This post is a catch-all

The Writing Journey continues

A new adventure awaits. I’ve been invited to present at two panels at the Sharjah International Book Fair.

I’m also scheduled for a school visit (so I’ll get to see first hand if children in the United Arab Emirates can connect with With Grace and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). I have to credit the New Daughters of Africa global anthology for this opportunity as I was recommended to be a part of their panel at the Book Fair, subsequent to which the organizers invited me to participate in a panel on young adult literature. Here I go.

Site updates

The Appearances page has been updated with this pending event.

The Performance Reviews page has been updated, meanwhile, with the latest feedback from “A very satisfied client.”  Let me know if you need my services via the contact button on the page.

The current CREATIVE SPACE main page features the winning designer in the Antigua and Barbuda Independence Fashion Show, and she also happens to be my niece. Check her out.

Also this Independence season, my nephew participated in his first schools panorama – they didn’t win the prize, but their hard work, composure, and execution won my heart.

The Willow Bend Endorsements and Reviews page has been updated with an old review of sorts – it’s about that time an Italian student reached out to me about the book which she had come across in a course she was taking at the University of Pisa. In actual Italy. This was my first book and I had so many questions… like how?…and what? Writing and publishing, man, it’s an odd journey; you write these words and you never know where they’re going to land.

What I’ve watched

I’ve been talking up Eddie Murphy’s Dolemite (on Netflix) because it is da bomb. I’ll just tell you what I shared on social media with a friend who asked about the Rudy Ray Moore biopic’s Oscar chances: I mean comedy rarely gets recognized, so who knows but it’s Eddie’s best performance in years in my opinion, the ensemble has a lot of chemistry, the movie is mad entertaining…and oddly inspiring. My third Netflix rec without reservation this year after When They See Us and Unbelievable.

I also thought Always be my Maybe (with Keanu Reeves) was fun. So, there you have it, the best of my year in Netflix so far for 2019 .

I don’t remember where I caught it but Ice T’s (not new) doc Something from Nothing: the Art of Rap was a treat for this hip hop head. I need to keep an ear out for the soundtrack.

From YouTube, I wanted to share this doc on Madame C J Walker

– the first female, African-American millionaire because I got the sense when I shared my review of a book on her life that many of my visitors hadn’t really heard of her before. So, if I’m right about that, I’m hoping you’ll watch the video and re-visit the review. And if I’m wrong, watch the vid and revisit the review anyway.

Finally, I caught one and some of the new Watchmen series. I mostly tuned in to the pilot episode for Regina King but it grabbed me, and yet I fell asleep twice trying to watch episode 2 – no fault of the series (all me). I’m behind on so many of my series at this point that who knows what this means but I’ll keep it on my watch list.

What I’m reading

As I’m only 245 pages in to New Daughters of Africa and I’m a part of a contributor panel this week; so, I have my reading assignment. That aside, the only thing I finished lately is (not a book hence why I’m not adding it to Blogger on Books) Benjy by Olive Senior from her book the Commonwealth Award winning Summer Lightning and Other Stories. It’s actually shameful that I haven’t read this since Olive was one of my first workshop facilitators.

Meeting Olive Senior again, 2016, at the BIM lit fest.

My only excuse (and I’m not saying it’s a good one) is too many books too little time. Anyway, I loved Benjy (actual title: The Boy who Loved Ice Cream), which I discovered in a workshop last year; it’s about a boy who goes with his family to the village fair with nothing but his first taste of ice cream on his mind, I mean obsessively so, in the way a child wantswantswants. His father is similarly obsessed with his distrust and jealousy of the boy’s mother – their obsessions clash at a climatic point in the story. It is a master class in tension and warring desires.

What I’m writing

I’m actually revisiting a play (with specific purpose) at the moment and got a fair amount of work done on it at the hair salon recently; who knew the salon could be conducive to writing?

For much of the year, I’ve been trying to sneak my writing moments. I benefited from being a part of the mentorship programme sponsored by Commonwealth Writers for the first half of the year, working on new pieces and revisiting older pieces – submitting etc. I’ve maintained contact with my mentor – he’s tough but be also believes in my writing (he has asserted as much and I’m choosing to believe him) and that’s been a boon through rejections and other trials. The work continues.

