What’s Good Today, Joanne? This Review, World; That’s What’s Good!

This is a review I found just today and my spirit is dancing. The original is in French so I hope the OG author will forgive me sharing an English language translation with you (linked back to them) – no copyright infringement is intended. I appreciate said author’s deep read of my book Musical Youth.

The blog is My insaeng, ma vie (My insaeng, my life) and the post title is “Musical Youth”ou une adolescence caribéenne du 21ème siècle (“Musical Youth” or a 21st century Caribbean teenager), and this is what google translate says it’s saying:

I continue to read regularly, but I do not report anything that I read. I publish flash reviews and I keep the blogging reviews for the books that made my heart vibrate and transformed me.

My first love novel of 2019 is “Musical Youth” (2013)* by Joanne C. Hillhouse. I stumbled upon it by doing research for episode 3 of Karukerament** about two months ago … Since, Zahara and Shaka, the two main characters, spontaneously visit my daydream moments (this word is cooler than daydream, no ?).

“Musical Youth” lasts only one summer’s time. A summer where Zahara and Shaka participate in a musical project, the opportunity for them to discover themselves, to wonder about what they want to become and to make their first significant steps towards adulthood.

If I had to qualify this story … I would say it’s authentically Caribbean.

Authentic as their family model

One day, we may be able to normalize the Caribbean family where the father is present and assumes his role. Maybe someday. In the meantime, it is always possible to qualify the negative portrait of Caribbean paternity. This is what Joanne Hillhouse does by humanizing the two fathers whose absence is precisely explained. At the end of the novel, there is no more unsaid, which allows Zahara and Shaka to continue to build. They have all the cards in their hands to manage in their own way their relationship to these fathers who will never be part of their lives … Zahara can count on the love of his (her) grandmother, Shaka on that of his mother and his grandmother -Father.

Authentic as their everyday

The plot takes place in Antigua and Barbuda. The characters express themselves in patois. No need for long page descriptions to bring to life the Caribbean character and beauty of food, green spaces, architecture and music. But “Musical Youth” is above all a way of approaching life with resilience without losing the hope of making a difference.

Zahara comes from the lower middle class, goes to a private Catholic high school. Shaka comes from a modest background, goes to a public high school. Their daily lives are limited to classes, extracurricular activities and the family home. There is nothing flamboyant in their environment. Their happiness and well-being never depend on the material.

No flashy car, no frantic race to be the most fashionable, no alcoholic parties while parents are on the move, no drug use … In short, they are not looking for extreme thrills usually described in the teenagers of the year 2010. Or say rather that they are looking for another type of sensations. Those brought about by putting into practice their passion for music, by the love they feel for their surroundings.

Their use of the mobile phone is so small that I identified myself by projecting myself at the time of my adolescence in the early 2000s. Nevertheless, some recent cultural references like soca diva Claudette Peters or Skype, YouTube allow register history (and the Caribbean) in our present for 2010 …

Another strong and current time marker: the question of colorism.

Authentic as the suffering caused by colorism

From the first pages, we are witnessing the ravages of colorism. It plays on the perception we have of ourselves, it plays on our perception of others and on the perception that others have of us. The subtlety of Joanne Hillhouse has been to address the issue from several points of view by highlighting different aspects depending on the character involved.

Before being called Shaka, he bore the nickname Zulu. Initially launched as an insult because of its dark skin, the character reappropriates the nobility of this nickname when his grandfather tells him the story of the Zulu people. This is an important scene for me because it emphasizes the awareness of an Africanity in its Caribbean dimension. Shaka knows where he comes from and draws on the power of ancestors to assert himself. In addition, this scene shows the care taken by an adult to reboost a boy’s self-esteem. I have the impression that black men are rarely placed on the side of the victims of colorism. Shaka is not considered a handsome kid for his physique. He does not consider himself a handsome kid. “I am black but cute”, he shouts as a joke as Zahara begins to realize Shaka’s perception of society. The self-esteem that his mother and grandfather have cultivated at home help him deal with the moments when he is confronted with colorism and suffers from it.

