Reading Diary (My Sunday Post)

It’s okay to not finish a book or, less drastic, shelve it for a while until you’re in a better place to receive or even understand it. Life is too short…and yet a book you’re not in to can make it feel interminable. Both are good reasons to take a break. I’ve found, e.g. with Toni Morrison’s Jazz, that you might not only come back to it, it could become a favourite. But if you don’t and it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Having said that, I don’t give up on books easy (though I’ve increasingly given myself permission to DNF) but I did shelve (well, it’s an ebook, so put aside) one this week. It’s one I was asked to read for review (and nothing against the book which seems well written but I was just going through the motions) and that’s why I’m careful to manage expectations when I’m asked to read books because it’s a commitment, and I’m not interested at this point in my reading life in reading something because I have to. Read what you want when you want and in your own time – and stop if you feel like. That’s it, that’s my TED talk.

(Me, not giving a TED Talk)

Something I continue to read and enjoy (and it really shouldn’t be taking me this long to finish it) is Greyborn Rising by Derry Sandy, which delves with each new character in to the darkly fantastical and specifically southern Caribbean. So far there are secret societies, deviners, clairvoyants, superpowered self-healing fighters, zombies, soucouyant, vampires, and since these are things the normal mind cannot easily process, perceptions of mental illness…because this is a world where these things exist, but have become historically adept at staying in the shadows.

“When the moon shone on the trio, they doubled in height, their bony reptilian bodies were covered in scabs and weeping sores.”

Vivid detail and despite the plethora of characters who are only beginning to interweave 116 pages in, not at all confusing; wholly absorbing. Reading on and continuing to really enjoy this book.

I’m also still enjoying the Margaret Busby edited global anthology, a mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, (of which I am a part) New Daughters of Africa. I am currently up to p. 287 of 800-ish (ooh, I wish I hadn’t checked that). I like the book, some entries more than others, but the book as a whole, but whooo it’s long. Right now I’m reading one of my favourite authors Edwidge Dandicat writing on her visit to Grenada to collect an honourary degree from the University of the West Indies open campus there  in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria which so devastated the Caribbean in 2017.

“I was told the story of one graduate from Trinidad who stayed home because she had donated her plane ticket money to relief efforts in Dominica, which was UWI’s most devastated campus.”

I’ve also been inching through Susan Lowes research paper on the social history of Antigua (The Peculiar Class: The Formation, Collapse, and Reformation of the Middle Class in Antigua, West Indies 1834-1940), which is available (officially, I believe) online. It is very scholarly and so the reading is slower still but I’m interested in learning more about the social history of my island/country. Speaking of, I’m actually supposed to be reading To Shoot Hard Labour by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith on the life and times of their grandfather Papa Sammy Smith for a monthlong radio book club discussion I’ve been asked to participate in on the, for me, definitive history of Antigua and Barbuda (despite being anecdotal because it is from the perspective of one of the folk, and spans 100 years of my country’s transformation from a post-slavery colony to an independent nation). I actually didn’t commit to re-reading the book, because I’m not doing that (remember?) and I knew I wouldn’t have the time but I did say I’d share my favourite bits…the problem is having picked it up to scan for those bits, I kind of do want to re-read it. Sigh.

I’ll link this up with the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post. I also invite you to read a very interesting series in which I interview three Caribbean authors, with recent or pending US publications, about their publishing journey including lessons learned – the series is called Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing: Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights.

How about you, what are you reading? and what’s your take on finishing?

On the Record (the doc) and Reading Highlights

This is a late day edition to the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post and a way to process the week in reading, and other things.

We had Sahara Dust, worst we’ve ever experienced, blow through here this week because…why not. And our COVID numbers spiked and …just… everything. Today was a beach day though, in part to get some sea water therapy for my back which started flaring up again on Saturday and in part to get a lime in (lime is like a hang in Antigua) with one of my nephews who just had a birthday. For reasons too numerous to mention, I wish I could’ve stayed in the water all day.

Reading

My #CaribCation video dropped this week. CaribCation is the online platform for another in our archipelago, St. Lucia, and a few weeks ago they asked me to record something for their Caribbeaan Author Series. I read from Musical Youth and discussed the making of the book. And so we cap June which has spotlighted Caribbean books in a real way between #bookstagram’s #readCaribbean photo challenge and #booktube’s #CaribATHon for Caribbean Literary Heritage Month (in the US). I appreciate the shout outs my books The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Musical Youth. I’ve been sharing the CaribCation video across my social media including my AntiguanWriter You Tube Channel. I invite you to watch the video there and my other recent upload, recorded shortly after curfew started, of me reading two excerpts including one of my own in The Caribbean Writer Volume 32. Consider subscribing to my channel before you leave as I’ve promised to do my first live AskMeAnything on the channel if I hit my subscription goal.

So, yes, I’m still reading TCW 32 and that’s been it for my very slow (slower even than usual, mostly because of my mood) reading week.

I did finish a photography book of nudes by a local artist, featured recently in my CREATIVE SPACE series. The book is Art Exposed by Chavel Thomas and I really enjoyed it (read my review here); though, alas, I don’t believe it’s currently on the market. But do yourself a favour and check out this artist’s work anyway.

You can find more book recs and other news in the latest CARIB Lit Plus post, and in the latest Reading Room and Gallery, and in the Sample Saturday meme response on my Wadadli Blog, and in my contribution to the #MyCaribbeanLibrary and #CaribATHon hashtags on youtube. Most, though not all, of my recs are Caribbean-based; so no need to wait until next June to #readCaribbean and #readBlackbooks.

