Grace’s Merrymakers

It’s funny how quickly Carnival goes by. It’s like this two week alternate reality where everything else ceases to exist, and then, in a blink, back to reality. Within those two weeks there is pageantry, soca, calypso, pan, controversy, and, of course, mas including the epic Carnival Tuesday parade (all 10,000 plus steps of it). Carnival is mas, and mas is  an opportunity to showcase our creativity and that, the opportunity it provides to showcase our creativity, is the purpose of this post.

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With Grace – a Caribbean fairytale…and our pattern book.

See, I wrote a children’s picture book called With Grace (released last December), and the world of that story became the pattern that we drew from in crafting our mas – in great part because I wanted to see the tree faerie come to life.

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The page I sent my friend before she even had a copy of the book to see if she thought we could do this. She did.

We had more elaborate plans to start but adjusted to our reality and are grateful that with the help of sponsors (shout out to Titi Rent-a-Car, Townhouse Mega Store, and Pink Mongoose), we were able to bring the tree faerie to Carnival City.

 

Graces Merry Makers

Grace’s Merrymakers.

In production

I’m not going to pretend that I had any hand in the actual building – I am rather lucky that my friends (Helena Jeffery Brown and Augusta Scotland Samuel) who do have experience with costume building were interested in taking on this project.

Material was bought 20170623_180341,

Wire was bent 20170610_17453520170610_135409,

Shapes were drawn 20170604_20525720170604_205301,

Fabric was cut 20170604_21191820170701_134735,

& Details were added 20170802_12502820170802_125822 (these are for the headpieces and standards – because we might not have had a mango tree like we’d hoped but the standards made for a good stand-in).

In their skilled hands (plus seamstress, Ms. Blaize, who sewed the tops they then decorated), it all came together20170802_125004.20170802_125037.

We had to do a product description for the stage and here’s some of what we said – “The fairy’s bodice is the colour of tree bark crisscrossed in green. Her skirt consists of green leaves, with stripes of gold, hanging from her body like leaves from a tree. Look closely, you’ll also see mango blossoms – between the fairy’s wings, pinned into her hair, and along the leaves making up her hand pieces. The fairy’s wings spread wide as she wakes, the orange pink hue of a ripening mango, made of bent wire in the tradition of Antiguan mas. Another feature of local mas, the standards – poles wrapped in leaves, in hues of green and gold – are the trees waving in the breeze. It’s mango season, Carnival season, a season of creativity in full bloom.”

On the Road

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After all that, we were only on the road on Carnival Tuesday (shout out to Just Friends, for being so welcoming to us on the road); on Carnival Monday, given our size, we  only crossed the stage. Shout out to our banner holders 20170807_155130…and our back-up banner holders.

With Grace

We were happy to have the opportunity to showcase what mas is about to us – not just fun (though it is always that), but the colour, spirit, and creative energy of our Antiguan and Barbudan people. As a writer, it made me happy to see a character I imagined (a character then illustrated by Cherise Harris and re-imagined by Jeffery) come to life as a part of one of my favourite events, Carnival, mas, Tuesday, the biggest live theatre event (for that’s how I’ve thought of our mas since I first witnessed it as a child). This year I also spied a smurfette and a mermaid (dope); so why not the mango tree faerie, a 100 Wadadli character. Again, thanks to our sponsors (Titi Rent-a-Car, Pink Mongoose, and Townhouse Mega Store) for supporting our vision – remember, support the businesses that support the arts.

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ABOUT THE BOOK: Grace, of Grace’s Peak, loves her hill, and her home above the village, above the whole island. All her trees are lush and full of ripe fruits, except for the one at the far end of her orchard.  She hates that tree.  So when the smiling, barefoot, girl from the village asks Grace if she can pick fruits to sell at the market, it is from that sad, bare tree that Grace “generously” allows her to pick. Little does Grace know that the young girl’s kind, generous heart and her sweet special song will make the impossible happen, and change life at Grace’s Peak forever.  Published by Little Bell Caribbean.

Also, for news on Antigua’s Carnival, go here.

 

 

 

 

It’s Sunday Somewhere

I’ve never done one of these Sunday Posts before and as I write this it’s actually Saturday, so I’m probably doing this all wrong. Plus, there hasn’t been a lot new on the blog this past week (life gets in the way). But I figure I’ll give it a go anyway.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer through which participant bloggers (book bloggers especially) share news of the past and coming week by my understanding of it.

So, What’s New?

Fair warning, this is a little more than the past week because, well, I haven’t been here much this past week (life gets in the way).