Zahara’s skin is clear enough to fit into the desirable black category. This does not preclude the fact that she has no confidence in herself and does not consider herself beautiful. Here again Joanne Hillhouse gives the opportunity to the character to become aware of its place on the spectrum of colorism to free itself thereafter. Zahara’s naivety about it at the very beginning of the novel illustrates what is called the “light-skinned privilege”. Her awareness is through a voluntary approach, by empirical evidence that she takes the time to analyze. Besides, Zahara and Shaka have a brief but frank conversation about it. I reread the scene several times so much I was moved. She wonders if he loves her just because she’s clear. He wonders if it’s because of his dark skin that she does not like it … Once their worries verbalized, they take the time to think about their feelings straightforwardly. The balance of their relationship is based on the fact that they help each other to become a better version of themselves. Zahara takes confidence in herself and her music. Shaka’s appearance trust becomes real as he defines his identity as an artist. They can do nothing against colorism, but they have the honesty to question their own prejudices before getting rid of them. They choose themselves knowingly.

A classic in the making?

The romance between Zahara and Shaka is the driving force but not the end of “Musical Youth”. My carefree side can only be satisfied with the softness and “slow” at which their relationship develops. However, what has conquered me is the dynamic between the different social classes, between the different generations, as violent as it sometimes can be.

What touched me was cultural pride, it is the highlighting of our problems without falling into judgment.

What made me tickle was the talk of being Black, about being a young Caribbean girl from the 21st century.

To my knowledge, there is no French translation available, much less Creole, but I hope that “Musical Youth” will become a classic of literature for generations to come. And why not an audiovisual adaptation to immortalize this illustration of our time?


*publication year of Musical Youth was actually 2014, the year it won second place/first runner up in the inaugural Burt Award for teen/young adult fiction.

**Karukerament, according to my research, is a podcast, produced by this blogger, analyzing the representation of the Caribbean in audiovisual fiction (it seems to be discussing or reviewing independent Caribbean film or Caribbean representation in film generally, or maybe both).

-I have crossed out a couple of errors re the book itself (possibly things lost in translation) + a glitch in the matrix that resulted in some repetition while trying to render the blogger’s words accurately.

WWW Wednesday

Another day, another meme; this one the WWW Wednesday meme over at Taking on a World of Words.

The three questions are …
What are you currently reading?
Way too many books, a partial list of which includes (the ones I made progress on this week) –

Marie Ohanesian Nardin’s Beneath the Lion’s Wings – sent to me by the author some time ago – I lost my place and had to start over but it’s going better this time around – love revisiting Venice

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolf – passed to me by a friend when it came out – I’m only now reading it – and right now just don’t care that much about what I’m reading

Evolution – a poetry collection – by Belizean writer Felene Cayetano – almost done

One of my comics – this one a classic X-Men Women one-shot – X-Men are my favourite super heroes as you might have guessed from recent reviews of comics featuring Gambit and Rogue, and Storm and T’Challa

Inferno by Dan Brown – still not really engaged, still reading

New Daughters of Africa – edited by Margaret Busby – loving this one so far – it’s thick though so it might still stake some time


And a handful (3) of unpublished academic theses specific to Antigua and Barbuda; a literary journal; and a very (very very) short business ebook

What did you recently finish reading?
Recent is relative especially since my stride buckled in March with two Did-Not-Finish (which is unusual for me). I did finish listening to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and reviewed an ARC of a children’s book The Masquerade Dance by Carol Ottley-Mitchell.

The Masquerade Dance

What will you be reading next?
Well, I just booked a new book editing assignment, am currently in negotiations re another one, and fielding an inquiry re a third; so (knock on wood) I’ll be busy with client manuscripts for a bit.

First and Some Seconds

“What a joy to be introducing New Daughters of Africa – a truly collaborative venture that will have an inspiring legacy for years to come! Enabling it to be assembled in record time, writers not only came on board with enthusiasm and alacrity but often steered me in the direction of others whose work they admire, lest these were not already on my radar. Altogether more than 200 living writers have contributed work to these page – an amazing party guest list!”

