Sunday Post on Monday

It’s a hot and hazy Monday here in Antigua and this is my contribution to the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post. The post is an opportunity to reflect on/recap the past week, showcase books and things received, and share news about what’s coming up.

I was off social media for much of Sunday, I’m happy to say, writing a story. *throws confetti* I didn’t say it was any good (too soon to tell) but, yay, it was a writing day. Of course, when I came online it was to the news of a death of a former colleague – a long ago colleague whom I saw only occasionally but whose death by COVID nonetheless knocked the wind out of me. I found myself visiting her social media and among the last set of pictures were joyful, colourful photos of her just celebrating life and that was her, she always looked like she was living her most joyful life. And it doesn’t feel like a lie, though I’m sure it’s more nuanced than that, because i remember her being so completely drama free in a very toxic environment, always ready with a laugh and a joke. And one of the mantras I carry with me, feel the fear and do it anyway, I borrowed from her. I am tired of COVID. I am tired of all the behaviours that have caused it to worsen and worsen and carry on – not vaxxing, not masking, not social distancing. I am tired of all this death. Coincidentally, the story I was working on yesterday is called ‘Undying’. Never let it be said that God doesn’t have a deep sense of irony.

Last Week on the Blog

Movie Round Up (in which I rank my most recent watches)

Caribbean Folklore in MyOwn Stories (My Other Post for Caribbean Folklore Month)

CREATIVE SPACE Update (in which I share the most recent installments of my art and culture series and the most popular so far for 2021)

#WCW Althea Prince (this is a share from the other blog I maintain Wadadli Pen)

What are you watching? (I didn’t plan to do another TV/movie post so soon but I needed a little Ted Lasso in my life after yesterday)

This week on the Blog

Well, we’ll find out, won’t we.

I am happy to report that I finished the last of three October presentations last Friday and from all accounts all were well received; then today I had two children picture book editing projects come in. And I have mountains of email that I need to get out of Drafts. In general the work-life balance continues.

So, play it by ear.

New Arrivals

None. Which is probably just as well since the only reading I’ve managed this week (reading mostly whenever I’m on the bus) is a bit on Fireburn by Apple Gidley. I’m up to page 166.

Events

See appearances – I do have something booked for November and another invite came in today (but details to be negotiated).

Around the blogosphere

Repeating Islands reported that the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica (which I attended all the way back in 2007 with a delegation of Antiguan-Barbudan writers) received the Madam C J Walker for its dedication to Black literature during the Hurston Wright Legacy Awards this October.

Caribbean Authors has declared October Caribbean Folklore month (and I’ve been participating) and they’ve been keeping it going with posts on jumbies, soucouyant, saapin, kanaima, mama d’leau, and others.

Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters shared Nadia Huggins photo essay entitled Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust appropriately enough as it captures the rain of ash during the eruption of the volcanon in St. Vincent earlier this year.

One from the Wadadli Pen blog – one of the September 2021 Carib Lit Plus posts.

My PR

My books

My services

My workshops (you can request to be put on the mailing list for future workshops)

Bookings re Appearances

My columns – both of which have paid sponsorship opportunities – CREATIVE SPACE, Blogger on Books

TTFN

What are you watching?

Okay, I’m all caught up on Ted Lasso. Who wants to talk? Like how about *spoilers* that Nate arc. And why didn’t Coach Beard who observed so much of his petty cruelties to the kid who took over his position when he was promoted DO SOMETHING to rein him in. Coach Beard is doing this deep, silent Yoda thing but Yoda actually DID SOMETHING. What was the point of him observing everything going off the rails if he’s not going to at least give his boss a heads up if not intervene on his boss’ behalf? I don’t know. I’m in full Nate sucks mode but also come on, Coach Beard, be useful mode as well. Nate going full villain wasn’t inevitable. Hurt people hurt people. And can we agree that all that shit he said to Ted Lasso, his boss and mentor who believed in him and gave him a shot when no one else did, and was dealing with his own shit, was stuff probably backed up in him to say to his dad – toxic parents will damage you well in to adulthood. It’s a thing. And I just don’t think it was Ted Lasso’s fault that he spiralled though I’m sure on some level it’s a failure of leadership (but he’s only human and he was dealing with his own shit and doing his job). That said, I have had my share of miscommunications and non-communications and failed communications this year (it’s been a rough year) so I can perhaps relate too much to some of this show’s chaotic energy (how did it go from calming to chaotic in the space of a season lol).