This is my Sunday Post.

Talking Movies: The Hate U Give

I mostly talk books and writing on this site, but if you’ve followed the site, you know that I’m just a lover of the arts, period, and have opinions on things (not just art). I’ve talked movies here before – Roxanne Roxanne and Annihilation, Room and other movies, Suffragette, Queen of Katwe, Bazodee, Creed, Birdman and Foxcatcher, Spotlight, and others. So, let’s talk, The Hate U Give – for my review of the book, click this link; now on to my review of the film.


The Hate U Give continues the grand tradition of the book – however imperfect – being better than the movie. Yes, there are exceptions but the generalization exists for a reason. It’s inevitable perhaps that something of the nuance of a story stands to be lost in the translation from page to film.

In the Hate U Give, for instance, it made me sad to see Seven, brother of main character and narrator Starr, relegated to little more than scenery even with his story being amalgamated into that of another boy who was erased altogether. In the book, Starr and Seven’s relationship and Seven’s own arc added richness and complexity to the tale. He was as caught between two worlds as she was, three if you think about it – because he went to the same private school she did so moved between black and white spaces, but also within the black spaces he occupied he had his own tug-o-war between his father’s family (the father he shared with Starr) and the distinctly different world of his mother. That scene in the book where his mother shows up at his birthday party was for me one of the book’s emotional high/low points – the closest we get is a dimmed version of his mother and her violent drug kingpin boyfriend showing up at the funeral of Khalil, the boy whose death by police is the story’s inciting incident. In losing so much of Seven, we lose certain dynamics of Starr’s tale – her insider-outsiderness in her own/home world, and the ways she struggles to define family. The tension between her and her brother’s other sister and her friend over their ‘ownership’ of him, not literally but as family, is not an insignificant plot point. However, it is completely gone from the film and in addition to Seven being background, the sister is reduced to a cliché. A huge part of the story’s heart and texture (re the interpersonal relationships) is, therefore, lost to the streamlining of Starr’s story along black and white lines.

As filmed, the only real struggle in Starr’s life is between her pure white private school world and the friendships and romances therein, and the all black world she lives in (the richness of which we don’t really see in the film as we do in the book). The layers have been ironed out for ease of visual storytelling. Speaking of visual storytelling, it’s hard to miss the hopefully unconscious colourism in the casting. Not blaming the cast for this. I’m actually rooting for Amandla Stenberg – have been since Hunger Games – and feel this is the best performance I’ve seen from her to date. But it doesn’t slip notice that the character on the cover of the book is dark-skinned and Amandla is decidedly not, and that the darker skinned Black people in the film are tied to the ghetto life (Seven as a possible exception, though, as noted, he’s in both worlds). It’s a thing white audiences may not notice but which I’ve seen some around the black interwebs comment on.

Speaking of whose gaze, the film is very mindful of courting a crossover audience, while the book was uncompromisingly written from the Black perspective – in an honest way, that cued any person with an open mind and heart to respond to it. So that, for instance, the shooting of Starr’s friend Khalil on the screen is ambiguous in a way it is not in the book – in the book, it’s clear that cop bias – implicit if not explicit – was involved; in the movie, the cop is given a sympathetic out. As a result the commentary on the overzealous cop protected by systemic and latent racism is diluted. We also see this dilution in her relationship with her private school friends, one of whom was a clear mean girl with deliberately tone deaf and racist tendencies in the book; and in the movie is just kind of clueless. The movie bends over backwards to make the antagonists not so bad – some might call it nuance, some might call it white washing.

In trying to serve all masters, pleasing none, some of The Hate U Give’s gravitas – such as it had – is lost, and other moments, the riot scene didn’t have any real sense of danger (to me, I’ve seen that there is disagreement on this point), not like in the book. Though that moment after the fire (the fire King went down for though he didn’t technically set it) did have me worried for Starr’s little brother, so it’s not like I wasn’t emotionally engaged.