That’s from the first page of what I’m reading! And so far so good.

And this is my contribution to First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros hosted by I’d Rather Be At The Beach.

book of the year presentation 4

And these children from a local school will be reading their first chapters from these books soon (they might have started reading already). This was yesterday, the conclusion of the #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda #discoverAntiguaBarbuda Readers Choice Antiguan and Barbudan Book of the Year initiative I organized as founder/coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize which I started in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. The winning author, Vivian Luke, author of F.A.K.E. got to select a school to receive primarily (though not exclusively, the kids added books from the Diary of… series to their haul, of course) local and Caribbean books (including four of mine – With Grace, Musical Youth, and both Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and its Spanish language edition Perdida!). She chose the Foundation Mixed School and they came by the Best of Books bookstore to select more than EC$950 worth of books sponsored by five of our patrons. That’s one thing that’s new over at my other blog (see pictures from yesterday here) and another is the results of our National Youth Awards (which includes a win in the lit art category for the 2018 winner of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Challenge).

Some of the new stuff here on this blog include a CREATIVE SPACE update featuring a Women’s Empowerment Luncheon I attended recently at which one of the featured speakers was Queen Bey’s (Beyoncé’s) longtime publicist; the previous CREATIVE SPACE on What’s what at Wallings (our main nature park) has been archived; also my Media page has been updated with a link to a radio interview I did about the Readers Choice initiative, my own writing, and lit arts in Antigua-Barbuda.

Hope you’re having a happy reading week. I am, largely because of The New Daughters of Africa, which also includes my story Evening Ritual. Receiving my contributor copy was a highlight of last week as I said on my facebook author page (that’s a hint to follow me there by the way).

Til next time.

PRESS RELEASE The Antigua and Barbuda Readers’ Choice Book of the Year Is… — Wadadli Pen

Issued April 3rd 2019 The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize congratulates Vivian Luke, whose book, F.A.K.E., netted the most votes in its #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda Book of the Year initiative. On being informed of the news, Luke said in a statement, “Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for my book… Writing is a […]

via PRESS RELEASE The Antigua and Barbuda Readers’ Choice Book of the Year Is… — Wadadli Pen

This Looks Interesting

Also, Dev Patel in more things – hope he’s not playing secondary to what’s his name Armie Hammer in this story (don’t Green Book this, Hollywood). He’s been good in everything I’ve seen him in (Dev, not Armie who I really only found interesting in The Social Network and to some extent Sorry to Bother You – nothing against him personally, it’s just a chemistry thing). What have I seen Dev in?

Slumdog Millionaire
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Newsroom

Hope he continues to get ever more expansive opportunities (i.e. not opportunities limited by Hollywood profiling).

Which brings me to my two cents on the Jordan Peele brouhaha. Really? People are throwing around charges of ‘reverse racism’ because he said “I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie. Not that I don’t like white dudes, but I’ve seen that movie.” Quick quiz. Are the majority of films in Hollywood made by white male directors, starring and telling stories from the point of view of white males? What is wrong with one of this deep field of auteurs adjusting the lens? Has he not cast white people in his two films, Get Out and Us giving them their own arc and nuance? Pick your favourite director – how many people of colour leads have they had relative to their entire filmography? Okay, let me make it easier, how many secondary people of colour characters have they had that wasn’t a trope or a stereotype or there simply to serve the white lead’s narrative (still looking at you Best Picture winning Green Book)? Easier still people of colour at all. Let’s get even narrower – how many black leads or people of colour leads have there been in the horror film genre in a mainstream Hollywood film? I was watching a discussion about horror noire recently. It mentioned the erasure of one of the few black women in a featured role in a horror film (Rachel True in The Craft) – on digging, I learned of her not being included in press junkets when the film was released in the late 1990s nor being invited to present alongside her co-stars at the MTV awards as though she wasn’t in the room, though she was, and more recently being omitted from convention panels that her co-stars were a part of and a recent Hollywood Reporter article (the latter was fixed after she spoke up on social media). The reality is that opportunities are limited for people of colour in Hollywood because casting directors, producers, directors, and filmgoers have blind spots and don’t even notice their absence or stereotyping when they do show up  – that’s the thing half the time it’s not even malicious. And then a single director says to reference Issa Rae, I’m rooting for everybody black, and somehow this attempt by one individual to address an imbalance by telling stories particular to his point of view is the most racist thing that ever racisted? (I think the word you’re looking for is prejudice anyway, since racism is systemic and underpinned by power but…okay). Us, Peele’s sophomore effort, opened very strong and there are a million theories and stories around that film and its success. Here’s one, Lupita Nyongo despite winning best supporting actress for 12 Years a Slave (which came out in 2013) and being young, gifted, beautiful, charismatic, and a fashion darling to boot had not played a lead role in a film before Us. Reflect on that and miss me with the outrage.

