‘Vincent’

That’s the name of the short story I submitted to the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival Elizabeth Nunez Award for writers living in the Caribbean. I learned today that it’s long listed. So, yay. That I was tagged as being from SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and not ANU (Antigua and Barbuda) which I’m actually from…seems about right. Still, yay.

That’s it. That’s the post.

Read more here.

Been Watching (a Pictures Post)

One reality of this pandemic is how claustrophobic it feels. It’s a holiday start-of-week here in Antigua and Barbuda – between Emancipation Day (August 1st 1834 marking the liberation of enslaved Africans/people of African descent) and Carnival Monday and Tuesday (sans Carnival since that has been cancelled due to the pandemic). With no Carnival and the beach remaining closed on public holidays and social distancing restrictions and an ongoing curfew, reality remains rather flat and claustrophobic.

I don’t have any finished books to share so I thought I’d mention two films seen during the pandemic that have a similar stifling feeling though for different reasons – they’re good, but mood killers.

One is Share.

I don’t remember how I came across it but I’m glad I did. Not glad, happy; but it’s a good film. It’s about the sexual assault of a teenage basketball player presented in a way that leaves much uncertainty. In the beginning she doesn’t really know what happened or if anything did but then there’s video but no clear culprit and pressure from her parents to speak and from others to be quiet. It is real and grounded and unsettling.

Also unsettling is a film called Luce.

How to describe this film? When we meet Luce, he is a model student and athlete with a bright future; he is also the adopted son of a white couple and a former child soldier. There is tension between him and an African American teacher played by Octavia Spencer exacerbated by a paper he wrote on Frantz Fanon that had her thinking he was a powder keg ready to blow. The thing is there is so much uncertainty around his motivations and the actions of him and others in the film that it’s not clear he isn’t … or is he being unfairly profiled.

What these two films have in common, at least to me is both being tense, quiet teen dramas in suburbia which gave me an intense sense of the claustrophobia of the situation.

Speaking of claustrophobia, though very far from suburbia and modernity, this article reminded me that I planned to watch Harriet,

the biopic of Harriet Tubman starring Cynthia Erivo and directed by Kasi Lemmons (glad to see her and fellow Black female director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who recently helmed The Old Guard, getting more, beyond overdue opportunities to do mainstream Hollywood films).  Why claustrophobic? because from the very beginning, I have a clenching in my belly expecting the worst though, knowing the history of Harriet Tubman, I expect the story to be ultimately triumphant. I guess I’m feeling particular sensitive to the torture my people endured just now – and, yes, it is my people. Black people are my people. But beyond that, the horrors of chattel slavery were experienced in the Caribbean and Latin America, not just North America – I’ve read enough of our history, of the atrocities of the British Empire Atlantic Slave Trade in the Caribbean and in America, and post-American Independence, slavery in the USA, to know that. As much division as there is in the chatter, even the chatter around this film and Erivo’s right to play Harriet, I know that as sure as I know that my ancestors survived the worst so I could be here to write this. I am currently re-reading a book, To Shoot Hard Labour, about post-Emancipation Antigua (Antigua being where I live), that reminds me that the horrors didn’t end with Emancipation (August 1st 1834 in our case). And when it comes to slave narratives, I’ve always been of the mind that we need to remember, that if they had the stomach to endure it, the least we can do is remember. But these films are never easy. So, I don’t know if I have the stomach for this film but I’m watching it. EDITED TO ADD: Okay finished it. Love the tone – unlike any slave narrative I’ve ever watched in the way it feels not oppressive but…freeing. Harriet Tubman is inspiring as heaven: put the woman on your $20 bill already, America.

ETA Again: How could I forget to mention Ms. Juneteenth.

It’s my favourite of all named films in this post – including Harriet. I suppose because it didn’t fit the theme of the post, although it sort of can as it is about a former teen mom in some ways being suffocated by her life even as she tries to make a better way for her teenage daughter. But it is also so charming. Really liked Ms. Juneteenth starring Nicole Beharrie as a former beauty pageant winner trying to set her daughter on the same path, not strictly to relive pageant glory, but to have her access status and opportunities she would not have access to otherwise. So, it’s similar to Dumplin’ (the also charming Jennifer Aniston film) in some ways, but with the former Ms. Juneteenth’s particular experience as a Black and struggling working class woman with levels of grit and pain mixed in to the sweetness.

