Fireworks

Tonight just as the reading event, Celebrating Ourselves (or, as I’m calling it, the barefoot readings because literally we were barefoot on the wooden floor which is often used for yoga) at the Shed (at Sugar Ridge, Antigua), an intimate open venue with views of both the sea and the hills, ended fireworks exploded across the night sky. It was as if we’d ordered it. Which of course we hadn’t. Good timing though.

Sugar Ridge 1.jpg

Earlier, the venue had provided a bird’s eye view of the sun as it did its slow slide down to the horizon – we didn’t actually see it hit the horizon nor catch sight of the elusive, mirage-y green flash due to cloud cover, but the haze was part of the show. Just beautiful. So beautiful we couldn’t help remarking as we mingled pre-reading on more deeply and frequently appreciating living where the world vacations.

This was the event

33403333_10155321700632633_3227424024636162048_n I was second in the line-up behind Kimolisa Mings who read from her collection She wanted a Love Poem. Sugar Ridge 2In addition to the readings she did from the book and her work in progress, she shared at my request the first chapter of her samurai narrative poem Dark Warrior. Her poems shared were moments in a relationship, moments we recognize or are seduced by because of their mood and flow, and her delivery was the easy, seductive warm tones to which Antiguan open mic regulars have become accustomed.

I read from all but two of my books plus one of my published poems using a musical theme to connect the readings. This included Ode to the Pan Man published in The Caribbean Writer, excerpts from Musical Youth, The Boy from Willow Bend (my first real reading of my first book if you can believe that), With Grace (complete with an audience sing-a-long) and one of the other writings from Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings (Soca Night). I think it went well…I hope the audience agrees.

The young lady that followed, Sherona, a teen and recent Christ the King High School Queen of the Form winner was a bold and new addition. Always great to hear young voices coming in to their own.

Sugar Ridge 4Brenda Lee Browne, a co-organizer of the event with Janis Hough, read from her debut novella London Rocks which I wrote about recently in my CREATIVE SPACE series and from the Althea Prince edited collection So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End – a strong end to the night’s presentations.

Post-intermission we had a brief Q & A.

… and then the fireworks.

ETA: It was technically Sunday (foreday morning as we say in Antigua) when I posted this so I’m going to go ahead and make it my Sunday Post (shout out to fellow coffee lover the Caffeinated Reviewer for hosting this meme). It’ll give me the opportunity to rec the books of my fellow authors from the barefoot reading Celebrating Ourselves. You can find all of their books listed in the bibliography of books by Antiguans and Barbudans I maintain at my other blog. But for our purposes here today I’m going to shout out Brenda Lee Browne’s London Rocks which is an immersive experience of London Afro-Caribbean life of the late 70s/early 80s through the experiences of a lost youth who finds his way through the dub culture of the day. Lovers Rock2I rooted for Dante all through this and appreciated the window to another world, plus for capturing the moody dark corners of life and the dance floor, London Rocks is a must. Also shouting out Kimolisa Mings’ She Wanted a Love Poem which as I wrote in my review here “moves through the stages and variations of love. The best pieces are the mini-stories; the details of mood and moments, character and plot, things observed and things unsaid laced through her seductive flow, helping to lift some of those stories above the easy clichés of love poetry.” ming DarkI also have to link up her narrative poem Dark Warrior Vol. 1 (Manga in verse) because it was the first part of this that I requested and now I need to read the rest. What else? Well obviously I hope you’ll check out my books as well. These are the ones I read from at the event The Boy from Willow Bend - COVER.p65 cover with-grace-cover Dancing cover 2. All listed books are available online and remember one of the ways to get a book in to your local brick and mortar bookstore is to put it on their radar by asking them for it (demand leads to supply).

Re blogs mine and others I wanted to share from the past week, there’s the review of Trinidad’s Lisa Allen-Agostini’s book Home Home at Did You Ever Stop To Think, Bookshelf Fantasies’ review of Stephen King’s The Outsider (Agostini’s was already on my radar but King’s sounds super interesting and as you might remember from my King post, I haven’t read him in a while though I reference him often in my workshops), and my review of the Rogue and Gambit comics mini-series…and it’s a hazy kind of sunny in Antigua today, the kind of Sunday where you just want to laze about. So in between reading prep for a workshop I’ll  be attending this coming week, I’m doing that – listening to music and reading. Today’s read Elaine Spires’ Singles Holiday which I think I have a shot at finishing today. Fingers crossed.

Event photos by Janis Hough.

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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)