Why With Grace

The Anansi tales which travelled with the Ashanti to the Caribbean remind us that it’s not always about who’s biggest but can be about who’s wiliest. I remember a grandmother chastising me for reading Anansi to kids at the reading club with which I volunteered. He was a bad influence, she said. I’d never thought of it that way. Sure, Anansi was a trickster who danced around hard work, played his friends, and always looked out for number one, but what had registered with me since childhood was how creative his thinking was, how he used his wits to best those stronger than him. Besides, his comeuppance every now and again were reminders that while craftiness could be rewarded, badness nuh play. Plus, beyond his indisputable entertainment appeal, I could see why my people with the system – from slavery to colonialism to post colonialism – on their necks responded to the idea that small axe could cut down big tree (or little Anansi could best Snake and Tiger).untitled4

Anansi had become my go-to for presentations to classrooms too young for my other books. Children were always entertained by him and there were always new variations of the old stories. I most recently used him in a workshop with teachers as an example of a way to engage young readers.

Fairytales, among which Anansi can be counted, are how young readers first engage with the world of Imagination. And they come from all over. Disney’s Bambi is based on a German tale by Felix Salten. Other famous German fairytales – Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White – come to us via the Brothers Grimm. Alice went on her Adventures in Wonderland by way of Lewis Carroll and England; Goldilocks and the Three Bears by way of Robert Southy. Frenchman Charles Perrault brought us Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping beauty. From Aesop (Greek), we have the Goose that laid the Golden Eggs and the Boy who Cried Wolf. I remember using Perrault’s Cinderella when conducting a story telling workshop at a local high school and, as I expected, it provided a short hand because it was one of those tales most if not all knew. Fairytales travel – The Little Mermaid swam in to our imaginations by way of Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson who also brought us The Princess and the Pea.

There are a lot of Princesses and Princess-like characters in fairytales aren’t there; fair maidens often in need of saving.

When I wrote my fairytale I was drawn to the universal appeal of this genre – the way fairytales travel not only from one culture to the next but also through time. They are, in their way, timeless. Your grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother read or told these tales to her grandchild.

Coming from the Caribbean, Anansi, who remains part of our oral folk tradition, aside, so many of these tales of childhood and magic and the imagination are from other places.


I’ve long felt that this can be harmful to our self of our own worth in the world. That’s one of the reasons that when I launched Wadadli Pen, a writing programme to encourage would-be-writers in Antigua, I insisted that submissions to our annual Challenge have a Caribbean aesthetic. I wanted to encourage our young writers to centre themselves in their stories, realize that they too are worthy of great literary adventures, know that they matter.

When I wrote With Grace, my very own Caribbean fairytale, I wanted to acknowledge the tropes of the genre but buck some of them at the same time. From the main character, a dark-skinned black girl, joyful in her #blackgirlmagic and natural single plaits, to the plot in which she is effectively her own rescuer by use of her own wits and grace.

A teacher commented about With Grace on social media, “we neglect to realize that validation and realization are steeped in the subliminal of what we allow our children to read and watch…and I continue to celebrate books and images that look like me and my own.”

Why With Grace? Because for girls and boys of colour everywhere, not just in the Caribbean, the opportunity to see self is still too rare.

Wadadli Pen, a Work in Progress

The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize is a youth and literary arts development programme which launched in 2004 in Antigua and Barbuda with its annual Challenge. While it has engaged in other activities over the years and hopes to do much more in future, the Challenge remains our flagship project. The 2017 Challenge deadline is February 6th 2017.wadadli-pen-2017-flyer

If you’re a teacher or youth worker, and you’re reading this, here’s a copy of the flyer you can download for circulation in your circle/s: wadadli-pen-2017-flyer

If you’re in media, you can find our launch release here: https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/press-release-wadadli-pen-2017-launches

I also want to mention where things stand with Wadadli Pen. I have put together a plan to formalize it as a non-profit and do more developmental work, beyond the Challenge, in the area of the arts (primarily, literary; secondarily, visual; and beyond that working to boost other arts in any way we can). We want year round engagement with youth and we want to do more than a prize. I’ve reached out to some people, some of whom have agreed to come on board as partners and work with me toward achieving this longer term goal. Incidentally, this is also the same team working with me on the Wadadli Pen 2017 Challenge. That team includes Floree Whyte, a local author and Wadadli Pen judge; Margaret Irish and Devra Thomas, both of whom are past finalists; and Barbara Arrindell, a writer and manager of the Best of Books bookstore, which has lent support to the programme from its first year. As time crept up on us, and our very busy schedules, which include work, family, life, and other volunteer projects, we’ve had to put down the longer term planning in service to pulling off another (fingers-crossed) successful season of the Wadadli Pen Challenge.

