Top Ten – School Edition

This post is part of Broke and Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday memes, the back to school edition: top 10 favourite books read in school (ETA: I misinterpreted this; it should have been books you wish had been required reading in school…but, oh well, I’ll stick with what I wrote). This response is a bit of a cheat as I’m counting primary, secondary, college, and university…in part because I can’t remember 10 books at each level, but collectively, I should be able to pull something together. I’m going to see what I can remember without having to do any research (i.e. the ones that have lingered) and I’m not including the Readers/Anthologies (which had story excerpts and was mostly what we did, as I remember it, at the primary and lower secondary level) though I do credit them for introducing me to the works of Michael Anthony, Merle Hodge, Derek Walcott, and other Caribbean writers. I’m featuring only full novels here (which leaves out poetry collections I loved like the ones by Keats and Shelly; and collected tales like Chaucer’s, which I can’t say I loved as much). Here goes:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird mockingbird– I did this one in secondary school and it is still one of my favourite books of all time. Harper Lee’s exploration of family and race in the deep south is an enduring morality tale dealing with societal issues relevant to this day; with engaging characters like Scout, Jem, Dill, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, Calpurnia, and, of course, Atticus Finch.

2. The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon’s tale of Caribbean immigrants in the UK, which I was introduced to in college, did not mark my introduction to his work – no I’d read A Brighter Sun in secondary school before it got booted from the reading list. He wrote our lives with a vibrancy and realism that resonated.

3. Shakespeare – yes, I know the bard is a man and not a book but I did several of his published plays, beginning with The Tempest in secondary school and continuing with the likes of King Lear in college, plus his poetry (including my favourite Sonnet 116), but there is simply too much to choose from. But if I had to, of the ones I did, it would probably be Othello and Twelfth Night. Elizabethan english can be a challenge for a Caribbean girl but once I was able to hear the poetry of it and the ways it speaks to character and society (“Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;/ ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;/But he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him,/And makes me poor indeed” – yes, I just quoted Iago, he was slime but he wasn’t wrong there) I got it.

4. Song of Solomon – This novel which I studied at the University of the West Indies (UWI) is still my favourite Toni Morrison (though I also like The Bluest Eye, Jazz, Sula, and others). As with other books from that time like Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow it introduced me to the African-American experience as written by its scribes and the ways we are linked to each other, and to home, Africa.

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston is only one of the Harlem Renaissance writers we studied, also at UWI. Others that stuck were Langston Hughes, his poetry, and Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem. These are books that I connect to my appreciation for jazz and the blues, and the joy and grit to be found in pain and celebration of our existence in spite of that pain. Janie is a favourite literary heroine of mine to this day and Zora’s story both gives me life (for the adventures she embraced) and saddens me (for how she died and the obscurity she endured for too long) before being re-introduced to us by Alice Walker (see: In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens).

6. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is a coming of age story at its core, a feminist work in many ways, and my first real introduction (along with Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo) to African literature – and this was at UWI; too late I’d say for a Caribbean girl of African descent.

7. The Great Gatsby – This F. Scott Fitzgerald book, along with Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Miller’s Death of a Salesman and the like were my introduction to that elusive thing called the American Dream (or the 20th century angst over the nightmare that the dream had become), though I suppose I’d been reading about it all along (having read so many American books growing up though not with a focus on themes as we did at UWI). This, because of the way it captured the spirit of an age, was perhaps the most invigorating of the ones I read.

8. To Shoot Hard Labour shoot hard labour– okay this Antiguan and Barbudan post-slavery narrative by Smith and Smith, wasn’t an official text, or even a literature text, but I was introduced to it in secondary school by a history teacher. Along with From Columbus to Castro by Eric Williams, which I was introduced to at college, I believe, it began the re-focusing of the lens through which I had been taught to view our history.

9. Lord of the Flies – this Golding book was another secondary school text; I’m honestly not sure I loved it but I damn sure remember it (“Kill the pig! Cut his throat!” – yikes!).

