I have a couple of new video clips (well not new but newly uploaded as I was working on an essay about my life in mas for submission and I needed to upload the videos) from Grace’s Merrymakers 2017 debut and finale during Antigua and Barbuda Carnival’s 60th anniversary. Seriously when I play mas again I want to not have to worry about all the behind the scenes stuff – though my mas was micro I have newfound respect for the leaders of mas I’ve played with over the years, because seriously when is their Carnival. I’m half-kidding. I had fun. We all did.
Time for the rundown of the year’s most popular posts. Hope you’ll check them out if you haven’t already.
Excerpt: “You know, it’s a strange thing, but I heard that when slavery was over the slaves at Old Road didn’t even get drunk. I heard there was no great happiness among them. They didn’t know what would happen, so them give assurances that they will not leave the plantation, that they will continue on working for the old owners. The old slave massas let them continue to work the ground and grow food for themselves.”
Reflection: This one surprises me; I guess there’s more interest in our history than we realize as this is literally excerpts related to Emancipation in Antigua and Barbuda from the book To Shoot Hard Labour.
#2 – After the Storm
Excerpt: “I have seen social media posts (seemingly out of the US) indicating that we don’t matter either because the posters have never heard of us, because we’re too small to matter, because we’re ignorant for living in a hurricane pathway, because our houses are supposedly poorly built and not because of the 185 mph winds that passed directly over Barbuda, or because we’re doomed anyway – because climate change. I will agree with one thing; we do need to take climate change seriously – it is a factor and, though islands like ours are among the most vulnerable, this is a global problem. The lives of many hang in the balance. The Paris Agreement (which America recently pulled out of) was one step toward combatting climate change. So, in addition to supporting recovery efforts, we can resolve to educate ourselves on climate change and on efforts to mitigate its impact, and do what we can to support and advocate. The lives of every single being on the planet hangs in the balance. We have a saying here, today for me, tomorrow for you; I mention it here not to wish any of the trolls who scoffed at our pain ill but as a reminder that we need to stand together, because we’re all in this together. We, in the Caribbean, grieve and stand with the world when bad things happen anywhere in the world. We are very tuned in to the world (though we know the world is not likewise as tuned in to us) and we care (to wit, our hearts go out to Mexico as well at this time in the wake of the quake there). One of the trolls said we matter only as tourist destinations, and it is true that we live where the world vacations.”
Reflection: This is the first post I wrote after hurricane Irma; I’m delighted especially at how much it’s been shared as Barbuda and other affected islands and countries need all the help they can get (still).
#3 – Grace’s Merrymakers
Reflection: This was my post on my mas troupe inspired by my book With Grace; thanks for the interest, guys.
Reflection: This was just a share but understandably one that’s proven popular among book bloggers and readers.
#5 – Food as Culture
Excerpt: ‘Food to reflect differences.
‘“I can help with snacks,” the woman was saying. “Finger foods for during rehearsals and performance night.”
The woman seemed almost shy. Was that Granny Linda? He’d pictured someone taller. Her voice had sort of a shake in it too. This was Zahara’s no non-sense, ‘take no bullshit’ grandmother? Wow.
“Maybe some grilled pork and pineapple skewers?” she added.
“That sounds good,” Mr. Perry said, nodding. “Although you know, some of the kids are vegetarian; pork might not do for everyone.”
“That’s okay, I can substitute chicken,” Granny Linda said, and at that everyone fell out laughing.’’
Reflection: This post was sparked by an online food debate about the right way to make ducana (a Good Friday staple in Antigua) and got me thinking about the ways food shows up in my own work. Who knew food could inspire so much passion.
#6 – In the Race
Excerpt: “Thanks to my nominator for taking the time to read the work (With Grace) and fill out the forms (I know it was a pain); you didn’t have to and I appreciate that you did.”
Reflection: My post on my nomination for the Astrid Lindgren prize.