I actually decided to catch up on season 2 today after learning of the death of a former colleague from COVID hoping for some good vibes. Instead I got Nate’s Darth Vader origin line. Good credible season though. Just not the shot of dopamine I was looking for.

I think one of the most meaningful things said in the finale or the episode before it was what Wilson (is that his name?) said to Keely when she was worried about how Rebecca would feel about her leaving – don’t quote me but it was something like how you not only expect someone you’re mentoring to leave/outgrow the need for your mentorship, you hope they will. Because then you’ll know your mentorship worked. Having only recently taken on a mentor, it’s early days yet, but, yes, this.

What else?

I’m still rooting for Roy and Keely dammit!

And, yay, Sam. I love him so much. With or without Rebecca. I just love him. And I’m glad he’s *spoiler* staying. Dude went off though – that was funny – and that expression on Sam’s face as he watched Dude in full tantrum; yeah, it’s actually a relief when people show you who they are (dodged a bullet there).

Kudos to the show’s writers; it’s a funny, feelgood show that somehow manages to keep it very real and very nuanced.

#WCW Althea Prince

Wadadli Pen

Wadadli Pen doesn’t typically participate in the #WomanCrushWednesday hashtag, especially on a Wednesday that has been so taken up with getting my every other Wednesday CREATIVE SPACE column (an oddly laborious task this particular Wednesday) posted. Especially-especially with Wednesday about to end. But I wanted to draw your eye up to the most recent/current of our rotating banners and an author you should be reading, Althea Prince (pictured here with then PM Baldwin Spencer as the first recipient of an award offered by our then literary festival – both the award and the festival are no more). At this writing, the books featured in the banner were all written and/or edited by the Canada-based, Antigua-born writer, who is a member of the superfluously talented Prince family that includes writers Ralph and John, sculptor Arnold, and musician Roland. Let’s go through them left to right and potentially add them…

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CREATIVE SPACE UPDATE

There have been two CREATIVE SPACE… Creative Spaces?… since the mini-series on Marine Culture in September 2021. This art and culture column runs every other Wednesday in Antigua and Barbuda’s Daily Observer newspaper and here on the blog. Because of the marine culture series which ran back to back weeks, there were four installments of the column in September – the other two were CREATIVE SPACE #21 of 2021 – From Ovals, Antigua to the Center of the Modern Art World and
CREATIVE SPACE #22 of 2021 – Ask an Architect.

I have written a piece for the forthcoming Daily Observer 40th anniversary of Independence issue, to be published on November 1st 2021, and the next installment of the column after that will be the week of November 8th 2021. ETA: Spoke too soon, there will be a new CREATIVE SPACE the week of October 25th – working on it.

Time enough to catch up on the CREATIVE SPACE – Creative Spaces? – you may have missed so far this year.

Not sure where to start? Well, the most viewed installments so far this year are…

CREATIVE SPACE #20 of 2021 – Marine Culture 2 of 2: Finite Resources, Ocean Law, and Community Action, with Tricia Lovell

CREATIVE SPACE #19 of 2021 – Marine Culture 1 of 2: Fear of Swimming, with Christal Clashing O’Reilly

CREATIVE SPACE #21 of 2020 – A Brief History of Calypso in Antigua


CREATIVE SPACE #15 of 2020 – Made of Clay

CREATIVE SPACE #11 of 2021 – Argent is Ready to Wear

Caribbean Folklore in My Own Stories (My Other Post for Caribbean Folklore Month)

Earlier in October, I did this post for Caribbean Folklore Month, an initiative of the Caribbean Authors Blog.