One Thing Leads to Another (a Reflection)

Oh Gad!

Oh Gad!, launched 2012.

was recommended on NPR in 2014, that was due to Caribbean-American writer Elizabeth Nunez deciding to recommend it by whatever instincts moved her to do so and possible only because the mass market edition of that book came out that summer.  Publication in the cross-Atlantic anthology Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean  landed me at Aye Write! in Scotland

Joanne, left, with Belizean writer Ivory Kelly at the Aye Write! Festival in Glasgow.

and the PEN World Voices Festival in New York

with Hungarian writer and Festival and Programs Director at PEN America, 2014.

(and my presence at the latter landed me in a photography book of some of the world’s well known authors, and me, Author by Beowulf Sheehan who was the official festival photographer); while being published in global anthology New Daughters of Africa landed me at the Sharjah International Book Fair. With Musical Youth I went to Trinidad, St. Martin, and VI book festivals – panels and school tours.

Reading from Musical Youth and chatting with students at Hillside Christian school in St. Martin.

Me (right), at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival, with Jamaica Kincaid (left) and Opal Palmer Adisa (centre). Photo courtesy Opal Palmer Adisa.

I was able to attract an invitation to the Miami Book Fair thanks to Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure. And each of those, and other opportunities to travel and make appearances, or to be interviewed or featured in media came in different ways – some I had to be proactive, some because the work went ahead of me through some advocate. None of it just happened because the book is out there and often it’s an accumulation of things rather than a single thing. It’s why, despite getting discouraged (and I do), it’s important to keep doing the work and keep scouting for opportunities.” – Me, reflecting on how one thing leads to another as an Extra to the series I did on the Wadadli Pen blog interviewing writers Lisa Allen-Agostini, Diana McCaulay, and Shakirah Bourne. Read the full Xtra and follow the links to the rest of the series.

Emmy Nominations – what I’ve seen and what should win

The Emmy nominations are out. Here are the main categories. I scrolled through and …I’ve really been missing a lot of TV.  I did a quick tally (of the main list, not the full list) and here’s how my viewing breaks down.

Seen some/will probably not see more -The Crown, Top Chef, The Voice, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Handmaid’s Tale

Never seen/don’t plan to – Bad Education, Hollywood, I know this much is true, Black Monday, The Kominsky Method, Dead to Me, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ozark, Succession, Killing Eve, Euphoria, The Masked Singer, Nailed It, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Better Call Saul

Never seen/plan to check out – Mrs. America, Schitt’s Creek, Ramy, The Morning Show, Pose

Never heard of it/not yet curious – Normal People, Unorthodox

Never heard of it/curious – What we do in the Shadows

Seen – Self-Made, The Good Place, Unbelievable, Little Fires Everywhere, Watchmen

Seen some/will probably see more – Black-ish, Insecure, This is Us, Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Stranger Things

Actively watching – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Of what I’ve seen, and have opinions on, I’m rooting for either Regina King (Watchmen) or Octavia Spencer (Self-Made) for Best Actress in a TV or limited series; Trevor Noah for best variety talk series; Unbelievable for limited series, it was so tense and emotionally gripping – and Merritt Weaver should have been nominated for either best or best supporting actress – a case can be made either way. That’s it – I don’t really have opinion on anything else. Well, except for LFE (which I liked in a number of ways but overall limped across the finish line) – Reese Witherspoon’s non-nomination seems a bit of a snub (I might have picked her here over Kerry Washington whom I thought gave a stronger performance in American Son – which is also nominated but not listed on the main list – and she was better in Confirmation, the only performance of hers I’ve truly loved, than both of those). Oh, it’s not listed here but love, love, love Black Lady Sketch Show; good for it on its 3 (?) nominations.

Liked Robin Thede’s work on The Nightly Show and her own late night talk show The Rundown, plus A Black Lady Sketch show is legit funny. Oh and I understand there are people big mad at seeing so many Black nominations and all I can say is recognition is long overdue, so stay mad I guess.

With my very limited viewing, that’s it; that’s my commentary re the Emmy nominations. What have you been watching? What do you think of the nominations? Are you inclined to check out any shows you missed because of the nominations?