Watching

What am I watching these days? Too many apocalyptic flicks – such a cliché. But amidst the zombies (Maggie, Pontypool), invasions (Extinction), and extinction level events (How it Ends), I caught the documentary On the Record and it is a very convincing account of the alleged sexual abuse of Black women in the music industry, specifically hip hop. It’s the one that points the finger at Def Jam founder Russell Simmons and raises questions about another high roller L A Reid (and, honestly, what he is alleged to have done, i.e. blocked the opportunities of a woman who blocked his advances, may be a lot more familiar to most compared to the rape charges alleged against Simmons – not that the latter isn’t itself too common). If you love hip hop and RnB as I do, you’ve heard these names and the music and other entertainment products they’ve put out have been a huge part of your life. It’s not easy facing the things they’re alleged to have done but it’s necessary. The doc is interesting in the way it articulates what a woman goes through when she prepares to speak on alleged rape and the fallout to her life and career. We see this through several women but primarily central character and industry executive Drew Dixon. I was reluctant (I honestly haven’t watched any of these catch-a-predator docs since the first of the R. Kelly docs) but I made myself watch this, after seeing interviews with two of the women (Dixon and Sil Lai Abrams, separately) on hip hop radio , discussing the ways they have felt silenced and overlooked by the very community they helped build, and decided I wanted to hear them out. I mean what has it all – #metoo, #BlackLivesMatter – been about if I can’t at least do that. The doc dealt with the complexities of being a Black woman accuser when the accused is a Black man – the way it can tear the community apart, which is not a simple thing given the reality of racism (which is coming for them both). That racism makes it that much harder for black women to be believed because of how we’ve been historically hypersexualized  was also touched on, as was colourism (the featured women being all as we would say in Antigua, high-coloured). So many layers, handled in my opinion with a nod to the complexity of it all without losing sight of the core issue of sexual assault. Allegedly. What the watcher chooses to believe in light of the testimony (and it is largely testimony, not hard evidence) presented, is up to them. But as one of the in-video commenters noted,  “I’m here really to bear witness”.  I recommend giving it a watch; here’s the trailer.

Books Aren’t Bread

I will get to the thesis of this post in a bit but first, what have I been reading? This will be linked up with The Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post, after all. You know the drill. I’ll also be sharing to The Sunday Salon for the first time in forever.

This section will be short as neither my lack of reading nor lack of writing fever have broken…with the exception of my CREATIVE SPACE column which this week features a conceptual artist you don’t have to be local to appreciate.

Stop Killing Us

I ‘read’

girl-cover

I finished listening to the abridged audio book version of the Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other by British author Bernadine Evaristo and posted my thoughts (I did go back and add this to last week’s post as I finished it on Sunday after posting). It’s one of those books that’s worked its way in to my conversations because it’s one of those books.

I also watched a stage adaptation of the Caribbean modern literary classic and Orange Prize winner about the WWII and post-War period Small Island, set in Jamaica and the UK, written by Andrea Levy, who died in 2019. This book has been on my TBR for a while, long enough for it to have been adapted for TV/film and the stage – the latter having become freely available during the COVID-19 era. I will still read the book; I should have already. But the story as presented on stage is a revelation about the treatment of Black Caribbean soldiers during WWII – as with the Vietnam War and Black American GIs in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods recently reviewed on this site, I’m glad it’s being told in the mainstream (we’ve always known though perhaps not like this); and about the Windrush Generation (literally people from the British West Indies travelling on the ship ‘Windrush’) which went over to rebuild England post-war and build a new life for themselves and the racism that greeted them there; about culture clashes and the white woman (well meaning though she doesn’t always get it right) who took them in to her home – her life and dreams and one great love and sacrifice; about classism and colourism, and overt and polite racism. Frustration is a feeling you’ll have often as you watch (or read) this but you’ll also laugh and hope and dream with and for the characters – all very imperfect and sometimes unkind  and oblivious in their own ways. And as they delight and frustrate, their narratives speak to our intertwined history. Heavy as I make it sound, it’s a delight.

“Mrs Queenie Bligh works out what’s for dinner during conjugal relations with her husband but this woman, this woman pants and thrusts and bites and yelps; this woman is far far gone.”

Watch it here.

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People looking for books to better understand why #BlackLivesMatter has become a primal scream, so loud and so necessary in this moment, American and yet global, is a thing. So much of a thing, it’s landed Black British author Reni Eddo-Lodge atop the UK book charts, a first (in a time, sidebar sort of, where another of the articles I read re-examined the legacy of white American writer Flannery O’Connor, in light of racist comments in her private letters, since released). Interesting times, even or especially for book lovers.

If anyone reading this is among the people looking for #ownvoices literature that speaks to the moment or at least provides context for it, there’s a books post I read this past week that I thought I’d share. It’s from grow.learn. connect and is the Schomberg Center’s recommendations of books on the African American experience. It includes many that I need to read and some that I have and would also recommend – the latter list including The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley (I understand there’s a new audio book or will be shortly narrated by Olivia Pope’s dad); The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (in fact, almost anything by Toni Morrison), who is a Nobel Prize winning author; A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, which I’ve reviewed here on the blog, and which is more about the Jamaican experience though America is certainly a huge part of it; The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemison the audio book of which I just finished listening to and highly recommend especially for lovers of fantasy fiction; The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, and again more Baldwin, including the Academy award nominated 2017 documentary I am not Your Negro; I know why the Caged Bird Sings by the great Maya Angelou, and there’s a film of this too, if you can find it, and a whole series of memoirs that follow; A Raisin in the Sun, a play by Lorraine Hansberry, of which there have been several adaptations of which the most notable stars young Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee; one of my all time favourite books by Harlem Renaissance legend Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes were watching God (this too has a movie, starring Halle Berry and Michael Ealy); and, by another Harlem Renaissance legend Langston Hughes, the story collection The Ways of White Folk, also do yourself a favour and check out his poetry; We should all be Feminists by the great Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, also check her Ted talk on the danger of a single story. Which is why we need a diversity of stories.