One of the characters who was problematic for me in the book is even more so in the movie, a fault of both writing and casting. Disclaimer: I love love love Issa Rae. Loved Awkward Black Girl, respect what she’s doing with Insecure, but the lawyer/activist she plays already read like a stock character, and she doesn’t personalize her in any way. I’m seeing Issa, not the character – but as noted it was a thinly written character to begin with (and, full disclosure, I’m hesitant to dog Issa in any way).

All of that said, the film is not the worst thing ever – a recent google turned up 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 82 on Metacritic (so clearly I and some of the earlier criticism I saw are the minority view). For me, it’s just okay…which already makes it, as a teen/young adult genre film, miles ahead of Twilight.

-by Joanne C. Hillhouse. If you haven’t checked any of my books as yet, I hope you do. If you have read my books, please consider posting a review to Amazon or Goodreads if you haven’t already done so. Thanks! Also, as needed, be sure to check out my writing and editing services.

This Week in Site Updates (New Creative Space, MBF, More)

New on the blogs this week are two new CREATIVE SPACE posting here on Jhohadli and  a posting on my trip to the Miami Book Fair over on the Wadadli Pen blog. Below are some excerpts. I hope you’ll check out the full posts and, of course, engage, comment, holler.

Re the CREATIVE SPACE postings, I began the first saying “As I have two lecture type presentations to upload, I’m twinning them as part the Lecture Circuit as both are overdue for posting.” So, that’s just what I did. One, CREATIVE SPACE 16 – MAS’KING, was a lecture (Through the Eyes of the Masqueraders: the Intangible Bond of Caribbean Movement, Music, and Mas) by Antiguan and Barbudan dancer/choreographer Veronica Yearwood at a masquerade festival in Bermuda talking about the masquerade tradition in the Caribbean and its roots in Africa.

Antigua slide
(a slide from her presentation showing the Antigua-Barbuda take on traditional mas)

Excerpt from the post:
‘In her power point, Yearwood showed familiar examples of it in Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia; “The displaced African brought with them the intangible knowledge from their Land. During this era much of that knowledge was laid dormant or sometimes quietly practiced. Added to that knowledge was the forced information indoctrinated by the slave master. During this period there was much change and adaptation and evolution, though the basic knowledge and practices remained. However, what is noteworthy is that some practices had to evolve to accommodate the given environment they were exposed to. One such evolution gave rise to the Caribbean Masquerader.” That Caribbean Masquerade began to truly emerge post-Emancipation. She showed how adaptive it was in terms of the instrumentation – the fife and iron bands in Antigua for example – and how it varied island to island – the tuk band in Barbados for instance.’

To read the full post, CREATIVE SPACE 16 – MAS’KING, go here.

The second new posting, CREATIVE SPACE 17 – UNMASKING, was my attempt to share a talk given here in Antigua and Barbuda by a former professor of mine, Dr. Carolyn Cooper, seen here dr cooper with graceflipping through a copy of one of my two children’s picture books, With Gracewith-grace-cover, in Montserrat at the Alliougana Festival of the Word (in fact, she was passing through Antigua to go to the festival when the UWI Open Campus nabbed her to give a talk and those of us in attendance were thankful to them for that).

Excerpt from the post:
‘Her message was about unmasking history, true true history, bringing to light – per the poetry of Mutabaruka – the histories that have been deliberately repressed. And – I might add – our own repression re our histories by her insistence on writing her newspaper column in not only English but also Jamaican patois, freeing our tongue so to speak. Another link to the past and another way of redefining our present and future. We are, after all, as she noted, a folk who have already “from the centre of an oppressive system been able to survive, adapt, create”.’

To read the full post, CREATIVE SPACE 17 – UNMASKING, go here.

The final thing I want to share in this post is the posting at Wadadli Pen about my participation in the Miami Book Fair.

signing books 2
(ever thankful to anyone who supports with a purchase of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure like this lady at my after-panel book signing)

Excerpt from the post:
“My event was Read Caribbean presents Adventures for Kids and I was delighted to share the stage and do a signing afterwards with co-presenters Marjaun Canady, who was a tough act to follow, Paula-Anne Porter Jones, whom I remember actually, as I reminded her, from my UWI years, and Francie Latour.”

