Of Puberty, Bigamy, and Fairy Godmothers (etc.)… Repost

This is a re-post of something I wrote and posted elsewhere in 2012. I’m sharing it here as I’ve removed my content from that other place. Also because it concerns two authors whose work I love – Judy Blume (I’ve written here before about Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret) and Tayari Jones (read my review of her book Silver Sparrow). In addition to being a brilliant writer, I’ve met Tayari on a couple of occasions

with Tayari

Here we both are at the 2015 Brooklyn Book Fair.

and she’s always been gracious to me – even to the point of reaching out after hurricanes blasted through the Caribbean region this season to make sure I was okay. So it is with enthusiasm that I let you know that she has a new book coming out in the new year: An American Marriage – put that one on your to-read list.

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Here’s the re-post.

OF PUBERTY, BIGAMYAND FAIRY GOD MOTHERS IN THE CITY …WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Judy Blume wrote of puberty in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, a favourite of mine going way back. Tayari Jones’ blogging … and later a facebook ‘friendship’ had landed her acclaimed SilverSparrow, a tale from the perspectives of two daughters of a bigamist, on my to-read list. I just happened to be here this week for the NY launch of my book Oh Gad! … and in the midst of mixing promotion with playing tourist (hitting everywhere from Tribeca to Central Park, MOMA to the MET), I found my way to the Barnes and Noble where these two literary ladies would be dialoguing. Lucky me and the 150 or so others ‘eavesdropping’ on their enlightening engagement.

A few things that stuck with me…

“You have to be ready” – Tayari Jones

The story goes that Blume, a well established author essentially anointed an up and coming writer (Jones) by introducing her to the publisher who would eventually bring Silver Sparrow to market. It’s kind of a literary fairy tale really, a fact noted by Jones in proclaiming Blume her fairy god mother. Of course, this bit of grace would mean nothing if the chosen one had nothing to show or say for herself. Thankfully, Jones did, her readiness opened the door and out flew the Silver Sparrow.

Note to self: stay ready.

“Readers want to see what is the real secret, and what’s gonna happen once the secret’s found out” – Tayari Jones

An important reminder, to my mind, that plotting is driven as much by what is unknown as by what is known, and the tension comes, in part, of not showing your hand too early. Their curiosity sparked, the need to know is what keeps the reader up at night turning page after page. But it’s not one sided. The need to discover is in great part what keeps me up at night, as writer being led by these characters. Yeah, you read that right, being led; because I believe (as said by one of the facilitators at the Callaloo Writers workshop which I also participated in that summer at Brown University in Rhode Island) when it’s really on, your characters actually guide you.

Note to self: stay curious and open.

“If you can write about what it is to be trapped in an elevator, you can write about what it is to be trapped in a space ship” –Tayari Jones

I remember commenting to someone not too long ago that I’m not a method writer, yet as I once wrote in a poem I know that I routinely steal from life. Snatches of this and that that become something else by the time I’m done with them. I feel that Jones is saying something similar; writing what you know doesn’t have to mean boxing your narrative in, it can mean using what you know to explore other spaces. Of course, what Jones was really commenting on was the question all fiction writers get: How much of this is biographical? The answer: None of it and all of it.

Note to self: Use what you know, to discover and explore what you don’t know.

“You want to paddle them to safety and (but) you have to let them swim or not.” – Tayari Jones

Your characters do become like people you care about – even the ones that are difficult to like. But comes a time you have to let them go, sometimes without a happy ending. As writer, you don’t always know what their fate will be until it blindsides you. That’s not to say that you have nothing to do with the crafting of the tale, but that often you can’t strong arm the characters into going where they’re not meant to; and sometimes even you have to let them go, painful though it may be.

Note to self: Let your characters walk the path they are meant to.