I feel like I should end this section with a father-themed rec; it is Father’s Day after all. There’s the father, both the fathers in their way, in Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage and father figures Uncle Wellie and Pappy in my books Dancing Nude in the Moonlight and Musical Youth, respectively.

“What you want, Boy?” Uncle Wellie griped.
Michael just stared at him, his stance a little tentative, and he saw Uncle Wellie’s eyes soften with a kind of resignation. “You need to find another sanctuary from your mother instead of intruding on people’s Sundays,” Uncle Wellie said, stepping aside to let Michael in.

*

Annnd that’s all the segue I need to return to the thesis of this post – books are not bread. It’s something I say: books aren’t bread, they don’t go stale. It’s my (mostly to myself) response to the publishing industry and the anxiety it gives us writers about our books’ shelf life::Get Advance (though per the #publishingpaidme twitter hashtag not as big an advance as other, centered, groups of writers). Advance buzz if you’re lucky – ARCs to critics and tastemakers. Get picked by Oprah (a girl can dream). Open strong, sell well. Hey, why not, we’re in lala land territory anyway. Everything is on a clock to literary stardom or irrelevance, depending on the swing of the pendulum. The latter means being pulped, dropped, going out of print. Two of my books mentioned in this post (The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight ) have been out of print. A local book store bought up a bulk of the remainders after the publisher said they were going to pulp them – I remain grateful to them for keeping the book in circulation and for helping me make the connection with at least one of the publishers who helped me get one of the books back in print. Eventually, I was able to get both back in print after reclaiming the rights. One is on my local schools’ reading list and schools’ reading list in at least one other Caribbean country. It hasn’t been smooth sailing from there by far, there are things I would like to be better as far as the publishing experience is concerned, and neither book has become a bestseller. But in the year 2020 both continue to find new readers – publishing is what it is, but the stories haven’t become stale and moldy if recent reader reviews can be taken as an indicator.

As noted in a recent post, it’s Caribbean Heritage Month in the US and, as a result, around social media. On YouTube, activities include #CaribATHon, and, as I’ve mentioned, Musical Youth got a shout out there by #booktuber ComfyCozyUp, who said:

Musical Youth…Loved it…this is juicy. I love when you have young adult books that have a bit of romance, enough for the age group but has like a message of following your dream and doing things that might not be in your favour as far as your parents and everybody else around you, but you follow your guts and do what you want to do, and it’s musical. This was really good. Loved it.”

lalabear instashotAlso the #readCaribbean photo hashtag on Instagram is getting a workout and amidst the activity, a reader review by _lalabear, who also read and posted on The Boy from Willow Bend (see below), described it as “a sweet coming of age romance”.

Recent reader reactions to Willow Bend and Dancing Nude, as noted, have also surfaced on #bookstagram.

“I did finish reading ‘Dancing Nude in the Moonlight’. I love Joanne C. Hillhouse’s writing so much because she doesn’t shy away from talking about deep issues in our Caribbean societies.”

This was posted by ladyinsaeng, who also said on instagram that Musical Youth was her favourite read of 2019, with this image:
ladyinsaeng_20200613_001118_0

Dancing Nude in the Moonlight was also included in an instapoem. by Nadine Tomlinson:
insta poem

Dope.

Finally, as far as #bookstagram is concerned, there is this take (included with the image below) from _lalabear on  The Boy from Willow Bend which is my first book everrrr and this reviewer’s “first book for read Caribbean”. They described it as “a great read. …a relatable read about childhood experiences in Antigua. …Reading this book also brought some nostalgia of how life differs now.”

Finally-finally, there was this message to my email inbox (shared with permission):  “I’ve just read your book [The Boy from Willow Bend] this morning and was so extremely moved! I cried quite a few times throughout. It’s so moving and beautiful. I know it’s a book about an Antiguan boy, but some of the hardships and joys of Vere reminded me of my own childhood in a poor small mining town of East Ukraine. Great fiction is universal! And all the unique details about the Antiguan life were a joy to read. Thank you for this profound experience! I’m now very keen to read your Dancing Nude in the Moonlight …” – Vera Monotti Graziadei, actress and filmmaker

***

What I’m reading today

I was just asked to lead a discussion, part of an upcoming radio series on To Shoot Hard Labour, an Antiguan and Barbudan book  (pictured right back row, below, in another _lalabear insta image). I won’t have time to re-read it in full but I’ve already begun revisiting it.

insta

I also hope to read more from my pile. It’s been there for a while, the pile. Good thing books aren’t bread and don’t go stale.