Excerpt: “As the author of With Grace, I am delighted at this development and hope With Grace continues to find its way in to the hands of children across the Caribbean and around the world.”
Reflection: When I learned that I had been selected for this, I was hyped. Thanks, VI. I just got a copy of the special edition – it’s not in the original post but I’m going to share it here anyway. That’s me with the publisher and the special edition of With Grace.
#8 – It’s Lost! Pub Day
Excerpt: “Remember, go to my facebook (today – November 30th 2017) to participate in the AMA, author-illustrator in conversation, Lost! virtual launch, book birthday.”
Reflection: This AMA was dope. Okay, it wasn’t so much of an AMA as a chat between me and the artist, loved that.
Reflection: This trended primarily across the book blogging community; happy to introduce others to books from my part of the map.
#10 – Do You Know Eileen Hall?
Excerpt: ‘If you google her, you might find her wiki entry (no pictures though) describing her as “an American poet”. Not true. She is, though, a largely forgotten Antiguan poet; and the same wiki entry does disclose that “Hall was born in Antigua; her father’s family was from Oxford and her mother’s family was part French and part Irish, the French side having been in the West Indies since the mid seventeenth century.” Like I said, Antiguan poet, one of the first – research would suggest – to be published internationally. Her 1938 book, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, was The Fountain and the Bough.’
Reflection: Researching this post after I’d read Hall’s book consumed the better part of a night, so I’m glad there’s some interest because damn I went down the rabbit hole on this one.
Those are my top ten – i.e. most viewed, shared, liked, commented on – posts of 2017 (so far). Thanks for reading.
A new interview has been added to the media page. It’s an audio of a radio interview.
Here’s an excerpt:
“My writing is influenced by life…I think what I write is very much from the core of who I am, what my experiences have been, not in a literal way, not in a biographical way, but in terms of the energy and the culture of Antigua and Barbuda, of Ottos, Antigua, where I’m from, and just as we transition in the world, as Antigua becomes more of itself, reflecting that, capturing that; so my writing is influenced by life.
My latest book is a children’s picture book; it has fantasy elements. It’s called Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and it’s about an arctic seal and a jellyfish and there are other underwater creatures in it; but at the same time it’s influenced by that story that happened some years ago when Wadadli, the arctic seal, found himself stranded in the Caribbean Sea and we had to figure out how we’re going to get him back to his natural habitat, even things like that can influence a story. Because a lot of it comes from the what if, what if this happened, then what, then what, then what; and for me writing a lot of the times is trying to make sense of life, trying to figure out how I feel about things, trying to understand what’s happening. And I think for a lot of writers it’s probably the same thing, it’s that whole thing of sort of wrestling with life.”
And the question was, “what or who has influenced your writing over all these years” with, as a follow up, if I think that’s true of most writers. Listen to the whole conversation in the Interview Section of the Media room.
Remember, November 30th 2017 is Publication Day for Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure – a picture book described as “appealing book, all the more so for being based on real life” by Kirkus Reviews. It is already available for pre-order. Please help me spread the news and consider purchasing for the young readers in your life. If you’re in Antigua, copies are already available at the Best of Books.
If you google her, you might find her wiki entry (no pictures though) describing her as “an American poet”. Not true. She is, though, a largely forgotten Antiguan poet; and the same wiki entry does disclose that “Hall was born in Antigua; her father’s family was from Oxford and her mother’s family was part French and part Irish, the French side having been in the West Indies since the mid seventeenth century.” Like I said, Antiguan poet, one of the first – research would suggest – to be published internationally. Her 1938 book, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, was The Fountain and the Bough. I just read it and while I won’t be reviewing it, I thought I might do a post about Hall – sharing some of what I’ve learned about her and some of what I liked in the book.
She was referred to in writings by Ford Madox Ford, influential figure in the literary world, remembered for, among other things, championing new literary works and literary experimentation, and friend, as Mrs. Hall Lake – married to Dr. Michael Lake.