“If it works, it works; I don’t mess with it” – Tayari Jones

Jones writes old school on vintage typewriters each with his or her own name and I can only imagine personality. Blume apparently has a writing shack. Jones (like me) reads a lot (all the time, even when writing) and that’s an ongoing part of the learning process (because, as I always say, reading is one of the best ways to learn about writing). Blume was unabashed about the fact that as far as writing schedules go, “everything’s a mess” with her including her emotions (“I love it and I scream and I’m frustrated”). Jones writes early in the morning when the phone isn’t likely to ring unless there’s an emergency and you can empty everything else out. I write foreday morning too only I’m more of the haven’t-been-to-bed-yet variety than the get-up-early variety. To wit, as I write this blog it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 a.m. and I haven’t been to bed yet. Understandably, I wake up late. It took me a while to not feel guilty about that and to blow off people’s judgment (“you just now getting up!?”) – after all they’re probably getting more sleep on average than I am.

Note to self: Do what works for you (there is no single way).

“I don’t know if I hate classification or I hate categories or if I hate the way people perceive the categories” – Tayari Jones

Exactly! I thought as Tayari said this even as my companion snorted at the explanation. But here’s the thing. I know exactly what she means. People slap a label on you (or your writing) that does not begin to describe the complexity of you/it, and then they deride it for the label they gave it – chick lit, erotica, Caribbean, urban, whatever. I am a Caribbean writer. My first two books, The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, were dubbed young adult when, as Blume explained of her own books, I never wrote them as that. That was the label slapped on them by the publisher for marketing, and really I didn’t have a problem with it, and don’t, except for when I’m expected to be a children’s writer when I’ve probably written maybe one children’s story* in my life and usually wind up doing Anancy stories or something from Wadadli Pen (the youth writing programme I run in Antigua) when asked to read to kids (not to be confused with teens for whom I’ll usually read from my own work). Now Oh Gad! is published by Strebor, a Simon and Schuster imprint owned by Zane, known primarily for erotica; and while being apart of her brand is expanding my readership, I’ve been compelled to explain a time or two that my book is not erotica – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As I wrote in a recent blog, these categories are a marketing issue and not a writer’s concern. Like Judy said about how she came to write the types of books she does, “I just wanted to write what I knew to be true”.

Note to self: Keep telling your (characters’) truth, telling authentic stories, and defying the class-i-fications.

I love how disarming and down to earth Blume seemed, how witty and smart Jones seemed, and how genuine their connection seemed. It was a veritable lovefest with the woman who wrote books beloved by so many (Blume) saying to Jones of her book, “The story is moving and moving and moving and you do wonder what will happen next”, while Jones mentioned that Blume was one of her literary inspirations going back 30 years.

“That’s really good; I should write that down,” Blume quipped at some insight from Jones and, doing her one better, I did write it all down (hence this blog), even as I smiled at the off-hand comment. Another such moment came when Jones commented of spending the last 15 months on the road, “it’s been a wonderful gift to do it” and Blume, who’s likely been down that road a time or ten, tossed in, “it’s wonderful to do it… once.”

I ended up buying a copy of Silver Sparrow and getting online to talk with Jones. Because social networking can create a false sense of knowing, I was nervous about introducing myself to her even as I wanted to introduce myself to her if that makes any sense. I’m glad I did in the end and(though I want to assure her that I’ve never stalked anyone and I’m not about to start now) I’m hoping that our paths do cross again and that I maybe even get to share a stage with her some day. A girl can dream, right?

Meanwhile, I will be reading Silver Sparrow and continuing my own writing.

*Okay, so as fate would have it since asserting that I was branded a children’s author without having any actual children’s books, I’ve written an actual teen/young adult novel (Musical Youth) and a couple of children’s picture books (With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). musical_youth_nov1-e1415925946338with-grace-coverCoverCheck those out too if you’re so inclined. Go here for all my books.

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IC Excerpts

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
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?

Interviewing the CaribbeanJoanne 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
Antigua?

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.

Writing is Your Business is Back – Register Now

ETA: Want to pitch Writing is Your Business l and Persuasive Public Speaking to your boss or HR manager, here’s a letter explaining what it’s all about: Letter to businesses April 2017

I first offered this course in 2016. Engagement was successful and reviews were positive. It’s been a minute, but it’s back, still under the banner of Barbara Arrindell & Associates .

