It’s a hot and hazy Monday here in Antigua and this is my contribution to the Caffeinated Reviewer’s Sunday Post. The post is an opportunity to reflect on/recap the past week, showcase books and things received, and share news about what’s coming up.
I was off social media for much of Sunday, I’m happy to say, writing a story. *throws confetti* I didn’t say it was any good (too soon to tell) but, yay, it was a writing day. Of course, when I came online it was to the news of a death of a former colleague – a long ago colleague whom I saw only occasionally but whose death by COVID nonetheless knocked the wind out of me. I found myself visiting her social media and among the last set of pictures were joyful, colourful photos of her just celebrating life and that was her, she always looked like she was living her most joyful life. And it doesn’t feel like a lie, though I’m sure it’s more nuanced than that, because i remember her being so completely drama free in a very toxic environment, always ready with a laugh and a joke. And one of the mantras I carry with me, feel the fear and do it anyway, I borrowed from her. I am tired of COVID. I am tired of all the behaviours that have caused it to worsen and worsen and carry on – not vaxxing, not masking, not social distancing. I am tired of all this death. Coincidentally, the story I was working on yesterday is called ‘Undying’. Never let it be said that God doesn’t have a deep sense of irony.
What are you watching? (I didn’t plan to do another TV/movie post so soon but I needed a little Ted Lasso in my life after yesterday)
This week on the Blog
Well, we’ll find out, won’t we.
I am happy to report that I finished the last of three October presentations last Friday and from all accounts all were well received; then today I had two children picture book editing projects come in. And I have mountains of email that I need to get out of Drafts. In general the work-life balance continues.
So, play it by ear.
None. Which is probably just as well since the only reading I’ve managed this week (reading mostly whenever I’m on the bus) is a bit on Fireburn by Apple Gidley. I’m up to page 166.
See appearances – I do have something booked for November and another invite came in today (but details to be negotiated).
Around the blogosphere
Repeating Islands reported that the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica (which I attended all the way back in 2007 with a delegation of Antiguan-Barbudan writers) received the Madam C J Walker for its dedication to Black literature during the Hurston Wright Legacy Awards this October.
It’s invitation: “to share your stories, your artwork, your memories, your poems, spoken word, and performances of your country’s folklore.”
I decided to look back across my own bibliography to see if I had such folklore (spoiler alert: I do) and single some of them out (from memory).
The Boy from Willow Bend – I had a teacher who used to tell jumbie stories in free periods and the story that opens my first book is my vague recollection of a story she told, fictionalized.
“Midnight is when it come, big and fat and looking for little children to eat…”
It occurs to me as I re-write that from memory that all these stories were about getting us to stay in the house and go to sleep. I mean, the soucouyant, also mentioned in this book, as a story within a story, roams at night and per stories I was told growing up, she was a real terror and the only way to get her was to find her skin (she needed to strip off her skin to wander), and sal’ um so that when she go fu put um back on eeh bun’ she.
But the two apparitions or jumbies that stand out for me in this book are the one who ‘blinded’ main character Vere and the one who followed him later on on a lonely road. Both of these are inspired by true stories. I had a family member who could see them, I won’t say who, but as with Vere in the book, jumbies don’t like when you run yuh mout’ so they ‘blinded’ the smadee so he (she?) couldn’t see them anymore. As for the woman in the hat (who may or may not have been a woman from before time, as far back as slavery even considering that all of these roads have been cut through what used to be cane lands), I had another family member who ran all the way home after running in to her (this was a real thing). The explanation some have for why we see so few jumbies these days is too much light; more streetlights, carlights, houselights etc. means less shadow and jumbies prefer to move in shadow. True story.
The main thing though – call back to the title – is the weeping willow, the crying/whistling sound they make when the breeze blows through them – and that is something a grown man, once a boy, who remembers the willow tree lined alley that inspired the book, told me affected him on reading the book, that sense-memory of that dark alley and the willow trees. Which makes sense when you remember that jumbie lub lib in tree.