It’s invitation: “to share your stories, your artwork, your memories, your poems, spoken word, and performances of your country’s folklore.”

I decided to look back across my own bibliography to see if I had such folklore (spoiler alert: I do) and single some of them out (from memory).

The Boy from Willow Bend – I had a teacher who used to tell jumbie stories in free periods and the story that opens my first book is my vague recollection of a story she told, fictionalized.

“Midnight is when it come, big and fat and looking for little children to eat…”

It occurs to me as I re-write that from memory that all these stories were about getting us to stay in the house and go to sleep. I mean, the soucouyant, also mentioned in this book, as a story within a story, roams at night and per stories I was told growing up, she was a real terror and the only way to get her was to find her skin (she needed to strip off her skin to wander), and sal’ um so that when she go fu put um back on eeh bun’ she.

But the two apparitions or jumbies that stand out for me in this book are the one who ‘blinded’ main character Vere and the one who followed him later on on a lonely road. Both of these are inspired by true stories. I had a family member who could see them, I won’t say who, but as with Vere in the book, jumbies don’t like when you run yuh mout’ so they ‘blinded’ the smadee so he (she?) couldn’t see them anymore. As for the woman in the hat (who may or may not have been a woman from before time, as far back as slavery even considering that all of these roads have been cut through what used to be cane lands), I had another family member who ran all the way home after running in to her (this was a real thing). The explanation some have for why we see so few jumbies these days is too much light; more streetlights, carlights, houselights etc. means less shadow and jumbies prefer to move in shadow. True story.

The main thing though – call back to the title – is the weeping willow, the crying/whistling sound they make when the breeze blows through them – and that is something a grown man, once a boy, who remembers the willow tree lined alley that inspired the book, told me affected him on reading the book, that sense-memory of that dark alley and the willow trees. Which makes sense when you remember that jumbie lub lib in tree.

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In Oh Gad!, the characters and the community as a whole visit the slave dungeon at Blackman’s Valley, inspired by the stone slave dungeon at Orange Valley in Antigua. The book transmits some of the history of the latter, handed down orally and through books like To Shoot Hard Labour, which is a post-slavery non-fiction narrative. There’s some ancestral bonding that takes place there – the decision to have them roast cashews was inspired by something I remember reading somewhere (don’t worry I would have looked it up at the time, but I’m going on memory now) about the obeah woman who blessed the 1736 King Court led rebellion during their meetings at Stony Hill Gully, and how her roasting cashews was part of the ritual. So, this isn’t folklore per se but it feels important to mention it here as part of our collective (both mythological and factual) lore.

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The theatrical production in Musical Youth is built entirely around the Anansi character, specifically children’s author Ashey Bryan’s version of him in The Dancing Granny. Anansi, the trickster spider, is from West Africa. He is a demi-god in African spirituality but to us, over here, he is the one on the name of all the stories we grew up on, including ‘how tiger stories became anansi stories’. And every Caribbean child, certainly of my generation, grew up hearing Anansi stories.

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With Grace is a Caribbean faerie tale and those faerie tales have their magical characters (fairy godmothers and such), well I decided to pull that magic from our culture and repurposed an obeah man for this role. No dark magic, this is a children’s book after all, but more culturally relevant and in the end a good takeaway, I think. And since I have never, never ever never ever ever been to an obeah man, the character’s interaction with the fictional obeah man is all mek up.

There is also a tree faerie in this book. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t look up tree faeries – maybe I thought I was inventing something. I did look up a lot of the fairytale tropes so that I could weave around them and make my own thing – obeah man instead of fairy godmother, for instance – but the tree faerie, I think my mango tree and love of mangoes was perhaps the inspiration for that. I’ve since learned more about tree fairies, sprites, or deities in other cultures – all the way back to the dryads in Greek mythology, further back than that probably and forward all the way to my mango tree faerie, now a part of the tree faerie lexicon (it is written), the spirit who lives in the tree and helps it to grow and in this story, helps a girl to find family.