If you’re a working person in Antigua and Barbuda who wants to improve her/his written (and/or oral) communication skills, here’s where you start:

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To download registration form, right click above or download this: BA & A registration both 2017

 

BIM LIT FEST: IN PICTURES

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Made my first trip to the every-other-yearly BIM Lit Fest and Book Fair in Barbados; taking place in Bridgetown – a city that still has the kind of unique architectural character I’d like to see more Caribbean countries, including my own, maintain. I got to see some of that character during a unique literary bus tour on the Saturday of the festival – while the children’s part of the book fair which kicked off with a Carnival complete with dancing, drumming, Anansi, and a stilt walker carried on in Independence Square. The literary bus tour around 350-year old World Heritage site Bridgetown city was a mix of historical stops such as the residences of literary luminaries Kamau Braithwaite and Frank Collymore and literary readings along the paths that inspired the literature being read. Really interesting; what stops would such a tour include in Antigua do you think – is Jamaica Kincaid’s childhood residence preserved? The bus tour and children’s fair was only a small part of a busy few days – that also included unplanned diversions like a morning stroll along the Richard Haynes Boardwalk. There were readings and more readings (or as they called them BIMrock Variations), a master class (led by Olive Senior), panels (including the likes of  Selma James, widow of CLR James and an activist in her own right), and workshops (I co-facilitated one on Memory and Fiction with Bernice McFadden, a renowned American writer with Bajan roots) and Jamaicans poet laureate Mervyn Morris and poet extraordinare Tanya Shirley, and more including the welcome reception at Sandals and the opening event at the PM’s official residence where celebrated and award winning Bajan author Paule Marshall’s son accepted a lifetime achievement award on her behalf. That’s just the tip of an ice berg of author and author events that included Karen Lord, A-dZiko Simba Gegele, Eintou Springer, Celeste St. Hill, Russell Watson, Esther Phillips, Robert Sandiford, Lynn Joseph, Hazel Simmons-McDonald, Heather Barker, Shivanee Ramlochan, Katherine Tafari, Adrian Greene, Christine Barrow, and event team members like Racquel Griffith, Theo Williams, and Linda Deane.

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I first read Paule Marshall in university – the book Praisesong for the Widow. In the years since, I’ve read Daughters and Browngirl Brownstones. I was looking forward to meet Marshall but she didn’t make it. Her son accepted the award from the Barbados PM on her behalf.

mervyn me

Mervyn Morris is the Poet Laureate of Jamaica. Back in the early to mid 90s, he was mentor to me during my time at the University of the West Indies, also instructor in my first fiction writing class. He recommended me for the University of Miami’s Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute, facilitated by Olive Senior who told me on this trip to BIM that he told her then that I was going to be a writer. I appreciate the faith and I’m happy every time I get to run in to him. Here we are at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Barbados at the BIM Lit Fest and Book Fair.

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Selfie at Sandals during BIM Lit Fest with Olive Senior – recent winner of the Bocas prize for literature, past Commonwealth Book Prize winner, and former mentor.

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Ms. Senior added a note when she shared it on her social media.

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Writers in Barbados for the 2016 BIM Lit Fest. The highlight of the night for me was catching up with Olive Senior, standing in front of me, that’s me in the back (my mom’s already chastised me for always seeking the back during a photo call). This was the first evening’s reception at Sandals where everything was lovely and everyone was new. I would get to know some of these people better over the next few days, beginning this night with talk of lemonade (hey, Bernice) and other historical, political, topical things.

 

Bernice McFadden

I love this photo. Me with two amazing writers. African American writer Bernice McFadden, centre. Currently reading her book Sugar and after hearing her reading on the final night of the BIM Festival at the Waterfront Café already eager to read more. Far right, Jamaican A-dZiko Simba Gegele with whom I feel forever bonded by our experience of being the first Burt Award finalists for the Caribbean in 2014 (she won!). Was good to catch up with her again (real talk). And if you haven’t read her book All Over Again yet, what are you waiting for?

 

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Each guest writer was required/requested to gift the PM with a copy of their book/s. This is A-dZiko Gegele of Jamaica giving All Over Again. I gave Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings.

 

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All guest writers (back row Cecil Foster, Bernice McFadden, Mervyn Morris; middle, Mrs. Foster and Esther Phillips; front Olive Senior, A-dZiko Gegele, Selma James, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Tanya Shirley, and Evan Marshall (son of lifetime achievement awardee Paule Marshall). We were melting (Barbados hot no wah!) but it doesn’t show …right?

