Reading: a Tool for Life

“Plenty reading gives you knowledge. People can’t fool you easily. Because you can read and you can spell and you can write” – Something my mom said. And she’s not lying; the ability to read is its own kind of access and power to the world.

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Yes, access and power to the whole world.

It’s a privilege not everyone has due to limited resources or other inhibiting factors. But provided you have access to education (as we do free public education at the primary and secondary level in Antigua and Barbuda albeit with inhibiting factors like overcrowding and limited resources) and access to reading material (whether online or actual via the computer labs and school and public libraries provided albeit with inhibiting factors like, well, access), and reading programmes like the Cushion Club (which exists just to encourage children to read), then read, read, read.

Let your children see you reading, give books as gifts, read with your kids, read to your kids, read to help your kids if they’re struggling, read until you see their confidence and interest start to grow as they start to get it, read and have conversations about what they’ve read as they begin to discover how they think about things, read and know that for some reading may never become their go-to hobby but that’s okay. It’s the foundation. Even if science is their jam, because to ace that math, chem, or biology exam, they have to be able to read the instructions. The need and impulse to read is all around us from billboards as we drive along to the cheque from the job and the ATM where it has to be deposited reading is integral as we move through the world.

Reading for me isn’t strictly practical though. Though I do instinctively read (and edit, in my head) a lot of those street signs and billboards (seriously, hire a proofreader at least, guys) as I walk or drive along. Anyone who knows me knows I always have a book with me (in fact, to the person that came up to me that time on a street corner and said, “you always have a book?” yes, yes, I do). I read them on the bus (and try to restrain from reading when I’m walking or driving), I read them in line at the bank and at the APUA (where you can literally feel like you’re dying from how sluggishly the line is moving), I read while I wait for the concert to start (I’ve never read at the movies though, so I guess that’s somewhere). I read because the story sweet and I want to find out how it’s going to turn out, I read because reading and writing is my jam; I also read to travel. And that’s the gift you give your kid the first time you give them a book, a ticket to some other place from where they are – with children’s books that’s usually magical places, where they might run in to a faerie as the main character does in my book With Grace but real places too, places they may some day visit. They can get that from movies? I hear you and I’m not here to knock movies because I love them too. But what you’re doing when you allow them to unlock the worlds they read about by using their imagination, is lighting a creative spark in them. They’ll need that. Creative thinking, critical thinking are the underpinning of problem solving, and tell me that’s not a skill for life whether you’re a stay-at-home dad or a world leader. So called ‘creative industries’ ought not to be the only spaces where creative and critical thinking are valued.

Critical thinking also allows us to call BS on stuff when we see it (which I think is what my mother was hitting at: when you can read-and comprehend, nobody can give you a six for a nine) because it engenders both a curious and a self-questioning mind – the impulse to always know why/how come  and the instinct to look it up for yourself. And in time, the discernment needed to pick sense from nonsense.

I did a post on my personal facebook recently encouraging teachers when they give students research projects to encourage them to use the opportunity to develop research skills – not just hit the person up on social media or the phone. Going to the source is a legit research method  but the source may be too busy to respond to each individual query – especially if it’s a small community and those inquiries cycle in waves. Many of these kids, kids young as 9, can find GTA online and have enough sense to say GTA instead of Grand Theft Auto when you ask them what they’re playing (to make sure they’re not playing something they shouldn’t be), they’ve got google-fu…and that device so many of them have in their hands means that they have access to google to use that fu. Sure, they might hit a point where there’s something they can’t find without primary research (i.e. interviewing the source), but (given that it’s not always possible and in fact very rare to be able to access a source when doing research), those DIY research skills can be invaluable in tracking down the desired information. And that’s where reading comes in.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some really sharp people who can’t read or can’t read well – I know people like this, whose counsel I respect. But in this life we need all the tools we can get and bottom line, reading is a tool for life – a practical tool, a tool of the imagination, a research tool; we’d be advised to gift it to our kids, encourage them to keep it polished and use it well.

 

THE IMAGES in the slide show are mostly (though not all) images taken by me over the years – some are reading club related (the Cushion Club and the one at the Best of Books), some from the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival (when it was still around), some from school visits, etc. etc. etc. Ask before lifting.