To read the full post, go here.

That’s all for now. Remember to #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda

An Ode to the Pan Man

By Joanne C Hillhouse

This one is for the pan man
The beating his pan all night
At the pan yard man

Working overtime
In the engine room, an’
Keeping the rhythm tight
While the wiry bass man
Bend like a rubber band

This one is for the pan man
The beating his pan all night
At the pan yard man

An’ the woman
Can’t forget the pan sistren
tek dem ‘tick tu’n tune
Create a musical meal
De people can feast pan

This one is for the pan man
The beating his pan all night
At the pan yard man

The yout’ man ‘strumming’ the guitar
While the tenor carry
Ah melody the people can ride pan
‘Cause nutten sweeter
Than de Antigua Benna rhythm

This one is for the pan man
The beating his pan all night
At the pan yard man

Because he’s a kind of magician
A oil drum, a pair of sticks
Produce music like this?
Music with symphonic range
Even the elite can hang on pan?

This one is for the pan man
The beating his pan all night
At the pan yard man

Den cum ah stage
An’ tear ‘um dung
With swagger an’ bounce
Fu trounce all comers
And re-proclaim demself champion

This one is for the pan man
The beating his pan all night
At the pan yard man

He stick an’ dem mek man cry, man,
Musical licks as the notes soar
High, man, then tumble down to rest
In the heart ah man
Where it drum drum drum a new rhythm



1, this poem is mine; do not re-use without permission.
2, it has been published; in The Caribbean Writer, Volume 27 (2013)
3, reading it, I see so many things I would change (the writer’s dilemma) but
4, I have performed it a couple of times (it plays well) – most recently during my reading (2018) at Celebrating Ourselves

5, and I felt like sharing it now in celebration of our pan/panorama (congrats to the 2018 winners Panache (amazing!) tied with Hell’s Gate (solid), and second runner-up Halcyon playing Burning Flames’ A Rudeness Mek Me)
6, which, if you played the clip above you’ll realize as the song in the clip
7, snatched during the pan crawl/s I went on while hyping up for panorama this Carnival season (p.s. if you’re non-Caribbean and reading this, this is Carnival)
8, but held for posting until after (and posted only in joyful appreciation)
9, as you can tell, I was joyfully appreciating the rehearsal
10, no apologies – music is the food of life, play on – Happy Carnival!


Throwback Q & A: Musical Youth

I got some promising news from the publisher of Musical Youth this past week. Can’t share it yet, but I can share this previously unpublished interview that I did shortly after the book’s launch.

Musical Youth

What inspired you to tell this story?

I’m a music lover. It was probably inevitable that I’d someday write a book inspired and driven by my love of music.

How did you begin? Did you research or do other prep work, or jump right in?

Jumped right in. Pretty sure I should have been asleep when these teens showed up one ‘foreday morning intent on telling me of their musical dreams, friendships, romantic entanglements, fears, families, discoveries, adventures, and the excitement of embarking on a summer production that would ultimately change their lives. They were persistent, and it was a matter of trying to keep up with them on what turned out to be kind of an epic but compacted writing binge.

What is your writing process like? What do you do when you feel stuck or stumped?