In Oh Gad!, the characters and the community as a whole visit the slave dungeon at Blackman’s Valley, inspired by the stone slave dungeon at Orange Valley in Antigua. The book transmits some of the history of the latter, handed down orally and through books like To Shoot Hard Labour, which is a post-slavery non-fiction narrative. There’s some ancestral bonding that takes place there – the decision to have them roast cashews was inspired by something I remember reading somewhere (don’t worry I would have looked it up at the time, but I’m going on memory now) about the obeah woman who blessed the 1736 King Court led rebellion during their meetings at Stony Hill Gully, and how her roasting cashews was part of the ritual. So, this isn’t folklore per se but it feels important to mention it here as part of our collective (both mythological and factual) lore.
The theatrical production in Musical Youth is built entirely around the Anansi character, specifically children’s author Ashey Bryan’s version of him in The Dancing Granny. Anansi, the trickster spider, is from West Africa. He is a demi-god in African spirituality but to us, over here, he is the one on the name of all the stories we grew up on, including ‘how tiger stories became anansi stories’. And every Caribbean child, certainly of my generation, grew up hearing Anansi stories.
With Grace is a Caribbean faerie tale and those faerie tales have their magical characters (fairy godmothers and such), well I decided to pull that magic from our culture and repurposed an obeah man for this role. No dark magic, this is a children’s book after all, but more culturally relevant and in the end a good takeaway, I think. And since I have never, never ever never ever ever been to an obeah man, the character’s interaction with the fictional obeah man is all mek up.
There is also a tree faerie in this book. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t look up tree faeries – maybe I thought I was inventing something. I did look up a lot of the fairytale tropes so that I could weave around them and make my own thing – obeah man instead of fairy godmother, for instance – but the tree faerie, I think my mango tree and love of mangoes was perhaps the inspiration for that. I’ve since learned more about tree fairies, sprites, or deities in other cultures – all the way back to the dryads in Greek mythology, further back than that probably and forward all the way to my mango tree faerie, now a part of the tree faerie lexicon (it is written), the spirit who lives in the tree and helps it to grow and in this story, helps a girl to find family.
Also feel free to check tales of jumbies (Papa Jumbie, Amelia), zombies (Zombie Island), supernatural events (Little Prissy Palmer, Portent), and more among my published short stories. I don’t have a ton of purely speculative fics but it’s not unusual for me to sprinkle some magic on to my tales.
I’m just going to go ahead and make this a post about some things I found this week.
Like a review of my book Musical Youthon #booktube as part of a 2020 year end round up. It’s like fresh money (no scratch that, money is like fresh money) but this was pretty damn dope.
How dope is that?
I’m also vibin’ with Lil Nas X’s new music. This is one I have on repeat ever since the mention of my mom’s home country, Dominica, also his dad’s home country, on #booktube of all places, had me seeking out the song.
The booktuber, Beautifully Bookish Bethany, was matching songs from the Montero album to books (book social media is so creative) when I heard her mention this one. Some digging led me to his Caribbean roots. Apart from that though, the song is so melancholic and introspective, and at the same time catchy which is a neat trick with lyrics as stark and moody as “in this broken home/everyone becomes predictable”.
Other music I’ve been listening to this week include some Willow Smith (hey, I’m surprised too), some of the Fugees reunion performance tracks (love the Fugees and never thought I’d see them back together), and lots of local calypso (I was working on an article that drew on the Antiguan and Barbudan song book). I’m also getting primed for the Janet Jackson documentary (not that I need an excuse to listen to Janet).
What did I watch this week? Oh, two old films. Italian neorealist pioneer Roberto Rosselini post-World War II Palme d’Or winning, Oscar adapted screenplay nominated, Anna Magnani starring ‘Rome, Open City’ which was brutal, graphic, heartbreaking, a must-watch; and ‘Pinky’, a 1949 race film in the spirit of ‘Imitation of Life’ but with a happy ending.
