JWP #Onthehustle

The first of my workshop series for 2018 has wrapped and I’m getting ready for the second in early March. If you’re interested in being put on the mailing list or registering, or need more information, contact me.

March 2018 workshop
One of my favourite moments in my final of four sessions in the first series earlier this month was just watching a woman who had to fight her instincts to make the first draft perfect. During a writing assignment, she said, “I swear what I’m writing doesn’t make sense” and I replied, “It doesn’t have to make sense, just write forward”. This is the first draft, I reminded her; there is more drafting and editing to come; let go of the need for the first draft to be perfect; give over.

She put pen to paper again and I noted when she stopped over thinking it, when the pen was flowing because she was not trying to control and constrain it anymore. I felt happy and in my purpose in that moment – after our weeks of looking at the writing of others and how they explore and reveal setting (the focus of that first series); weeks of me testing her grasp of what I was trying to teach,  coaxing her writing out, nudging it forward.

When I called time on this last in-session writing exercise, in the groove, she didn’t stop right away. When she did stop so that we could share and discuss, it was clear she still had a lot of writing left in her. Considering that pushing past writers’ block was the main reason she gave in week 1 for taking the course, I’d call that progress.

I was keen to see her evaluation of the workshop series to see if she felt progress had been made.  She wrote that her favourite activity was “reading the assignments and the discussions which assisted with writing my own settings”. She wrote that she learned what she’d hoped to, how to create settings (the focus of the first series), why they matter, how to write them, how to evaluate their effectiveness as she tried to move her story along.  As for if she would recommend the Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop series; yes, she would: “Yes, I would recommend this workshop. This course is designed specifically for anyone with an interest in creative writing.”

The next series begins on March 10th 2018 like I said. You can participate from anywhere (that’s right, you don’t have to be in Antigua and Barbuda to participate). Contact me to find out how. Moving forward.

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#MeToo in the Caribbean

I’ve been thinking on and off about writing about #metoo But what more is there to be said? It’s been a watershed moment (with story after story, and the re-examination of stories previously whispered about)poy-2017-cover_vert-f1543ad0e414ef2a31d9b0e95c3d100a62eeee91-s900-c85, at once triggering and cathartic for many women who for the first time feel like they can speak some uncomfortable truths. Truth is – from street harassment to rape – most if not all women have waded through this in some shape or form at some time or other.  That means my mother, me, my nieces – likely my grandmothers, God rest their soul – have our #metoo stories. And that sucks.

The backlash has begun, inevitably. And it makes me shake my head. Obviously, the reckoning is uncomfortable but charges of witch hunt have been thrown around from the very beginning by men whom I have to assume would rather this conversation just go away. But I’m with actress America Ferrara on this.

“We’ve gone from not listening, hearing, or believing women and how are we going to skip over the whole part where women get to be heard and go straight to the redemption of the perpetrators. Can’t we live in that space where it’s okay for perpetrators to be a little bit uncomfortable with what the consequences will be.” – America in this interview/panel with Oprah

This reckoning is just since late last year, when the articles about Harvey Weinstein, especially Ronan Farrow’s in the New Yorker, had women saying metoometoometoo. Incidentally, one of the first men to express concerns about a witch hunt is Ronan’s father Woody Allen, whose daughter Dylan has long alleged childhood sexual abuse.

Already we’re saying too much? Well, I say too soon. Is there a spectrum of behaviour? Obviously.  Being catcalled in the street, even being touched inappropriately or sexual innuendo on the job is not the same as being sexually coerced or raped. But it’s all part of a culture in which men feel entitled to speak on, touch, even claim a woman’s body, a culture in which women are their bodies before they are human, a culture in which women are routinely silenced and/or shamed by men and women. That way of thinking needs to be unpacked and dismantled. And in the conversations I’ve had with myself and others around the stories coming out of #metoo there have been revelations (I’ve shared a few experiences of, not rape, but sexual inappropriateness, in conversations with my father, for instance, that I never shared before as we’ve tried to get past what has been a sticking point for him, why not say something sooner, when it happens). I think actress Evan Rachel Wood’s discussion (of rape culture, abuses of power, and the patriarchy) here is one of the more illuminating on this latter point: “You’ve kicked a hornet’s nest and you have a target on your back…(and) sometimes the act is so traumatizing or you’re so ashamed of it, or you’re so confused by it, or you’re so afraid of your perpetrators, you’re silenced”.

Within these conversations, there has been confusion and contradictions; we’re all trying to figure out the new rules of engagement, but more immediately, we’re getting it out and trying to figure out how we feel about all of it. But (speaking broadly, because #metoo has male victims as well) it begins with men listening, hearing and acknowledging women’s experiences. Hear that, Matt Damon?