10. Great Expectations – I really enjoyed this work by Dickens and its deep dive in to the class structures in Victorian era England; it was rough for those on the bottom rung but the Mrs. Havershams of the world certainly didn’t seem happy even with all their wealth. This is one of two British classic novelists whom I remember enjoying during my college years (certainly more than, say, Defoe); the other was Regency era author and enduring favourite (Pride and Prejudice, anyone?) Jane Austen whose book Persuasion was another primary text. Thinking back on it, if I’m remembering right (it’s been a while), I think the thing I liked about Dickens and Austen was the way the main characters in the named texts, as I remember it, were contrarians in their way, possessing a self-determination beyond what their station prescribed.

Bonus mentions: The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin, Native Son by Richard Wright…

Finally, I’ve been fortunate to have some of my books read in educational institutions as well –  especially, The Boy from Willow Bend and more recently Musical Youth on school readings lists here in the Caribbean. Years ago, I even received an email about The Boy from Willow Bend from a university student in Italy who had selected it from options presented for a course she was taking, which was cool. Dancing Nude in the Moonlight was also one teacher’s pick at one secondary school that I’m aware of for a time (my understanding is there were objections to its content so it didn’t last long); Oh Gad! was once added to a reading list at a US college; and my story Amelia at Devil’s Bridge has been studied here and there (Belize, US that I’m aware of) and is now excerpted in a CSEC study guide. Sometimes the books we discover in school are a chore, but every now and again we discover a book that becomes a favourite for life; I can only hope  one of my books becomes one of those.

 

Top Ten – Contemporary Caribbean

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish in June 2010. It is what all that suggests, top ten lists for bookish folks.

The August 15th 2017 Top Ten is ‘Ten book recommendations for ______________: (Skies the limit here…examples: for Hufflepuffs, for fans of Game of Thrones, for people who don’t normally read YA, for animal lovers, for video game lovers, etc.’

Having recently pulled some book recs for an interview with the African Book Addict blog, I decided to whittle that list in to my Top Ten Tuesday, a Top Ten for people  interested in easing in to Contemporary Caribbean Fiction. Is this a definitive top 10 of contemporary Caribbean fiction? Of course not! But it’s my top ten on this day and that’s all we need. So here goes:

1.The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – This Haitian American writer is one of my all-time favourites and this is my favourite book of hers, so far. It’s technically historical fiction as it deals with a brutal chapter in the not so distant past between the two countries which share the island of Hispaniola – Haiti and the Dominican Republic, a drama still playing out in some ways to this day.

2. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid – I just finished reading this Antigua-born, US-based writer’s latest (See Now Then) and I liked that as well; but Lucy, the story of a young island girl acclimatizing to life in the US, is still, not necessarily my favourite as that changes, with Annie John also asserting itself, but it’s up there.

3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz180px-junot_wao_cover – a Dominican boy/young man coming of age in the US and the dangerous ways his worlds intersect.

4. Fear of Stones by Kei Miller Kei– an earlier career short story collection from one of the main Caribbean literary voices of this generation. Looking forward to reading his newest novel, Augustown.

5. Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulaypapillote_-_gone_to_drift – a coming of age mystery adventure with a very sympathetic protagonist and a very relevant theme, and, at the same time, a relatively easy read.

6. The Book of Night Woman by Marlon James – not as easy, not as contemporary, but very compelling. I haven’t read this author’s Man Booker prize winning History of Seven Killings yet, but after this tale of life and death on a Jamaica plantation, when sugar was king and Blacks were enslaved, it is very firmly on my to-read list.

7. Waiting in Vain by Colin Channer – like romance? Give this one a go. Steamy.

8. White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffeygreenbicycle – a tragicomical tale of one expat woman’s efforts to acclimatize to life in the Caribbean, to understand and inhabit it, over several decades.

9. Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo – It’s been a minute since I read this one but I remember I hadn’t read anything quite like it when I did – technically in the coming of age sub-genre but touching on sexual awakening (and other types of awakenings) and such taboos in a bold way.

10. Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean is a good introductory read – new voices, a range and sometimes twisted (i.e. not your palm trees and blue seas) view of the contemporary Caribbean.

You’re welcome to check out my  Blogger on Books series where I’ve reviewed some of these books here and on my other blog (just use the search feature); crowd sourced Caribbean favourites – classic and contemporary; and, of course, my own (as in I wrote them) contemporary Caribbean reads.

Grace’s Merrymakers

It’s funny how quickly Carnival goes by. It’s like this two week alternate reality where everything else ceases to exist, and then, in a blink, back to reality. Within those two weeks there is pageantry, soca, calypso, pan, controversy, and, of course, mas including the epic Carnival Tuesday parade (all 10,000 plus steps of it). Carnival is mas, and mas is  an opportunity to showcase our creativity and that, the opportunity it provides to showcase our creativity, is the purpose of this post.

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With Grace – a Caribbean fairytale…and our pattern book.

See, I wrote a children’s picture book called With Grace (released last December), and the world of that story became the pattern that we drew from in crafting our mas – in great part because I wanted to see the tree faerie come to life.

tree faerie

The page I sent my friend before she even had a copy of the book to see if she thought we could do this. She did.

We had more elaborate plans to start but adjusted to our reality and are grateful that with the help of sponsors (shout out to Titi Rent-a-Car, Townhouse Mega Store, and Pink Mongoose), we were able to bring the tree faerie to Carnival City.

 

Graces Merry Makers

Grace’s Merrymakers.

In production

I’m not going to pretend that I had any hand in the actual building – I am rather lucky that my friends (Helena Jeffery Brown and Augusta Scotland Samuel) who do have experience with costume building were interested in taking on this project.

Material was bought 20170623_180341,

Wire was bent 20170610_17453520170610_135409,

Shapes were drawn 20170604_20525720170604_205301,

Fabric was cut 20170604_21191820170701_134735,

& Details were added 20170802_12502820170802_125822 (these are for the headpieces and standards – because we might not have had a mango tree like we’d hoped but the standards made for a good stand-in).

In their skilled hands (plus seamstress, Ms. Blaize, who sewed the tops they then decorated), it all came together20170802_125004.20170802_125037.

We had to do a product description for the stage and here’s some of what we said – “The fairy’s bodice is the colour of tree bark crisscrossed in green. Her skirt consists of green leaves, with stripes of gold, hanging from her body like leaves from a tree. Look closely, you’ll also see mango blossoms – between the fairy’s wings, pinned into her hair, and along the leaves making up her hand pieces. The fairy’s wings spread wide as she wakes, the orange pink hue of a ripening mango, made of bent wire in the tradition of Antiguan mas. Another feature of local mas, the standards – poles wrapped in leaves, in hues of green and gold – are the trees waving in the breeze. It’s mango season, Carnival season, a season of creativity in full bloom.”

On the Road

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After all that, we were only on the road on Carnival Tuesday (shout out to Just Friends, for being so welcoming to us on the road); on Carnival Monday, given our size, we  only crossed the stage. Shout out to our banner holders 20170807_155130…and our back-up banner holders.

With Grace

We were happy to have the opportunity to showcase what mas is about to us – not just fun (though it is always that), but the colour, spirit, and creative energy of our Antiguan and Barbudan people. As a writer, it made me happy to see a character I imagined (a character then illustrated by Cherise Harris and re-imagined by Jeffery) come to life as a part of one of my favourite events, Carnival, mas, Tuesday, the biggest live theatre event (for that’s how I’ve thought of our mas since I first witnessed it as a child). This year I also spied a smurfette and a mermaid (dope); so why not the mango tree faerie, a 100 Wadadli character. Again, thanks to our sponsors (Titi Rent-a-Car, Pink Mongoose, and Townhouse Mega Store) for supporting our vision – remember, support the businesses that support the arts.

