(These are the books mentioned in this paper by Professor Valerie Combie which she has graciously allowed me to re-post. I referenced it last year when she delivered the paper at the Antigua Conference. She didn’t agree to re-posting then as she had plans to publish it in the 2018 edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books. Well, here it is, the final version. Reading about your work and your self is always a bit out of body, the fact that you’re being written about at all, the stuff you agree with, the stuff you don’t, the stuff you are happy a critic and/or reader sees, the stuff they see that surprises a revelation in you about your own work. No commentary. Just thanks for my work being seen. Thanks to Professor Combie for the insights. Thanks to her for taking the time. Respect. And no I didn’t pay anybody; if I did, my middle C would be there. – JCH – posted September 5th 2018)
Who is Joanne Hillhouse? How does she fit into Antigua’s literary scene? Perhaps I should rephrase that question and ask: How does she fit into the Caribbean literary scene? I may even expand that question and ask: How does Joanne Hillhouse fit into the world’s literary landscape?
A few years ago, I was assigned the task of writing a review of Hillhouse’s recently published book Oh Gad! My initial reaction was to wince at the apparent blasphemy of God’s name (Yes, I was raised with the fear of God.), but that was a transitory reaction. I was in Antigua, then, and I thought I should meet the author, so I called her, and we made an appointment to meet the following day. At that time, I hadn’t visited her website, nor had I read any of her other published works. Since then, I have read three of her books, a few short stories, her flash fiction, and several of her poems published in The Caribbean Writer. I have also visited her website, and I’ve read her blogs. Those encounters with her written work have exposed me to a versatile, multitalented Renaissance woman who describes herself as “journeying.” This word captures the essence of Joanne Hillhouse, not only as a traveler, but more specifically as an individual who is in transition from one stage of her productivity to another. This is so very appropriate because Hillhouse’s versatility facilitates her movement among her roles as a journalist, a poet, a freelance prose writer—producing fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, and flash fiction—a film producer, a music aficionada, an editor, a writing coach, an activist, an ecologist, and a workshop/course facilitator who runs the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize writing programme to nurture and showcase the literary arts. In addition to those roles, she is most deliberately an Antiguan who “doesn’t want to live in a world without mangos, music, and sunsets” (TCW 343).
One brief interview doesn’t usually reveal much about a person, but as I read her work, I learn so much about Joanne Hillhouse. Of course, it is important to know that her roots lie in Seaview Farm, where her ancestors worked in the pottery business which, I think, affords her the credibility to write about the indigenous Antiguan and Barbudan and their bond with the land, that piece of soil that gives them claim to their birthright. She also writes with passion about the traditional and cultural businesses that enable them to maintain their dignity. Her commentary on the pottery industry from which she extricated the title of her book Oh, Gad! is one such example. Hillhouse is a credible, authentic writer whose voice courts universal appeal. She presents an unassuming passion to retain cultural practices of Antigua and Barbuda that are imperceptibly passing away. Her passion resonates with me, an Antiguan and Barbudan, with a Barbudan maternal grandfather. I, too, cherish the culture and I observe the losses that are depriving our children of their cultural heritage. Hillhouse addresses this issue in her writing; however, in spite of my regrets, I can live in hope because I detect that same regret in other writers’ works, but Joanne Hillhouse addresses those issues by directly or indirectly in her writing.
Hillhouse is a prolific writer who experiments with various genres. Her impressive list of publications between 2002 and 2017 attests to that passion and corroborates her statement that “Likkle likkle full bucket.” Her poetry, short story, and flash fiction have been published in a wide array of periodicals throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, thus expanding her reach and her voice. Even though she has remained in Antigua and Barbuda, Hillhouse continues to produce and mentors youth through the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize that she founded in 2004. As an avant-garde, she exposes the best of Antigua and Barbuda through her activities, primarily her electronic archive of Antigua and Barbuda Writings, which she began in 2005 for the Independence literary arts exhibition at the national museum. Through her efforts, practically all published Antiguan and Barbudans are arrayed in the literary pantheon for the world to see. I applaud her for her commitment to her roots, and while Elizabeth Nunez claims that Hillhouse is “a pretty brave soul” (NPR Books), I regard Hillhouse as the visionary who prepares the soil for Antigua and Barbuda’s future literary scene. Her versatility knows no bound; in addition to her writing, she has contributed her expertise in producing two feature films: The Sweetest Mango (2000) and No Seed (2002).