I don’t have answers, but I am glad that these conversations are happening. It’s necessary conversation.

In our Caribbean societies, it’s a harder nut to crack. Some call it culture. Some cite our size and our politics – gender politics but also politics-politics. I don’t know. It is what it is but before #metoo and #timesup there were movements working to interrogate that culture. This in spite of the familiarity and fear that keeps certain predators moving in plain sight, and the ways the system – we the people, the politicians, the courts, the police, the media, the boardrooms, the classrooms etc. treat incidents of harassment, assault, abuse, and rape – our inaction, our tendency to blame/shame the victim, the pushing of poor behavior involving powerful men under the carpet, the silencing, the reality that so much of our outrage aligns along political lines (not that different from America in this moment actually). There has been movement online and on the streets.

Movements like Life in Leggings “The movement first took off when (Life in Leggings founder, Barbadian Ronelle) King took to social media to share her experience of a man trying to force her into his car after she refused his offer for a ride. The police were indifferent, so she told the story on Facebook with the hashtag #lifeinleggings. Soon, women from all over the region, including Jamaica, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, were sharing their own stories of sexual assault, harassment and domestic violence.” (March, 2017; telesurtv.net) Among the issues that Life in Leggings’ facebook page has drawn attention to are the mental health act in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (an issue which became topical after a former contestant on Caribbean’s Next Top Model was confined to a mental ward on a charge of abusive language), marital rape in the Bahamas, and sexual offences against minors in Guyana after an alleged serial abuser (a teacher) and the inaction of the system was exposed. #lifeinleggings

Movements like the Tambourine Army. “…a 15-year-old girl… had allegedly been raped by the church’s pastor a few weeks earlier. The 14 activists entered the church and sat in silence, but angry words broke out when they were approached by a different pastor; the confrontation culminated with him being struck in the head by a tambourine. The incident marked the beginnings of the Tambourine Army, a new organization to fight gender-based violence in Jamaica.” (March, 2017; guardian.com) ‘“We want to change the culture we have of assigning blame and shame to survivors,” says Latoya Nugent, co-founder of the Tambourine Army. “We want to place it at the feet of perpetrators and change the current narrative.”’ #tambourinearmy

In Antigua, credit has to be given to the advocacy work of several groups over the years. Groups like the Professional Organization for Women in Antigua and Barbuda (I remember their marches against the child sex ring/child sexual abuse), Women Against Rape (who made headlines for its objections to a popular soca song, Kick een she back Doh), the official body responsible for Gender Affairs (for among other activities its Orange days of activism), and Women of Antigua (stagings of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and capturing Antigua and Barbuda stories ranging from sex abuse to sex positivity in When a Woman Moans).

Vagina_Monologues__40_

That’s me in red acting in the first Antigua staging of Vagina Monologues. I call it theatrical activism. Shout out to Women of Antigua for stoking the conversation, beginning 2008.

Just last week, I spoke to an artist touching on this issue in his art, as I have. Examples in my writing include stories like the sexual assault of a reveler in Carnival Hangover, a story called Carnival Blues in the Caribbean Writer and Something Wicked in The Missing Slate that saw a character triggered by that ‘Kick’ song due to a past experience, and the story of a social worker who has her own history of sexual assault (Genevieve found in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings). Even my story of the sex worker who makes a bold move to give her daughter a different life after the men on the corner start taking notice of her in The Other Daughter is a part of this conversation, as is the fact that a character in my book Oh Gad! needs her husband’s permission to have her tubes tied at risk of her life, that a character in Dancing Nude deals with uncomfortable sexual-power dynamics on the job in part because of being an immigrant, and the fact that a main character is sexually assaulted by the husband (a pastor) in the family she lived with in The Boy from Willow Bend.

June sucked her teeth, “He shoulda think about that before he lay hand on me.”

These are all stories ripped, in some way or other, from life.

So, #metoo #timesup by another name has been a part of the conversations in the region, and with #metoo #timesup new conversations are happening, though, perhaps not enough of it, and not enough in public spaces. There needs to be more, uncomfortable as it is, because we can’t act like girls and women – and some boys and men, but especially girls and women because of gender dynamics in the culture at large – in our region don’t have reason upon reason to say #metoo

Tata and the Big Bad Bull by Juleus Ghunta (Monday Meme-ing)

Reviewed

I just uploaded my review of new children’s picture book Tata and the Big Bad Bull:

“…if lower primary school teachers and parents with young readers are looking for a culturally-relatable read-aloud or read-a-long with humorous cues– bunny, duck, and dog lined up with the children to catch the bus among the first of these; colourful detail -the bee at the entrance to bee hive tunnel and the crocodile with sharp teeth on full display at the foot of the bridge over crocodile pool- among them; and rhyming couplets and repetition of a certain key phrase, this could be a good pick.”

tata

Read the full review.

