Out Dey!

Some days you just need to go back to your happy place (yes, there were bumps in the making and showcasing of Grace’s Merrymakers; but playing mas is still one of the purest pleasures there is because when the music hits you, you feel no pain).

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on the road 2

on the road

This is me and a couple of friends playing the mango tree faerie from my children’s picture book for the 60th anniversary of Antigua’s Carnival.

Video taken by my niece (who was one of my banner holders) 20706223_1678542355489442_804926424_oduring our appearance on the stage – first ones on the stage (no warm up) – Carnival Monday, pictures plucked from the Antigua Carnival’s Facebook – Carnival Tuesday album. The song in the video is Out Dey by Claudette ‘CP’ Peters which went on to earn her the distinction of being the first female soca artiste to win the Antigua Road March title (i.e. most played song on the road for the 60th anniversary of Antigua’s Carnival).

For the back story go to the making of Grace’s Merrymakers and for the back story to that (i.e. the book itself) go to the With Grace first page and reviews page.

Yep, it may have been released in December 2016 but between being picked as one of the US Virgin Islands’ Governor’s Summer Reads and the tree faerie being Out Dey in de Carnival, it’s been the summer of Grace.

ETA: I’m also making this my Sunday Post (a meme run by the Caffeinated Reviewer) because, yay, I finished and blogged about Wide Sargasso Sea this Sunday. Read the review here. That means that I can add another book to my active reading pile and that book is – ta-dah! – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Don’t judge me. Okay, judge, whatever but another blogger decided to mail it to me after I told her how much the movie sucked – either this is a case of the book being better than the movie or she’s trying to prank me. Either way, there’s a hurricane coming and I need the distraction. You know how this post opens with needing to go to my happy place, well…there you have it.

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Grace’s Merrymakers

It’s funny how quickly Carnival goes by. It’s like this two week alternate reality where everything else ceases to exist, and then, in a blink, back to reality. Within those two weeks there is pageantry, soca, calypso, pan, controversy, and, of course, mas including the epic Carnival Tuesday parade (all 10,000 plus steps of it). Carnival is mas, and mas is  an opportunity to showcase our creativity and that, the opportunity it provides to showcase our creativity, is the purpose of this post.

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With Grace – a Caribbean fairytale…and our pattern book.

See, I wrote a children’s picture book called With Grace (released last December), and the world of that story became the pattern that we drew from in crafting our mas – in great part because I wanted to see the tree faerie come to life.

tree faerie

The page I sent my friend before she even had a copy of the book to see if she thought we could do this. She did.

We had more elaborate plans to start but adjusted to our reality and are grateful that with the help of sponsors (shout out to Titi Rent-a-Car, Townhouse Mega Store, and Pink Mongoose), we were able to bring the tree faerie to Carnival City.

 

Graces Merry Makers

Grace’s Merrymakers.

In production

I’m not going to pretend that I had any hand in the actual building – I am rather lucky that my friends (Helena Jeffery Brown and Augusta Scotland Samuel) who do have experience with costume building were interested in taking on this project.

Material was bought 20170623_180341,

Wire was bent 20170610_17453520170610_135409,

Shapes were drawn 20170604_20525720170604_205301,

Fabric was cut 20170604_21191820170701_134735,

& Details were added 20170802_12502820170802_125822 (these are for the headpieces and standards – because we might not have had a mango tree like we’d hoped but the standards made for a good stand-in).

In their skilled hands (plus seamstress, Ms. Blaize, who sewed the tops they then decorated), it all came together20170802_125004.20170802_125037.

We had to do a product description for the stage and here’s some of what we said – “The fairy’s bodice is the colour of tree bark crisscrossed in green. Her skirt consists of green leaves, with stripes of gold, hanging from her body like leaves from a tree. Look closely, you’ll also see mango blossoms – between the fairy’s wings, pinned into her hair, and along the leaves making up her hand pieces. The fairy’s wings spread wide as she wakes, the orange pink hue of a ripening mango, made of bent wire in the tradition of Antiguan mas. Another feature of local mas, the standards – poles wrapped in leaves, in hues of green and gold – are the trees waving in the breeze. It’s mango season, Carnival season, a season of creativity in full bloom.”

On the Road

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After all that, we were only on the road on Carnival Tuesday (shout out to Just Friends, for being so welcoming to us on the road); on Carnival Monday, given our size, we  only crossed the stage. Shout out to our banner holders 20170807_155130…and our back-up banner holders.

With Grace

We were happy to have the opportunity to showcase what mas is about to us – not just fun (though it is always that), but the colour, spirit, and creative energy of our Antiguan and Barbudan people. As a writer, it made me happy to see a character I imagined (a character then illustrated by Cherise Harris and re-imagined by Jeffery) come to life as a part of one of my favourite events, Carnival, mas, Tuesday, the biggest live theatre event (for that’s how I’ve thought of our mas since I first witnessed it as a child). This year I also spied a smurfette and a mermaid (dope); so why not the mango tree faerie, a 100 Wadadli character. Again, thanks to our sponsors (Titi Rent-a-Car, Pink Mongoose, and Townhouse Mega Store) for supporting our vision – remember, support the businesses that support the arts.