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Also feel free to check tales of jumbies (Papa Jumbie, Amelia), zombies (Zombie Island), supernatural events (Little Prissy Palmer, Portent), and more among my published short stories. I don’t have a ton of purely speculative fics but it’s not unusual for me to sprinkle some magic on to my tales.

Movie Round Up

& Only a month and change on from the last round up of stuff I’ve watched, another one. In order of least to not least fave. Though I liked them all.

Rome, Open City – this is a post-World War 2 Italian neo-realist classic and it is heartwarming, tense, brutal, graphic, and heartbreaking. In it, Italy is occupied by Nazis and the story follows the latter’s effort to quel the resistance even as we come to know the faces and hearts of these people, for whom there is no happy ending. It feels documentary like and doesn’t shy away from the ugliness. Remarkable really for its time. And that’s not just me saying that. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

The Black Godfather – this was a documentary about the man behind the scenes of so many careers in Black Hollywood. It was so good. and it so left me feeling like I need a Clarence Avant in my life, that person to whisper that advice or make that move that changes everything, because that’s what he did for a lot of your faves.

Philomena – I didn’t expect to like this at all but I should have known not to underestimate Dame Judi Dench because what a sweetly heartbreaking little film – about a Catholic girl robbed of her child by the church and searching for him in her old age; it’s not as bleak as it sounds actually though it’s infuriating at times (mostly due to the arrogance of the institution and the ways it plays with people’s lives and discounts their humanity). It’s actually quite charming largely due to the tone of Dench’s performance and her chemistry with co-lead and the movie’s co-writer Steve Coogan, who plays a reporter generously financed by a publication to help her track down her son so that he can tell their story. How come my story assignments don’t come with those kinds of expense budgets.

Pinky – this is an old (1949) film with similar theme and dynamics to the much better known (to me) Imitation of Life, with a happier ending. Like that it deals with racial identity of a mixed race woman and touches on themes like belonging, racism, and passing. Given the time, the mixed race character is being played by an obvious white woman (we’ve come a long way with the trailer for the new Nella Larsen-inspired film which is on my to watch list).

Worth – I only watched this because my Batman (Michael Keaton) was in it. It’s not my cuppa. Insurance payments. Numbers. But they made it interesting. It was about the compensation to 9/11 victims and they managed to put a human face on the moneycrunching that followed that tragedy. One of Keaton’s quieter performances.

My Salinger Year – I watched this one because it was set in the world of publishing. It starred Sigourney Weaver and some other people; it was alright.

Events Update – Still Time to Get Tickets

My Bocas Lit Fest Writing for Children workshop has passed (that was on October 2nd 2021) but it went well (and I still have some work to do as I’ll be critiquing manuscripts submitted by participants) and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to do more with them. Meanwhile, there’s still time to get tickets for African-American author Felicia BrookinsAspiring Authors and Writers Virtual Literary Event which has as its theme ‘You want to write a Children’s Book?’ My session is October 7th at 7 p.m. CST which is 8 p.m. for anyone in my time zone (Atlantic Standard Time).

Look forward to seeing you there.

I have some other bookings coming up, so stay plugged in via my Appearances page.

Reading Journal 10-04-21 (September Reads)

Books I finished in September 2021 include several for which I did Quick Takes rather than full reviews –

Passing by Nella Larsen – excerpt:

“A taut read and not just because of its 90-or-so novella length page run; the story knits its elements in and then steadily pulls the thread to tighten.”

This was a quick audio book read. Looking forward to the forthcoming movie based on the book.

Museum of Modern Art New York book. I actually read this one because I was writing about the Antigua-born fine arts MoMa photographer who was the subject of my last CREATIVE SPACE of September 2021. Here’s an excerpt from that:

“Flipping through the MoMa book with its 1070 illustrations, a small sample of works displayed since MoMa opened its doors in 1929, I find a who’s who, what’s what of art.” 

The Old Guard Tales Through Time anthology series #6 of 6 by writer Greg Rucka with artist Leandro Fernandez with writer Vita Ayala and artist Nicola Scott- excerpt:

“I did hope this series would delve more in to the past, maybe something of Nile’s personal history, this one though was a moving forward one, with Nile and Andy teaming up for a museum heist, to steal a birthday present for Booker who is still in exile.”