Well, I’m feeling stuck and stumped right now. Stuck because of time. Stumped because when I do make the time the snippets I’ve written aren’t quite fitting together into a narrative that makes sense. And that provides some hint of my process. I write to discover, so in that first draft I’m rushing forward or inching forward, but it’s forward, not all over the place like I am right now. Usually it starts with the character and different moments, feelings, impressions, ideas weave their way in; but I picture it as a character kind of taking me by the hand and pulling me into her/his story. Once I have a first full draft down, I tinker. With longer works, novels, because I also write stories and poems, it takes months, years to get that first draft down, so the tinkering happens as I dip back into the world of the story but then hopefully I keep moving forward until I figure out what the story is about. The redrafting and editing allows me to fine tune, rip out what doesn’t fit, shade in what needs colouring, texturing. If the story I’m working on isn’t happening, I’ll work on something else, just step away from it for a while. I write best at night, I don’t write best in absolute quiet – so music is a good companion, but I grew up having to write with life happening around me, so silence is actually quite distracting. I try to schedule writing time every day, and I try to do something writing related during that writing time even if the story I need to be working on isn’t happening.  The scheduling is more a reminder to myself to prioritize my writing even if the writing itself sees fit to rebel against being wrestled into a schedule; it comes best when I’m just walking or taking the bus or driving or feeling life – times when my brain is kind of just idling. I always have something to write with because of this. And I always have a book on go, because I also find reading not only entertaining but inspiring. Having goals is a motivator for me as well, if there’s somewhere I want to submit or just a workshop activity – oh working with other writers, as I do as a workshop facilitator and writing coach, is actually quite stimulating as well. But there’s no single thing I do to get myself out of the rut… whatever works.

What’s the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned about the creative process while writing your book?

Sometime after I wrote and published Musical Youth, I discovered an unfinished story called the Guitar Lessons, and I could see the link between my personal story and Guitar Lessons and Guitar Lessons and Musical Youth. It reminded me of this poem called Stealing Life that I’d written years earlier, about how we, writers, kind of snatch and store bits and pieces of things, pulling them out without realizing it like a seamstress digging through his or her basket of scraps while sewing a patchwork quilt. It wasn’t a discovery so much as  reminder but I did blog about it here  It’s a reminder as well that sometimes you have to push but sometimes the story will emerge when it’s ready.

I’m most surprised though that I was able to write a full first draft in roughly two weeks. Not recommended by the way, but maybe the fact that the scraps were already scattered inside me waiting to be sewn together is what made it doable. The story was ready to be told and the characters thankfully were a joy to be with so the telling though …feverish… and tightly focused was fun.

What was the hardest part, and what was your favorite part?

Plotting is always a struggle for me. There has to be an internal coherence to the story, a logic to the flow of the narrative.  Character, voice, pacing, tone, these things came fairly easily – the chemistry between the characters, Shaka and Zahara as young love blossomed, Shaka and his crew, their camaraderie, the melding of kids from different backgrounds as they take on a challenge, a number of challenges, was actually fun. But this particular story had some underlying themes and some reveals that required careful handling in the case of the plot, making sure the backstory is consistent with what’s now being revealed etc. Thank God for editing and at the same time editing was my personal hell – so much to do in a very tight window because the original draft had been so rough and the publishing deadline was so tight, the book having been fast tracked after the manuscript placed second for the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean literature. In the end, I’m happy with how it turned out – but between addressing structural issues and fighting for what I felt was essential and picking my way through the things that needed clipping and additional writing for texturing and to better connect certain dots – it was stressful.

If you could meet three authors (living or not), who would you choose and why? OR What author do you read for inspiration? OR Who are three authors who inspire you?

Well, if I could have a lime without the social pressure of being chatty and interesting myself, I’d gladly sit over drinks and nibbles with Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Dandicat and Zora Neale Hurston soaking up their stories, and wisdom. I’ve actually met and had drinks with Jamaica, Edwidge is my literary crush – I love everything she writes especially Farming of Bones and Create Dangerously, and I’m fascinated by Zora’s adventures, in love with her spirit and talent, saddened by the arc of her life, and encouraged by the post-note to it, to which a lot of credit I think has to go to Alice Walker, another woman I would like at that lime. (lime: Antiguan for social gathering/hanging out).

What’s the best writing advice you have been given?

I honestly can’t think of one solo piece of advice off the top of my head; but you know which writing book I’ll be recommending forever and ever I think, Stephen King’s On Writing. Lots of good advice in that one. And for the mechanics, I always return to Janet Burraway’s Writing Fiction.

Please ask and answer one question you wish I’d asked.