New content on my sites include this interview about my October 2nd workshop on writing for children (still time to register) and other things.
“Your books are so evocative of the Caribbean, of Antigua” – excerpt from the interviewer in the vid above.
It’s been a pretty busy time especially as I have a number of virtual presentations coming up plus other deadlines, and just life, but this is a reading journal post, so let’s see if I’ve been able to sneak in any reading time.
Since my last journal, I’ve advanced reading on Lawrence Scott’s Dangerous Freedom, the Trinidad-British writer’s fictionalization of the life of Dido Belle – I’m up to chapter 2 of the ebook; the lit journal Interviewing the Caribbean edited by Jamaican writer Opal Palmer Adisa – I’m up to page 33 of volume 5 no. 2; New Daughters of Africa, edited by Brit Margaret Busby – I’m up to page 460 which is only about halfway through, my reading on this has really slowed down, due to time constraints; Angel Horn: Collected Poems of Shake Keane, a Caribbean poet – I’m at page 94; Joan Underwood’s Manager’s First Aid Kit – I’m at page 20; and Windrush – I’m almost done at page 128 (Finished! Here’s my review).
My general inching along notwithstanding, I did manage to finish three four additional (there was also one DNF) bookish things (a total of five finished for September) -if not every word. The giant MoMa book of art I went through while prepping the related CREATIVE SPACE linked above; the last of The Old Guard Tales Through Time anthology graphic novels; and the audio book of Nella Larsen’s Passing (while it has been on my TBR for a while, the movie trailer lit a fire under me because I like to read the book before seeing the movie). One of the interesting (and wrong imo) comments I’ve been seeing on social media is that Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga aren’t believable as Black women passing as white. I think that’s because we know they are biracial. I think in the 1920s etc you would have to know what you’re looking for to see it, and why would you think to look?
How about you? What have you been reading, watching, listening to, creating, finding?
I find myself listening (in the background) to the announcement of the Booker Prize shortlist. Two thoughts. It occurs to me that I’ve only ever read 1 and some of this prestigious prize’s winning books Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings and my listen to an abridged audio book version of Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. So often in this reading journey, I am struck by the sense of too many books, so little time, and this is one of those moments – and also the sense (more an external judgment, maybe even from some of you reading this) of not having read the ‘right’ books. *waves* hi, are you new here, I have decided that while I will continue to review (or chat about) books I’ve read, reading should not be a chore, so I read what I want to, and then there are the books I want to read but have neither time to read nor money to acquire (depending on the budget priorities at the time). Yes, I can and do get some books for free (review copies, advance or otherwise) but I don’t ask a lot to be honest as some publishers and authors give off a vibe like they think you’re just looking for freebs (as we would say in Antigua and Barbuda), so sometimes I just hold my side (as we also say) and read some intersection of what I’m interested in and have access to – my TBR is about a million miles long. And it’s just grown by six, thanks to this Booker announcement. Not because I’m interested in correcting some deficiency. Rather because I’m interested.
The short listed books are now in my TBR (in this order, based on my interest, as informed by the summaries):
Bewilderment by Richard Powers Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed The Promise by Damon Galgut A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasm No one is talking about This by Patricia Lockwood
How about you? Have you read any of the short listed books? Are you a Booker stan? Have you read all or some of the winning titles?
As for my own reading, I think I’ve already mentioned that I finished two books so far this month (which is about my average for the year) – Ruby’s Dream: The Story of a Boy’s Life by Ronan Matthew (a memoir of growing up in Ovals, Antigua and his early years as a migrant in New York, thinly framed as fiction) and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (which I slow read AND listened to, sometimes both). My reviews linked.
I’ve dug a little more in to Heady Mix’s Windrush and am up to page 79. I’m now in to the creative pieces which is so far fun.
