeeeeeee!!! at this shout out in the magazine black women love to love.
… for me with this and every lit fest I’ve been blessed to participate in, it’s all about the quality of the experience: not just how many books sold, how many new readers snagged, how many new contacts bagged, how much did you narrow the chasm between where you are and where everyone insists you should/could be (and between both and where you actually want to be)… and all the pressure that comes with allahdat! It’s for this reason that the best moments at the Anguilla Lit Fest – a Literary Jollification come/came for me when I released the pressure of expectation (maybe if you’d done this instead of that, what you should have done is this) and just allowed myself to be in the Moment. Sometimes that moment will find you chilling and chatting with someone you couldn’t quite work up the nerve to NETWORK with earlier. I love the Moment. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s that sweet spot where stilted conversation turns to real connection, or at least the possibility of it. The Anguilla Lit Fest provided the opportunity for such moments, particularly outside of the formal panels and presentations, which is why a highlight of my time on the beautiful island only a few hops up from my own beautiful island of Antigua, was what I’ve dubbed the after party. A day which was all about seeking that tranquility wrapped in blue of which the island boasts. I ended up on the beach (two beaches actually) sipping beer, dancing to interpretations of Bob and Jimmy, mento style, and chatting with this or that fellow lit-fester – with or without the requisite exchange of cards/contacts as moved by the mood and the Moment. Without the pressure of agenda, I feel sweet-tasting promise coming out of the Moment- that one and all such moments in the extended after-party; from the evening’s cocktail to the open mic that followed to the shared journey back to our respective lives. Anguilla wasn’t all one big after party, of course. My work at the festival, because they bring us authors there to work, began with a visit to the Edison Hughes Teachers Resource Centre and Anguilla Public Library where Annie Potts (you’ll remember her from Designing Women: Season 1, Ghostbusters / Ghostbusters II (4K-Mastered + Included Digibook) [Blu-ray], and other Hollywood fare), J. Ivy (author of Dear Father: Breaking the Cycle of Pain), Yona Deshommes (the woman in charge of publicity for a who’s who of high profile Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster authors), Phillip Arnell (whose 34 year book project is entitled Fortunate Member of a Caribbean Diaspora), and I talked with students gathered from the various schools on island about our journey as writers and shared excerpts from our work.
A Grammy Award winning spoken word artiste, J. Ivy was the MVP of this session (and, from what I’ve heard, of his breakfast reading the following morning) with his fiery poetic presentation on his relationship with his father; and, as someone who’s learned since venturing into picture book writing that the balance between the profundity and simplicity of the poetry/story can be a delicate dance when writing for children, I quite liked Annie’s story – a picture book about a local boy the proceeds of which go right back into a local charity. As I mentioned in a post from the festival, I learned early o’clock that the secondary school students were very familiar with The Boy from Willow Bend as it is required reading in schools on the island. I also wanted to introduce them to my latest teen/YA book Musical Youth as well though, so when it came time for me to present, I divided my time between both. The festival began fully on Friday and though some of the scheduled authors didn’t make it, we were not short of notables. Zane (Addicted (Unrated)) was there – my first time meeting her (and Yona for that matter) though Oh Gad! is published with Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster. She did two sessions – one on writing and publishing, and one teasing her forthcoming book. Benilde Little (Welcome to My Breakdown: A Memoir) was there, as was Elizabeth Nunez (Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir), and A Tender Struggle: Story of a Marriage author Krista Bremmer (all part of a panel on memoir writing – which actually clashed with my workshop with the kids so I didn’t catch it; hate when that happens). Nunez also did a lunch time session on the writing of her memoir and on her writing and publishing journey. Leigh Haber was there; that’s right O magazine books editor, Leigh Haber, and she along with Writer’s Digest Jessica Strawser, Yona, and House of Nehesi senior editor Dr. Rhoda Arrindell were part of a very enlightening panel on the state of publishing and in particular the appeal of hybrid publishing. Hint: “Hybrid authors on average make the most money,” – Jessica Strawser. Dr. Arrindell and I, along with Marilyn Hodge, host of Positive Living, with chair Rita Celestine-Carty, were part of a panel on voices from the page which included a discussion on the use of dialect in life and art. Some of the students who’d read Willow Bend were there and they were loaded with questions. Given the topic though, I decided when it came time to read to read from Oh Gad! – a scene which moves between different language registers. Now I don’t know the numbers, but I do know that some books were sold, some books were signed, and at least one reader told me the following day that she was feeling it (and I’m feeling that!)
After my panel, there was sustained engagement with the young readers (blogged about the young people already here)
and, as mentioned, I also did a session on writing workshop with the kids alongside Yona. As I re-learn every year with Wadadli Pen, the imagination, unhinged from what is right and polite knows no bounds. There is still a need for diversity in publishing, and in the publishing of children’s books in particular, something Yona alluded to as she encouraged these young ones to write and send her their stories – changing that begins in moments like this. Shout out to the entire Anguillan literary community for the big Welcome, and for sharing your verse and its inspirations – especially enjoyed learning more about the revolution I grew up hearing Antiguan calypsonian Short Shirt sing about. Shout out to Anguilla’s Tourism Director Candis A. Niles, committee member Stephanie Stokes-Oliver and her husband Reggie (and in fact the entire lit fest committee and the library services team) who made all of us feel so welcome, my host hotel Paradise Cove (Sherille Hughes and her team), which was the conference venue (accommodating sessions and lunch, poolside – no character-less conference rooms thank you very much), host of the opening reception. Actually we had a little something-something every night, first night at Cuisinart Golf Resort and Spa, second night at Government House, which hosted the launch of the House of Nehesi published Anguillan anthology ‘Where I see the Sun’, and then the Paradise Cove poolside dance party. The last night’s cocktail reception, meanwhile, was at Ultimacy, beautiful property, beautiful location.
And here’s the thing I’ll add about Anguilla, as a tourism destination it feels like a time out from the normal hectic rhythms of the world, even when the world is another Caribbean island across the way, an illusion that begins the minute you’re speeding toward it, across the water, aboard Calypso Charters, from neighbouring St. Maarten. Thinking on it, a direct flight might have been more convenient, but the boat ride begins the process of acclimatizing you to the tranquility in blue. Loved it. Almost as much as I loved those bacon wrapped plantains. I took more notes (because I’m a nerd and we do that) and have other impressions, but this is running long so I’ll keep them for now…besides (puts on freelance hustle hat) I do have to hold some things back; you know, in case, I manage to sell an article (or two or three) somewhere. Meanwhile, here’re links to some coverage re lit fest in the Anguillan & and more from the Anguillan: (Note: the picture immediately above was pulled from the Anguillan lit fest photo gallery – hope they don’t mind; the sources of other pictures used throughout this post were all mailed to me and they are varied; the phones were a-flashing. There was new gal pal Audrey, the Anguilla Public Library, Barbara who’d flown over from Antigua for the event, and others – any omissions are not intentional)