Hillhouse’s inherent and perpetual theme embodies the landscape of Antigua and Barbuda, which includes movement of many sorts—actual literal movement, existential movement, and the resulting consequences of those movements. Under the umbrella of those movements lie the following themes that expand and grow and manifest themselves as the tentacles of the proverbial octopus:
1. Culture and tradition
2. Family relationships and identity
3. Rite of passage
4. Youth empowerment
6. Community involvement/Trust
7. Environmental concerns
8. Loss and grief/Healing and restoration.
Culture and Tradition
Hillhouse’s work is replete with references to and examples of her Antiguan culture that evokes great longing in her readers. Not only does she focus on cultural activities such as carnival and traditional practices such as foods and dress, but she creates scenarios where specific actions of her stories occur in historical locations, so that her readers will be exposed to various locations of historical or personal interest on Antigua (Oh Gad!). She is so entrenched in her culture that she exploits it in her writing to the extent that the reader is moved emotionally and physically to explore each facet of her culture that is so appealing. In Musical Youth, as in Oh Gad!, Hillhouse uses her characters to disseminate aspects of the culture through their speech, their involvement in the community, and their wearing of the culture and tradition. Hillhouse’s authenticity reverberates through her use of the Antiguan dialect that so poignantly conveys her message not only in her poems, but in her fiction as well.
Hillhouse’s pen documents the cultural tapestries of a society that is evolving and simultaneously experiencing the concomitant issues relating to change that are associated with evolution. But can change accommodate the old as well as the new? Must change include the annihilation of tried and true traditions, practices that have stood the test of time and have reaped rich dividends for our community? I think Hillhouse’s message resounds in the depth of our consciousness: Know yourself; be content with your circumstances, and hold on to your tradition, your history, and your culture while being open to those of others. We can only enrich our lives as we add to them. Changing them completely can be disastrous. We are traveling a path that manifests the results of our practices, which may reap unfavorable results where our children/descendants may be devoid of their history, their cultural trappings on which they can rely, and lose all sense of self-worth. Our children need a firm foundation, which only we can give. Hillhouse’s message is a clarion call for introspection and a determined effort to value our traditions and ourselves. In her poem, “An Ode to the Pan Man,” Hillhouse lauds the commitment of the pan man to the music that only he knows can “mek man cry, man” (TCW 17).
Family Relationships and Identity
Hillhouse understands the role of the family—a strong family—in building a community and helping members forge their identities. In her writing, she shows that personal circumstances and life choices have created fragmented families, but in the final analysis, family remains family because “blood is thicker than water,” and Nikki Baltimore reminds her sister Audrey in Oh Gad! that even though she was not raised with her mother, she still remained her mother.
In Musical Youth, the families of the characters are not featured at the beginning of the book, but Hillhouse introduces “Zahara like the Sahara” (1), who is an orphan cared for by her grandmother, Granny Linda. Her counterpart, Shaka, lives with his mother and his grandfather, Pappy, who plays an integral role in his life, providing the essential paternal image for the young boy. These are typical Caribbean parents whose reluctance in showing love creates a bridge between grandmother and granddaughter, mother and son, and grandfather and grandson respectively. The differences between grandparents raising children and younger parenting styles are seen with Nicola whose mother assumes a laissez-faire attitude in her parenting. It is significant to note that in these three families, the father is noticeably absent, but the family continues somewhat intact.
