Top Tenning the Back List (a Book Meme Post)

Doing this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (my first in a long while), I realized that there are nearly 1000 books on my books I’d like to read list (woiiieeee!) and that’s not counting the ones on my bookshelf nor the ones by my bedside (i.e. the ones in progress which I can barely find time to read). *sings* To Dream the Impossible Dream!

But I doing this anyway, well halfway, because I’m doing the back list of books I’d really like to get and read (so I don’t have them yet). Sorry for breaking the rules but it’s what I can manage right now.

Here goes:

RossThe Bone Readers by Jacob Ross – I read an excerpt from this in an editing workshop a couple years ago and then this summer had the opportunity to do a writing workshop co-led by the author; I’ve also had some mentoring from him and had stories edited by him. So for all those reasons he’s on my radar but this book is a Caribbean mystery and I haven’t read a lot of those, so for that alone I am in.

jones_american-marriage_hc_hr_rgbAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This is an Oprah’s book club pick and was on Obama’s summer read list. But that only confirms what I’ve known about this writer since reading Silver Sparrow (instant favourite!). Been eager to read this one for a minute.

GirlThe Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig– I don’t remember what this is about to  be honest, but I found a note to myself that said I started listening to the audio book and found I couldn’t focus which is a problem for me with audio books which I only started trying this year (so far only completing Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, World War Z by Max Brooks, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House).

KeiAugustown by Kei Miller – I’ve been mentioning this one and mentioning it; still haven’t gotten to it. But bottom line is I’ve read 2 or 3 books by this Jamaican author, loved them all, and I do think he is one of the voices of our current generation of Caribbean writers.

ClaudiaCitizen by Claudia Rankine – every excerpt I’ve read from this has fired my interest and in light of ongoing conversations on race, it feels especially timely.

repentersThe Repenters by K. Jared Hosein – I’m falling behind on my reading of this Trini writer; he’s won some more awards and published another book since releasing this one, probably more before I get to it. I best hurry up. Been wanting to read this one since it dropped.

zombiesEverything I know about Zombies I learned in Kindergarten by Kevin Wayne Williams – zombies plus the title amuses and intrigues me.

wolf giftThe Wolf Gift by Anne Rice – When the Queen of the Vampires (love her Vampire chronicles) writes lycans, I’ve got to at least check it out.

railroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Don’t know a lot about this one but been interested since it won its parcel of high profile awards and popped up on my radar.

bealeIf Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin – love Baldwin, love that he’s having a resurgence; would love to re-read this one without seeing the movie by Barry Jenkins whose Moonlight was sublime and poetic.

While you’re here, the latest updates to the site (probably of a little less interest to my non-Antiguan-Barbudan readers, but I hope not) are three new entries in the CREATIVE SPACE series. Start here.

Also new to the site, an addition to the Books page: the Spanish edition of my most recent picture book LOST! A CARIBBEAN SEA ADVENTURE: ¡PERDIDA! UNA AVENTURA EN EL MAR CARIBE.

Some updates from the Wadadli Pen blog:
#ReadAntiguaBarbuda #VoteAntiguaBarbuda
Caribbean Reads Announces Two New Spanish Language Titles
Lost! At the Miami Book Fair

Oh and real quick (since I’m unlikely to do a separate post for this and it’s all arts), recent watches are (movies) Sorry to bother you which is a satire about capitalism and which was trippy, and 22 July a film about that mass terrorist incident in Norway a few years ago, which was unsettling and sad, both very timely in their own ways; and (TV) despite what I said here, I have been watching The Walking Dead as appointment TV again this season – sad about the departure of Andrew Lincoln who was Rick (his last episode was an emotional roller coaster), and I expect I’ll be checking in from time to time with The Evolution of Hip Hop season 2 – I’ve only seen ep 1 so far but I had been anticipating more in this series since discovering the first season. Hard to believe the hip hop I grew up on is now music history. Time keeps on ticking, ticking. What have you been watching? dying to read? blogging?

Haven’t checked out any of my books yet? Children’s picture books to teen/young adult fics to adult novels; read more. If you’ve read my books, please consider posting a review to Amazon or Goodreads if you haven’t already done so. It makes a big difference. Thanks! For information on my writing and editing services, here’s where you go. – blogger, author, mango lover, Joanne C. Hillhouse


What’s New, As the Year Winds Down

Promo Flyer correctedI launch a new creative writing workshop series in the new year and for the first time you can participate from anywhere. Contact me to find out how. For background on my past workshop experience, go here, and for performance reviews re workshop and other writing services, go here.

I’ve launched my newest book, children’s picture book Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, a launch highlight being this past week’s book signing at the Best of Books.

As you can see, it wasn’t just about Lost! – people left with signed copies of With Grace, Lost!, and Musical Youth. These are essentially the children’s and teen/young adult portion of my …of the books I’ve written. Thanks to everyone who came out. For more images, check the gallery.

We’re now in to the busiest part of the holiday weekend. I hope the year has been kind to you and the new year is even kinder. As a working writer, I hope for more opportunities to continue doing what I do. You can support the journey by, of course, buying the books, writing a reader review, sharing book news, and, in my case, news of my workshops. The thing writers need most is time (including a time out now and again) and a boost – at times a promotional boost, at times a motivational boost, at times a financial boost; because hard as we work, as much passion as we have for what we do, it doesn’t always balance out. So, boost a writer if you can.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

My Top Ten Posts of the Year

Time for the rundown of the year’s most popular posts. Hope you’ll check them out if you haven’t already.