I’ve posted about her before at my Wadadli Pen blog where I shared her poem Lullabye
I said in that post, among other things, that the poem was, to my reading, “ahead of its time for many reasons including the use of our nation language.” The collection in which this poem appears, the collection I have just finished reading, is out of print and, as I noted in that post, Hall the writer “is little known in Antigua”. I, of course, had to shade Wikepedia a little bit for referring to her as an American poet, though given her publisher and the literary circles she moved in it was probably intended to reflect where she fits in the canon. Of course, since I’m so much about the place of Antiguan and Barbudan writers in the Caribbean literary canon, I’m pulling a Maxine Waters and reclaiming (well, not my time) but one of our literary artistes. Oh and (sidebar) I need that mug.
I don’t want to suggest that I’m leading this reclamation as I really became aware of Hall when she was featured in the 2012 edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books(an issue spotlighting women writers and guest edited by Edgar Lake who described it as “a small part of what lies forgotten in libraries and museums around the world”) which credited her as “an Antiguan-born poet”. The Review informed us of how well received her writing was, and the fact that she was published in the likes of Harper’s, Poetry, and American Mercury; “Her short stories and translations of other women’s work are strewn in small publications on both sides of the Atlantic.” The Review, too, singled out for mention her use of the creole in the time that she wrote.
The January 1939 edition of Poetry, meanwhile, credited her “structural mastery: the clean, spare welding of word and phrase that gives logical shape and direction to a poem” and further added, “Eileen Hall’s poems are never glib and facile, always compact, meticulous, assured” even as it critiqued the over-attention to discipline and form at the expense of adventurousness in her poetic exploration.
The Wadadli Pen blog also has my share of her poem, also from the book, Obeah Woman. I first heard this poem during a panel I participated in. The person who presented it is a former teacher of mine (Gordon George) and it caught my attention – as it did the many students gathered in the room. I, of course, asked him if he had more of her work and he shared the book with me.
Information on Eileen Hall, Eileen Hall Lake, Eileen Lake is scant. There is a reference to “Biala’s beautiful friend Eileen Lake, ‘long of limb’ …and ‘lithe of back’” from Ford’s work, as referenced in the 2005 biography Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala by Joseph Wiesenfarth. Yes, Dominican born Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea (recently reviewed here), was, from what I’ve glimpsed, part of that literary crowd as well; wonder if Rhys and Hall’s paths ever crossed.
I also found a couple of translation/writer credits for two BBC series – Emil und die Detektive/Emil and the Detectives, in 1966, for the BBC’s children television series Jackanory (there’s also a credit for this story in 2016 collection Der Krimi: Crime Fiction in German) and It Isn’t Enough, in 1959, for Saturday Playhouse. I am not 100 percent sure this is her but there is evidence that she moved to Europe and did translation work, so, maybe. There’s a credit as well to a 1956 translation of Johanna Spyri’s classic Heidi for Penguin Books. The reference I found, wrote this: “Eileen Hall was also the translator of Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner, which was first published in English by Jonathan Cape in 1931, but little else is known about her. This translation, along with Edwardes’, is one of the two most widely disseminated today and may be the translation most contemporary British children have grown up on. In both the U.S. and the U.K., if one were to look for a new copy of Heidi in paperback, this would be the likely option.”
So these new finds mean two things – I need to update her listing in the data base of Antiguan and Barbudan writers, and I really don’t know a lot about her.
But I’ve read her book (dedicated to Michael Lake) and some of the language was truly sublime. Some favourite lines:
“My childhood litany of rock and water
is now the sweetest of dead languages.
The stars are altered – Now the dawn
Can tell me nothing that I wish to know.” – from Dead Language
“…For death, the sculptor works in living tissue.