When Kong’s mother—the prayer warrior—contributes to the summer project by praying for the group’s success, his friends observe his embarrassment—a typical reaction of a youth among his peers. It is not surprising that another mother is featured, though in a different role. Through the interactions of the teens and their peers, the author exposes latent and demonstrated talents, which are developed through informal mentoring as in the case of the priest, Father Ellie (7, 8), Mr. Patrick (10), and Mr. Perry. The fact that Hillhouse’s characters seem to exude musical talents may appear contrived, but further reading discloses inherited traits as in Zahara’s fascination with music. Her absent father is a skilled and gifted guitarist—“A hell of a guitar player, yes!” Granny Linda claims (192). He is an absent figure, but as Granny Linda opens up to her granddaughter, Zahara learns of her rich musical heritage. She learns also of her mother and the clandestine relationship between her and Shaka’s father, which provokes the possibility of kinship between them.
The author skillfully transcends the silent censorious attitude of Granny Linda’s generation to forge a companionable, though respectful, bond between children and parents. That newfound relationship enables Granny Linda and Pappy to express their pride in their grandchildren’s performance, but it is made possible only through the involvement of other people under the guidance of the mentors.
The peer group also becomes a family as in Shaka’s case with his friends (11). They are the “brothers he didn’t have” (17). Unlike Zahara, Shaka feels “safe, loved,” which he attributes to his grandfather’s presence in his life (39).
Zahara’s initial description claims “[e]verything about her was like an echo of her mother . . . . There was her butternut-coloured skin and her thick, bushy, Brillo Pad-textured hair (1, 9). Zahara interprets her grandmother’s penetrating looks at her to mean “disappointment.” She believes that her grandmother would rather have “the real thing, [which] was always better” (2). Zahara’s complexion and her hair texture assume a new dimension later in the book when it surfaces.
The fact that her complexion stands in great contrast to Shaka’s “Africa black” complexion (11) raises questions. When his friends discover his interest in her, expressions such as “socie girl,” “butter skin,” “brown,” and “ah beautiful Nubian sistren” (12) are uttered. Very early, Shaka learns that “Skin colour didn’t make anyone of them better than the other” (13). He has transcended the pain of ridicule about his skin (11, 13). Pappy’s esteem-building speech enables Shaka to retain his high self-esteem. “His head had snapped upwards as if pulled by a string” (15). It is not surprising that Pappy uses Miriam Makeba’s “Mbube” to enhance Shaka’s pride. “The name began to feel like something he should be happy to claim, if for no other reason than his grandfather thought so” (17).
When the Social Sciences teacher assigns a report on “Colourism or Shadeism in the Caribbean,” generated by the viewing of Dark Girls (48), the issue of race assumes a new dimension. The contribution of musicians such as Buju’s “Love Me Browning” and “Love Black Women” prompts Zahara to text Shaka, asking a very important question: “Did u liik me becuz I’m liit?” (49). His admission that it does “likkle bit” (51) surprises her.
Later, Zahara quizzes Nicola about Shaka whom Nicola admires, but seems inhibited by his dark complexion. “. . . . He’s blacker than an APUA blackout . . . during a quarter moon . . . at midnight” (95) is Nicola’s unflattering description. This leads to Zahara’s question about Nicola’s sense of self-identity.
The youth learn a lesson in self-love as they watch Brown Girl in the Ring (107-108). The topic generates deep thoughts as they examine practices such as bleaching, which introduces the concept of “social advantage” to those of a lighter complexion (110). As an expert on the topic, Ms. George sows the seeds of self-love:
“The bottom line,” she said, “is self-love no matter what colour, shape, or size you are. If you don’t love yourself, who goin’ love you?” she asked. “No other race of people has to work so hard to know their worth because no other race of people had it so beaten out of them, so beaten we can’t even see what we doing to ourselves.
“Love yourself,” she said. “Dig deep for the things that reflect you, and if it not there, you make it. You’re part of this too.” (116)
The message is reinforced when later, Zahara shows up in Nicola’s borrowed clothes and Shaka tells her “ . . . it’s not you that’s all” (152). He then introduces his rap “My Name is Melanin” (154).
These relationships are vital to the development of the youth and for the adults as well. They create an environment that both need to succeed in life (39). In Oh, Gad! Hillhouse focuses on family and identity by bringing the family together for a funeral. The terse statement: “Mother dead” tells it all. As the story unwinds, she enlightens the reader about the bond that connects families.