I’ll tell you it already feels like a success in part because we’ve finally launched our internship programme – a programme in which we targeted Antigua State College students inviting them to apply to volunteer with the programme, giving them the opportunity to work in an area that could contribute to their professional development. The selected intern, who has been primarily working with me in the areas of promotion and admin support, is Michaela Harris. Harris has some history with Wadadli Pen. She was short listed for the prize in 2012 and in 2013 she was second runner up in the 13 to 17 age group. I also know her through the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, a summer youth development camp I held for the first time in 2013. She was one of the participants.

Michaela wrote this piece about why she volunteered with the programme: https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/wadadli-pen-has-its-first-intern-meet-michaela

If you’re still reading and you want to support Wadadli Pen by contributing to our 2017 prize package (no gift too big, no gift too small), email the programme at wadadlipen@gmail.com

If you know a young person who you think could benefit from participating in the programme, share the flyer with them.

I started this programme in order to create the kind of environment that would have helped in my writing journey as a young person coming of age in Antigua and Barbuda. I have come to recognize it as a programme that can be of value to young people whether or not they have an interest in a career in writing; because no matter their path, they have something to say and learning to use their voice is absolutely essential.




People are reading…

If you’re somewhere else (other than Antigua where we did the local launch of With Grace this past December), you’ll be happy to know that you can now buy With Grace, my new picture book, a Caribbean fairytale online. Here’s a link.

Will you and your child be reading? If you do, don’t forget to post a reader review so that other potential readers can know what you think.


people-are-reading-dawnThanks for sharing, Dawn.

Do you have a picture of you and your little one reading With Grace? Would you like to share it? Send to jhohadli at gmail dot com if you don’t mind me sharing. – signed thankful writer

p.s. Don’t forget to post a reader review

p.p.s. Thanks to the sites who’ve been sharing information on my new children’s picture book, Caribbean fairytale.

Antigua Chronicle
African American Literature Book Club & here
Writers and Authors

Also radio programme Youthology on Observer Radio for hosting me

View original post

People are reading…

people-are-reading-dawnThanks for sharing, Dawn.

Do you have a picture of you and your little one reading With Grace? Would you like to share it? Send to jhohadli at gmail dot com if you don’t mind me sharing. – signed thankful writer

p.s. Don’t forget to post a reader review

p.p.s. Thanks to the sites who’ve been sharing information on my new children’s picture book, Caribbean fairytale.

Antigua Chronicle
African American Literature Book Club & here
Repeating Islands
Writers and Authors

Also radio programme Youthology on Observer Radio & Good Morning Antigua Barbuda on ABS TV for hosting me

Also, if you post vid of your child singing the song in the book, tag me at http://www.facebook.com/JoanneCHillhouse

With Grace is available online; also ask for it at your local bookstore wherever books are sold (if they don’t have it; encourage them to get it). Here’s a link to With Grace Reviews and First Page; and a link to all my Books.



So, as a #gyalfromOttosAntigua who, growing up, didn’t have much in the way of a book buying budget (of the non-text-book variety, many of those second hand), I understand that purchasing my books from the bookstore


My books on the shelves of local bookstore The Best of Books.

may not be in everyone’s budget. It’s why I try to make sure I get the word out to as many libraries as I can in Antigua, in the Caribbean, in America, in Europe, wherever there are libraries, whenever I drop a new book. Books were meant to be read. I have also made a point of donating copies of most if not all of my books (as little as two of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad! to 15 copies of Musical Youth, 9 of which were on loan to a local book club I was told last time I checked) to the Antigua and Barbuda Public Library.