“The book is wonderfully written. I love it very, very much and so does (my son). We read it quite often. We’re going to be going back and making a few more purchases very soon, and I just wanted to say thank you so much for this. It’s really cool what you’re doing and I really hope that you don’t stop and I’m looking forward to reading all of your books with (my son).”
Speaking of showing books love, I am a reader before I am a writer and my Book Chat/Blogger on Books series allows me to shout out the books I’ve read and loved and/or have something to say about. These are less reviews and more conversations because that’s what I’m always seeking to have.
I’ve blogged about this before and obviously lots of other writers have as well BUT I’ve gotten this question a couple of times lately – from memory, in my conversation with the Abeng Book Club of New York (alas I don’t have video) and with Diaspora Kid Lit in the UK (writers supporting writers, yes, and supporting writers generally). The main impetus for this post was an email from the Hurston Wright Foundation about supporting Black Women Writers specifically – which makes sense if you understand that the Hurston Wright Foundation founded by African-American author Marita Golden honours the legacy of one of my faves Zora Neale Hurston and another classic Black author Richard Wright. Who, sidebar, were polar opposites. Oh and the post went out in Women’s History Month. Though, of course, the advice is an all-year-round kind of thing.
Their tips –
Spread the word – via email, social media, word of mouth, or other means. Tell people about it (yep, this is one of my tips too plus subscribe to our newsletters, our blogs, follow and share our social media)
Support black literary organizations (you know, like HW and my own Wadadli Pen and through projects like my own Jhohadli Writing Project, one model of which has been to invite people of means to support participation of others, e.g. young people, via a scholarship)
Buy their books and buy from Black and/or locally owned brick and mortar stories (an extension of this obviously is supporting their patrons, if they have them, and other enterprises – help put money in their pocket because writers have bills too – and, my add-on, if you do get a free copy of a book, post a review or book rec telling people about the book; I mean, do that either way but especially do that if you get a promo or author copy)
Amplify their voices through whatever group or institution you belong to and by whatever means (talk up each other even and especially when the other is not around, attend and boost their events, and remember invites to speak or teach, facilitate, are good, and as an independent working writer, let me tell you, paying invites are even better)
@BookPartyChat on Twitter, hosted by UK author Madeline Dyer, hosted me for a live today. Whew, I had no idea how fast those whizzed by. Kept me on my toes, within 280 characters or less.
It was roughly an hour, 2-3 AST on September 2nd 2021. Thought I’d transcribe it here for archiving on my Media page but be sure to head over to #BookPartyChat and @jhohadli on Twitter (follow me while you’re there) and like or comment or share. Thanks, in advance.
Hi Joanne! Thanks so much for joining us today for #BookPartyChat to talk about The Jungle Outside! Firstly, can you introduce yourself? @jhohadli
Hi, I’m a writer in Antigua and Barbuda in the heart of the Caribbean. Happy to be here.
Great to have you! How long have you been writing and what made you want to be a writer? #bookpartychat
“I write to breathe.” — I love that answer. #bookpartychat
What is The Jungle Outside about? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
The Jungle Outside is a children’s picture book about the wonder of looking up, stepping outside and wandering; about overcoming fear and in so doing, tasting the fruits of life. It’s also about a boy and his mango tree climbing grandma.
What inspired this book? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
@BookPartyChat Dante was inspired by one of my nephews and his grandmother by my own mother. Of course, fictionalized versions of them. Their dynamic and the way he would shadow her when he was younger. #Bookpartychat Also my love of #mangoes
And The Jungle Outside is your 7th book! @jhohadli can you tell us about your other books, and why with your last three picture books you’ve moved toward a children’s readership? #bookpartychat
I go where the characters take me. I’m actually working on some more adult fare at the moment. But I’ve enjoyed this space from the Caribbean faerie tale (With Grace) to the undersea world (Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure) to The Jungle Outside. I also have a teen/YA novel that @KirkusReviews called one of its top indies of 2020, Musical Youth, and two adult novels Oh Gad! and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight in addition to the first book The Boy from Willow Bend.
