D. Gisele Isaac – Daughter of the Antigua & Barbuda Soil

D. Gisele Isaac is an Antiguan and Barbudan writer. dgiseleisaac2That’s how I first came to know her, as the author of the book, Considering Venus (1998), which I reviewed while writing for the Antigua Sun newspaper. A groundbreaking book then and still for its treatment of issues of gender – especially as relates to things we didn’t have the words for then, the fluidity of sexuality, the idea of loving the person not the gender. Years later, after we had been friends for a good while, Gisele, related to me how she was peeved by the part of my review in which I remarked that I would like to visit the Antigua she described in the book. She said she’d asked someone if I was even from Antigua. We laughed over it. By the time we shared that laugh Gisele had been back in Antigua for some time but when she wrote the book she had long been resident in New York. Though I can’t remember the details of the review, I imagine that the 25 year old writer I was then, finding her own voice, harbouring her own dreams of being a novelist (Gisele was then only the second Antiguan-Barbudan novelist I was even aware of after Jamaica Kincaid), and very much mired in the reality of Antigua and clear-eyed on its flaws felt that Gisele’s idea of the country we both loved was too romantic by far. Of course, part of Gisele’s love for Antigua at that time was contrast, a contrast she explained to me in another conversation which I attempted to capture in a poem (The Arrival, published in Calabash) one time; that Antigua was the place where the burden of being – black or other things she had to carry in the US – could be taken off and put down for a while like a heavy winter coat she had no use for in the tropics. While Antigua and Barbuda for both of us came with a sense of belonging, hers was a different perspective than I could/would have.

What’s been interesting to observe over the years is Gisele – who moved back home the year the book came out – continued to wear her love for Antigua and Barbuda on the outside of her chest: whether it’s waxing poetic about her favourite Short Shirt calypso (Antigua Well Redeemed which she loves because it calls to our best selves) or regularly adding her voice to national issues. Love her or hate her, and people have strong feelings about Gisele in both directions, I think few could test the soundness of that love – not even circumstances of recent years.

That said, those of us who see her strength know that even the strongest tree can bend and sometimes snap in a hurricane. It was the desire to let her know that she is not standing the tempest alone that prompted the launch of the online campaign #ISTANDWITHGISELE and the Facebook page Standing With Gisele. I’m not here to go in to the nitty gritty of Gisele’s legal wrangling with the government which dates back to 2014 – though if you’re interested, visit the page and get caught up. It is neither the page’s intent nor mine to try Gisele’s cases in the court of public opinion, simply to press for Gisele to have her day in court (as movement on her several cases has been akin to stagnant water in a blocked gutter). For the last several years her travel has been restricted and as someone who has been charged and released on bail she has had to check in twice weekly in person at the police station, and that’s before you stack up the other realities of a life in limbo. As I write that, I am mindful that the snail’s pace of the court system affects many who may not have friends to stand for them as we do for Gisele and hopefully this can bring some light to that as well, to the reality that for anyone justice delayed is justice denied.

I write this as well because sometimes we forget there are real people behind the issues – real people like a woman who came in to the world via Antigua, at Holberton, in 1961, seventh of eight, graduated Christ the King High School in 1977, grew up and lived in Clare Hall before going on to university in the US, at age 23, after brief stints in state media and banking, lived there for 14 years, a Queens resident, graduated St. John’s University, summa cum laude, in 1989 with her BSc in Journalism and Literature and in 1993, after losing her parents in 1990, with her MA in Government & Politics, with a concentration in International  Affairs, going on to work in SJU’s journalism department after another brief stint in banking, leaving the position after nine years as managing editor of the university’s newspaper and alumni magazine and literature instructor teaching black writers, returning home in 1998, shortly after the publication of her book, to a job as editor with the Antigua Sun before joining the Board of Ed in 2001, continuing to work with the Board of ED while serving as Speaker between 2004 and 2014.

I remember the day she became Speaker, I remember I was happy for her and worried for her at the same time; because, politics. But I also knew that Gisele if she had any trepidation wasn’t the type to let it stop her. Gisele has, in the time I’ve known her, been the type to jump in to any challenge. On the journalism front, this has meant a number of media projects including editing Business Focus, sourceab.com, Essential magazine, and special publications (Independence, King Obstinate anniversary etc.) and hosting radio programmes. As a writer, this has meant, beyond Considering Venus, penning Antigua and Barbuda’s first and second full length feature films, The Sweetest Mango and No Seed, as well as thousands of words of calypso and op-ed pieces on everything from politics to gender – including writing the Professional Organization for Women in Antigua and Barbuda’s POWALine series for 13 years and her own Agender column for seven, winning the regional health journalism award from PAHO for a piece that as I remember it dealt with issues around sex and HIV with her usual straight talk and humour, and the literary finesse that makes me wish she could leave all this politics behind and finish the novel I’m not even sure is in progress anymore already. But Gisele did take to her role in the political arena with the same vim with which she embraces every role in her life – including the role of mother.

But she is not just the roles she has taken on (among those, I should mention, being the first judge, one of the first partners, and up until the start of her legal troubles a long time donor to the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize project that I run to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda).

Joanne and Gisele

2014 at the annual awards ceremony for the Wadadli Pen Challenge, Gisele was one of 4 people presented with an award for long term and/or foundational service to Wadadli Pen.

When I reached out to Gisele with the usual profile questions, she responded with answers to those (referenced above) but she also told me about her labweiler Bella, about her Law & Order obsession, about music – classic calypso and old school reggae, about being a proud Catholic (“love my religion and my church, Tyrells Roman Catholic. Love my God.”), about the food she can’t live without – fungie with ling fish, cassi, spinach, green paw paw, and okroe, and, of course, about her love for her family (and I would add her visible bond with her siblings, three of whom have passed on)


Isaac sisters: Gisele, second from left, with three of her sisters at a recent protest demanding movement on her cases. (Source: facebook.com/standingwithgisele)

and friends. Anyone who has kicked back with her over a beer or debated everything from pop culture to politics with her, agreeing only about half the time on anything, seen her t’row way her shoes and wine, limed with her, had endless conversations with her, been mentored by her, been counselled by her, been helped by her (even when she was carrying this baggage) knows a lot of this already, and we know she is flawed as we all are in our various ways, but we know her heart, and that’s why we care.

One thought on “D. Gisele Isaac – Daughter of the Antigua & Barbuda Soil

  1. Pingback: Just Some Links I wanted to Share | Wadadli Pen

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