Stumped again…  I suppose, since this is an American blog and I am a Caribbean writer, I could ask something like why would a reader from America be interested in books by a writer from Antigua. My answer, it’s an imaginative road trip to a different culture, and the realization at the end of it that wherever they rest their heads at night, people are, after all, just people. My characters for all their differences from your reality are still people – and I’ve found as a reader and writer that even within the differences it’s often possible to find something relatable. The best writing, in my view, doesn’t pander to that idea but lets its characters live and breathe, and the open reader can really have an enriching experience stepping into that other-world as it is and just breathing it in. If you’re anything like me, you’ll like the adventure of exploring a different world for a while, all without leaving home; though travel is fun too.

By the way, you can find out more about me and my books here

Both Sides

I should have posted this already but better late than never, I suppose. The delay is not a reflection of anything but not enough hours in the day. Something this Burt Award judging process reminded me of. I’ve judged writing contests, locally, before, but it was my first experience judging a book prize, and a regional one at that. I would learn that reading that many books on a schedule can have even a book lover whimpering, with no intended aspersions to the books themselves, please, no more. Interestingly, as the process narrows to the top contenders, you get a shot of adrenaline again as you spar with the other judges making a case for this choice over that until you arrive at as close to consensus as you can get with something as subjective as art. I’ve been on both sides of this process now and have intimate knowledge of how vulnerable you feel when you leap into this kind of thing, hoping they’ll pick you, steeling yourself for the probability that they won’t; and, as well, the grave responsibility you feel to give each writer a fair reading, to consider and re-consider. Hopeful on both sides of being surprised.

I remember receiving word a year ago around this time that my unpublished manuscript Musical Youth had been selected for the Burt short list; I remember it was maybe 3 in the morning and I called perhaps the only friend I can call at 3 in the morning without there being a life or death emergency. And the next time we fight, and we will, I have to remember that not only didn’t she immediately hang up the phone on me but she was right there with me, as awake as I was at the news. Musical Youth has been good to me and good for me as a writer, and I continued to do all I can to make sure it fulfills its potential as a book by reaching as many readers as it can. Books are meant to be read, right?
And these second set of Burt winners deserve an audience as well. In the end, I think all four judges agree on that. What’s more I think the core target audience, teens and young adults of the Caribbean, will enjoy the adventures these books take them on both in the moment, and later, on reflection. The top three haven’t been announced as yet (I know something you don’t know LOL) but you’ll see what I mean when they are and when, ultimately, you have the opportunity to read them. Meantime, big up to all who dared, big up to those on the short list, big up to the finalists and ultimate winners. To my fellow judges, it’s been real…seriously.
On the list are:
– Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh, Guyana (manuscript to be published)
– Putting Up a Resistance by Michael Cozier, Trinidad and Tobago (self-published book)
– Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript to be published)
– Prayer to the Motivator by Kamau Mahakoe, Jamaica (manuscript to be published)
– The Dolphin Catchers by Diana McCaulay, Jamaica (manuscript to be published)
For more, go here.

And given that it’s awards season, I’ll also mention that the Hollick Arvon long list has been announced, and the Bocas long and short list – special congratulations to Dorbrene O’Marde who’s Short Shirt biography Nobody Go Run Me made the long list of the latter. And let’s not forget the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, with four Caribbean writers claiming a spot.
All but one of these will be announced during the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad. Wishing all contenders success.

And since we’re talking prizes, I should mention that I have already been announced as one of the winners of the Caribbean Writer’s Flash Fiction Prize; and on April 11th, I will be announcing, during the awards ceremony at the Best of Books, the winner takes all winner of the Wadadli Pen 2015 challenge which I coordinate.

Gratitude for both – the opportunity to reap and to plant, the opportunity to see things from both sides. And to all who dare to leap, including myself, continue as Zora Neale Hurston’s mother said to her children to “’jump at the sun. We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.’”

Oh Gad! Snapshot Reader Reviews

Oh Gad snapshot review

In 2012, my novel Oh Gad! debuted. In July 2014, the mass market paperback edition was released. Above is a snapshot of customer reviews from the book’s Amazon page. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to weigh in and am relieved that the vast majority actually seem to like it. I will continue striving to tell my stories, and hopefully tell them well. Meanwhile, help a writer out by spreading the word won’t you? Mad love and thanks.

acwws2012 106

Go here for more reviews from readers and critics.