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ABOUT THE BOOK: Grace, of Grace’s Peak, loves her hill, and her home above the village, above the whole island. All her trees are lush and full of ripe fruits, except for the one at the far end of her orchard.  She hates that tree.  So when the smiling, barefoot, girl from the village asks Grace if she can pick fruits to sell at the market, it is from that sad, bare tree that Grace “generously” allows her to pick. Little does Grace know that the young girl’s kind, generous heart and her sweet special song will make the impossible happen, and change life at Grace’s Peak forever.  Published by Little Bell Caribbean.

Also, for news on Antigua’s Carnival, go here.

 

 

 

 

268 in the Global Anthology

My story The Other Daughter, which, you may remember was published earlier this year in Adda, an online literary platform by Commonwealth Writers, is now a selection for The Culture Trip’s “Global Anthology, an initiative that highlights a work of prose from every country on Earth, as well as many nations, states, sovereignties, territories, and flag-less regions.”

It’ll be a lot of reading to get through but I look forward to it.global anthology

Here’s what Michael Barron, the Culture Trip’s US literary editor said in his intro to the anthology:

“As with any project covering the entire world, assembling an anthology on this scale required a few allowances in its methods. Only three of its criteria are therefore invariable—every piece had to be written in or translated into English; every writer had to be native to the country represented (no expats); and all 193 member states of the United Nations had to be present. That we ended up with over 220 selections is a barometer of how fraught international ‘recognition’ can be, and even this number doesn’t recognize the entirety of Earth’s many human-made divisions.

The variety of prose and the political states of regions found here is an indicator of the many geo-socio-literary challenges that presented themselves as the Global Anthology developed. It was just as difficult, say, to find a writer from the Central African Republic, as it was to choose a single American author to represent the country. We sought to feature as many under-known and contemporary writers (to English and Western readers) as we could, often cold emailing people after hours of Google sleuthing. In cases where we were able to make contact and received permission to translate and publish their work, we would then conduct interviews with these writers for the site. Subsequently, much of this material marks the first appearance by, and introduction to, these writers (and in some special cases the first appearance from a country or region) in English. That they understood and contributed directly to the vision of this project was a huge encouragement for us to keep going. Thank you.”

With only one author per country, he acknowledged, “This isn’t a perfect anthology, but it is a sincere attempt to cast as wide a literary light on the world as we could for English readers. And it will be a living thing, its scope periodically updated and expanded until we’ve accounted for a voice from within every human border. We hope it spurs similar projects in other languages. There is no singular “voice” that one can give to the world; we let the type of writing represented be determined by what we encountered in a certain area: whether it be hospital stories from Andorra, or queer literature from Greenland, or postmodernism from Honduras, or black satire from Eritrea. Along the way we discovered the developing literature of some countries and the robust yet undiscovered oeuvres of others. Obscurity, however, is subjective: we can confirm that there is no place on Earth (not even Antarctica) that literature isn’t written.”

I am thrilled to be repping for the 268 (Antigua and Barbuda) in this anthology. If you haven’t read The Other Daughter Yet, I hope you’ll give it a read and also read the interview conducted with me by Mr. Barron.

‘Open’ the anthology here.

Site Updates (August 3rd 2017)

I have added my review of/reflections on the reading of Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then here so so, and archived my previous review (Shakirah Bourne’s In Time of Need) which you can still read here.

See now then

More books finished. You know what that means; time to update the wish list. Seemed a good time to update Joanne’s picks as well. It’s a LP post.

I’ve also updated the media page with links to my interviews on The Culture Trip and African Book Addict, and my guest post on Wandering Educators. I hope you’ll check those out. As noted before, I am not always able to respond to individual requests for information, but this is a one stop shop for any information that I am comfortable sharing publicly – and some that I’m not.