 

 

 

A New Spike Lee Joint


Spike Lee’s latest, Da 5 Bloods, is a powerful, timely, and oddly beautiful film. Set in Vietnam, it tracks the return of four Black vets of that ill-fated war (called the American war by Vietnamese, the Vietnamese war by the Americans) to return the remains of their fallen squad leader (played in flashbacks by Chadwick Boseman) to his family, and some hidden gold while they’re at it. The film, coming in at more than 2 hours, does sag a bit in the middle for me but it does a lot in the entire run time – touching on the brotherhood of the men, their lives through the rear view – they’re old now and carry the baggage of the lives they’ve lived, their youth in the jungle fighting for a country that didn’t love them back (I mean, America not Vietnam, though obviously there’s no love lost between them and Vietnam either, speaking of), the veneer of tourism under which still rests resentment for the fractured families and lives, PTSD, the North star that is their fallen squad leader, the things he taught them about being men in the world, the things they’ve forgotten, a broken father-son relationship, discovery of a daughter from a war time relationship, actual landmines, severed limbs, betrayal, snakes, gunfights both back then and in the present, including one of those everybody dies Tarantino-esque gunfights at the climax…well, almost everybody dies, I won’t spoil for you who comes out of it alive and richer. But, well before the chants of Black Lives Matter in-story in the final act, there’s much that connects this film to real life, and the tortured relationship between the Black American and the country he/she loves. It is a reminder that this is not new, and an affirmation, following Blackkklansman, that Spike Lee is on his game (or back on his game) depending on your perspective on his filmography.

It made me want to do one of my Joanne’s Picks post, a Spike Lee themed one. So I did. I’ll tell you that I mention Crooklyn, She’s Gotta Have it, Get on the Bus, She Hate Me, etc., but not if they made my top 10 and in which order. You’ll have to click the link for the breakdown.

That’s it, that’s the post. My Sunday Post.

[EDITED TO ADD] Since posting this and my picks of Spike favourites, I had some thoughts I wanted to add – 1, I have never seen a Vietnam war nor Vietnam war adjacent film centering Blackness before (let me know if you have) . Even the Vietnam PTSD films like Rambo and Chuck Norris films about returning for POWs etc were all predominantly white narratives and yet fully a third or more (I don’t know the numbers) of the men who fought in that war were Black and their trauma has never really been acknowledged. A lot of stories have been overlooked which is a point Spike makes in this making-of

and acknowledging that, especially if the film is as well made as this, seems especially timely in light of comments about who fought and died for America. The parallel for me is all of the Black and Brown folks from the British Empire who fought and died in both WWI and II and who are erased from practically every WW film I’ve seen – including ones I liked like Dunkirk. And when one Brown dude is included in a background people cry anachronistic (!) because they have the megaphone and they don’t know our history. Speaking of… 2, one of the reviews I saw of this film referenced the soldiers’ reaction to the death of Martin Luther King and how the squad leader played by Chadwick Boseman was posed in that sequence in front of some palm trees and he went on to explain the symbolism of the palm trees, something to do with peace and Chadwick in that moment being almost Christ-like. Which is one interpretation and maybe even the correct one. But you know what I saw when I looked at the same image, something that communicated something a little different, the iconic Huey P. Newton image, which had already been referenced in Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman;

and if you think Spike Lee is above picture-in-picture pop culture references of this type, check out Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s use of his signature drawn out “sheeeeeeeet!” from The Wire in film, which the cast and crew jokingly revisit in the post-credits. Maybe I’m seeing wrong but maybe I’m not, and maybe there needs to be more Black film critics in the eco-system to broaden the range of references at least.

My number 3, is on the point of diversity in the Spike Lee universe as relates to gender. There’s not a lot of it, interesting considering his breakthrough film was unapologetically female driven – and he has done a few since then, and he does have strong albeit small female roles in even his male driven films; so perhaps my point is not so much about the Spike Lee universe so much as the need for more universes within the larger Hollywood empire because there are so many voices (female voices, and Black female voices especially) in the margins still unheard. [END EDIT]

What have I been reading this week?

[ETA: Finished listening to an abridged audio version of Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other, and did a Quick Take] I started an audio book called The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heili and three chapters in, I like it, though I’m still trying to figure out the world of the story but so far time travelling sea pirates as told by a strong, smart female voice is all I’ve got. I’ve also pushed forward a tiny bit more on Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf; Greyborn  Rising by Derry Sandy; and another new read The Art of White Roses a teen/young adult Burt Award winning title by Viviana Prado-Núñez. Only a tiny bit at a time though; it’s been busy.  So much so I haven’t really watched anything else, except for Dave Chappelle’s 8:46 which was filled with more necessary rage than comedy, and was just what the culture needed right now.

CARIB LIT Plus Mid to Late May 2020

Wadadli Pen

CREATIVE SPACE

Have you been keeping up with my CREATIVE SPACE series covering local art and culture? I say local but there’s been some regional spillage. The second issue of May 2020 (the series as of 2020 is running every other Wednesday in the Daily Observer with an extended edition on my blog), however, covered Antiguan and Barbudan Art of the Century.  ‘Heather’s picks: Mark Brown’s Angel in Crisis series – a 2008 visual art show described in international publication The Culture Trip as “a provocative contemplation of the human condition”. She credited “the depth of the pathos”.’ That’s just one  of three picks by Antiguan and Barbudan visual artist Heather Doram. Read about her other picks, and picks from other artists. Tell me about your picks. In case you missed any of the previous installments in the series, they are archived on the Jhohadli website.

Covid Consequences

The…

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It’s Caribbean Heritage Month

Too late to do the Sunday post? It’s still almost two hours of Sunday here (or was when I started writing this) and I’ve just had coffee (time for another cup?), so I think it’s still safe to link up with the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post.

I mostly want to share my latest youtube upload which I did rather spontaneously tonight and since it’s book related thought it was a good fit for the blog as well. It’s my response to the #MyCaribbeanLibrary hashtag which is part of the 10th anniversary of the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago, and opportunity to remind tout monde sam and bagai (as we say in Antigua and Barbuda) to read more widely – read books outside of your comfort zone as I grew up having to do. #ReadCaribbean #ReadBlackBooks #ReadSoulLit #ReadDiverseBooks all the hashtags. So here’s the post.