#1 – Ancestral Remembrance on Emancipation Day

Excerpt: “You know, it’s a strange thing, but I heard that when slavery was over the slaves at Old Road didn’t even get drunk. I heard there was no great happiness among them. They didn’t know what would happen, so them give assurances that they will not leave the plantation, that they will continue on working for the old owners. The old slave massas let them continue to work the ground and grow food for themselves.”

Reflection: This one surprises me; I guess there’s more interest in our history than we realize as this is literally excerpts related to Emancipation in Antigua and Barbuda from the book To Shoot Hard Labour.

#2 – After the Storm

Excerpt: “I have seen social media posts (seemingly out of the US) indicating that we don’t matter either because the posters have never heard of us, because we’re too small to matter, because we’re ignorant for living in a hurricane pathway, because our houses are supposedly poorly built and not because of the 185 mph winds that passed directly over Barbuda, or because we’re doomed anyway – because climate change. I will agree with one thing; we do need to take climate change seriously – it is a factor and, though islands like ours are among the most vulnerable, this is a global problem. The lives of many hang in the balance. The Paris Agreement (which America recently pulled out of) was one step toward combatting climate change. So, in addition to supporting recovery efforts, we can resolve to educate ourselves on climate change and on efforts to mitigate its impact, and do what we can to support and advocate. The lives of every single being on the planet hangs in the balance. We have a saying here, today for me, tomorrow for you; I mention it here not to wish any of the trolls who scoffed at our pain ill but as a reminder that we need to stand together, because we’re all in this together. We, in the Caribbean, grieve and stand with the world when bad things happen anywhere in the world. We are very tuned in to the world (though we know the world is not likewise as tuned in to us) and we care (to wit, our hearts go out to Mexico as well at this time in the wake of the quake there). One of the trolls said we matter only as tourist destinations, and it is true that we live where the world vacations.”

Reflection: This is the first post I wrote after hurricane Irma; I’m delighted especially at how much it’s been shared as Barbuda and other affected islands and countries need all the help they can get (still).

#3 – Grace’s Merrymakers

Graces Merry Makers

Reflection: This was my post on my mas troupe inspired by my book With Grace; thanks for the interest, guys.

#4 – Anne Lamott shares 12 Things She knows for Sure

Excerpt: “via 12 things I know for sure: Anne Lamott speaks at TED2017 — TED Blog

Reflection: This was just a share but understandably one that’s proven popular among book bloggers and readers.

#5 – Food as Culture

Excerpt: ‘Food to reflect differences.

‘“I can help with snacks,” the woman was saying. “Finger foods for during rehearsals and performance night.”

The woman seemed almost shy. Was that Granny Linda? He’d pictured someone taller. Her voice had sort of a shake in it too. This was Zahara’s no non-sense, ‘take no bullshit’ grandmother? Wow.

“Maybe some grilled pork and pineapple skewers?” she added.

“That sounds good,” Mr. Perry said, nodding. “Although you know, some of the kids are vegetarian; pork might not do for everyone.”

“That’s okay, I can substitute chicken,” Granny Linda said, and at that everyone fell out laughing.’’

Reflection: This post was sparked by an online food debate about the right way to make ducana (a Good Friday staple in Antigua) and got me thinking about the ways food shows up in my own work. Who knew food could inspire so much passion.

#6 – In the Race

Excerpt: “Thanks to my nominator for taking the time to read the work (With Grace) and fill out the forms (I know it was a pain); you didn’t have to and I appreciate that you did.”

Reflection: My post on my nomination for the Astrid Lindgren prize.

#7 – With Grace Selected for the Virgin Islands Summer Read Challenge

Excerpt: “As the author of With Grace, I am delighted at this development and hope With Grace continues to find its way in to the hands of children across the Caribbean and around the world.”

Reflection: When I learned that I had been selected for this, I was hyped. Thanks, VI. I just got a copy of the special edition – it’s not in the original post but I’m going to share it here anyway. That’s me with the publisher and the special edition of With Grace.

meeting with Mario Nov 2017

#8 – It’s Lost! Pub Day

Excerpt: “Remember, go to my facebook  (today – November 30th 2017) to participate in the AMA, author-illustrator in conversation, Lost! virtual launch, book birthday.”

Reflection: This AMA was dope. Okay, it wasn’t so much of an AMA as a chat between me and the artist, loved that.

Lost Cover Front 4

#9 – Top Ten – Contemporary Caribbean

Reflection: This trended primarily across the book blogging community; happy to introduce others to books from my part of the map.

#10 – Do You Know Eileen Hall?

Excerpt: ‘If you google her, you might find her wiki entry (no pictures though) describing her as “an American poet”. Not true. She is, though, a largely forgotten Antiguan poet; and the same wiki entry does disclose that “Hall was born in Antigua; her father’s family was from Oxford and her mother’s family was part French and part Irish, the French side having been in the West Indies since the mid seventeenth century.” Like I said, Antiguan poet, one of the first – research would suggest – to be published internationally. Her 1938 book, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, was The Fountain and the Bough.’

Reflection: Researching this post after I’d read Hall’s book consumed the better part of a night, so I’m glad there’s some interest because damn I went down the rabbit hole on this one.

Those are my top ten – i.e. most viewed, shared, liked, commented on – posts of 2017 (so far). Thanks for reading.

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.


Here’s the re-post.


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.

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: 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

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:


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



BLF Poster 2016 03

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.


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.

Olive selfie

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.


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


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?



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.



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


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.