The starving soldier, without eyes or fingers,
Stands with the medals on his breast to prove
The impotence of valor.” – from Street
“I remember the nameless ones,
The incorruptible, who, not being meek,
Inherit nothing but a little earth.” – from Laurel
“My heart has withered on your grave,
and what I had of grace or truth
Lies there with you, and now my youth.” – from The Night Comes Down
Check out Obeah Woman – it’s short and sweet (or maybe I should say, vicious).
“From hot canefields, far voices float.” – from Afternoon: New Division
“The dates and names of death no more are seen,
Obliterated by the living green.” – from Graves on Barton Hill: Antigua
“We laugh, because we must create
A god, from time to time, to hate
Something to hear us when we curse,
Locked, raging, in this universe.” – from Sonnets I – VII
Okay, I’ll stop there; I’d say go read it but it’s out of print. Maybe there are more used copies out there; I don’t know. But I’m glad still to share and claim this Antiguan and Barbudan writer as I continue to explore our literary legacy.
I’m making this my Sunday Post because it’s the reading that ends my week. I’m also going to Mailbox Monday it. As for what else I’m reading, see my post So anyway, that’s what I’m reading which has been updated with a new review since I initially posted it for Top Ten Tuesday.
As for my own writing, I’m doing advance publicity on Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, my new picture book, and post-publicity after my ghost story, Papa Jumbie, was posted to Akashic’s Duppy Thursday (check it out and come back and tell me what you think).
Finally, as a reminder, the islands and countries of the Caribbean have been dealt the one-two punch of Irma and Maria, and the daunting reality of busier and more violent hurricane seasons if we don’t step up our efforts to curb climate change.
We still need your help – whether your contributions, or your advocacy, or your tourism dollars so that we can stimulate our economies and help ourselves. We are a resilient and a resourceful people, and we will recover but everybody needs a little help sometimes. Here are some hurricane relief links.
I’ve also updated the media page with links to my interviews on The Culture Trip and African Book Addict, and my guest post on Wandering Educators. I hope you’ll check those out. As noted before, I am not always able to respond to individual requests for information, but this is a one stop shop for any information that I am comfortable sharing publicly – and some that I’m not.
If you check the Networked page, you’ll see an addition and subtraction there. The addition is Women who live on Rocks, a mostly expat site about the lighter side of island living. I thought I’d bring some homegrown flava (lol) so I applied to become one of their bloggers. Here’s my first post.
In December 2016, Interviewing the Caribbean, a Caribbean arts journal edited by Opal Palmer Adisa, ran two of my poems, a short story, and an interview. Half a year on from the publication of those pieces, I’ve decided to share the interview with you, though I invite you to check out the entire issue and all other issues of IC, after reading my review of IC 2016 Part 1, of course.
IC: Both poems reference the violence of poverty, where hope collapses in lieu of things, basic needs. You are known primarily as a prose writer, where does poetry fit into your portfolio?
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I write probably just as much poetry as fiction, and have published some in journals, but fiction is my one true love and poetry …well, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never studied poetry writing, not the way I’ve studied fiction, or maybe it’s the editor whose rejection included the shade that my poetry is not up to the standard of my fiction but, to my mind, my poetry hand is not as strong as my fiction hand. But I work at it, I keep coming back to it, I enjoy reading and writing it, and I don’t like to paint myself into corners when it comes to writing. I experiment across genres and sub-genres, so for me poetry is another area of expression and experimentation.
IC: Are there specific issues/subjects that demand poetry, while others demand prose?
Joanne C. Hillhouse: Good question. I’ve never really thought about that. I think my
poetry tends to deal with more personal themes but then my better poetry, like the ones you’ve chosen, are not really personal at all. So, I don’t know. I think fiction tends to come to me through characters and trying to map their journey, while my poetry tends to be more responsive to instinct and feeling. But I’ve dealt with the same themes in both, in some way.
IC: The man or persona in “The Bamboo Raft” seems like a good candidate for the “Election Season” politicians as his dire poverty is for sale, with just a little hope. Can you speak to the violence of poverty in the Caribbean and its impact on people’s lives.