CREATIVE SPACE – What’s New and Building

The  CREATIVE SPACE column has been updated with new art work by top Antiguan and Barbudan artist Heather Doram. Here’s a sample…

“Heather also lets her women, these avatars of womanhood, be vulnerable, breaking with the superwoman trope. One woman, waterlilies floating around her face, sighs ‘Sometimes it hurts so much, I can’t breathe’.”

Read the full here.

CREATIVE SPACE found a new home at the Daily Observer newspaper in 2020. It runs every other Wednesday. It was a matter of seeking to monetize something I believe has value to my community so that it could pay for itself and as such could continue. I still archive the articles here on the blog but extended editions with extras, and the blog edition is still courting advertising and/or sponsored partnerships. I’ve been thinking what, if anything I want to say about the CREATIVE SPACE journey, and all I’ll say is if you believe in an idea find a way to begin and build, and then when you can, level up. Don’t labour for free indefinitely  (at a certain point, as much as I love doing it, I actually put the column on pause), be purposeful (but I never kept plotting), and when you feel you have something sellable, take your  shot (and then I pitched and negotiated). That’s advice for you and me both.

So far this year I’ve covered local film, musical artists, visual artists, literary arts, cultural conversations, and more; I have a whole list of possibilities but the process is also very organic, which means the list is not a straight line for me – as more timely things cross my path, as I come across things I’m inspired by or want to discuss, they will likely bump things down the list. The challenge is not what to write about but how to narrow the many things I want to cover and write about to one article every couple of weeks. Of course, with sponsorship, I could increase the frequency at least of the blog edition and/or build the video series. Dreaming and building.

In the meantime, if you’ve missed any of the 2020 editions of CREATIVE SPACE, go here; previous online editions are also archived on the site (scroll to the bottom of the linked posts); you can even read some of the earlier print magazine editions in my portfolio.

Okay, now back to work.

Quick Blog Round-up

I liked the Old Guard on Netflix so much so I read the comics after. I reviewed Book 1 in Blogger on Books and I’m now reading Book 2 (or series 2). Whatever it is, go watch the flick; it’s good in all kinds of ways and read my review of Book (or Series) 1.

Gina Prince-Bythewood is the first African American woman to direct one of those big dramatic action superhero type films. If you want to check out her earlier works I recommend Love and Basketball and Beyond the Lights, in that order.

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As for the rest of my reading, you know me, it’s drip drip as I can find time, inching along. This week I inched along the pages of  To Shoot Hard Labour by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith, which is part of a media summer read project here in Antigua and Barbuda – and I would say essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the slavery and post-slavery experience in the Caribbean.

Excerpt: “With all the preaching that was going on, they was still burying the dead nega separate from the white people. And hen the nega man began to full up the churches, the priests start to hold separate services. One hour for black and another hour for white. The bakkra also used to have special seats that nobody could sit on. Nevermind how the church pack, them seat belongs to massa. No nega could sit on them seats. And they was well padded up seats, too.”

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Here on the blog,

the latest CREATIVE SPACE focused on film in Antigua and Barbuda, better yet films you can see stream or rent – so catch up on our stories on screen. The next CREATIVE SPACE should go live next week Wednesday but all entries in the series are archived on site; just follow the links.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it but I started a literary scrapbook here for those things that don’t fit neatly in to other categories but are keepsakes of #TheWritingLife

I’ve been cleaning up, tweaking, and adding to other pages like Publications and Projects, performance reviews related to my servicesthe Media page, the reviews and endorsements (other) page, the Musical Youth reviews and endorsements page, the Musical Youth first pages which now includes a link to a publisher study guide, and a link to video of my discussion on Instagram live with Intersect,  a gender advocacy group, about colourism and other themes in my book Musical Youth.

As I type this, I’m uploading two videos to my YouTube channel – one is a reading of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure as part of the Read2Me online pandemic series out of Trinidad and Tobago (ETA: here it is

), and one is my participation in the on air Voice of the People reading club discussion of local book To Shoot Hard Labour (ETA: here we go
). The vids are longish so between that and the currant (electricity) going off and the internet dropping out and my computer being sluggish, it’s taking a while, and by a while I mean I sleep and wake up, go town and run errands, and it uploading still, so. When it’s done I’ll also link it/them here on the blog. So come back or visit my YouTube channel.

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There’s lots more news over on my other blog, specifically in the latest edition of the Carib Lit Plus art-news series.