Challenge Pics…and Picks

Trying to put a dent in my inbox just now (*shakes fist at the dreaded inbox*) I came across some pictures sent by the Best of Books with their recommendations for the Cushion Club Wadadli Pen Summer Reading Challenge. With roughly a month of Challenge time left, it’s not too late to share them, right?

In Darkness frontIn Darkness back This one is Heart of Darkness by Nick Lake which Best of Books has identified as its Caribbean Teen Summer Read.

international teen read The Warrior Heroes series is among its international teen recs.

If you’re thinking of taking the challenge remember you have to have read at minimum one local, one Caribbean, and one international book…and you have to be resident in Antigua and Barbuda so local in this case means a book by an Antiguan and Barbudan author.

I am such an author and the publisher of my book Musical Youth is offering a special prize as a part of the reading challenge. So just as a reminder, I’m putting this down here.flyer final You can be between 12 and 18 to participate in this Musical sub-challenge.

The substantive reading list, meanwhile, is primarily made up of books appropriate for readers 5 to 15. UntitledThe last pictures I want to share with you has to do with one of those books for younger readers and the early mini-review (which forms part of the challenge) that I received in relation to it. This has made me excited to see what other readers will have to say about the many books they’re reading this summer. Here it is.

Salina Yoon 2 Salina Yoon “What I like about the story is that the bears love, care, and comfort each other. What I also like about the story was that bear was the star of the book because he was in all the pages. Mama bear was very good to bear when she comfort him and papa bear was very nice to bear because he tickled bear ears.” That’s the first review of the challenge. Now doesn’t that deserve a sweetness award?

See the full reading list here (no, you don’t have to read all of it, just as many as you can or want to). And remember the full list and mini-reviews should be sent to cushionclub@yahoo.com at the end of August 2015 (the Musical Youth reviews  can be posted on social media at any time and the link sent to submissions@caribbeanreads.com). Both Best of Books and Cindy’s Bookstore are offering 20% discounts for anyone “taking the challenge”; and shouting out challenge partners (where you can also find books on the list) the Map Shop and the Public Library of Antigua and Barbuda.

Mission Possible: Read

This summer, in Antigua and Barbuda, we (meaning me and Cedric of Wadadli Pen and the Cushion Club, respectively, with some overlap in between) decided to challenge our young constituency to spend part of their summer reading. Now, obviously, Cedric who volunteers his Saturdays with the reading Club and I who have done the same with less frequency (and not at all, lately) and who also run the annual Wadadli Pen writing challenge, believe that reading is its own reward. But we got ahead of ourselves and before long were offering a prize to the child who reads the most from an extensive reading list we came up with with the help of the Map Shop and the Best of Books (two local book stores). Cedric’s already collected the first of those prizes from a generous donor at which point we were like well, I guess we’re doing this and we put the word out to the media and on social media. Next thing Best of Books and Cindy’s Bookstore were offering discounts to anyone shopping at their stores and taking the Challenge. Then my publisher CaribbeanReads was getting in on the action with a Musical Youth Challenge within the larger Challenge (more on that in another post, another time). The reason for this post, on realizing that I’ve been blogging about this over at my other blog but have been so busy pushing my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project over here that I forgot to mention it here – crossed wires. But then I came across this picture of me reading to children at the Public Library Summer camp in …I wanna say 2013 (?)…DSC_0344and it seemed a good time to mention it.

Parents, read with your children, go sign them up at the library – the public library (they can’t take out books just yet unfortunately but they could pass the day or part of it reading) or other community libraries, buy them the books (take advantage of those discounts), or trade or borrow books as I used to do back in the day, some of these books may already be in your family’s personal library (and make family there as extensive as you need it to be). Take the challenge, not just for the prize, but for the discovery, the adventure, the joy of reading. Details here.

On to Read the World

Received a copy of Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan earlier this year. Anyway, I’m now starting to read it; looking forward to it to.finished-book I enjoyed her blog and her journey and, intrigued about the entire enterprise, was happy when she agreed to be interviewed for my other blog a while back. I thought I’d share the release that came with the book. It’s no less than I’d want any other writer and/or blogger to do for one of my books.

A thought-provoking and eye opening journey through world literature inspired by a quest to read a book from every country.
In 2012 the world arrived in London for the Olympics…and Ann Morgan went out to meet it. She read her way around all the globe’s 196 independent countries (plus one extra territory), sampling one book from every nation – from classics and folk tales to current favourites and commercial triumphs, via novels, short stories, memoirs, biographies, narrative poems and countless mixtures of all these things.