My discussed books are The Illustrated Anansi by Philip Sherlock, Miguel Street by V. S Naipaul, Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Dandicat, and Nobody Go Run Me by Dorbrene O’Marde; another book on my mind that I neglected to mention in the video but discussed in the video summary was The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. What #ownvoices Caribbean books are in your library? African American Books? No, The Help doesn’t count. I saw a lot of this last Black History Month in book social media networks I am a part of, where The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other books not by Black voices were among the stacks of books posted by people who presented them as part of their commitment to read more Black books and/or where books of this type were suggested to those asking for African American/Black book recs. No. While these books may be perfectly fine (The Help, both film and book, have received their share of criticism, but To Kill a Mockingbird remains a personal favourite of mine though I haven’t re-read it since secondary school), this is a form of erasure. I’m not strictly speaking about appropriation here or who has the right to tell which story (truth is, the way the publishing industry is set up it’s more like who gets to tell which story, whose voice gets boosted or centered, and too often it’s not own voices – i.e. the people from the community being written about – an issue raised by Latina writers fairly recently about American Dirt). So, as part of the self-reflection inspired by this #BlackLivesMatter moment (hopefully more of a paradigm shifting movement than just a moment) we’re in, it’s important if you’re interested in reading more Black books to look at who’s telling the story (i.e. #BlackBooksMatter #BlackVoicesMatter). Consider too books from Africa and the Diaspora? Let me remind you of New Daughters of Africa which includes 200 plus voices of women from Africa and the Diaspora (including my Black Caribbean voice). You can read about that last one and my other books here.

Speaking of my books, one of my most delightful finds this week was a mention of my book Musical Youth on the comfycozyup youtube channel as part of the Book Tube community’s Caribbean Heritage Month #CaribATHon

She speaks about a lot of books here and I was shocked when Musical Youth showed up. She said: “Musical Youth. I read this this year. Loved it. It’s just, aw, this is juicy. I love when you have young adult books that have a bit of romance, enough for the age group but has like a message of following your dream and doing things that might not be in your favour as far as your parents and everybody else around you, but you follow your guts and do what you want to do, and it’s musical. This was really good. Loved it.”

I actually spent a huge part of today trying to get one good long take of me reading from Musical Youth for the CaribCation Author series which, I believe, goes live on their social media on June 17th 2020. Nuff respect for audio book readers because it is exhausting – and I used to work in media broadcasting!

Speaking of Instagram, my first book, The Boy from Willow Bend, also got a shout out over there – unexpected as it’s rarely mentioned around these internets. So I am especially appreciative to Lady LM for reading it and sharing it as “a great …relatable read about childhood experiences in Antigua.” Plus look at these pretty images she posted.

On the blog

Updated

Blogger on Books – while I didn’t finish any new books, I added a note re the entry and a video link to the Creole Clay listing (scroll to the bottom of this page to see it)

My Media Page

Uploaded

My new Creative Space featuring singer Arianne Whyte – check out her ‘Music in Me’ CD which you can still buy online

So you didn’t finish anything but did you do any reading?

Glad you asked. I read some more of Marlon James’ fantasy epic, and it is epic, Black Leopard, Red Wolf and the New Daughters of Africa anthology, and listened to about five chapters of Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker award winning, multi-voice Girl, Woman, Other, which is streaming on the BBC. All are really good; I still just don’t have enough time…anyone want to send me on a reading vacation?

Where We Stand (Book Blog Meme for 01/06/20)

Life

Well, this is our new/current reality isn’t it

Masks and lines and distance. The pandemic continues, even as economic anxiety increases (prompting hard decisions re border and business re-openings), and turmoil fueled by racism (at the root) bubbles up to the surface (in America). I am over here in the Caribbean, but not removed from these concerns – not removed at all. The world truly is a village and, as a history I blogged about recently (an uprising of enslaved Africans in Antigua brutally put down)  reminds, the roots of anti-Blackness were planted all across the colonized world. It’s dug in deep. And like any nourished root, it spreads. Even when and where we can’t see it, it spreads. And we must continue the work of weeding it out, in ourselves, and out of the ground where we stand.

Work

Client edits and interviews for content creation projects on the freelance side, and edits for one of my forthcoming book projects on my writing side are just some of what I’ve been up to work wise this week.

Books

Only one novel finished for May but that’s one more than all of April. Thanks in part to it being an audio book and the readathon (which I posted to booktube – *spoiler alert* for the vid) I decided to give a go , I managed to finish N. K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season which I really liked, as I noted in my Blogger on Books series. Review excerpt: ‘The book handles its shifting tones well – a certain sex scene comes to mind. It really works because of how well the characters have been defined. Oh and the writing is delicious. “And what do they even call this? It’s not a threesome, or a love triangle. It’s a two-and-a-half-some, an affection dihedron (and, well, maybe it’s love).”’ I also read about three chapters during the readathon of Death on the Danube – a travelogue/murder mystery (?) which I received in ebook form from the author.

This post is my Mailbox Monday though there are no new books in my mailbox – maybe parts 2 and 3 of the Jemison trilogy will be in my mailbox sometime in the future though…? It’s also my It’s Monday, What are you reading? which reminds me, this past week, I also started reading Apple Gidley’s Fireburn, Fireburna based on real events historical fic set in St. Croix, or, so far, en route to St. Croix from England by ship. This, too, was sent to me by the author, this time as a physical copy.

Movies

I just today watched ’93 Days’, a Nigerian film about the ebola outbreak a few years ago in that African country. It hits close to home for obvious reasons. Not a technically perfect film but relevant – and one in which you will care about the characters and the outcome.