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ABOUT THE BOOK: Grace, of Grace’s Peak, loves her hill, and her home above the village, above the whole island. All her trees are lush and full of ripe fruits, except for the one at the far end of her orchard.  She hates that tree.  So when the smiling, barefoot, girl from the village asks Grace if she can pick fruits to sell at the market, it is from that sad, bare tree that Grace “generously” allows her to pick. Little does Grace know that the young girl’s kind, generous heart and her sweet special song will make the impossible happen, and change life at Grace’s Peak forever.  Published by Little Bell Caribbean.

Also, for news on Antigua’s Carnival, go here.

ETA: Video and more pictures here.

 

 

 

 

My First First Lines Lime

ETA: I’m going to cheat and make this my Sunday Post as well, as there’ve been no new developments except *no spoilers here* the reading continues. I was so close to the end of In Time of Need, I thought I might finish it before Sunday but alas! In my defense, several of my client projects this past week have been (and are) editing related, so a lot of reading is being done; just not so much for leisure.

sunday post

ORIGINAL POST

New book alert!

No not one of mine, new book in the active reading pile. Yes, I know there are already six (6) books in that, let’s call it, arp, and many more unread books on my book shelf; so I really shouldn’t be adding. But it’s my treat to myself for hitting 10 books (don’t judge). But instead of purchasing, I hit up the library for the first time in forever. In Antigua and Barbuda, the whole library thing is a long story; like 1974 (the year the quake destroyed the original library building) to 2014 (the year the new library building slowly eased its doors open) long. The lending system is not yet digitized (sigh) but we can borrow books (by signing them out old school). The book I sought (one from my book wish list) was not where I initially was directed (fiction) and after the librarian in that section told me it must be out (no way to check for sure? I wondered), I almost left but then I remembered that the librarian in the reception area had told me to check the third floor if I didn’t find it on the second (I wasn’t going to but then I did). And the librarian on that floor was super helpful. She told me to check the West Indian section (and then she came and checked for me). And there it was. I have to admit I questioned her about this because, while I love that we have a section for Caribbean books, I hate when books are segregated in to a section where they might not be found by readers not drawn to that particular genre (say, people who associate Caribbean books with school and fiction with fun); but I suppose there has to be some kind of organizing system (if there are two copies of a book though, say, why not put one in the West Indies section and one in fiction or non-fiction or wherever else it fits, to increase its odds of being discovered?). Anyway, nitpick aside, that librarian was very helpful (and patient with my questions) and I left the library smiling and clutching a copy of the first book I had checked out in years upon years upon years…upon years. Pray I finish it before its due date.

What was it?

Well, here’s where First Lines Fridays comes in. first-lines-fridaysThis is a feature on Wandering Words, which speaks to the very issue of how people discover books by asking, what if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  If you want to make your own post, feel free to use or edit the banner above, and follow the rules below:

•Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page

•Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

•Finally… reveal the book!

Don’t mind if I do!

*reaches for first library check out in forever and ever* I promise this is just the first two sentences…

“See now then, the dear Mrs. Sweet who lived with her husband Mr. Sweet and their two children, the beautiful Persephone and the young Heracles in the Shirley Jackson house, which was in a small village in New England. The house, the Shirley Jackson house, sat on a knoll, and from a window Mrs. Sweet could look down on the roaring waters of the Paran River as it fell furiously and swiftly out of the lake, a man-made lake, also named Paran; and looking up, he could see surrounding her, the mountains named Bald and Hale and Anthony, all part of the Green Mountain Range; and she could see the firehouse where sometimes she could attend a civic gathering and hear her government representative say something that might seriously affect her and the well-being of her family or see the firemen take out the fire trucks and dismantle various parts of them and put the parts back together and then polish all the trucks and then drive them around the village with a lot of commotion before putting them away again in the firehouse and they reminded Mrs. Sweet of the young Heracles, for he often did such things with his toy fire trucks; but just now when Mrs. Sweet was looking out from a window in the Shirley Jackson house, her son no longer did that. ”

Okay, so the title of the book is in the very first line (literally the first three words) so it gives itself away.

See now then

So far I’m enjoying it. Not sure yet where the story’s going but the seductive storytelling style of See Now Then’s opening pages is what I’ve come to expect from Jamaica Kincaid, the first author I ever knew from Antigua (one of the reasons I came to believe it was possible to be a writer from Antigua). Yes, she is an inspiration and I’ve read most (though not all) her books; but I am a fan (never a stan). Looking forward to how this turns out and, like I said, pray I finish it before the due date.

