My First Big Yes

I just got my latest yes, a poem, ‘Antigua at Night’, forthcoming May 2021 in Volume 10 of BIM: Arts for the 21st Century. It was a nice lift, especially since I opened the email certain that my submissions had been rejected (I’ve been on a roll with the rejections). I was surprised that of 6 submitted poems and one submitted short story (a short story that’s been workshopped and edited), this poem was the one to be picked. I think of myself as a story/fiction writer and don’t feel as confident of my poetry though I have had a comparable number of poems published as fiction. So, yes-I, a poem was picked.

My previous BIM-tersections have included participation as a panelist at the BIM Conference Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers in 2008, publication of my story, ‘What’s in a Name’, in Volume 7 of the journal in 2015, and an invitation to be a part of the programme at the BIM Lit Fest, alongside other notable writers like my University of the West Indies mentor and then Poet Laureate of Jamaica Mervyn Morris, pictured, in 2016.

This brings me to my first big yes.

I came across this question/statement in a LitHub article in which several writers shared their first big yes.

“When I think of the first Big Yes, I think of the moment that marks the first big shift, either external or internal, in the trajectory of a writer’s career or their understanding of themselves as a writer. I’ve carried the question with me through my own development as a writer, because, in an industry that oftentimes feels obsessed with national awards and accolades, most-anticipated and bestseller lists, it’s easy for me to convince myself that when I get there—wherever “there” may be—I will have finally made it. That “there” will be the achievement that defines or legitimizes my career as a writer.” (Benjamin Schaefer)

And I thought I’d play too here in my playground.

So, my first big yes was in 2000. I had a poem published in Ma Comère: Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars Volume 3, and it was my first internationally accepted anything. It was a very short poem, Philly Ramblings 8, part of a series of poems I wrote during a summer (I think it was summer) spent in Philadelphia, 1997, which was a changing season for me – as I left my first post-university job for my second that year, and was still feeling restless about the path I was on (journalism) relative to the path I wanted to be on (creative writing). In 2000, I feel like I was at another crossroads, having again switched jobs, out of journalism in to public education. I had never stopped writing creatively. Quite the opposite. I had in the years in-between worked on what would become my first and second books, The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and, once I went freelance, in time, my various professional paths would converge. But, in 2000, I was still very uncertain that I would ever get my breakthrough as a published writer. I remember being very excited to have a poem, a very short poem, accepted. I remember the contract came in the mail (snail mail). I could cry at how encouraged I felt (notwithstanding it not being a great contract). I was in print!

Years later, after the publication of my novel Oh Gad!, I reconnected with the ACWWS and snagged an invite as a paid panelist and speaker at their annual conference in Suriname in 2013.

Suriname, 2013. Can you spot me? Alongside another of my former professors, Carolyn Cooper.

Full circle moment. And lots of nerves.

How about you, writer or not, what was your first big yes?

3 thoughts on “My First Big Yes

  1. Congratulations Joanne! I’m always admiring your tenacity and proud of your wins. I don’t say much but I’m always rooting for you on the sidelines. I’m fighting my fear …a la Luvvie and working on the nerves to get my work out of the shadows between 2021/2022. Keep on inspiring! #fellowantiguanpoet and WIP (Writer in Process) 😀

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