Room and Other Movies

So I just saw Room.

And though Brie Larson won a deserved Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Ma/Joy Newsome, I have to say it’s little Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, who stole my heart.room

It was a combination of the writing and direction, and the way Tremblay tapped in to the emotional (non) complexity of a little boy content in his Room, scared and confused when he’s forced in to the vast world beyond it, and slowly opening up and adapting to it, as kids do.room3

One of the things that struck me was how the writers got that children accept the world they’re born in to. They don’t know any different. And so Room is the world, egg snake is a friend/pet/toy, and everything they see on the TV is make believe. It reminded me of conversations with one of my nephews (perhaps the most imaginative and naturally poetic of them) about what’s real and what isn’t – of how we’d be watching a cartoon and he’d want to know if they were real. Jack wondered the same thing about Dora the Explorer when Ma started to introduce him to the reality that the world was not the world as he’d understood it, as she’d defined it for him. room2

Okay, a little back story if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the reason why Room is the world is because Joy and Jack are captives there, held in a garden shed by Old Nick. Joy had been there seven years by the time the film started (which put Larson’s character at about 24 years old) and Jack had just turned five. We’ve seen Old Nick on the news in real life (the Ariel Castros and Philip Garridos of the world) – a variation of the nondescript guy who holds a duped child captive for years in an improbable space for a baffling length of time. Every time we see one of these stories, we are like Jack, discovering that the world as we know it doesn’t make any sense.

The actor playing Jack was so effective, he pulled reactions from me with his playful exploration of his room, his tantrum over his lack of birthday candles (not aware, in the way children never are, that his mother is hanging on to her sanity by a thread), his sneaking out of the closet he’s supposed to stay in when Old Nick visits (i.e. comes to rape his mother – though he doesn’t understand that that’s what’s happening) lured by the chocolate he knows is there, his initial rejection of her revised story of the world, his tentative acceptance of it, his fear and frustration as he practices the escape plan, everything. My heart was in my hand as I lay in the back of that pick-up with him willing him to remember Ma’s instructions. He didn’t get it quite right but he did enough to get somebody’s attention and get the police involved – and that scene with the police officer as she tries to make sense of the little information he’s able to give her is one of my favourites.

When the perspective of the film widens, it becomes more standard fare, the perspective not quite as tight and whimsical but in Jack’s silences and his wide-eyed searching and yearning, in the way nothing quite makes sense to him anymore, in the bond between him and his mother, I remain linked to the story and stay rooting for him and his mom to make it back to healthy.

Room is worth seeing (but grab a tissue and maybe a hand to squeeze during that escape sequence). It explores without needing to provide definitive answers, what is real, how do you survive the impossible, and proves the adaptability of the human spirit.

Since we’re here, other movies I’ve seen recently include Zootopia (funny if a bit predictable); Deadpool (hilllllarious!); Moonlight (sublime, poetic, timely); Loving (quiet, powerful, touching); Rogue One (which, though I’m a total Star Wars fan girl, I liked more than I expected to); Arrival (which didn’t hook me – ahem I might have fallen asleep – but kudos to Amy Adams for anchoring it, she’s always good); and Hidden Figures (seriously, where’s Taraji’s Oscar nomination?). hidden-figures

A good run.

There. Mostly caught up ahead of the Academy Awards.

How about you, what have you watched recently?

 

And are you caught up on my books  yet?

 

Other movies reviewed on this site are: Bazodee, Birdman and FoxcatcherCreedQueen of Katwe, and Spotlight.

Stimulating New Writing

Since completing the University of Iowa Massive Online Open Course in November 2016 I’ve been going over the course material, bird by bird so to speak: the transcripts and the readings (including the non-mandatory extra readings). I know, nerd. But just as the course itself, while it was live, was one of my favourite parts of the day, pouring over the course material is helping to keep me stimulated. No, I’m not writing as I was during the course, under the pressure of weekly assignments, but I’m still engaged – so I’m still counting this toward writing time. I’m still learning, still loving it. Hopefully, becoming a better writer in the process. Plus, I plan to do more work on the stories that came out of the course assignments too, maybe turn them in to something submittable.

Final Workshop RI 2012

No pictures of the online workshop, obviously, but …This is from another workshop, a physical one this time, the Callaloo Writers Workshop at Brown University in 2012. Another stimulating workshop experience.

So, was this course good for me? As with most things of this nature, you get out what you put in. And getting the opportunity to learn from the likes of Margot Livesy (she was the staple) and a rotating line up of esteemed writer/instructors through the renowned Iowa writing programme, being pushed to write every week, steeling myself to receive feedback on that writing every week, interacting with writers around the world on things writing related had me putting in energy that was about more than chasing those points needed to collect the course completion certificate I didn’t even send for.

Writing courses and workshops (I offer some of those, too) are learning opportunities obviously but they are also ways of pushing yourself to write instead of just thinking about writing. And they provide an environment where you and others in the workshop/courses can engage critically with what you produce (I’ve told the story before of how I slipped an early draft of With Grace, which is now my latest picture book, in among the works being reviewed by participants in my 2013 Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project for some honest feedback and how the work was better for it).

 

How are you feeding your writing?

#TheWritingLife

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, the spider, 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.

Still.

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.

with_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.

jhohadli

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
ITZ
Writers and Authors

Also radio programme Youthology on Observer Radio for hosting me

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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
ITZ
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.