How about you? Care to share the first line of a current read?

Barbados: Chattel House Books Pop-ups

Chattel House Books in Barbados is one of the regional/Caribbean bookstores that carries my books – Musical Youth and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight (the 10th anniversary edition), The Boy from Willow Bend, and Oh Gad!

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Chattel House at the 2016 BIM Literary Festival.

In a recent mail, they announced that they’ll be relocating (from Sky Mall) and during the transition plan a number of pop ups, at which they have assured me my books will be for sale. So, I just thought I’d share the pop-up locations:

1. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Business Meetings & State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC)- Tues, Sept 13- Fri, Sept 16
2.  Cubana Book Exhibition/ Sale- Mon, Oct 3- Sat, Oct 8
3. Cynthia Wilson’s Book Launch (by Invitation only)- Thurs, Oct 6- 6-8 p.m.
4. The BLP’s St. James North Branch’s Tea Party at #10 Waterhall Terrace #2, St. James- Sat, Nov 5- 3-6 p.m.
5. Victor Richards’ Book Launch- Sat, Nov 26- 6-8 p.m.
p.s. Chattel House will still be filling customer orders through their Barbados Community College location and their Belle Location.

p.p.s. Some other places where you can find my books in the Caribbean.

Mali Olatunji’s Jumbie Aesthetic Comes to Light with Launch of First Book

Mali A. Olatunji took the photo of me that forms a part of this image in a park in New York, in summer 2012. Hillhouse Read's Kincaid's Lucy, (06.2012)In it, I am reading Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy: A Novel. I think he saw a certain link there, how ever tenuous, given that I was in New York for the launch of my novel Oh Gad! and Kincaid was and remains the most high profile writer from my home country Antigua and Barbuda, and an influence on my becoming as a writer (referenced in many interviews, including this one). Given that last statement, obviously, I’d read several Kincaid books to that point, beginning with the pivotal Annie John: A Novel, but not Lucy. And, yes, I’m actually reading not just pretending to. When you’re posed for as long as I was, it’s inevitable that you’re going to start reading the book you’re supposed to be pretending to read. And, boy, am I glad I did; it became one of my Kincaid favourites.

Anyway, this picture is part of a series of images (I believe) included in Olatunji’s new (first ever, long overdue) book.

Olatunji as you’ll read in this Colin Sampson article has a long record as a professional photographer both here at home and in New York, where he worked for more than two decades as the official fine arts photographer at the Museum of Modern Art. Sidebar: you’ll also note in the Sampson article a critique of how the community fails to utilize people like Olatunji who want to pass on what they’ve acquired over the years.

On that point, you’ll further note that the launch (details at the end of this blog) will be taking place at the Youth Enlightenment Academy, in the former BBC facility on the Sea View Farm Road at Lightfoot, where I held my adult writing workshops earlier this year but which didn’t have its formal opening until this month, July 16th 2015.  For more on YEA, follow the link and/or contact founder and president Lawrence Jardine (770-6955) or Mali Adelaja Olatunji, who serves as the executive director (781-3999). This is a project Olatunji became involved with in an effort to take another stab, not his first, at passing on what he knows – as a photographer, as a student of philosophy with his own unique insights, as an aesthetician, and as an authority and aficionado of Antiguan and Barbudan culture. I can attest from the many spirited discussions and debates we’ve had over the years of our friendship that he is passionate about all of these things.

I’ve known about this book project for a while, and I’m looking forward to it, because in my understanding it’s not just another book featuring pretty pictures (nothing against pretty pictures; I love them too) but a book forwarding a particular philosophy, a uniquely African Antiguan philosophy, but doing so visually and in the process experimenting with a fresh aesthetic.  I’ve variously heard Olatunji refer to it as a jumbie aesthetic and also as woodism. Here’s how it’s explained on the website of his publisher, Hansib, incidentally also the publisher of the second edition of my own The Boy from Willow Bend:

“Like surrealism, cubism and other original aesthetics, woodism is a visual summary of Olatunji’s way of looking at life. In particular, it is an aesthetic that sees the world through the wooded eyes of jumbies. Your jumbie is your soul or the spiritual part of you that survives the death of the body. In Antigua and Barbuda and much of the Caribbean, jumbies are believed to make their post-body home in trees, and in particular silk cotton trees. Hence we can see why Olatunji associates them with a woodist vision of existence.”

Olatunji’s approach involves layering images of trees and leaves over the objects and subjects to reveal the “jumbie’s vision”.
Given the way we still grapple with the jumbie iconography, it’ll be interesting to see how people respond to that idea. Given the breadth of Olatunji’s expression, it’ll be interesting to see how people engage with the artist’s vision. Sidebar-sort-of: you can read more of Olatunji’s insights re art Euro-to-Africa to the evolving Africa-inspired expressions of which he is a part, here.