First Impressions

Okay, so the book meme I’m participating in today is Road City Reader’s Book Beginning in which you share the first sentence of a book you’re reading and your first impressions.

“I am the shade
Through the dolent city, I flee
Through the eternal woe, I take flight”

So, yeah, this book – Inferno by Dan Brown – begins with a quote and I am 26 chapters in and I still don’t know what’s really going on. I have read two Dan Brown Books – Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons before – so I know this is his strategy – clues, misdirection, oblique, artsy references. The problem is I’m not really into it this time – it’s been diminishing returns to me; like with Da Vinci Code I was hooked and trying to decipher the clues as I went and boning up on my art history and halfway buying in to the book’s crazy(?) conspiracy theory; with Angels and Demons, I cared a bit less. The movies may have had an impact here – they just weren’t as dense or as intriguing as the books themselves…or maybe after you’ve read the books you’re spoiled for the movies…I don’t know. This time I am confused as ever but I’m also ambivalent, reading on without really feeling inspired to but because I don’t like to abandon books and it isn’t so bad as to be abandoned, I’m hanging in there. Maybe it’ll pick up; maybe I’ll care more – main character from Code and Angels and here again Robert Langdon is reading like one of those impossible Dans, like the male version of a Mary Sue.. Even with amnesia he’s perfectly sharp and unpuzzling things, and there’s a girl sidekick/love interest (it’s made clear that’s her role here) who you suspect might be kind of interesting if the writer would just shade her in a bit more – maybe he does as the story goes on. But that’s where I am; first impressions.

Because I don’t read a book at a time, I’ll mention that I have also been reading this week in order of levels of enjoyment/interest/engagement (most to least):

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
An unpublished thesis about Antiguan and Barbudan literature
An unpublished thesis about Barbuda
Fire and Fury by Michael Wolf

Inferno is somewhere between the Wolf book and the Barbuda thesis, depending on the day. But it has to its credit being an easy read, like junk food – which is not a diss, I like junk food, but it can leave you starved for real nutrients.

While you’re here, updates to the blog since my last meme participation include:

Moving CREATIVE SPACE 3 – Final Arrival (about people taking the Atlantic Row challenge that ends in Antigua and Barbuda and the history making Antigua and Barbuda team that completed the row) to make space for
CREATIVE SPACE 4 – on the Wallings Nature Reserve in Antigua.

Moving some of the Blogger on Books quick takes (for when I don’t have a full review but I still got something to say) to their own page and moving out the Blogger on Books on Tanarive Due’s The Black Rose to make room for a new Blogger on Books review, The Masquerade Dance.

The Masquerade Dance

Just This and Business Notes, musings and shares related to the writing and freelancing journey; a share on Buju Banton’s comeback concert in Jamaica (his first since lockdown) – wish I could’ve been there for that as he’s easily my favourite dancehall DJ ever (the lead-off video to this post is one of my favourites from his extensive catalogue), and another share inspired by my girl Dena Simmons’ newsletter – with a bit of Langston Hughes peppered in. laughterLangston Hughes is someone you should read at least once in your life, if you haven’t already by the way; him and others from the Harlem Renaissance period (like Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes were watching God, Claude McKay – Home to Harlem, etc) – dope stuff.