 

with poster

It’s not every day you get to take a picture with a poster of yourself. Couldn’t resist. Wish I could have brought this home. #gyalfromOttosAntigua

Shakirah

Met Shakirah (Shakirah) on my trip to BIM – actually that’s Shakirah Bourne, playwright, short story writer, and screenwriter/filmmaker extraordinaire. We’ve been facebook friends for a minute; great to finally meet her and to finally get my hands on a copy of her book In Time of Need. Look forward to reading it. P.S. I’ve written about Shakirah’s writing before: check my series, ‘The Short of It’, on this site.

 

feedback BIM workshop

Participant review re my two-hour workshop bloc with Bernice McFadden – we took different approaches to our exploration of memory and fiction but it all came together.

 

No pictures as yet from my reading or the workshop. Will share if and when I get. NO more words; I promised this was a picture post. Well, just two more: THANK YOU.

To Appearances Page.

New Venture – Writing is Your Business

Barbara Arrindell & Associates has been running a series of public speaking courses. BAAAWhile doing a critique of her new website, it occurred to me that I had something to offer in a related area of communications training: written communications. I pitched it to her and she agreed, and we’ll be running parallel and complementary courses beginning April 19th 2016.

Usually, my workshops focus on creative writing

Workshop 2

CODE workshop on writing for the teen/young adult market.

but I do have experience teaching communications at the advanced level and creating content for a variety of clientele. This workshop will draw on that experience.

This is not the first time I’ve thought of this. I have considered and proposed in the past, for instance, that entrepreneurs and staffers alike in Antigua and Barbuda would benefit from a writing course that would empower them to create content to better market their business, product, or services. Internal memos, letters to project partners, company websites and blogs, newsletters, reports, media releases, reports, product descriptions, company profiles, and more are all things I’ve had to either write or edit for clients – some of which they could be empowered to do for themselves. There are still things for which they would need to hire a professional but there is no doubt that, if staff or small business owners, can create their own content it could save them money, long term, and increase their effectiveness.

It’s about building confidence with language, it’s about removing the intimidation factor  by doing and discovering that words are really not that scary.

As with some of my other ideas, it’s a matter of finding the right time to attract a receptive cadre of students – and forward thinking employers and entrepreneurs. Now is the time.
Are you receptive?

THE BENEFITS TO YOU are
Increased confidence and skill expressing yourself using the written word (from organizing your ideas to writing and editing business documents)
A professional, reader-friendly writing style
A skill-set which includes being able to edit your own and others’ business writing
Improved marketability
Heightened value in your business
Increased efficiency re sharing content-communicating ideas

In short you will be learning to communicate more effectively via the written word.

I am thrilled to associate my brand with public speaking consultant Barbara Arrindell of Arrindell and Associates.

The feeling is mutual. Barbara Arrindell: “It is one thing to have a nice looking web site with great content, but it is another to have edited content free of errors. Ms. Hillhouse’s web page editing service transformed my good website  into a professional advertising tool that is easy to read and understand.”

Our goal: effective communication within and without the business setting.

“No matter your profession—whether you’re the CEO or the mail-room clerk—understanding how to write correctly is important, because proper writing demands proper grammar and punctuation. And if you understand how to write, you will inevitably improve your communication (both written and verbal). Having the ability to communicate your ideas and communicate them well is a sure ingredient for success in any field.” – Shala Marks, Back to the Basics

Details: Best of Books, St. Mary’s Street, Antigua. Once a week for four weeks, starting April 19th 2016.  Course fee is EC$150. Limited spots available so register early by submitting registration form for written communication to me and oral communication to Barbara Arrindell & Associates.

registration Pubic speaking
registration Written communication
New Courses Barbara Arrindell & Associates Official Letter

News and such

Just came across this notice about my panel at the Brooklyn Book Fair at Poets & Writers (trippy)

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More news re book end events at the Brooklyn Book Fair courtesy Caribbean Cultural Theatre via St. Lucia Online

Programming note: I’m told my books will be on sale at Powerhouse (Saint Ann’s, Brooklyn Historical Library, Brooklyn Historical Society) & I’ll also be with CaribbeanReads (Musical Youth’s publisher) at the Caribbean Cultural Theatre tent (Booth 121 – Korean War Memorial Plaza at Cadman Plaza West – Downtown Brooklyn, NY 11201).