That’s it. Now, let’s get to weeding.

 

Movies, Music, and Books (Today’s Book Meme)

This is a joint Escape To Fiction Cinema Sunday and Caffeinated Reviewer Sunday Post link-up.

What have I been watching

Over the past few months (off the top of my head), let’s say January to now, give or take (I may actually have seen some of these late last year), I’ve watched (even counting only things that I finished, for the most part, it turns out to be a lot more than I thought when I started writing this):

Uncorked – my favourite Courtney B. Vance performance (not generally a fan but I thought he was really good in this) as a father and the owner of a barbeque joint who loves his wife (Niecy Nash, who brings to this performance the kind of nuance anyone who saw her performance in When They See Us should have come to expect notwithstanding her rising to fame for doing broad comedy). Vance’s character wants nothing more than to hand the family business down to his son. His son, a brooding romantic lead caliber performance by Mamoudou Athie, is a sommelier aspirant. You know, one of those wine experts – with the PhDs in sniffing and tasting and recommending wine down to the texture of the earth in which its grapes were grown. It’s a classic father-son, I have dreams of my own drama with a side of romance and family dynamics. Sasha Compere, the girlfriend, strikes a good balance between serving Athie’s story and having her own life. Plus I love their wine store meet-cute. I just really liked this film. The Paris scenes are especially endearing because watching those scenes it occurred to me how rare it is to see Black bodies in the most romantic city in the world including the background, on film, just being. I liked that the plot was standard but not predictable; to call this film normal is a compliment, the amazing part is that we don’t normally get to see this type of story through a Black lens.

Terminator: Dark Fate – I’ve always loved this series – or more specifically the first two films in this series. With Dark Fate, there’s the return of Linda Hamilton (yay), it ignores everything after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (yay), there’s high octane action and higher stakes (yay). I mean as an enjoyable piece of cinema with good action and high stakes storyline, it’s no Terminator or T2. And some things just don’t make sense (no attempt to even explain the T2000 aging, just Arnold’s older and he’s in the movie, deal with it). But I did like the new hero (the human hybrid sent back to protect this world’s version of Sarah Connor). I just didn’t care as much, though I did enjoy it overall. But honestly the series has been so bad for the last several films, that this is my third favourite Terminator.   It made for fun late night viewing from my bed. And even with killing a key character,  it didn’t undo the sacrifices of T2. Plus kick ass women kick ass.

Revolt (a post-apocalyptic action film I started watching at bedtime because Lee Pace was in it) and It Comes at Night (a dystopian horror) – both with pulse quickening moments but with mixed levels of satisfaction. It Comes as Night was more  claustrophobic, character-driven, and compelling. With Revolt, the monster-design is interesting. In It Comes at Night, you never see the monster and what is going on is never really explained (the film focusses on the character’s reaction to this unknown it), which gives it an edge tension wise – even if a tiny part of me is frustrated with the not-knowing. But with Revolt when it starts to explain things to the amnesiac main character, and by extension the audience, the what the hell is going on air goes out of the story and I didn’t feel as invest in the out come. Confession: I may have fallen asleep because I don’t actually remember the defeat of the hive mind big bad just the set-up for it…maybe humanity didn’t win?…I don’t really care enough to go back and find out. Plus for a film set in Kenya,  it (Revolt, that is; It comes at Night is set in  the woods in somewhere, America) waits too long to introduce Black people that are actual characters.

The Invitation The_Invitation_(2015_film)_POSTER– this is one of those slow burn thrillers where you’re screaming get out at the characters the whole time. The mystery was interesting and I liked the guy in the lead (another When they see us alum) but what are the odds of politeness (because that’s the only thing it could have been) allowing you to ignore so many blood red flags. The villains were hiding in plain sight, yo.

The Beast Master – a 1980s fantasy, I remember fondly enough from my childhood that my adult self considers it one of her favourite bad films. A hero who can communicate with and warg in to animals – a pair of ferrets, a hawk, and a tiger, a villain who engages in child sacrifice – ruling through a mix of fear and the cult-like loyalty of his acolytes, witches who can predict the future and see over distances with an eye-ring and transfer a baby from a woman to a cow, and that’s not even the weirdest thing, there are also bat-like beings that consume people leaving only the bones, and they’re on the hero’s side. And the through-line is the barely clothed man denied his destiny and becoming the hero he is meant to be while reclaiming it. Whatever, it’s not great cinema but it was comforting revisiting something familiar.

The Love Birds – Notwithstanding what I said about Issa Rae’s acting in The Hate U Give ,  she’s really good in this and Kumail Nanjiani who has grown on me since The Big Sick, and was looking like a whole snack in this romantic comedy thriller (think Tina Fey and Steve Carrell’s Date Night), were really good together. I’ve been a fan of Issa’s since her Awkward Black Girl online series though I tried and failed to get in to Insecure. This is good fun plus it takes place in my favourite American city, New Orleans. It is quippy and moves well, coming in at a tight hour and a half. It’s not trying to be super deep, though it effortlessly incorporates commentary on being Black and a person of colour in America, and, with a Black and South Asian lead (a lead combo I haven’t seen since Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury’s Mississippi Masala in the mid-1990s) demonstrates a real world variation on Hollywood’s limited takes on interracial romance.  The banter between the two is my favourite part – I’d watch them in something together again. In fact, I already watched them twice in this.

Sidebar – Black people in film too often suffer from bad hair, make up, and lighting – no such thing with either Uncorked or The Love Birds. Progress?