I notice the children’s books (Fish Outta Water and With Grace) are not accounted for and I’ll need to rectify that as soon as I’m able – unless they buy them first.

So, anyway, this is just a reminder that in answer to the question where can I get your books, libraries is also a very good answer – and as with your local bookstore, if your local library doesn’t have a book you want, ask about it; your interest can help fuel demand by putting it on their radar as something their clients are interested in reading.

Re the local library, if you’ve read my writing (on the blog, in the local papers) over the years, you know the discontent over the slow progress on rebuilding after the 1974 earthquake (which means that, though the library did soldier on in less than ideal circumstances) many of us in Antigua and Barbuda grew up without a real understanding of the full scope of a library and the central role it can play in society – even now in the digital age. The Antigua and Barbuda Public Library has had its new building for a couple of years now, but some things (lending, opening hours, community interaction) have followed incrementally. In fact, the library (while it still has no weekend hours) has announced later weekday opening hours, which is good. The more we expect of and interact with and support the library, perhaps we can count on even more movement.

FYI, the hours of operation of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Library are:

Mondays to Thursdays 9am – 7 pm and Fridays 9am – 5:30 pm.

The library is now lending books to the community. Borrowers are asked to present a valid ID such as driver’s license, passport, voter ID, Social Security, Medical Benefits card, or school ID. For further information, contact the library at 562-4502/3.

FYI, re purchasing my books, here’s a partial list of where you can get them and if they’re not in your market here’s an about page re my books that you can share with your local libraries and bookstores. Thanks.


‘A Caribbean Dream’ premieres in Barbados this January — Repeating Islands

The locally produced, independent film, ‘A Caribbean Dream’ has been selected for screening at the Gala Event of the 2017 Barbados Independent Film Festival (BIFF). “This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce our collective ‘dream’ to a local audience and showcase the immense contribution made by our cast and crew.” Those were the words of Lynette Eastmond of […]

via ‘A Caribbean Dream’ premieres in Barbados this January — Repeating Islands

Throwback Q & A: Musical Youth

I got some promising news from the publisher of Musical Youth this past week. Can’t share it yet, but I can share this previously unpublished interview that I did shortly after the book’s launch.

Musical Youth

What inspired you to tell this story?

I’m a music lover. It was probably inevitable that I’d someday write a book inspired and driven by my love of music.

How did you begin? Did you research or do other prep work, or jump right in?

Jumped right in. Pretty sure I should have been asleep when these teens showed up one ‘foreday morning intent on telling me of their musical dreams, friendships, romantic entanglements, fears, families, discoveries, adventures, and the excitement of embarking on a summer production that would ultimately change their lives. They were persistent, and it was a matter of trying to keep up with them on what turned out to be kind of an epic but compacted writing binge.

What is your writing process like? What do you do when you feel stuck or stumped?

Well, I’m feeling stuck and stumped right now. Stuck because of time. Stumped because when I do make the time the snippets I’ve written aren’t quite fitting together into a narrative that makes sense. And that provides some hint of my process. I write to discover, so in that first draft I’m rushing forward or inching forward, but it’s forward, not all over the place like I am right now. Usually it starts with the character and different moments, feelings, impressions, ideas weave their way in; but I picture it as a character kind of taking me by the hand and pulling me into her/his story. Once I have a first full draft down, I tinker. With longer works, novels, because I also write stories and poems, it takes months, years to get that first draft down, so the tinkering happens as I dip back into the world of the story but then hopefully I keep moving forward until I figure out what the story is about. The redrafting and editing allows me to fine tune, rip out what doesn’t fit, shade in what needs colouring, texturing. If the story I’m working on isn’t happening, I’ll work on something else, just step away from it for a while. I write best at night, I don’t write best in absolute quiet – so music is a good companion, but I grew up having to write with life happening around me, so silence is actually quite distracting. I try to schedule writing time every day, and I try to do something writing related during that writing time even if the story I need to be working on isn’t happening.  The scheduling is more a reminder to myself to prioritize my writing even if the writing itself sees fit to rebel against being wrestled into a schedule; it comes best when I’m just walking or taking the bus or driving or feeling life – times when my brain is kind of just idling. I always have something to write with because of this. And I always have a book on go, because I also find reading not only entertaining but inspiring. Having goals is a motivator for me as well, if there’s somewhere I want to submit or just a workshop activity – oh working with other writers, as I do as a workshop facilitator and writing coach, is actually quite stimulating as well. But there’s no single thing I do to get myself out of the rut… whatever works.