The book is very much about the relationship between Dante and his grandmother? Why did you decide to focus the story around this relationship? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
The people who inspired it (mom, nephew) but also just an interest in that connection across generations, the interaction of knowledge w/ curiosity, experience w/discovery, the tension between opposites, and the love and familial bond that ties it together.
What was the writing process like? Did the story change much from initial concept to final draft? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
Not really. It was always about the bond and about exploration. In revision, I fleshed it out, made the ‘jungle’ more #Caribbean rich but the heart of it was always there.
I will say this, when I wrote it, I didn’t know it was a book. It was just something I wrote just for so…
But it meant that when Harper Collins was looking for stories for their new Caribbean series within the Big Cat series of children’s book, I had something to submit.
Tell us a bit about the publication process. @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
Because of my previous children’s books, and general publishing history, I was actually approached by the publisher. Which is rare. I pitched some ideas and this story (the only finished potential children’s story I had). They liked it. We made a deal. It was very unusual from my usual chasing the bone publishing experience lol. They chose @DBoodooFortune – a Trinidad artist-poet from the illustrators I recommended and we worked through character concept art until we got Tanty and Dante, and the landscape right. The back and forth of working with the editor and one of the things I like, working on some emotional takeaways for the reader. Then holding this beautiful book in my hand. Joy.
And what was the collaboration with illustrator Danielle Boodoo-Fortune like? How much say in the illustrations did you get? What was it like seeing your story brought to life in this way? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
It was amazing. Danielle was also hired by @CaribReads to illustrate Lost! and in both cases she reached in to my imagination and brought the world to life, not a carbon copy but an imaginative rendering that both affirmed and surprised. Our main back and forth was ‘Tanty’ (the grandmother). It was important to me that she be dark-skinned with full natural hair and looked like someone who would be wandering & playing outdoors with her grandson. After a couple of tries we got it. Communicating mostly through the publisher who would send me images for feedback. So a lot of input. More than some other projects. Also, seeing your story brought to life never gets old. Indescribable. Especially when the images are this striking.
What are you working on now? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
What am I not working on? lol My pandemic project has been a short story collection. Fingers crossed I’ll wrap it up soon.
What’s your top advice for new writers? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
The same thing I tell myself everyday #BookPartyChat write, and when you doubt or get knocked down, persevere and write some more. I submit a lot and get rejected a lot but every now and again there is a parting in the clouds. And sometimes, as with The Jungle Outside, opportunities come to you. But when it does, you won’t have anything to show if you haven’t been putting in the work. So, write.
Impossible question but I’m going to say #readCaribbean Maybe start with Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid. She’s a writer from Antigua and the discovery of this book made me know that a #gyalfromOttosAntigua could write her world.
Beyond which two of my favourite books on writing are Stephen King’s On Writing and Edwidge Dandicat’s Create Dangerously.
Do you have any writing routines? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
Not as such. I never leave home without a book to read and something to write in or on. When I’m blocked I walk. I try to make space every day for the creative to happen; I don’t always fill that space but I schedule it like other priorities & stay open. Also music. I need music. No wonder I wrote #MusicalYouthbook
Where can we find you online? @jhohadli #BookPartyChat
Since my last reading update near the end of July, I’ve advanced reading on Monique Roffey of The Mermaid of Black Conch (with the e-copy I received from the publisher, I can’t tell what page I’m on but I’ve advanced and it’s so haunting, so far), Ronan Matthew’s Ruby’s Dream (I’m at page 92, up from page 45 at last report), Margaret Busby’s New Daughter’s of Africa (I’m at page 455, up from 433 at last report), Heady Mix’s Windrush (I’m up to page 54, from 44 at last report), both parts of Vol. 5 of Opal Palmer Adisa’s journal ‘Interviewing the Caribbean’ (up to page 10 of No. 1 and page 33 of No. 2) – and while we’re talking literary journals, I dipped in to Vol. 10 of ‘BIM: Arts for the 21st Century’ (I’m at page 13), Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah (I’m up to chapter 23 reading paperback or listening via audio book depending on what’s convenient, from chapter 16 at last report).