This gives me the opportunity to go back a little and I’m thrilled since I am still in book promo mode for my children’s book With Grace. with_graceThis is a post I did on where the book can fit in to the conversation on diversity in children’s lit and especially fairytales.

When life gets in the way, movies can be a good distraction from stir craziness – ironic that one of the movies that’s stuck with me is about a boy and his mom stuck in a room but as you can tell from this blog, I really liked Room.

This next one won’t mean much to anyone outside of Antigua and Barbuda, where I am, but the annual writing Challenge I run here wrapped this past week and while this post is about the patrons, I have to give thanks for the partners (the volunteers without whom I would not have been able to do this…especially this year).

I added a new (or a few new) writing credits, all in Interviewing the Caribbean which published two of my poems Election Season and the Bamboo Raft, and the Zombie Story I wrote when I was feeling in an experimental mode. Reading through the issue which is really quite deep and rich, it tickles me that my zombie story found a place in a proper literary journal.

The other thing you do when life gets in the way is read. So I finished the second book in the Glamourist Histories, Glamour in Glass, and posted my review. That’s my only really new post of the past week.

I received a new book just last night – a friend of mine was doing a huge book purge and I was happy to have a book that’s been on my to read list for a while jump the line. So, I’m about to start Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. And I’m still actively reading a few other books including The Black Rose by Tananarive Due, The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly, and All the Joy You can Stand by Debrena Jackson Gandy.

Can’t say what’s coming up specifically this week for the blog because I don’t blog like that, but I promise to try to keep it interesting.

 

Why With Grace

The Anansi tales which travelled with the Ashanti to the Caribbean remind us that it’s not always about who’s biggest but can be about who’s wiliest. I remember a grandmother chastising me for reading Anansi to kids at the reading club with which I volunteered. He was a bad influence, she said. I’d never thought of it that way. Sure, Anansi, the spider, was a trickster who danced around hard work, played his friends, and always looked out for number one, but what had registered with me since childhood was how creative his thinking was, how he used his wits to best those stronger than him. Besides, his comeuppance every now and again were reminders that while craftiness could be rewarded, badness nuh play. Plus, beyond his indisputable entertainment appeal, I could see why my people with the system – from slavery to colonialism to post colonialism – on their necks responded to the idea that small axe could cut down big tree (or little Anansi could best Snake and Tiger).untitled4

Anansi had become my go-to for presentations to classrooms too young for my other books. Children were always entertained by him and there were always new variations of the old stories. I most recently used him in a workshop with teachers as an example of a way to engage young readers.

Fairytales, among which Anansi can be counted, are how young readers first engage with the world of Imagination. And they come from all over. Disney’s Bambi is based on a German tale by Felix Salten. Other famous German fairytales – Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White – come to us via the Brothers Grimm. Alice went on her Adventures in Wonderland by way of Lewis Carroll and England; Goldilocks and the Three Bears by way of Robert Southy. Frenchman Charles Perrault brought us Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping beauty. From Aesop (Greek), we have the Goose that laid the Golden Eggs and the Boy who Cried Wolf. I remember using Perrault’s Cinderella when conducting a story telling workshop at a local high school and, as I expected, it provided a short hand because it was one of those tales most if not all knew. Fairytales travel – The Little Mermaid swam in to our imaginations by way of Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson who also brought us The Princess and the Pea.

There are a lot of Princesses and Princess-like characters in fairytales aren’t there; fair maidens often in need of saving.


When I wrote my fairytale I was drawn to the universal appeal of this genre – the way fairytales travel not only from one culture to the next but also through time. They are, in their way, timeless. Your grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother read or told these tales to her grandchild.

Coming from the Caribbean, Anansi, who remains part of our oral folk tradition, aside, so many of these tales of childhood and magic and the imagination are from other places.

Still.

I’ve long felt that this can be harmful to our self of our own worth in the world. That’s one of the reasons that when I launched Wadadli Pen, a writing programme to encourage would-be-writers in Antigua, I insisted that submissions to our annual Challenge have a Caribbean aesthetic. I wanted to encourage our young writers to centre themselves in their stories, realize that they too are worthy of great literary adventures, know that they matter.

When I wrote With Grace, my very own Caribbean fairytale, I wanted to acknowledge the tropes of the genre but buck some of them at the same time. From the main character, a dark-skinned black girl, joyful in her #blackgirlmagic and natural single plaits, to the plot in which she is effectively her own rescuer by use of her own wits and grace.

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A teacher commented about With Grace on social media, “we neglect to realize that validation and realization are steeped in the subliminal of what we allow our children to read and watch…and I continue to celebrate books and images that look like me and my own.”