Rite of Passage
In one interview, Hillhouse admits that she has a penchant for coming-of-age writing, which is seen primarily in her young adult works. In Musical Youth, she deftly introduces the two main characters, Zahara and Zulu, as she captures the interest of youth by capitalizing on their interests and modes of communication via electronic media. She simply discusses the importance of trust by thrusting the youth into rather compromising situations where they interact and develop without compromising their morality. She exposes the importance of religion and its inherent role of guiding and mentoring youth into productive citizens. She also revisits the importance of the community in raising its children.
In “Country Club Kids,” as well as in The Boy form Willow Bend, however, Hillhouse skillfully addresses the discrimination and stratification of people that exist in our community. She hints at the living arrangements of individuals with nonexistent fathers and the opportunities available to the privileged classes as opposed to the less fortunate individuals, which continue to some degree today. These examples appeal to the reader who understands the author’s commitment to real life as it exists for the youth. Discrimination is an issue that youth will face, and the author prepares them as they experience growth passing from one stage to another. As in her poetry and her prose, she uses realism to portray her characters. In so doing, she creates credible characters who eat, dress, and speak Antiguan. Characters with whom we can identify. Even the Asian Ted in Musical Youth confirms “ah ya me barn” (p. 156).
History has shown that a conquering or colonial power uses specific strategies to subjugate the conquered or colonized people, and one of the most dominant strategies is changing the language. We see that in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah, he took its brightest and best young men to Babylon where he changed their names and attempted to change their language and diet. The dialects of the Caribbean, be they called Creole, Patois, Antiguan, or Crucian, are our home languages, and they need to be acknowledged, valorized, and appreciated, not denigrated and dismissed as a corruption or distortion of the Standard version. A people’s language is a manifestation of their identity. When that is denied, what is left? Hillhouse remains true to her beliefs. That is manifested in her use of the Antiguan home language of her characters in her books and in her poetry. An excellent example is “Tongue Twista” published in the 24th. edition of The Caribbean Writer (2010) where Hillhouse concludes by saying: “When dem wan know/ A wha bran’ ah talking dat/ Tell them that we are multilingual/ An’ hab nuff chat” (67).
Hillhouse demonstrates a strong hope in the youth. In her short story “Country Club Kids,” as well as in Musical Youth, she allows the reader to experience the youth’s rite of passage. Rosie and Swiss are so immersed in their game of tennis, they “both lost track of time,” and Rosie says, “This feeling, this moment, is what I still love about tennis” (134). But that’s not all. “We end up in the bushes,” and there she is kissed for the first time. This is similar to the experience of Zahara and Zulu in Musical Youth. She tells her story of young love beautifully and keeps it very clean.
Hillhouse’s writing has a global appeal, but her young adult novella and novels should be read by all youth, as they embrace their millennial worldview with its accompanying accoutrements of technology, contemporary music, and general interests of youth. The author’s focus on the island’s cultural activities such as carnival is an integral part of the book. It heightens the youth’s involvement in an important activity while grooming them for the future. That carnival has morphed into a new creature, associated with other activities geared primarily to the youth speaks of the nation’s vision and foresight. The author exposes the youth to situations where the reader may question such wisdom, but these youth are focused. Though they are deprived of “the talk,” they receive insinuations that provoke concern. Shaka and Zahara’s late night meetings in the Botanical Gardens, their trysts in Shaka’s room, are dangerous grounds, which make the reader question the wisdom of their choices, but these youth are focused on their music. They provide the support each other needs, and in their disorganized manner, they empower each other.
Additionally, in Musical Youth, the mentors and Mr. Perry are the most visible forces, but the youth benefit from each other’s insight. It is not incidental that Kong’s mother is thrown in as the prayer warrior. The Caribbean society is steeped in religion and possesses a strong tradition of reliance on God. Hillhouse’s inclusion validates that fact and reminds us that through its evolutionary growth, some facets of the community remain constant. It’s that constancy that energizes the parents and moves them into action when Mr. Perry appeals to them for help. Their altruism inspires the youth to excel because they are motivated to make their families and community proud.