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That the book, The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda (pictured above), is now coming out is credited largely to Dr. Paget Henry. a professor of Africana studies and philosopher in his own right (his publications include Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy (Africana Thought)).

The book will be launched (and will go on sale) on July 23rd at 7 p.m. with a companion art exhibition featuring the photographic art off Mali Adelaja Olatunji. The night’s scheduled speakers are Lawrence Jardine, Founder, A&B Youth Enlightenment Academy; Paget Henry, Professor, Africana Studies, Brown University; Karen Allen Baxter, Exhibition Curator; Managing Director, Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre, Brown University; Mali Olatunji, Photographer; Executive Director, A&B Youth Enlightenment Academy

Remember, the venue is the Youth Enlightenment Academy in the old BBC building.
youth enlightenment academy

I plan to be there. Do you?

Dancing Again

Let this be a lesson to you/me. A book going out of print doesn’t have to be the end. Though it can feel like it. But that only makes its return that much sweeter.

Dancing cover 2

Insomniac Press has issued a special 10th anniversary edition of my book Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, originally published by Macmillan Caribbean.

This edition is twice as thick thanks to all the extras – stories, poetry – some journalled pieces that many of you may be reading for the first time, and some previously unpublished stuff that you’ll definitely be reading for the first time. I love how it’s new but familiar; I hope you’ll check it out. Check out my Books page for details.

Musical Youth out in the World

Me with Marcella

It was one of those special nights, a night so special not even the plentiful rain could wash away the good vibes. Musical Youth is out in the world now, to early positive reader response (one teen who participated in the writing workshop I ran on November 22nd and 23rd told me she stayed up until 3 a.m. reading just to finish it because she could not put it down… so, yay, Musical Youth!). The book was published in November 2014 as a result of placing second for the 2014 Burt Award (thanks to both CODE, funders of the Burt Award, and Caribbean Reads, the book’s publisher). The turn out and the positive energy surrounding the launch event and the book itself were pitch perfect; and I thank everyone for the support.

The top image (can you feel the joyfulness) is me with friend and professional associate, maven at NIA Comms, Marcella Andre. Here are some more images from the Musical Youth launch event:

This one is of Alexandra Spence reading her story, Why Did I Get Punished? – Honourable Mention for the 2014 Wadadli Pen Challenge (http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com), a writing programme I run here in Antigua and Barbuda to encourage and support emerging writers here at home. Involving some of the Wadadli Pen finalists in the launch of my book, itself the recipient of a prize in another competition, felt like the perfect coming together of my literary worlds.

This one is of Alexandra Spence reading her story, Why Did I Get Punished? – Honourable Mention for the 2014 Wadadli Pen Challenge (http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com), a writing programme I run here in Antigua and Barbuda to encourage and support emerging writers here at home. Involving some of the Wadadli Pen finalists in the launch of my book, itself the recipient of a prize in another competition, felt like the perfect coming together of my literary worlds.

And here is the winner of the Wadadli Pen Challenge, actually this year and last, Asha Graham, who shared her story from this year Lajabless. All Wadadli Pen participants received copies of my book, Musical Youth.

And here is the winner of the Wadadli Pen Challenge, actually this year and last, Asha Graham, who shared her story from this year Lajabless. All Wadadli Pen participants received copies of my book, Musical Youth.

Asha reading

Wadadli Pen Teacher’s prize winner, Margaret Irish, reading from her story, The Skipping Rope, at the launch of my book, Musical Youth.

Wadadli Pen Teacher’s prize winner, Margaret Irish, reading from her story, The Skipping Rope, at the launch of my book, Musical Youth.

Here I am reading from Musical Youth.

Here I am reading from Musical Youth.

Here I am signing copies of Musical Youth…and engaging with soon-to-be-readers.

Here I am signing copies of Musical Youth…and engaging with soon-to-be-readers.

One of those soon-to-be readers was Latisha, a young woman now, but once a young girl I met while a volunteer reader with the Cushion Club. She’s pictured here accepting a gift of the books on behalf of the Cushion Club but she gave me the greater gift that night in the form of a card in which she poured out appreciation for my role as a mentor in her life. I was surprised and overwhelmed with emotion, and I just want to encourage her to continue to strive.

One of those soon-to-be readers was Latisha, a young woman now, but once a young girl I met while a volunteer reader with the Cushion Club. She’s pictured here accepting a gift of the books on behalf of the Cushion Club but she gave me the greater gift that night in the form of a card in which she poured out appreciation for my role as a mentor in her life. I was surprised and overwhelmed with emotion, and I just want to encourage her to continue to strive.

It was a happy night…can you tell?

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Give Thanks for the good turn out…even on such a wet Friday night.

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And yay Musical Youth is out in the world…fingers crossed that it becomes a favourite among Caribbean teens.