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I don’t know if I can speak broadly to the violence of poverty. I
also don’t believe that poor people are more inclined toward violence, criminality, or corruption. What I will say is that, as evidenced by Election Season, I get frustrated that the people continue to be sold a six for a nine and continue to allow themselves to be sold a six for a nine, in this five year political carnival that leaves the most economically vulnerable just as vulnerable as they were. But when you’re trying to make life sometimes you don’t have the luxury of looking at the big picture, even though you’re the person who most needs to. I think the status quo works for who it works for, and it’s not the most economically deprived. It can be a self-defeating cycle. That said, I grew up in the working class community of Ottos, Antigua, and what we lacked was a “reality”—what I mean is the material things, and whatever status they conferred, we lacked, but the absence of those things didn’t define us, not in our own minds, and with our parents emphasizing education and hard work and resourcefulness, we knew it didn’t have to limit us. And I don’t think we were unusual in that.
IC: As a writer who loves and cares about her island, where do you see hope? Do you see an end to the senseless violence.
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I see hope in the children always. I am very engaged with my nieces and nephews. I volunteered with the Cushion Club reading club for kids over the years and have seen people come through that programme who had chips on their shoulder because of where they come from in society and how they might have been perceived because of it, come through and surprise themselves with how great and full of potential they are. I’ve done youth writing and youth media training workshops where you see the growth even over the course of a two week programme that you wish the funding was there to allow to continue year round—especially when they meet you in the street and ask, when we doing it again? And you can’t believe it’s the same person who didn’t seem to be that into it to begin with. I’ve seen some slip through the cracks as well, don’t get me wrong, and I know what it is to stand in front of a classroom and feel the undiluted impact of teen apathy and entitlement. But the ones that grow into themselves give me hope. And also, I run the Wadadli Pen youth writing programme; I’ve seen people write themselves free of their insecurities (as one testified years later in an open letter) through using their voice—which is why I’m a big proponent of the arts in the becoming of young people— and feel that we are not doing enough to create programmes and programme continuity when it comes to youth development. Not just the literary arts or just the arts. It can be sports, as in the case of one of my nieces, or whatever stimulates them, but something they can focus on that can be an outlet for their confusion and imagination, something that can begin to suggest to them their value, or can give them a space to work through their anger as they begin to come to terms with how unfair the world can be. Also, hopefully, they can see how beautiful it can be; because creativity is the very definition of beauty in the world. So, yeah, cliché as it is, the youth, that’s where hope lies. And it’s crazy disorienting (pleasantly so) to then have a conversation with them as a young adult after everything—you just want to squeeze their cheeks and squee look at you all grown and bout your business…but you restrain yourself, of course.
IC: “Zombie Island,” despite its nihilistic title and the trajectory of the story that descends into total chaos, ends on a romantic and positive note—not everyone is jaded and even in the worst of situations, people can care for and protect one another. That’s a very hopeful and affirming ending. Do you believe that good overcomes evil?
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I’m not Pollyanna and I have my dark and despairing periods when it comes to all the evil and suffering and badmindedness in the world, but I suppose I do lean toward hope or some days, if I’m being real, the hope of hope…how else are you supposed to get out of bed in the morning?
IC: What would you say is the antidote for this violence in the Caribbean? It seems to me that some of us have always been able to keep the violence at bay, to continue to live in harmony, to reach deep down and come up with a smile as Sammy and the protagonist of the story manage. Do elaborate.
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I don’t know that there’s a single antidote. We have the pain of
our history, the baggage we still carry, poverty, violence, disconnection from ourselves. I suppose my actions speak to some of the things that can be done, what worked for me—giving our young people an opportunity to tap in to their creativity, a forum to express themselves, to connect with what they’re really feeling, and to know that that’s okay, to listen and to hear each other, all of that. I don’t have faith that the politicians will do it and so we do what we can in our homes and in our communities, however big or small or personal our community is. As for Sammy’s smile, never underestimate the power of laughter.