It wasn’t easy. Many languages have next to nothing translated into English. Then there are tiny, tucked-away places like Nauru and Tuvalu where very little is written down at all. Some countries have a culture of almost exclusive storytelling. Others have governments that don’t like to let works of art leak out to corrupt Westerners.

Her literary adventures shed light on the issues that affect us all: personal, political, national and global. What is cultural heritage? How do we define national identity? What constitutes a national literature? Is it possible to overcome censorship and propaganda? And how can we celebrate, challenge and change our remarkable world?

Turns the page…

About Anguilla

UPDATE! You have to understand that I love Essence so forgive me while I squeeeeeee!!! at this shout out in the magazine black women love to love.

… for me with this and every lit fest I’ve been blessed to participate in, it’s all about the quality of the experience: not just how many books sold, how many new readers snagged, how many new contacts bagged, how much did you narrow the chasm between where you are and where everyone insists you should/could be (and between both and where you actually want to be)… and all the pressure that comes with allahdat! poolside It’s for this reason that the best moments at the Anguilla Lit Fest – a Literary Jollification come/came for me when I released the pressure of expectation (maybe if you’d done this instead of that, what you should have done is this) and just allowed myself to be in the Moment. Sometimes that moment will find you chilling and chatting with someone you couldn’t quite work up the nerve to NETWORK with earlier. I love the Moment. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s that sweet spot where stilted conversation turns to real connection, or at least the possibility of it. The Anguilla Lit Fest provided the opportunity for such moments, particularly outside of the formal panels and presentations, which is why a highlight of my time on the beautiful island only a few hops up from my own beautiful island of Antigua, was what I’ve dubbed the after party. A day which was all about seeking that tranquility wrapped in blue of which the island boasts. I ended up on the beach (two beaches actually) sipping beer, dancing to interpretations of Bob and Jimmy, mento style, and chatting with this or that fellow lit-fester – with or without the requisite exchange of cards/contacts as moved by the mood and the Moment. Without the pressure of agenda, I feel sweet-tasting promise coming out of the Moment- that one and all such moments in the extended after-party; from the evening’s cocktail to the open mic that followed to the shared journey back to our respective lives. Anguilla wasn’t all one big after party, of course. My work at the festival, because they bring us authors there to work, began with a visit to the Edison Hughes Teachers Resource Centre and Anguilla Public Library where Annie Potts (you’ll remember her from Designing Women: Season 1, Ghostbusters / Ghostbusters II (4K-Mastered + Included Digibook) [Blu-ray], and other Hollywood fare), J. Ivy (author of Dear Father: Breaking the Cycle of Pain), Yona Deshommes (the woman in charge of publicity for a who’s who of high profile Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster authors), Phillip Arnell (whose 34 year book project is entitled Fortunate Member of a Caribbean Diaspora), and I talked with students gathered from the various schools on island about our journey as writers and shared excerpts from our work.

That’s me (second from left) with other presenters: Philip Arnell, Yona Deshommes, Annie Potts, J. Ivy, a library staff member and student.

A Grammy Award winning spoken word artiste, J. Ivy was the MVP of this session (and, from what I’ve heard, of his breakfast reading the following morning) with his fiery poetic presentation on his relationship with his father; and, as someone who’s learned since venturing into picture book writing that the balance between the profundity and simplicity of the poetry/story can be a delicate dance when writing for children, I quite liked Annie’s story – a picture book about a local boy the proceeds of which go right back into a local charity. As I mentioned in a post from the festival, I learned early o’clock that the secondary school students were very familiar with The Boy from Willow Bend as it is required reading in schools on the island. I also wanted to introduce them to my latest teen/YA book Musical Youth as well though, so when it came time for me to present, I divided my time between both. library 3 The festival began fully on Friday and though some of the scheduled authors didn’t make it, we were not short of notables. Zane (Addicted (Unrated)) was there – my first time meeting her (and Yona for that matter) though Oh Gad! is published with Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster. She did two sessions – one on writing and publishing, and one teasing her forthcoming book.  Benilde Little (Welcome to My Breakdown: A Memoir) was there, as was Elizabeth Nunez (Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir), and A Tender Struggle: Story of a Marriage author Krista Bremmer (all part of a panel on memoir writing – which actually clashed with my workshop with the kids so I didn’t catch it; hate when that happens). Nunez also did a lunch time session on the writing of her memoir and on her writing and publishing journey. Leigh Haber was there; that’s right O magazine books editor, Leigh Haber, and she along with Writer’s Digest Jessica Strawser, Yona, and House of Nehesi senior editor Dr. Rhoda Arrindell were part of a very enlightening panel on the state of publishing and in particular the appeal of hybrid publishing. Hint: “Hybrid authors on average make the most money,” – Jessica Strawser. Dr. Arrindell and I, along with Marilyn Hodge, host of Positive Living, with chair Rita Celestine-Carty, were part of a panel on voices from the page which included a discussion on the use of dialect in life and art. Some of the students who’d read Willow Bend were there and they were loaded with questions. Given the topic though, I decided when it came time to read to read from Oh Gad! – a scene which moves between different language registers. Now I don’t know the numbers, but I do know that some books were sold, some books were signed, and at least one reader told me the following day that she was feeling it (and I’m feeling that!)

