…that’s what I answered when asked by an ABS TV reporter after the Rotary Club of Antigua’s reading championship this Saturday how it felt to have the participants read from my book The Boy from Willow Bend.
The feeling was indescribable, especially coming so soon after last Friday’s reading at my alma mater. Also in the category of things I didn’t dream to put in my dream book when I dreamed of being a writer.
I learned about the Saturday competition when the leader for the Cushion Club called to let me know the Club would be attending (as we have Spelling Bees and similar literary activities over the years). I decided to stop by and ended up staying for the whole thing – there goes Saturday but what a way to spend it.
Student after student, 13 or 14 from 7 different primary schools, read selected excerpts from The Boy from Willow Bend, my first book, through the first two rounds of the competition . The last round was a live news anchor style reading about COVID-19.
Let me tell you, it’s surreal, as I told ABS TV, to sit and listen to words you wrote in solitude (mostly) come alive.
I say mostly come alive because just about every reader struggled with one expression – “here so so” (also, ya so so or right here in English) in the scene where Tanty tells Vere “Bwoy, come here so so, so I can see you.” They got many things tonally right but the “so so, so” tripped most of them up. Is “so so” (whether here or ya) not something Antiguan children hear anymore? I mean, ya so so was not only a standard expression when I was coming up, it was a whole calypso (see, Mayfield).
Those making it to the second round got to read the chapter When the Devil come Calling, in which Vere tells jumbie stories to his friends. Surreality was me sitting in the conference room above the Methodist book shop in a roomful of people being entertained by my remix of what I grew up hearing as the Slapping Hands story (also the subject of a classic Antiguan calypso; see Marcus Christopher and Canary). In this story, a father makes a deal with the devil and, when he reneges, his daughter pays the price… and Vere gets ‘blinded’ by a jumbie because, as Tanty reminded him, “nobody like a chatterbox”.
In fact, I had so much fun hearing the competitors and volunteer readers read from my book, I did a quick calculation re my remaining author copies and pledged to give signed copies of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure to the top three finalists during the awards ceremony of the 2020 Wadadli Pen challenge.
My favourite moment was when one little boy broke from his group to come tell me, “I really like your book, I read it three times already.” Because moments like that are priceless. There were a few other student encounters – a girl asked me to sign a copy, a teacher asked me to take a picture with her class.
The moments you don’t expect.
Also unexpected, seeing both the Cushion Club and Wadadli Pen in the event programme. The head judge is a teacher I met back when the Cushion Club first adopted the school she taught at then; me and the chief Cushion Clubber going to the school to read to her class, the Cushion Club sponsoring a humanities prize. I also visited her class to conduct a writing workshop and encourage participation in the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize – and they showed up that year, earning the first prize for School with the Most submissions. What delighted me was that the then-teacher, now-principal shouted out both the Cushion Club and Wadadli Pen (identifying herself as a friend of both).