IC: I have heard it said that the violence in the Caribbean is a failure of independence, that the Caribbean was better under colonial rule. What are your thoughts on this perspective?
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I don’t believe being subject to the vision and will of another is
ever better; however, more…orderly…it might have been. The worst and most sustained violence we experienced as a people was under colonialism, pre and post emancipation, beginning with the violence of being torn from our homes. We’re still unhealed in a lot of ways. So, I am not a colonialist, nor am I pro-capitalists who act like colonialists, sometimes with our permission; I am pro-Independence all the way—political independence, economic independence, independence of the mind. But when the foolishness get me vex, the pettiness and the politricks, I sometimes have to remind myself that we are young in our Independence and are going to eff up, but sometimes I wish our learning curve could be sharper and that we could shake the tribalism of partisan politics which is stunting us. One of my favourite songs is King Obstinate’s Believe; we sing it and its vision of who and how we could be, if we harnessed our collective will to the purpose of nation building, but sometimes I don’t know if we hear it and its call to, “believe in yourself, most of all as one people.”
IC: As a Caribbean writer, what are your hopes for the Caribbean/for
Joanne C. Hillhouse: That’s a big question. I hope we get better, do better. And if I can hit an environmental note for a moment, I hope we realize how blessed we are to live in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse places in the world, respect the balance, and resist the impulse to destroy it in the name of the almighty dollar. I hope we truly start acting like we really believe our people and especially our youth are our most valuable resource by investing in programmes and the sustainability of programmes meant to nurture their potential—including creative/arts programmes. Beyond that I guess I hope we center ourselves in our own story.
IC: What keeps you writing and where do you envision your writing in the next five to ten years?
Joanne C. Hillhouse: Honestly, I wish I was doing more writing. My spirit is never so full, my mind never so focused as when I’m writing. My writing, I mean. Writing gives me life and there are times, I’m convinced, that it saved my life. The pull of the characters, the many things I don’t know, the sunset I saw this evening …all these things keep me writing. And yet I have so many unfinished things. I make my living as a freelancer (writer, editor, writing coach, course/workshop facilitator, etc.), so the hustle is real, but I also feel blessed that I’m able to make my living doing what I love. I hope my writing hand will continue to grow stronger. I hope to still be a freelancer, emphasis on free, but I hope for a better balance of the writing I do and the writing I have to do…good health and more travels. So, if you know of any programmes looking to sponsor a writer…
IC: What is your writing process?
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I write. Wherever, whenever I can. I write.
IC: Your story, “Zombie Island,” seems to straddle genres, but more importantly tries to find a “logical” reason to explain the surge of violence in the Caribbean. Speak about the impetus for this story.
Joanne C. Hillhouse: I love zombie movies and TV shows. I wanted to write one. I like to try my hand at things I’ve never written before. That’s how I ended up trying my hand at noir, and the teen/young adult genre that resulted in my book, Musical Youth, a Burt Award finalist, or the fairy tale, With Grace, that’s shortly due out as a children’s picture book. So, it was that impulse to try something I hadn’t done, to experiment. It was also the reality of violence—everything that happened in that story including a raging man banging down my door happened in life, though none of it, as is always the case with fiction, happened as it happens in life. My irritation with the politics is there as well, so it must have been political season when I wrote it. But mostly it was me wanting to see if I could tell a zombie tale at all, and then more specifically a zombie tale in a Caribbean space, not the snarling horror of it, but the creeping awareness of it…and then, of course, the snarling horror of it.
On Wednesday 21st December 2016, the Best of Books bookstore on St. Mary’s Street hosted the launch of the latest book by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse. The book, With Grace, a Caribbean faerie tale, is the sixth book and second children’s picture book by the local writer. “In With Grace, Joanne has […]