I’m linking this with Book Date’s It’s Monday, what are you reading? (the kid lit edition)

Read

What am I reading? I’ve got several books in progress – dipping in to them as my schedule and attention allows. This week I dipped in to Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (I’m about 455 pages in and still about 1/3 to go; man this book is long…and dense) and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: the Story of Success (only about 48 pages in). I’m enjoying both tbh but time to read is just scarce, man. I need to ride the bus more; that’s when I seem to get most of my reading done.

Blogged

I haven’t blogged much here this week but, if you’re interested, here are some posts from my other blog: A post on a local art showa post about a Caribbean writer being tapped for a PEN lifetime achievement award, and a post on new film Skate Kitchen whose cinematographer is from Antigua. As for the blogosphere, I’m most looking forward to seeing the film Black Panther, but after reading Eva Langston’s What can a Wrinkle in Time Teach us about Writing? I’m keen to see that one too (though I haven’t read the book).

Talk of the Town

I’m diving in to the Talk of the Town meme this week by way of a January round-up (ETA: Also making this my Sunday Post). Talk-of-the-Town-1

Come dive with me.

News

So cool to see my name on a list of 10 Caribbean Women Writers you should know over at the Literary Hub. Whhhhaaaaaat?! Super psyched. I’m doing book lists all the time; seeing myself on one was super cool (okay, I’ll stop saying super now). Of course, I’m hoping it will introduce me to readers who might not otherwise be familiar with my books. It got me thinking how much of a slow burn this literary journey can be if you’re not a superstar out of the gate. I had just done a post reflecting on the journey of Oh Gad!, the book cited in the Lit Hub article, and, in spite of all, there it is still part of the conversation. That felt good.

I felt good today, too, during the final session of the first cycle of the 2018 edition of my Jhohadli Writing Project creative writing workshop series.  The same feeling I had making progress on one of my own creative writing projects in progress earlier in the week. The bliss that comes of doing what you love, living in your purpose. The writing continues, the series will continue (contact me if you want to be put on the mailing list for announcements), and as for life and its other demands…well, I remain, as ever, a work in progress. There’ve been bumps and bruises but my birthday month had its share of good moments (and good news). More of the good stuff, and less of the other stuff, please, universe.

over the edge 2

Work with me universe. (p.s. the bit of universe pictured above is my island, Antigua…isn’t she lovely?)

January Blogging

I was watching the Grammys a week ago when someone remarked, somewhat bemused, that I liked award shows. Why, yes I do. Why, they ask. Because I do. And that’s it, pretty much. So no surprise that in the wake of the Oscar announcement, I did a post on my predictions.

Also, in case you haven’t read it, let me point you to my contribution to the Rumpus Letters for Kids series. Topic, the fruit to best all fruits (guess which one…or check the post and find out); as seen in my children’s picture book, the Caribbean fairytale With Grace.

Speaking of With Grace, I uploaded a couple of new videos from my mas presentation of the mango tree faerie from the book, last Carnival (for my non-Antiguan visitors, Carnival is a cultural celebration, pre-Lenten in some other parts of the Caribbean, summer in Antigua), check us out.

Books Finished in January (a reminder)

The only new book received this week is a copy of Juleus Ghunta’s Tata and the Big Bad Bull which I’ve agreed to review. I’ve liked this author’s poetry in the past (and shouted out his new release on my other blog this past week this past week), I’m not sure how that translates to children’s fiction but, I look forward to reading it.

No new books finished this week but books finished this past month and reviewed are Nectar in a Sieve and Born a Crime, plus I also added some past reviews to Blogger on Book Vl.

Other stuff

I updated Joanne’s Picks with my favourite Madonna songs …because music is life.

New Video Clips

I have a couple of new video clips (well not new but newly uploaded as I was working on an essay about my life in mas for submission and I needed to upload the videos) from Grace’s Merrymakers 2017 debut and finale during Antigua and Barbuda Carnival’s 60th anniversary. Seriously when I play mas again I want to not have to worry about all the behind the scenes stuff – though my mas was micro I have newfound respect for the leaders of mas I’ve played with over the years, because seriously when is their Carnival. I’m half-kidding. I had fun. We all did.

For the backstory, read this previous post and for other video and images, check out this post.

This all relates, of course, to my picture book With Grace, which you can read about here and here.

Dope!

What’s dope? When you’re named (unexpectedly) on an article on LitHub as one of 10 Female Caribbean Authors you should know (and add to your American Lit Syllabus).