The Boys – a speculative fiction TV series in which supers are not necessarily heroes. They are this world’s celebrities though and as problematic as all your faves – worse because who can police them. And they – or at least the corporation that controls the most powerful and popular of them – has designs on political and military power. Their antagonists are this world’s anti-heroes – imperfect as hell themselves and all too human. The closest thing the show has to a lead is played by Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid’s kid…now don’t you feel old. The show, which has some solid casting choices, is apparently based on a graphic novel series – which is reportedly more graphic than the sometimes grotesquely graphic, sometimes grossly graphic (I’m thinking particularly of an aggressive sex scene in which a man ends up dead) and triggering (I’m thinking of a rape scene early on) TV series. I watched all of it and would watch season 2 though, though I wish Eric Kripke (who also created Supernatural) would focus more on the characters and less on the gratuitous violence and sex. Just me, maybe.

Peanut Butter Falcon – an indie starring Shia LaBeouf about a misfit trio on a mission while being chased by people who quite possibly want to kill him (LaBeouf). It strains credulity but you want to believe in the journey, mostly because of the sweet central character, the journey (a road by water to a dream), the belief that dreams matter, and great performances all around. Welcome back, Shia. This film about chasing dreams and making meaningful connections was oddly charming. And, as I type this, is I realize the second pro wrestling is my dream flick – after Florence Pugh’s Fighting with My Family – that I watched and liked within the last year, and I don’t even like wrestling, pro or otherwise.

Carnival Row – Faeries and all manner of mythical creatures in a Victorian-ish world in which the creatures are othered in a way that’s meant to be analogous to the treatment of immigrants of colour in the western world. It had some inconsistences and lagged at times but again I made it through the first series and while I’m not waiting with bated breath I would watch more.

Self-Made – the Madame C J Walker story – this mini-series, based on the book by her great-great granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, got a fair amount of negative backlash. For me though, it was no less factual than any bio pic – they all fudge the truth for narrative purposes.  But Black films get a level of scrutiny on that, typically from Black audiences because we feel a level of investment and ownership, a commitment to seeing it done right, because we  so often have our stories appropriated (a la Green Book) or have so few opportunities to tell our stories (there should be about 10 Harriet Tubman films by now). Meanwhile multiple films are made of certain white subjects. So I do think that this was a good film that suffered from being the first and only telling of a story Black people really care about. With multiple opportunities to tell the Madame C J Walker story, I think people might have been more willing to accept this stylized, somewhat romanticized, very narrowly focused (still very enjoyable) version of this amazing woman’s story, knowing that the fuller story would come out if not in this version then another.  Because there is much more to her story, and I could see where the filmmakers swerved for thematic or tonal reasons. I do think her childhood, not even one generation out of slavery and the hardships she experienced after her parents died, would have added context in terms of her single-mindedness as a businesswoman and some gravitas overall, but I appreciated finally seeing some version of her story being told. Plus Octavia Spencer is always a win and cheating on the bicycle riding aside, she bodied this role. Blair Underwood, too, as her husband, but in a different way – speaking of, how is he not ageing? (I remember watching him on Law and Order back in secondary school!). I think you can tell that I liked the casting overall, the clothing and hair was also on point. Story wise, I did feel myself filling in the blanks but no more so than any book to screen adaptation.

The  Last Dance – am I being petty by using a picture of Isaiah Thomas to talk about a Michael Jordan docu-series? No more so than MJ revealed himself to be time and again in that docu-series – bullying his teammates, holding grudges with his rivals (or inventing grudges to pump himself up), erasing his now ex-wife from the story of his life, making fun of his GM’s weight and height to his face (and going after players he liked) because he was dissatisfied with his basketball decisions, blocking Isaiah from his earned spot on the Dream Team.  I was never a Bulls fan and I’m never going to be one of those ends justify the means MJ apologists (there was enough of that in the post-viewing analysis I saw). The doc was largely MJ friendly – I mean he had to sign off on it – and it was a convincing answer to that who’s the actual GOAT question. There’s no denying that MJ did things we have never seen before or since; and his scoring record and team championships speak for themselves. For me though it was just great reliving my era of basketball.

I also started but didn’t get very far in to BlackAF and skimmed through chunks of Little Fires Everywhere – though I think I caught most of or enough of it to get the gist. Neither were faves though I at least finished LFE (for the most part).

Finally, I’m going to give a shout out to Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s #Verzuz series on Instagram which pairs music greats against each other – starting with producers, it evolved to artistes. My faves so far are Babyface v. Teddy Riley (the original for the laughs, the reboot for all the music with a side of Babyface cool shade), Erykah Badu v. Jill Scott which was a whole vibe, and Beanie Man v. Bounty Killa which was authentically Caribbean even before the police came to break up the fete. Other battles had their highlights, like Ludacris v. Ludacris (his face the whole time though). The Verzus battles are one of the positives of the COVID-19 era; it may evolve in to something commercial but it was this organic response to the moment – live performances cancelled, people stuck at home. We’ve seen other DJ sets and other online performances – two of my faves being the DJ sets done by Jermaine Dupri and DJ Jazzy Jeff which have kept me company while I work.