Yona and I engage with next generation Anguillan writers.

Yona and I engage with next generation Anguillan writers.

After my panel, there was sustained engagement with the young readers (blogged about the young people already here)

...and some adults as well.

…and some adults as well.

and, as mentioned, I also did a session on writing workshop with the kids alongside Yona. As I re-learn every year with Wadadli Pen, the imagination, unhinged from what is right and polite knows no bounds. There is still a need for diversity in publishing, and in the publishing of children’s books in particular, something Yona alluded to as she encouraged these young ones to write and send her their stories – changing that begins in moments like this. Shout out to the entire Anguillan literary community for the big Welcome, and for sharing your verse and its inspirations – especially enjoyed learning more about the revolution I grew up hearing Antiguan calypsonian Short Shirt sing about. Shout out to Anguilla’s Tourism Director Candis A. Niles, committee member Stephanie Stokes-Oliver and her husband Reggie (and in fact the entire lit fest committee and the library services team) who made all of us feel so welcome, my host hotel Paradise Cove (Sherille Hughes and her team), which was the conference venue (accommodating sessions and lunch, poolside – no character-less conference rooms thank you very much), host of the opening reception. Actually we had a little something-something every night, first night at Cuisinart Golf Resort and Spa, second night at Government House, which hosted the launch of the House of Nehesi published Anguillan anthology ‘Where I see the Sun’, and then the Paradise Cove poolside dance party. The last night’s cocktail reception, meanwhile, was at Ultimacy, beautiful property, beautiful location.

...the after party.

…the after party. Ultimacy.

And here’s the thing I’ll add about Anguilla, as a tourism destination it feels like a time out from the normal hectic rhythms of the world, even when the world is another Caribbean island across the way, an illusion that begins the minute you’re speeding toward it, across the water, aboard Calypso Charters, from neighbouring St. Maarten. Thinking on it, a direct flight might have been more convenient, but the boat ride begins the process of acclimatizing you to the tranquility in blue. Loved it. Almost as much as I loved those bacon wrapped plantains. I took more notes (because I’m a nerd and we do that) and have other impressions, but this is running long so I’ll keep them for now…besides (puts on freelance hustle hat) I do have to hold some things back; you know, in case, I  manage to sell an article (or two or three) somewhere. Meanwhile, here’re links to some coverage re lit fest in the Anguillan & and more from the Anguillan: from the Anguillan (Note: the picture immediately above was pulled from the Anguillan lit fest photo gallery – hope they don’t mind; the sources of other pictures used throughout this post were all mailed to me and they are varied; the phones were a-flashing. There was new gal pal Audrey, the Anguilla Public Library, Barbara who’d flown over from Antigua for the event, and others – any omissions are not intentional)

Connections

…the neck bone’s connected to the back bone and the back bone’s connected to the …

with students at the Anguilla Lit Fest (photo by Barbara Arrindell)

with students at the Anguilla Lit Fest (photo by Barbara Arrindell)