In Conversation with Intersect on Colourism in Musical Youth and the Caribbean

On July 18th 2020, I participated in an instagram live discussion on colourism (and other themes) in my teen/young adult novel Musical Youth. You can now view it on my YouTube channel AntiguanWriter.

I also shared readings from my short story ‘Rhythms’ and poem ‘Ode to the Pan Man’, both previously published in The Caribbean Writer, in a webinar event hosted by TCW on July 18th 2020.  I will share if I get video. Meanwhile, read and view other interviews and more on my Media Page.

>>>Wadadli Pen 2020

The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize came and went but I don’t remember if I shared the outcome here. Brief recap: I started this project in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. The main activity is the annual Challenge and this year, for the first time, we had a main prize winner 12 and younger and a tied main prize winner – Cheyanne Darroux and Andre Warner. Read the full results breakdown here.

Please be sure to read their stories and leave a comment if so moved.

Reading Diary (My Sunday Post)

It’s okay to not finish a book or, less drastic, shelve it for a while until you’re in a better place to receive or even understand it. Life is too short…and yet a book you’re not in to can make it feel interminable. Both are good reasons to take a break. I’ve found, e.g. with Toni Morrison’s Jazz, that you might not only come back to it, it could become a favourite. But if you don’t and it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Having said that, I don’t give up on books easy (though I’ve increasingly given myself permission to DNF) but I did shelve (well, it’s an ebook, so put aside) one this week. It’s one I was asked to read for review (and nothing against the book which seems well written but I was just going through the motions) and that’s why I’m careful to manage expectations when I’m asked to read books because it’s a commitment, and I’m not interested at this point in my reading life in reading something because I have to. Read what you want when you want and in your own time – and stop if you feel like. That’s it, that’s my TED talk.

(Me, not giving a TED Talk)

Something I continue to read and enjoy (and it really shouldn’t be taking me this long to finish it) is Greyborn Rising by Derry Sandy, which delves with each new character in to the darkly fantastical and specifically southern Caribbean. So far there are secret societies, deviners, clairvoyants, superpowered self-healing fighters, zombies, soucouyant, vampires, and since these are things the normal mind cannot easily process, perceptions of mental illness…because this is a world where these things exist, but have become historically adept at staying in the shadows.

“When the moon shone on the trio, they doubled in height, their bony reptilian bodies were covered in scabs and weeping sores.”

Vivid detail and despite the plethora of characters who are only beginning to interweave 116 pages in, not at all confusing; wholly absorbing. Reading on and continuing to really enjoy this book.

I’m also still enjoying the Margaret Busby edited global anthology, a mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, (of which I am a part) New Daughters of Africa. I am currently up to p. 287 of 800-ish (ooh, I wish I hadn’t checked that). I like the book, some entries more than others, but the book as a whole, but whooo it’s long. Right now I’m reading one of my favourite authors Edwidge Dandicat writing on her visit to Grenada to collect an honourary degree from the University of the West Indies open campus there  in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria which so devastated the Caribbean in 2017.

“I was told the story of one graduate from Trinidad who stayed home because she had donated her plane ticket money to relief efforts in Dominica, which was UWI’s most devastated campus.”

I’ve also been inching through Susan Lowes research paper on the social history of Antigua (The Peculiar Class: The Formation, Collapse, and Reformation of the Middle Class in Antigua, West Indies 1834-1940), which is available (officially, I believe) online. It is very scholarly and so the reading is slower still but I’m interested in learning more about the social history of my island/country. Speaking of, I’m actually supposed to be reading To Shoot Hard Labour by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith on the life and times of their grandfather Papa Sammy Smith for a monthlong radio book club discussion I’ve been asked to participate in on the, for me, definitive history of Antigua and Barbuda (despite being anecdotal because it is from the perspective of one of the folk, and spans 100 years of my country’s transformation from a post-slavery colony to an independent nation). I actually didn’t commit to re-reading the book, because I’m not doing that (remember?) and I knew I wouldn’t have the time but I did say I’d share my favourite bits…the problem is having picked it up to scan for those bits, I kind of do want to re-read it. Sigh.

I’ll link this up with the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post. I also invite you to read a very interesting series in which I interview three Caribbean authors, with recent or pending US publications, about their publishing journey including lessons learned – the series is called Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing: Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights.