What I’m Reading

I haven’t been reading that much – apart from client manuscripts. If you’ve been following the Blogger on Books series, you know I’ve finished (since January) 1 novel, 2 more novels (audio book versions), part 1 of an unfinished graphic novel series, 2 children’s picture books, 1 poetry collection, and 1 literary journal. I can use music and movies as background while I do other things; I can’t do the same with books (audio books aside). So, this past week, I haven’t finished anything but I have read a bit here and there. This week, it’s mostly been The Caribbean Writer Volume 32, an annual literary journal from the University of the Virgin Islands. I’ve actually shared a bit of it – as well as a bit of Patricia Fay’s Creole Clay – on my Instagram reading from my bed series. This Sunday, I started (reading from my bed but not for instagram) Apple Gidley’s Fireburn. Will see how it goes. I do have one book share though as an invitation to participate in a book club meeting with some Antiguans and Barbudans in New York had me participating in my first zoom meeting (I’ve worked remotely for years but my virtual business meetings have been on Skype) and revisiting Lauren Francis Sharma’s Til the Well Runs Dry which I blogged about back in 2016-2017.

She has a new book out this month, Book of the Little Axe, so it’s timely to revisit her.

What I’ve been posting

My only new post of this week is the photo gallery of our Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Awards, a non profit programme I started in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts here at home. Our awards announcement had to be virtual this year and the process of getting the prizes to the winning writers has involved connecting them directly with patrons. A couple of the patrons sent pictures and one of the patrons too – gotta love proud mamas.

New on this blog is the latest installment of my CREATIVE SPACE series if you’re interested in learning more about Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture.

One Week in a Sunday Post (17.05.20)

What a different a week makes. Last week this time I was literally laid out on my back every attempt to move excruciating. But thanks to a combination of sea water and yoga, I am…well, not healed but miles better. How are you doing?

It’s been a busy week over here, a busy lockdown. I haven’t had time to bake any bread or do any gardening…or write, and yet time has felt as wobbly for me as anyone else…and in the past week I did get in to a little writing, a little reading. Which reminds me, I’m linking up with the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post.

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Reading Material

I invite you to visit the short stories and poems (all linked here) which emerged as finalists in the 2020 writing Challenge which is the flagship project of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, which is the project I started here to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. For the first time we had a tie and a winner under 12 with Tom, the Ninja Crab by Cheyanne Darroux & A Bright Future for Tomorrow by Andre J. P. Warner emerging as winners.

Speaking of prize winning lit, Richard Georges of the British Virgin Islands (and Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua and Barbuda) won one of the Caribbean’s biggest literary prizes, Bocas (I wrote about that and other things in the Carib Lit round up on the Wadadli Pen blog). I watched the announcement and if I’m understanding correctly, Epiphaneia (I haven’t read it yet but look forward to doing so) fits in to that emerging subgenre of post 2017 hurricane season (aka the year of the MariaIrmamageddon, aka the hurricane season from hell) books, like Dominican writer Celia Sorhaindo’s Guabancex (which I wrote about in both my CREATIVE SPACE, which as of 2020 is on an every other week schedule with publishing partner my local Daily Observer newspaper, and Blogger on Books series).

Both are poetry collections and *segue alert* speaking of poetry, I have added to my Poetry credits with three poems (Grandmother and Child, Weather Patterns, and Waste Not) in a new collection (Skin Deep magazine’s Is this the End? issue). And speaking of hurricane lit, my The Night the World Ended is in issue 32 of The Caribbean Writer which is one of the few books I’ve been reading in what has been a bit of a reading drought to be honest (see Blogger on Books 2020 for books finished so far this year). So, like so many other books TCW 32 remains in progress. But I did finish the PEN America 2014 In Transit issue (#18) that included my poem Ah Write! (finally) and yes, I have blogged about it. It’s in Quick Takes.

This one is more local but if you’re interested in the ins and outs of cultural planning in a small place, you can check out the most recent installment of my local art and culture series which finds me in conversation with our acting director of culture.

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For other site updates, see performance reviews (“So impressed by your style and how you captured all the important information, and at such short notice”) re my writing and editing servicesother published writing which links to the UWI Press’ Interviewing the Caribbean issue in which my list of Caribbean books for children ran, my books page (just tweaking; no I didn’t write and publish a whole book in the last couple of weeks), awards, my media page – recent updates to which include links to the Discover Montserrat list of books to read while stuck at home, a list that includes my own Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and you tube channel Los Estómagos Vacíos de la Vaca’s video essay on Escritores negros de América: Escritores de Antigua y Barbuda which talks about Jamaica Kincaid, Althea Prince, Marie Elena John, and Joanne C. Hillhouse. The section on me touches on Musical Youth and The Boy from Willow Bend but surprisingly does its deep dive on Lost! – surprising because children’s books are often overlooked when it comes to literary criticism.

Musical Youth, meanwhile, has a new endorsement, this one from a former university professor of mine, the one who opened up my world re African American, African Caribbean, African and African diasporic lit generally while also introducing me to some of the best of the traditionally western (white lit) tradition. She was one of those professors who also inspired with her style and the way she moved through the world. All of that to say, to have the knowledgeable and bold Carolyn Cooper send me this note has been a high point of my writing journey. She said: “I’ve just this minute finished reading Musical Youth.  It’s absolutely brilliant.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  I think it should be read by young adults across the Caribbean. The themes are so powerful.” She suggested that my publisher and I explore translation as an option for the book which I would love to do – I already have one book in translation with this publisher (Lost! which has a Spanish language edition Perdida! so I’m hopeful of exploring this option).

I’ll end there; it’s stormy right now, but let’s try to stay hopeful…and on the days when we can’t, let’s at least continue to breathe.

Where Learned Poems, Loved Books and Lost Friends Live — Rock & Sling

by Julie Riddle I miss Laura Bloxham. She died in November 2019, and even though she had coped with significant health issues for years, her death was still unexpected. After she had become homebound, I would visit her every few weeks. Our wide-ranging discussions would always include books: what we were reading and planned to […]

via Where Learned Poems, Loved Books and Lost Friends Live — Rock & Sling