Business notes

coffee mug

I need this mug.

I just got off the phone with a prospective client and followed up with her via email re an estimate on her project, and I’m using her as an entry point to this post because of her apologetically insisting that she knew I was busy but wanted to know if I was available to edit her project. Yes. The schedule is what it is when you’re juggling the creative and the commercial. Things slip through the cracks, are sometimes deferred, or have to be turned down, and projects I take on have to be queued up. But I’m always open to at least consider opportunities. I am a working writer (which in my particular case means that beyond my own writing); I make my living as a freelance provider of writing and writing related services. Writing is my passion but it’s also the work. So by all means hit me up.

Two emails re my editing services on two very different projects received this past week – and now excerpted in my performance reviews – are quoted below:

“I thought you worked very well to help her strengthen the character development and it was certainly a much stronger novel when you were through… I will happily recommend you to anyone who comes to me looking for an editor.” – publisher who recently contracted my book editing services.

“As I begin to review and apply your edits, I want to compliment and thank you for the fine job you have done with my text. As someone who reads a lot, I now understand why many authors are so effusive in thanking their editors in the acknowledgements. I found your suggestions to be thoughtful, and accurate. Your rearrangement of the sentences in my [redacted] segment is a good example. You significantly improved the impact of my own words by skillfully, as a writer, applying your objective, yet appreciative grasp what I was trying to express.” – amateur writer who reached out to me to edit a longform essay. now , from an amateur writer who reached out to me to edit a longform essay.

I mention that the latter was a long form essay to underscore that I edit all types of projects big or small (for clients anywhere in the world) – because this is another thing a prospective client said, they thought their project might be too small or not the type of project I usually take on. Never know unless you ask – and my freelancing journey has been filled with many instances of, you never know until you try. That one was a recipe book by the way – and not my first one.

So, for an idea of my services and projects (so far), follow the links.

While we’re here and talking writing business, I spent a part of yesterday rebuilding my mailing list for the Jhohadli Writing Project as I begin teasing the 2019 edition of the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project. teaser flyer 2Pass this flyer on if you’re in Antigua and Barbuda – there will be a fee attached but I will try (as I always do) to keep it within reach and JSYWP has accepted funding in the past to be able to offer scholarships to those who can’t pay. Let’s make it happen. I have benefited from workshops over the years and I am working with a mentor right now – it is invaluable.

Finally, I have my latest CREATIVE SPACE outing scheduled for early this coming week. That said, the continuation of this series is dependent on dollar$ (coverage takes time and time is money) – so I continue to reach out to companies doing business in Antigua and Barbuda to advertise. This is an arts and culture platform and as news services continue to contract, we need to support independent reporting where we can.

Here’s where you’ll find my CV and portfolio.

Of course, you know I’m about that writing life, so here’s where you can find my books, my short fiction, and my poetry as well.

Finally, if you’re still reading, remember to #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda before the end of March (and you don’t have to be Antiguan and Barbudan to do so) – my book Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure is in the runningLost Cover Front 4 – and it is being run by the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize project which I founded and coordinate so I’m really just encouraging you to vote for any of the books in the running. The winning author will have a prize of books up to EC$800 (thanks to donors) plus a thesaurus (thanks to another donor) gifted in their name by Wadadli Pen to either their alma mater here in Antigua and Barbuda or a school of their choice also in Antigua and Barbuda.

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I just remembered an interesting exchange with a writer-friend on a radio show this week promoting the Readers’ Choice Book of the Year initiative. I won’t recount the exchange but I will say this, circling back to the original purpose of this post, I’m still out here doing this, improbable as it is. Working writer; writer at work. If you need me (wherever you are; whatever the size of your project), contact me.