…and the St. Croix Source has an announcement re the next edition of The Caribbean Writer (check it out)

A Series of Literary Connections

Doing some ‘housecleaning’ (lol…not literally…but clearing out some files so I can get to some priority files…or something…anyway) the picture below popped up and before filing it away I thought I’d share it and share a bit of the connections not immediately obvious from the image.

The picture was taken at the Antigua Conference held last week (don’t blame me if you missed it, I urged and urged folks to go here and other places…seriously, I was a nag about it). This was the conference’s 10th anniversary. I remember the first one was 10 years ago and from that moment there have been so many ripples of personal significance.

I delivered (or attempted) an academic paper at that conference (I don’t do academic papers but there you have it) and that paper on media in Antigua after the change of government that had ended the 28 year run by the previous party was subsequently published in the CLR James Journal (yeah, me…yay, me). At that year’s conference, Edgar Lake delivered a presentation on Antigua and Barbuda’s literary tradition that sparked in part what would become the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books. Paget Henry, professor and chair of Africana Studies at Brown University, with whom I’ve formed a friendship over these past 10 years (wow), has been the driving force behind both the Conference and the Review, on both points, and an advocate for the University of Antigua, unwavering and optimistic on all counts. He wants to fill the void in terms of national critical self-examination left by the passing of Leonard Tim Hector and, through both these projects, he continues to do just that, albeit that the audience is perhaps a bit more niche-y (by circumstance not by choice) than Hector’s popular Fan the Flame newspaper series. Incidentally, several of those Flames are re-published in the 2015 edition of the Review. Email Henry (paget_henry@brown.edu)to subscribe.

The conference has moved around over the years. This year, one of its locations was the Youth Enlightenment Academy at Lightfoot where I’ve held some of my writing workshops as of 2015 (more to come). The Academy is a project of Lawrence Jardine, working with Mali Olatunji to create a space beyond standardized test for engagement with young people in different ways (e.g. I write so I do literary projects, Mali is a photographer, aesthetician, and footballer so he engages in those ways etc.). There’s a Leonard Tim Hector lecture hall at the YEA campus – sidebar: Jardine is part of the Leonard Tim Hector Memorial Committee, in 2014, I received the Leonard Tim Hector Memorial Award…so many connections.

And so we come to the ones in the picture. Brenda Lee Browne, the one looking like she’s just back from vacation on the far left, is a writer and an event coordinator and worker known for her work with sporting events at home and way, way abroad. At this point, my overlaps with Brenda Lee are too numerous to mention – suffice to say, we support each others’ projects (which over the years have included the Independence Literary Arts Award, Wadadli Pen, Just Write Writers Retreat, her prison writing programme, the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, and numerous other workshops and activities formal and informal too numerous to mention including performing in the first local staging of the Vagina Monologues by Women of Antigua), we’re both passionate about the literary arts, and donate way more time than we’re paid for in service to these passions and the inevitable social activism that comes with it, and we’re friends.

In the middle is Althea Romeo Mark. I didn’t make it to any other conference activity this year, but I made it to this panel and she was a big part of the reason why. Hers was the panel with Lake, and he was another good reason to be there – his sessions are always don’t miss. In the case of Althea, we’ve been ‘knowing’ each other online for a long minute – a few years now, we’ve reviewed each others books, published each other in literary journal projects, conversed back and forth on literary issues, and been a part of a literary community born of the fact that though resident in Switzerland, she is, like me, from Antigua. This was a homecoming of sorts for her as she hasn’t been back since about two years before I was born. Wow.

with Althea Romeo Mark and Brenda Lee Browne

So all of those things are mixed up in this picture – the where, the why, the when, the who…the how…well judging by my windswept hair and tired eyes, the how was, with some effort; judging by the smile, happy nonetheless that we were able to link up…however briefly.