Speaking of Americanah, it is one of several books I mentioned when asked on the spot about what I’m reading some months ago (so I’ve since finished some of the other books mentioned) by Badass Black Girl (the book chat was easily my favourite part of our interaction with Haitian American writer M. J. Fievre).
What’s coming up
My continuing efforts to get through my reading list to which, by the way, has been added ‘Revista Prometo’, the publication featuring the works of various writers from all over the world participating in the 31st Medellin International Poetry Festival. I was one of the participating poets/writers and, as the event was virtual this year, I have video. Click the link for the full thing (which I highly recommend as it features the poetics of Sonia Williams of Barbados and Ann Margaret Lim of Jamaica) or check the section with just my reading below.
This Week’s New Releases
Not sure how new this is but it’s new to me. I started reading Marsha Gomes McKie’s Soucoyant, Her Fire Rages, at some point during the last reading update and this (I’m up to page 15).
This too, pretty much. I mean, it’s been crazy here – one anti-vaxx (and from some of the signs and rhetoric, anti-mask) protest that resulted in police overreaction (in my view, and I’m masked and vaxxed, I sanitize and social distance, I try to be led by the science as related by reputable sources; and I try to remind myself and anyone I can have an actual conversation with that this isn’t about the individual, it’s about the community, we need to think of it like that or we’ll just continue to be stuck here). Me thinking that the people have the right not to be teargassed or water canoned or whatever is not a co-sign on any anti-mask or anti-vaxx rhetoric (because, just no). People including children, being teargassed, and various arrests, is not de-escalation though. It worries me that whether in the local or international news, the police default seems to be 0 to 100, no in-between; it’s not good. Especially as we remain under a state of emergency, more than a year now. And now our COVID numbers are climbing again (the skepticism of some notwithstanding) – inevitable perhaps given that tourism is our main industry (and the tourist and local restrictions, my perception anyway, are not exactly equal). Anyway, no end in sight. I personally don’t think a state of emergency should be open-ended and continuous. It concerns me. I’m not a legal expert but I want to believe there’s another way to ensure public health in a pandemic…but I don’t know; very little makes sense right now. Of course, I turn on the news and some version of this narrative is playing out in so many countries. To quote local calypsonian Short Shirt, ‘Heaven Help Mankind’.
Wow, that got dark quick…something positive to end on, our last tropical storm warning resulted in the storm blowing right by us (of course, we would wish it hadn’t headed straight for Haiti which had just suffered an earthquake and before that the assassination of its president…)
How about this? There’s a new CREATIVE SPACE and if you’re a jazz music lover, it should be right up your alley.
Hope the rest of your day is as cool as the weather here today.
Am I participating in Bookish Friday in lieu of doing a new reading journal? Jury’s out.
But, real quick, today (the only day I’ve done any reading this week, really) I’ve read from Windrush (up to p. 50), The Mermaid of Black Conch (up to p. 35), The Old Guard (number 4 in the anthology series) (the ‘whole’ 28 pages), and Americanah (up to p. 229). And thanks to reading Accidental Moments, I’ve decided to participate in Bookish Fridays, though it’s not quite Friday yet here in the Caribbean as I start this.
For Friday 56, I’ll share something from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
“He did not attend, but many of his generals did, and one of them asked his ADC to call Aunty Uju, to ask her to come to his car in the parking lot after the reception, and when she went to the dark peugeot with a small flag flying from its front, and said, “Good afternoon, sir,” to the man in the back, he told her, “I like you. I want to take care of you.”
I’m enjoying all of the above; I only wish I had more time to read.