Through her admission during an interview, Hillhouse claims that the issue of migration is uppermost in her mind. Always on her radar, the movement of people in her Antigua and Barbuda community poses some concern. She realizes that the volatile economic situation in the region combined with the fluidity of each community and the ease of travel contribute to migration on various levels. Some travel from one locale to another to improve their economic status, while some, primarily youth, migrate for educational opportunities and family situations. In Oh Gad! Nikki’s departure from Antigua and her subsequent return to funeralize her mother is a bone of contention between her and her older sister Audrey. This example of migration is an excellent reference to parents’ attempt to provide what is best for their children. Nikki’s mother knew that Nikki would benefit more from being with her father, and in her pragmatic way, she chose to send her away, even though she knew Nikki’s absence would have caused her much pain. In The Boy from Willow Bend, Vere migrates with his family for similar reasons, and in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, the process is reversed when Selena and her family migrate to Antigua from the Dominican Republic also for economic advancement. Migration is always accompanied by problems. Finally, in “The Other Daughter,” the main character emigrates for the educational advantage that her “lawful” siblings enjoyed.
Hillhouse subtly addresses Antigua and Barbuda’s precarious economic dependence on tourism that prompts migration, which results in arrivals and departures. In Oh Gad! she also underlies the destructive nature of immigration, where developers who lack the sense of history connected to one’s home, as well as the emotional attachment forge their way and desecrate residents’ home through development because they have the economic means that the country needs. In Oh Gad! she exposes the conflict between the developers and the landowners, where she demonstrates how land owners would sacrifice their lives to save the land, which is their inheritance for their children and future generations.
Community Involvement/ Trust
Hillhouse’s sense of community is seen in all of her works. In Musical Youth, even though Father Ellie has been transferred to Jamaica, he remains a member of the community, thanks to the infusion of technology into the youth’s lives. Zahara skypes him with her very important news: “I met a boy” (28). Another Caribbean tradition surfaces, a reminder of the essential role of members of the community in the lives of the youth. Zahara must share her very important news with an adult, but that person cannot be her grandmother. She has forged a closer relationship with Father Ellie, which allows her to confide in him.
Shaka’s quasi-internship at the community radio station is a deterrent from mischief, but that also contributes to his development as a musician under Diva’s tutelage. He feels more comfortable in introducing Zahara to Diva before he introduces her to his mother.
The summer program by the youth theater, sponsored by the Culture Department, involves youth of varying talents in The Dancing Granny. Mr. Perry’s appeal to parents bridges the gap (169-174). The pride demonstrated by the members of the community is a direct result of their involvement and investment in their youth.
Granny Linda’s past experiences forced her to tighten the leash on her grand-daughter. Like most Antiguan (Dare I say Caribbean?) mothers, she has trust issues. She has suffered through Sheena’s death, and she wants to protect Zahara from a similar fate, but her silence and harshness are impediments. It takes another character from her generation—Pappy—to disclose the story, which provides an incentive for Zahara to confront her grandmother. This is where the community lends a helping hand giving credence to the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Parental trust in the Caribbean region, especially in Antigua and Barbuda, is an unspoken request. Parents want their children to honor that trust, but it remains silent, unverbalized. The hints and apparently random-selected proverbs may be the only means by which children learn of their parents’ expectations. Zahara is alert to these nuanced expectations. She wants her grandmother to trust her, but she also understands that trust is earned. Granny Linda’s delayed responses to grant Zahara permission to attend the annual Hope School fete is unexpected, but it generates a sense of trust in Zahara.
Trust is also demonstrated between Shaka and Zahara. His gentlemanly behavior makes her trust him because “when they walked through the gate of the Gardens, he didn’t try to pull her off into some over grown corner. No, they sat right there on the roots of the huge ficus, private but not hidden” (27). That incident later allows her to trust him further ”to sneak her” into his home where they are alone. Then they progress to his bedroom (66). Pappy’s question: “What you doin’ lock up in your room with girl?” (68) is significant. His reference to Shaka’s mother’s reaction: “You lucky is me and not your mother. Lord, looka muddy!” (68) gives a peek into male/female interpretations of such situations.
Of course, the nightly meetings in the Botanical Gardens (84-86) draw them closer, but Shaka’s request to “[t]rust me” (90) takes Zahara’s music to a newer dimension. It also enables her to engage in introspection that leads to clearer self-knowledge and self-confidence.