If you check the Networked page, you’ll see an addition and subtraction there. The addition is Women who live on Rocks, a mostly expat site about the lighter side of island living. I thought I’d bring some homegrown flava (lol) so I applied to become one of their bloggers. Here’s my first post.

TTFN

 

 

Ancestral Remembrance on Emancipation Day

shoot hard labour“The truth is, white massa didn’t have much use for old worn out slaves. The ones that was old and couldn’t work hard had to leave the plantation. But not for freedom. No, it was the custom of the Old Road slave massas to take the weak and sick slaves out to sea and throw them overboard. They didn’t have any time to dig holes and bury them. I think that everybody in Antigua know the story about a slave that was taken away and bury alive. She was crying, ‘Massa, me no dead yet! No bury me!’ Now massa say, ‘I have money to buy more, pull um go along.’

You know, it’s a strange thing, but I heard that when slavery was over the slaves at Old Road didn’t even get drunk. I heard there was no great happiness among them. They didn’t know what would happen, so them give assurances that they will not leave the plantation, that they will continue on working for the old owners. The old slave massas let them continue to work the ground and grow food for themselves.

But though assurances was given, the young slaves wanted to know what the land was like. So most of the young ones didn’t stay at Old Road after slavery end. Some drift from plantation to plantaion; others settle down in one place.

Now the old slave massas at Old Road was tricky and smart people. After slavery end they wanted the strong slaves they sell or swap off during slavery to come back to work on their plantation. Them through them have proper luck: slavery was all over and they wouldn’t even have to buy them back. They would have both the slaves and the money. So the bad-minded slaves massas at the Old Road Plantation make sure they tell everybody where their people can be found. All the families say how they give thanks to massa for his great interest, but everybody have in mind not to return to Old Road. People badly want to unite with the family – particularly with womenkind. I hear that the women was furious and desperate to find their family.” – from To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan workingman 1877-1982.

August 1st 2017 is Emancipation Day in Antigua and Barbuda (the enslaved people having been legally freed in 1834), but as the excerpt above indicates, the end of my ancestors’ enslavement was not necessarily the beginning of freedom. No, in 2017, freedom, in every way we can be free, remains a work in progress. I am just back from Watch Night, an Emancipation Eve event that’s been going on for something like 10 years, give or take. Per usual it included a mix of speeches, performances (Promise, Kiyode Erasto, King Zacari, King Short Shirt, and a group called …Lion King (?)… a young musical quartet that made me think of the Lion Crew in my book Musical Youth), and drumming by the Nyabinghi drummers. It intersects with but has not really been integrated into Carnival, though this year it did move closer to the city, to the Botanical Gardens specifically. Baby steps.

I’m blogging about this tonight because I wanted to honour my ancestors on whose shoulders I stand, and because I wanted to do my part to share with Antiguans the programme for the rest of the week – yes, for the first time, there’s a whole week of activities.

Time     Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday            Friday                Saturday
11:30    Opening
12:30    King FrankI      D. O’Marde           M. Brann             L. Johnson
Emancipation  Carnival                Community        Reparations
14:30    Word/Drums    Calypso Joe          Headwraps          Fashion             Pan
16:30    Dance                 Mas                       SoCalypso             Onion Effect    Cuban band

There is also an art, artifacts, and photo exhibition and book sale at the Public Library, Wednesday to Saturday starting at 9 a.m. DJs will be at the Botanical Gardens every day from 10:30 a.m. – Nez on Tuesday, Chicki on Wednesday, Irish on Thursday, Charlie on Friday, and Undercover on Saturday, plus a daily food, bar, and marketplace.

The book quoted above should be essential reading in Antiguan and Barbudan schools; in school is where I was introduced to it, in secondary school history class, after a lifetime of hearing one side of the story. The full has not yet been told, but that book’s a good start. As noted to tonight, its relevance is that history informs our present in more ways than we realize – culture, food, economy, psychology, socially, and in so many other ways. The past is present. Also check out this link which quotes from the work of Desmond Nicholson, another noted local historian.