You may have picked up, if you’ve been here this past year, that I loved The Old Guard movie which came out on Netflix last summer, and while I await the recently greenlit sequel, I’ve been chewing on all the reading material I could find. I’ve shared my thoughts on everything I’ve read (so search Old Guard or check Blogger on Books) and the anthology series have left me a little frustrated. But ironically more anticipant with regards to the sequel of the movie and part 3 of the original graphic novel mini-series.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – excerpt:

“The most interesting aspects to me, and the parts where I felt most for these not always likeable characters, were the dual fraught new immigrant experiences of the once and once again Nigerian couple, one in the UK, one in America.”

This was a simultaneous print and audio book read.

Windrush by various authors (compiled by Heady Mix, a UK book box subscription service) for which I did a full review – excerpt:

“The second essay which looks at creative writing about the experiences of West Indians in Britain dragged for me (not uninteresting but very scholarly and very long).”

Ruby’s Dream by Ronan Matthew for which I did a full review – excerpt:

“It covers his early years in the States, the rough going of trying to find work when you’re not from the US and are a person of colour (even a white-seeming though not white-passing person of colour, a ‘shell dolly’ as he was called on the island), and ends with his graduation from university, the first in his family to do so. It goes back to the island a number of times to fill in that complicated family history and paint a picture of the world he came from – in some of the more vibrant parts of the book.”

This book actually came up during a recent radio appearance (to promote my Bocas workshop, held October 2nd 2021). The host had just read it – and something I said there seems worth mentioning here, that part of what folk and personal histories of this type, a popular niche in Antigua and Barbuda since To Shoot Hard Labour by Smith and Smith in the 80s, do is help us puzzle together our collective history through these personal histories. So invaluable in an island where so much of our history was either written or pulled together from documentation by our former colonizers (resulting in so much erasure of us, our true lived lives); books like these, of varying quality though they are, can help us to know ourselves as a collective better (or at minimum hold certain things in memory). As I’m reminded from the struggles of a recent research project, so much has been undocumented, or if documented is not easily recoverable – even, or especially, when probing the aging memories of those who walked our communities’ streets before things shifted and/or were renamed and remade.

This brings to 28 the number of books read so far this year with September tying for second most books read in a month for 2021 (6). It might not sound like a lot but it’s a lot for me these days and I’m frankly a little surprised given how much everything has been dragging but like we say likkle likkle full basket.

My likkle likkle since my last reading journal includes:

Fireburn by Apple Gidley (print @ page 136, up from 100 at last journal mention)
Quicksand by Nella Larsen (just started the audio book and I’m currently at chapter 10)
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (e-book last mentioned in August journal, currently at chapter 4)

Mama D’Leau and Churile

Caribbean Authors

Welcome again to Caribbean Folklore Month!

Each week this month we’ll be looking at two folk characters. We’ll start off with one that is relatively familiar within the landscape of Caribbean folklore.

Mama D’Leau also written as Ma L’eau, Mama Glo, Mama Dlo

Mama D’Leau – Caribbean Folklore Month – Marsha Gomes-Mckie

Ma L’eau is a mythical jumbie. Said to be the Caribbean version of Mami Wata, a water spirit from West, Central and South Africa, her name is taken from the french maman de l’eau, which literally means, ‘mother of the water’. This spirit is normally represented with a fishy bottom half, like a mermaid, except her ‘tail’ is coily and looks more like a water snake. In many parts of the Caribbean she is still referred to as Mami Wata today.

She is said to be the wife of Papa Bois and when fully…

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My Post for Caribbean Folklore Month

“de jumbie only waiting
for night to fall
so he could jump over
the burying ground wall”

The Caribbean authors blog, announcing October as Caribbean Folklore Month (including October 20th as Jumbie Night) wrote: “We want you to share your stories, your artwork, your memories, your poems, spoken word, and performances of your country’s folklore; express yourself as we feature some intriguing folk characters and myths and look at the variations and the similarities of our folklore around the Caribbean. Let us explore, teach and relearn.”