As an activist who is intricately aware of situations in her community, Hillhouse supports the Caribbean Family Planning Association as well as the ecological groups. Through her writing, she expresses that great love for Antigua and Barbuda, which is extended to the Caribbean region. “Cockroach no hah no right inna Fowl House” is an Antiguan proverb that gets to the area of interest. That Hillhouse applies this proverb to the section that addresses the land dispute is no accident. As the proverb claims, there is a situation with a victim (cockroach) and a victor (fowl). The “top local businessman,” Kendrick Cameron, “wielded a lot of influence due to the depth of his pockets” (94). He represents the diversity in the Antiguan populace. It is important to note Cameron’s disenchantment with the Barbudans who are more confrontational. Sadie predicts God’s judgment on Cameron for the “rape” of the land. It’s not surprising that the development goes up in smoke with Tanty sacrificed in the process. The cockroach analogy also applies to Nikki as Stephens’ “keep-woman. Outside woman. Mistress. Adulterer” (113). She becomes the victim, but through her determination, she extricates herself from the situation, not unscathed, but wiser and less naïve. Nikki then seeks refuge in the graveyard where she engages in her one-way communication with her mother. To embrace her family, Nikki must begin with her mother. As the titular head of the family, though dead, Mama Vi’s approval, is essential.
“Whey Laugh Day, Cry Dey.” The scene changes from the gleeful abandonment of carnival to death, destruction, and dismay. The shift from St. John’s and the revelry of carnival to the conflagration at Blackman’s Ridge transforms the laughter into crying. Hillhouse’s wide-encompassing view of the island presents a picture of historical import to the reader, while simultaneously igniting a spark of historical and aesthetic interest. The long-hoped for development promises opportunities for many, but the apparent danger to the environment must be considered.
Loss and Grief, Healing and Restoration
The sense of loss and grief is an accepted emotion, which is not verbalized or pondered. That Zahara’s mother and Shaka’s father were killed in a car crash is granted only a brief mention. That Granny Linda is grieving her lost daughter, and Shaka’s mother is grieving her lost husband do not seem to be issues. This is a typical Caribbean behavior because the family is supposed to support each other and heal their collective illnesses. These women, as others, suffer silently, and that deprives the children of an outlet for their grief. It is only after the topic surfaces, through Pappy, that Zahara develops the courage to confront her grand-mother about her parents.
Absent parents and other loved ones who may have simply changed their addresses do contribute to loss and grief, but they, too, must be forgotten while the business of living continues. Healing and restoration will materialize only when these losses are acknowledged and individuals go through the stages of grieving, though silently. Pappy expresses his views on Granny Linda’s condition:
“. . . Seemed like she’d retreated from the world, you know . . . . Is why I hadn’t seen her in so long, she didn’t go no-where, like she been in mourning all this time. But, come a time in life, a little light peep through and you have to punch your way out of the grave you build for yourself or get buried alive. I was there once, after your tanty died. Maybe more recent than that. But the Lin I saw the night of you-all show, bwoy she was a woman coming back to life.” (238)
The author seems to imply that individual grief may require community aid for restoration to be made. Pappy becomes the instrument through which healing and restoration arrive in the novel. He helps Granny Linda focus on the present and the gifts of the present, so that she accepts her grand-daughter, not as a replacement for her daughter, but as another individual, another member of the family. Zahara helps in the healing process by reminding Granny Linda of the potential for the future. She gives Granny Linda a reason to live and enjoy life.
The grand finale of the summer activity brings the community together and enables Shaka’s mother to claim that “the past is the past” (260). Full healing comes when she informs Shaka: “You not your father,” and continues by saying: “Zahara not her mother. I not goin’ judge her based on what her mother did. May her soul rest in peace” (264).
It is significant to note that in her writing, especially her works for young adults, Hillhouse refrains from “pontificating.” She creates scenarios for her characters and allows them to be themselves. Even though the “normal” behaviors or pranks of teenagers with their accompanying confusions, heartbreaks, and poor choices aren’t documented, her youth are portrayed as real children. They are a group of youth who are typical in their behaviors. They are music lovers with a passion for the art. Music lovers will identify and enjoy the genuine references to different types of music and musicians, while non-musicians will accept the youth’s passion for their music and champion their cause for an audience in pursuit of their dreams.