How about you, what are you reading? and what’s your take on finishing?

On the Record (the doc) and Reading Highlights

This is a late day edition to the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post and a way to process the week in reading, and other things.

We had Sahara Dust, worst we’ve ever experienced, blow through here this week because…why not. And our COVID numbers spiked and …just… everything. Today was a beach day though, in part to get some sea water therapy for my back which started flaring up again on Saturday and in part to get a lime in (lime is like a hang in Antigua) with one of my nephews who just had a birthday. For reasons too numerous to mention, I wish I could’ve stayed in the water all day.

Reading

My #CaribCation video dropped this week. CaribCation is the online platform for another in our archipelago, St. Lucia, and a few weeks ago they asked me to record something for their Caribbeaan Author Series. I read from Musical Youth and discussed the making of the book. And so we cap June which has spotlighted Caribbean books in a real way between #bookstagram’s #readCaribbean photo challenge and #booktube’s #CaribATHon for Caribbean Literary Heritage Month (in the US). I appreciate the shout outs my books The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Musical Youth. I’ve been sharing the CaribCation video across my social media including my AntiguanWriter You Tube Channel. I invite you to watch the video there and my other recent upload, recorded shortly after curfew started, of me reading two excerpts including one of my own in The Caribbean Writer Volume 32. Consider subscribing to my channel before you leave as I’ve promised to do my first live AskMeAnything on the channel if I hit my subscription goal.

So, yes, I’m still reading TCW 32 and that’s been it for my very slow (slower even than usual, mostly because of my mood) reading week.

I did finish a photography book of nudes by a local artist, featured recently in my CREATIVE SPACE series. The book is Art Exposed by Chavel Thomas and I really enjoyed it (read my review here); though, alas, I don’t believe it’s currently on the market. But do yourself a favour and check out this artist’s work anyway.

You can find more book recs and other news in the latest CARIB Lit Plus post, and in the latest Reading Room and Gallery, and in the Sample Saturday meme response on my Wadadli Blog, and in my contribution to the #MyCaribbeanLibrary and #CaribATHon hashtags on youtube. Most, though not all, of my recs are Caribbean-based; so no need to wait until next June to #readCaribbean and #readBlackbooks.

Watching

What am I watching these days? Too many apocalyptic flicks – such a cliché. But amidst the zombies (Maggie, Pontypool), invasions (Extinction), and extinction level events (How it Ends), I caught the documentary On the Record and it is a very convincing account of the alleged sexual abuse of Black women in the music industry, specifically hip hop. It’s the one that points the finger at Def Jam founder Russell Simmons and raises questions about another high roller L A Reid (and, honestly, what he is alleged to have done, i.e. blocked the opportunities of a woman who blocked his advances, may be a lot more familiar to most compared to the rape charges alleged against Simmons – not that the latter isn’t itself too common). If you love hip hop and RnB as I do, you’ve heard these names and the music and other entertainment products they’ve put out have been a huge part of your life. It’s not easy facing the things they’re alleged to have done but it’s necessary. The doc is interesting in the way it articulates what a woman goes through when she prepares to speak on alleged rape and the fallout to her life and career. We see this through several women but primarily central character and industry executive Drew Dixon. I was reluctant (I honestly haven’t watched any of these catch-a-predator docs since the first of the R. Kelly docs) but I made myself watch this, after seeing interviews with two of the women (Dixon and Sil Lai Abrams, separately) on hip hop radio , discussing the ways they have felt silenced and overlooked by the very community they helped build, and decided I wanted to hear them out. I mean what has it all – #metoo, #BlackLivesMatter – been about if I can’t at least do that. The doc dealt with the complexities of being a Black woman accuser when the accused is a Black man – the way it can tear the community apart, which is not a simple thing given the reality of racism (which is coming for them both). That racism makes it that much harder for black women to be believed because of how we’ve been historically hypersexualized  was also touched on, as was colourism (the featured women being all as we would say in Antigua, high-coloured). So many layers, handled in my opinion with a nod to the complexity of it all without losing sight of the core issue of sexual assault. Allegedly. What the watcher chooses to believe in light of the testimony (and it is largely testimony, not hard evidence) presented, is up to them. But as one of the in-video commenters noted,  “I’m here really to bear witness”.  I recommend giving it a watch; here’s the trailer.