Gerty Dambury writes in an article headlined ’10 Female Caribbean Authors You Should Know (And Add To Your American Lit Syllabus)’ and published at Lit Hub, “When I was studying English and American literature, I was struck by the fact that not one black woman—American, English or Caribbean—was included on any of the syllabi. It […]

via Writing Triumphs (Yay!) — Wadadli Pen

A Book Back

books 2018My novel Oh Gad! will be six years published this year. If a book was a child, she’d be a first grader. Damn. I had high hopes when it came out too. It was my second act and my first full length novel after two earlier releases. My first to crack the US market. Hell, yeah I had high hopes. You would think I’ve since learned to manage my expectations, right? Nah, son, I still have high hopes. Against the odds. I’m hard-headed like that. #TheWritingLife ETA: Shortly after I wrote this, this happened (the author specifically referencing Oh Gad!) – 10 Female Caribbean Authors You Should Know And Add To Your American Lit Syllabus – life (and publishing) is full of suprrises.

Here’s an excerpt:

Before Nikki was a motley crew – curious expats mixed in with home-grown Rastafarians, academics mixed in with area farmers, grey heads and chinee bumps, and the odd politician. It was not only a larger, but a more diverse crowd than she had anticipated.

A part of her dared hope, as she glimpsed some of the Blackman’s Ridge project’s staunchest opponents in the crowd, that this could be the bridge between the warring factions. That was the goal, anyway. She’d tried to get Cam to come, but he’d scoffed at the very idea. “Make mosquito nyam me up all night,” he’d laughed. “For what? I don’t hold to all that ancestors crap.  Black people hang on to slavery too much, if you ask me. Is that keeping them down. I’m a practical man. I live in today. Anybody who know me, know that. For me to go up there would be a bold faced lie; and I never lie.”

The night’s programme consisted of a drum call and dub poetry. At midnight, the dawning of Emancipation Day, August Monday, when Antigua’s enslaved Africans got their first taste of freedom back in 1834, plastic cups were passed around, and libations sipped and poured out ritualistically in honour of these survivors and the many more non-survivors. Tanty had insisted on that and mixed up the “bebbridge” herself.

Everyone got a chance to enter the dungeon, in pairs and threes; some emerged quickly and unscathed, others were visibly moved by the experience of being stooped and confined in the small space.

As Sadie began her oral history of the dungeon, of slaves imprisoned for infractions, imagined or real, a reporter from one of the local stations, ignoring the mean look she shot him, stuck a recorder in her face.

“…many died here sick with their own fear as it come through their skin and full up the air ‘round them ‘til they were breathing their own stink,” Sadie said. “Not a lot of new air could get in ‘round the heavy door they had barring the entrance. Only tiny cracks leave back for insects to crawl through and torment them to the last. As for them that survive, there was madness or relief, relief that sucked at their fight and spirit…”

Nikki found herself seduced by Sadie’s words and her voice, as she spoke with previously unheard serenity and authority.

A noise cut through the night: A bone deep, belly full moan. It was Tanty, swaying, eyes tightly shut. Nikki reached an arm toward her, then hesitated.

Tanty’s moan cut through her. Not like a knife. Like waves, curling beautifully in and into her, relentlessly. Nikki sighed and even cried a little; the moment, the long moments, overwhelming her, filling her with both sadness and joy. She felt like she was being filled and emptied at the same time, like she’d eaten too much and yet not enough.

The scent of roasting cashews, which Tanty had insisted on, perfumed the night air.

Nikki had been concerned about fire spreading but then Audrey had, unexpectedly, donated a couple of coal pots which allowed them to contain the fire. And as the scent now wafted out, the moaning swelled, continuing to fill the gaps; a chorus for Sadie’s chronicle which ended with a roll call of Antiguan martyrs and heroes from King Court to V.C. Bird. Here and there, there were tears. As Sadie’s voice, hoarse now, faded, the drums once again took over, taking on the timbre of Tanty’s unabashed moaning.  The drum talk took them into fore day morning, as the Antiguans called those hours just before day break. It was then, in that in-between time, that Nikki came back to herself as if from a blissful dream. She caught snatches of it, of being inside the dungeon, of not being afraid, though shadows and light, ancestral spirits, danced across the jewel-like stones along the cave wall, Tanty’s voice reminding her that she was from their blood and they wouldn’t do her no harm. As even memory faded, Nikki opened her eyes to the sight of pale light now spreading across the sky, and discovered that she was leaning against Belle’s shoulder as her sister sat still as a rock.

*

Related Oh Gad! posts

Launch gallery
First pages
What the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books had to say about Oh Gad!
Oh Gad! Presents a Compelling Slice of Island Life (NPR)
Reviews
Antigua and Barbuda historical spaces in Oh Gad!
(Another) Oh Gad! excerpt
All Joanne C. Hillhouse Books