Figuring out how this moment connects to that is not always that easy though in the world of writing and publishing. As I prepare for my fourth day here in Anguilla – as a guest of the Anguilla Lit Fest – some connections are clear. I know the invitation to be here came through the publicist at Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster, publishers of my book Oh Gad! and that thanks to that I was billed here as a first time novelist – a quirk of publishing I had to explain to the audience of my first panel who were like wait our kids have been reading your earlier book The Boy from Willow Bend for a while. And it’s Willow Bend, marketed when first published just over 10 years ago as a teen/young adult novella, not the full length adult novel that is Oh Gad! making the latter my debut in that category, that has me thinking this early morning about connections. The chair of my panel recollected reading about Willow Bend on the LIAT inflight magazine and how from that awareness sprung interest in bringing the book into schools in Anguilla and how from that interest the book is now part of the secondary schools’ syllabus, required reading for first formers, and how from that requirement came a genuine response to the book by students and, according to one teacher,

with a teacher and library staffer at the Anguilla lit fest. (photo courtesy Barbara Arrindell)

with a teacher and library staffer at the Anguilla lit fest. (photo courtesy Barbara Arrindell)

boy students in particular, boys who had to have their arms twisted to read in the past who were now finishing the book before the start of the school year, and evidence of that genuine response in the young people gathered for my panel, asking me questions about the novel – e.g. how do you explain the bond between characters June and Vere for instance after the boy realized she was his aunt? – and from that genuine response an autograph (and selfie) line where in lieu of their books they asked me to sign slips of paper that they could stick in the books because… I can hardly process it all, all these connections. Meeting these young ones (first during a presentation earlier at the public library and earlier today (yesterday?) during my first of two panels here) has been a highlight of my participation in the Anguilla Lit Fest, which this year has also attracted the participation of the likes of Zane, Elizabeth Nunez, Benilde Little and a number of others including…me, because, connections.

budding novelists?

budding novelists?

The night of my panel, there was a reception and soca music dance party during which I was approached by a mother, her daughter, and her daughter’s friend who, the previous night, had won the island’s spelling bee, I was informed. Both girls informed me that they were not only avid readers – one read about a book a day, the other had read both The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth and wasn’t shy about sharing her favourite and why – but also novelists…not budding novelists, novelists. They’d both written books…and someday, if they keep on that track, we may be seeing those books in print someday and maybe more books from them. Go, girls! Did I mention one of the boys in the audience of the earlier panel mentioned that he was seven chapters into writing and sharing his own book on WattPad? As getting young people to read and write is a big part of what I try to encourage at home in Antigua and Barbuda, especially through my involvement in the Cushion Club reading club for kids and the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize and its annual writing challenge, and professionally through the workshops I offer and other programmes like the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, this filled my heart.

When asked during a TV interview that night about how the government can support a literary culture, part of what I said was about continuing on that track – exposing young people to books that make them want to read, encouraging them to write, giving writers a platform to share their work and learn from each other, giving these young people opportunities to move among living, breathing authors from their world and beyond, and tangibly supporting the arts so that artistes can thrive.
The light in these young people’s eyes, their articulate presentation of their ideas, the fact that they have a perspective, are a reminder to me why it matters to back up our support for the literary arts in these and other ways.

…because the neck bone’s connected to the back bone, and the back bone’s connected to the…

Some stuff happening this week

Lots happening this week; send lots of positive energy and support where you can. Thanks. What’s happening: On November 20th – 8 p.m. – Multipurpose Centre (Perry Bay, Antigua), I have been informed, I will be receiving the Leonard Tim Hector Memorial Award for my contributions in the areas of journalism, literary arts and youth development. The award, I am further informed, will be presented on the night of the Leonard Tim Hector Memorial Annual Lecture. The lecture will be delivered by Professor the Honourable Errol Morrison, OJ image003– president of the University of Technology, Jamaica. His topic will be ‘STEAM and I for Caribbean Development.’

***

On November 21st – 7 p.m. – The Best of Books (St. Mary’s Street, Antigua), I will be reading excerpts from my new book Musical Youth, and (I’m so excited about this) a select group of 2014 Wadadli Pen finalists will be reading as well. Reading ***

On November 22nd and 23rd – Heritage Hotel, I will be conducting two full day workshops sponsored by CODE. Registration is now closed.

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While I have your attention, I would like to remind you that still happening this week and a few more, is the rollout of the Antigua and Barbuda edition of Tongues of the Ocean, which I had the privilege of editing. Please go check it out and show the writers and artists some love by leaving a comment about what you think of their work.

Summer One by Glenroy Aaron. Tongues cover image.

Summer One by Glenroy Aaron. Tongues cover image.

Also, Caribbean Reads Publishing has released Round My Christmas Tree, a new seasonal collection with content from two Antiguan and Barbudan writers, me and Carel Hodge.