The scene of loss and recovery is repeated in Oh Gad! The well-known Antiguan proverb “WaBruk Cho ‘Way” is a simplistic way of resolving a situation, but it’s also a practical way. It forces the individual to move on and not dwell on the past. Mama Vi expresses that view to the Professor: “That boy father don’ even cross my thoughts” (182). The past is over; it remains only as an experience, but it is buried, thrown away. That may have been Mama Vi’s experience, but it is not Nikki’s; it is not Carlene’s; nor is it Tanty’s or Sadie’s.
This proverb belies the family’s situation. They must pick up the pieces, examine them, and attempt to remold them into a whole product. This is the story of their lives. There is much brokenness, but it does not require a psychologist. It’s not surprising that the author introduces a psychologist into the story even though it’s not clear that Carlene actually benefits from the services. This family, like most of Antigua, needs to be made whole. Its members need to rid themselves of resentments and jealousies. They need to realize that as a family, they can love each other while remaining vulnerable. To her credit, Hillhouse moves the family into that direction through the picnic at Long Bay and the visit to the caves at Blackman’s Ridge. These episodes take them back to their roots and to their ancestors. It’s during the outings that Fanso’s spiel is restated: “Blood thicker than water.” Because the blood of their ancestors flows through their veins, they possess the qualities to overcome all of life’s vicissitudes and be connected as a family.
Joanne Hillhouse has earned several awards and recognition, such as The Caribbean Writer’s David Hough Literary Prize to an author residing in the Caribbean and the JCI West Indies Outstanding Young Person Prize for Excellence. She is also recognized by her colleagues and other writers as a dominant voice in the region that evokes great emotion through her depiction of “real life” (Kirkus Review on Lost), a quality shared by other writers who admire Hillhouse’s candid descriptions of conditions in her homeland. Her former professor, another well-published author, Dr. Mervyn Morris, believes that Hillhouse deserves all the accolades she receives primarily because of her “skillful descriptions of people, place events, traditions, and nicely managed dialogue that captures the personality and mood” of her work. Another fellow writer, Eric Jerome Dickey, describes Hillhouse as “a brilliant writer.” In an NPR interview, Elizabeth Nunez applauds Hillhouse for the “extraordinary insights into postcolonial Antigua that only a writer who had lived that life could have done so well.” Because of her excellent portrayal in Oh Gad! Nunez selected the book as required reading for her course on Caribbean Women’s Writers at Hunter College—CUNY in New York.
Hillhouse’s praises abound as her literary colleagues accept and commend her work. In Caribbean Vistas, Leah Creque-Harris comments on Hillhouse’s “authorial voice [which] is lyrical and descriptive.” She likes the fascination produced through Hillhouse’s masterful transportation of her readers “back and forth from our modernity into the mythic yet real seat of Antiguan culture.” Another critic, Dr. Roland A. William, believes that “the language and the psychological construction” as well as the character of Nikki in Oh Gad! are authentic and “real.” Yet another writer, Claudia Ruth Francis, classifies Hillhouse among the top of the “artistic talent” in Antigua and Barbuda. When one examines some of Hillhouse’s authors, it is not surprising that Stephanie Tolan, Harper Lee, and Jamaica Kincaid are credited as her inspiration. With her unbounded energy, she continues to exploit the literary scene producing works of great insight. If the past is any indication of Joanne Hillhouse’s future, we can anticipate more work in all genres as she continues her journey. “May [her] tribe increase” (“Abou Ben Adhem”).
Hillhouse, J. C. The Boy from Willow Bend. London: Hansib, 2009.
——————. Oh Gad!, Strebor Books, 2012.
——————. Musical Youth. Basseterre, St. Kitts: CaribbeanReads Publishing, 2013.
——————. Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. Canada: Insomniac Press, 2014.
The Caribbean Writer. USVI: University of the Virgin Islands.