What’s the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned about the creative process while writing your book?

Sometime after I wrote and published Musical Youth, I discovered an unfinished story called the Guitar Lessons, and I could see the link between my personal story and Guitar Lessons and Guitar Lessons and Musical Youth. It reminded me of this poem called Stealing Life that I’d written years earlier, about how we, writers, kind of snatch and store bits and pieces of things, pulling them out without realizing it like a seamstress digging through his or her basket of scraps while sewing a patchwork quilt. It wasn’t a discovery so much as  reminder but I did blog about it here  It’s a reminder as well that sometimes you have to push but sometimes the story will emerge when it’s ready.

I’m most surprised though that I was able to write a full first draft in roughly two weeks. Not recommended by the way, but maybe the fact that the scraps were already scattered inside me waiting to be sewn together is what made it doable. The story was ready to be told and the characters thankfully were a joy to be with so the telling though …feverish… and tightly focused was fun.

What was the hardest part, and what was your favorite part?

Plotting is always a struggle for me. There has to be an internal coherence to the story, a logic to the flow of the narrative.  Character, voice, pacing, tone, these things came fairly easily – the chemistry between the characters, Shaka and Zahara as young love blossomed, Shaka and his crew, their camaraderie, the melding of kids from different backgrounds as they take on a challenge, a number of challenges, was actually fun. But this particular story had some underlying themes and some reveals that required careful handling in the case of the plot, making sure the backstory is consistent with what’s now being revealed etc. Thank God for editing and at the same time editing was my personal hell – so much to do in a very tight window because the original draft had been so rough and the publishing deadline was so tight, the book having been fast tracked after the manuscript placed second for the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean literature. In the end, I’m happy with how it turned out – but between addressing structural issues and fighting for what I felt was essential and picking my way through the things that needed clipping and additional writing for texturing and to better connect certain dots – it was stressful.

If you could meet three authors (living or not), who would you choose and why? OR What author do you read for inspiration? OR Who are three authors who inspire you?

Well, if I could have a lime without the social pressure of being chatty and interesting myself, I’d gladly sit over drinks and nibbles with Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Dandicat and Zora Neale Hurston soaking up their stories, and wisdom. I’ve actually met and had drinks with Jamaica, Edwidge is my literary crush – I love everything she writes especially Farming of Bones and Create Dangerously, and I’m fascinated by Zora’s adventures, in love with her spirit and talent, saddened by the arc of her life, and encouraged by the post-note to it, to which a lot of credit I think has to go to Alice Walker, another woman I would like at that lime. (lime: Antiguan for social gathering/hanging out).

What’s the best writing advice you have been given?

I honestly can’t think of one solo piece of advice off the top of my head; but you know which writing book I’ll be recommending forever and ever I think, Stephen King’s On Writing. Lots of good advice in that one. And for the mechanics, I always return to Janet Burraway’s Writing Fiction.

Please ask and answer one question you wish I’d asked.

Stumped again…  I suppose, since this is an American blog and I am a Caribbean writer, I could ask something like why would a reader from America be interested in books by a writer from Antigua. My answer, it’s an imaginative road trip to a different culture, and the realization at the end of it that wherever they rest their heads at night, people are, after all, just people. My characters for all their differences from your reality are still people – and I’ve found as a reader and writer that even within the differences it’s often possible to find something relatable. The best writing, in my view, doesn’t pander to that idea but lets its characters live and breathe, and the open reader can really have an enriching experience stepping into that other-world as it is and just breathing it in. If you’re anything like me, you’ll like the adventure of exploring a different world for a while, all without leaving home; though travel is fun too.

By the way, you can find out more about me and my books here https://jhohadli.wordpress.com