Joanne C. Hillhouse’s writing has been described as “honest”, “real”, “poetic”, “moving”, and “lyrical”. Her culture is at the heart of her writing: “Obvious is the ‘writer’s ear’ for effective characterization and narrative that stays true to Caribbean island experience” (Island Where, St. Lucia).
Born (1973) in Ottos, Antigua, Joanne placed second for the inaugural Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean Literature in 2014; her manuscript, Musical Youth, has since been published to critical and reader acclaim by Caribbean Reads. She was also invited by Burt sponsors, CODE, to organize and facilitate a writing workshop and by Bocas, through whom the prize is offered, to serve on the 2015 judging panel. Her previous books are The Boy from Willow Bend (Macmillan, UK, 2002; Hansib, UK, 2009) and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight /Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings (Macmillan, UK, 2003/Insomniac, Canada, 2014) – Willow Bend is required reading at secondary schools in Antigua and Anguilla, and Dancing has also been read in at least one locally. She is also the author of the children’s picture book Fish Outta Water (Pearson, UK, 2013). Oh Gad! (Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster, USA, 2012) was her first full length novel. In 2014, it was spotlighted on NPR and added to a course on Caribbean Women Writers at Hunter College (NY). Her 2016 release is picture book and first fairytale, With Grace. Joanne’s fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including – anthologies – Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (Peekash, USA, 2014) – her story from this collection (Amelia at Devil’s Bridge) being subsequently taught at the University of Belize and LaGuardia Community College (NY), A Letter for My Mother (Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster, USA, 2014) – which won an African American Literary Award, She Sex Prose and Poetry: Sex and the Caribbean Woman (Bamboo Talk Press, Trinidad and Tobago, 2013) So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End: An Anthology of Antiguan and Barbudan Writing (A Different Publisher, Canada, 2013), In the Black: New African Canadian Literature (Insomniac, Canada, 2012), and For Women: In Tribute to Nina Simone (MZWrightNowProductions/Black Classics Press, USA, 2012) – go here for a listing of all the books in which Joanne’s writing has been published. The Columbia Review, The Caribbean Writer, S X Salon, Calabash, Womanspeak, Mythium, Sea Breeze, Artemis, Poui, and BIM are among the journals I’ve been published in (poetry and fiction). In 2014, Joanne edited a special Antigua and Barbuda issue of Bahamian online journal, Tongues of the Ocean. You can read reviews of Joanne’s creative writing here.
Joanne graduated with a degree in Mass Communications from University of the West Indies (Mona) where she also took various literature and writing courses and was taught and mentored by future Jamaican Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris.
She has participated in the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute (University of Miami), Breadloaf Writers Conference (Middlebury College, Vermont), Texas A & M’s Callaloo Writers Workshop (at Brown University), and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Programme’s online course on Writing Fiction 2016: Storied Women – her sessions led, respectively by Olive Senior, Ursula Hegi, Ravi Howard, Maaza Mengiste, and (remotely) Margot Livesy. Her awards and fellowships include placing second for the inaugural Burt Award for YA Caribbean literature in 2014, the 2014 Leonard Tim Hector Memorial Award, the Michael and Marilee Fairbanks International Fellowship to attend Breadloaf in 2008, from the Caribbean Writer – the David Hough Literary Prize (2011) and the Flash Fiction Prize (2015) for When We Danced, recognition by JCI West Indies in 2011 as one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons in the region, and a 2004 UNESCO Honour Award for her contribution to literacy and the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. She was short listed in 2012 (with Genevieve) and 2013 (with Amelia) for the Small Axe Literary Prize; and earned honourable mention in the 2014 Desi Writers Lounge fiction contest for With Grace, subsequently signing a contract with Little Bell Caribbean for its publication as a children’s picture book.
She has participated in numerous literary activities within and beyond the Caribbean. This includes reading and/or participating in panels at the Brooklyn Book Festival, PEN World Voices Festival in New York, Brown University, University of Miami, Middlebury College (at Breadloaf), University of Toronto, the Aye Write! Festival in Scotland, the St. Martin Book Fair, the Anguilla Literary Jollification, the Virgin Islands Literary Festival and Book Fair, the Nature Island Literary Festival in Dominica, the Bocas Literary Festival in Trinidad, the BIM symposium Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers and the BIM Literary Festival in Barbados, the International Congress of Caribbean Writers in Guadeloupe, the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars conference in Suriname, and elsewhere.
She was keynote speaker when University of Puerto Rico held its annual Islands in-Between conference at the Antigua State College; and a delegate to the Caribbean Canadian Literary Expo. She was the inaugural author in New York at the Meet the Author series hosted by the Friends of Antigua Public Library, which also hosted the New York launch of Oh Gad! Joanne was part of a small group of Antiguan and Barbudan writers sponsored by the Commonwealth in 2007 to attend the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica. More on Joanne’s participation in literary events here.
As a freelance journalist and writer, Joanne has won awards for her reporting from Pan American Health Organization and the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Environment; and published extensively including feature articles in Essence, Writer’s Digest, Américas, Caribbean Beat, CLR James Journal, Zing etc. She’s worked in local television/film – including as associate producer of Antigua’s first feature length film The Sweetest Mango and production manager on its second, No Seed. She’s consulted, generating ideas for public education and awareness campaigns, or as writer and/or editor on projects for the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation, Environmental Awareness Group (Antigua), the Commonwealth Youth Programme, the Antigua and Barbuda Waste Recycling Corporation, Karib Cable, the West Indies Cricket Board, and others. She’s a writing coach and workshop facilitators, and has taught communications at the American University of Antigua, Antigua State College, and elsewhere. More on Joanne’s paid services here. She offers workshops through her Jhohadli Writing Project, which began as the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project in 2013. She also offers classes in partnership with others, such as her written communication adult education classes with Barbara Arrindell & Associates, a youth media workshop commissioned by the Department of Youth Affairs, and others, ongoing.
Her voluntary activities include the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com) which she founded in 2004, the Cushion Club reading club for kids, performances in Vagina Monologues and When a Woman Moans (also contributing to the script) staged by Women of Antigua, literary showcases (Word Up! and others), literary workshops (Just Write etc.), and competitions (A &B’s Independence literary competition etc.).
Hillhouse’s relationship with storytelling grew from a love of reading as a child; and evolved as she scripted plays, poems, and short stories during her school through university years. She entered the world of work as a print and TV reporter but never lost sight of her dream of becoming a published author. Writing and reading remain her twin passions. As she said in an online interview: “I was influenced to write by my desire to tell stories, to impact readers in the way that my favourite stories impacted me… I’m just a sucker for a good story.”