Challenge accepted.

I opened this post with calypso – specifically King Obstinate’s ‘Jumbie’. King Obstinate was Antigua and Barbuda’s 2nd calypso king in 1958 and is referred to as The Undefeated because he came back in the 1980s, pulled off a hat trick and then retired, undefeated, from the calypso monarch competition. He is a legend and is regarded as one third of the big three of Antiguan calypso.

I will continue by sharing some stories, from Wadadli Pen through the years, which drew on local/Caribbean folklore. Wadadli Pen is the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, the project I started in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. Each year (give or take), we have a Challenge encouraging young people in Antigua and Barbuda to write on anything, anything at all, as long as it has a Caribbean aesthetic. From that has emerged…

The Day I saw Evil by Liscia Lawrence – a story in which a girl and her grandmother buck up pon evil ah foreday morning and tu’n dem clothes inside out fu driib eeh way. This strategy is a superstition I grew up hearing and as such is part of our local lore.

The Village Obeah Woman by Verdanci Benta – a story about that yard everybody in the community knew to avoid, although all may not be as it seems. Obeah is a form of African spirituality that travelled with enslaved Africans to the Caribbean during the trans Atlantic slave trade. It became demonized and illegal over time and remains taboo.

Ma Belle by K O Nicholson – another story about an old village crone who may or may not be a dealing woman (as in deal with obeah) or maybe a soucouyant (given the in-story belief that she went around at night looking for souls, as a soucouyant does).

The Scary Night by Zuri Holder (RIP) – this is another jumbie story, this one set in a haunted house, with the captors using some folk wisdom to escape. Jumbie stories is what we called our ghost stories for the non-Caribbean people in the audience; jumbies are spirits.

How Tigers got Stripes by Chammaiah Ambrose – is not scary but does fit in that genre of Anansi-ish (though not specifically Anansi) tales that are like fairytales in the Caribbean region. Anansi is the trickster spider, a demi-god from West African spirituality that survived the ‘trip’ over and the efforts at erasure over the centuries.

A Grain of Salt by Ariel Dunnah – is about that feeling everyone has had at some point or other, or know someone who has, of brushing up against the supernatural, late at night, on the long walk home. That too is part of Caribbean lore.

Lajabless by Asha Graham – is a take on La Diablesee, a woman who is not what she seems. One of the most fearsome such women in Caribbean lore.

[Untitled] by Ondrej Austin-McDonald – is about a soucouyant hunt, although soucouyants themselves are usually the ones doing the hunting and usually at night when they remove their skin; salting the skin so that it burns when the soucouyant returns to slip it on is the only sure-fire way to kill a soucouyant. This story doesn’t quite go there but those are my childhood memories.

And She sang Fire by Francis Yankey – this is a mermaid story. Mermaid stories may be universal but they are decidedly part of our lore given that we live in the Caribbean Sea.

Fabled Truth by Aria-Rose Browne – is the story of a soucouyant hiding in plain sight.

The John Bull Effect by Judah Christian – is about the traditional mas character who would charge us with his horns and was such a fright to so many of us as kids growing up in the Caribbean, used in this story to give some bullies a comeuppance.

The Beast of Barbados by William Henderson – in this story the boy mentions that only he and his grandmother could see a certain evil which is another part of our lore; in my book The Boy from Willow Bend, I mentioned that main character Vere had the sight but then was ‘blinded’ because he chat too much.

A Mermaid by Zaniah Pigott – this is another mermaid story because besides the sea there’s also the Atlantic Ocean which leads straight to us; all that water, there will be mermaid lore.

Those aren’t the only speculative fics from the years of Wadadli Pen finalists but those are the ones that seem to align most with the Caribbean Folklore theme. And whooo. I’m tired. I did plan to look at lore in books I’ve read, and books and stories I’ve written but maybe (if there’s interest) I’ll put those in a separate post if I come back to them. Because mi tyaad.