Why With Grace? Because for girls and boys of colour everywhere, not just in the Caribbean, the opportunity to see self is still too rare.

People are reading…

If you’re somewhere else (other than Antigua where we did the local launch of With Grace this past December), you’ll be happy to know that you can now buy With Grace, my new picture book, a Caribbean fairytale online. Here’s a link.

Will you and your child be reading? If you do, don’t forget to post a reader review so that other potential readers can know what you think.

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people-are-reading-dawnThanks for sharing, Dawn.

Do you have a picture of you and your little one reading With Grace? Would you like to share it? Send to jhohadli at gmail dot com if you don’t mind me sharing. – signed thankful writer

p.s. Don’t forget to post a reader review

p.p.s. Thanks to the sites who’ve been sharing information on my new children’s picture book, Caribbean fairytale.

Antigua Chronicle
African American Literature Book Club & here
ITZ
Writers and Authors

Also radio programme Youthology on Observer Radio for hosting me

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With Grace: the Interview

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I got mine!: A lighter moment from the With Grace launch, held December 21st 2016 at the Best of Books.

My publisher just posted an interview they did with me about the book (i.e. new picture book and fairytale, With Grace).Thought I’d share some highlights.

Like what I had to say about what inspired the book…

“While the circumstances in the story are fictional, With Grace came out of my desire to purge those feelings. I’m really happy that a character so full of grace emerged, like sunshine chasing out the negativity.”

And why a fairytale…

“I enjoy experimentation, and something about taking this negative and working through it in a genre where typically good and bad are clear, and they all lived happily ever after, appealed.”

How I feel about the illustrator’s art work…

“I love how Cherise (Harris) re-imagined the world of the story – I especially love how she captured the main characters and how colourfully she rendered the world.”

To sequel or not to sequel…

“I have a bad habit of being done with stories when I’m done with them.”

One takeaway…

“You can turn a negative in to a positive, in life and on the page.”

A Wadadli Pen plug (come on, you knew it was coming!)…

“And it’s an example, though not planned as such, of one of the core principles of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (the program I run to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, which in its annual writing Challenge insists that entries have a Caribbean aesthetic) that our culture can feed our creative imagination – that stories, even fairytales, don’t just come from out there, but within our world, within us.”

How feedback from the group of teens and pre-teens participating in my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project 2013 helped make the story better…

“I snuck it in among the other pieces I was having them critique that summer without telling them who the author was…and then I took notes.”

Read the full interview on the publisher’s website.

With Grace Launches This Week In Antigua

The headline says it all. With Grace launches (in Antigua at least, for now; but soon to be available in the wider Caribbean and internationally) on Wednesday 21st December 2016, 6 p.m., at the Best of Books on St. Mary’s Street, Antigua.

It took some doing to get them here before Christmas, but Little Bell Caribbean, publisher of With Grace, pushed to do just that.

The Best of Books bookstore has hosted each of my launches through the years beginning with The Boy from Willow Bend (back when the launch amounted to a signing table set up at the book shop entrance at its then location in the Benjies/British American mall) atboyfromwillowbendlaunchto the Dancing Nude launch (moved indoors for this one) a year later dancingnudebooksigning5, to eight years later and the launch of Oh Gad! my attempt to mix things up with a midnight launch at the Best of Books Friars Hill Road branchlaunch-photo-eustace-samuel; my next book – the picture book Fish Outta Water didn’t get a launch (but more news to come on that soon; listen out); reading-me-2then there was Musical Youth launched on a rainy  evening at the St. Mary’s Street location where I’ll return this Wednesday 21st December for the launch of my sixth book, second children’s picture book, and first fairytale.

To say this journey has been surreal would be an understatement. To say each of these launch activities has been a blur would be #facts With Willow Bend, I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know if anyone would come, and pretty much stood there and smiled and tried to be charming when people (mostly friends) came through. With Dancing, I was nervous because I had to read and because there were, amidst a pretty strong showing from my family and friends, people who were there just because they were readers looking for a good book (yikes). With Oh Gad! I was anxious because best laid plans and all that but there was wine and cake and, though Antiguans proved they’re not in to this midnight launch business, some who turned out like the late Marcus Christopher (a calypso writer whose music I would have grown up listening to) were a nice surprise and guess which picture made the paper observer-launch-coverage– nicer still, the personal call he made when he’d finished reading to tell me what he thought of the book. I remember feeling heady at the Musical Youth launch – there was so much going on then and I was so excited and all the usual nerves but also somewhat disconnected.

For a writer, a launch is and is and is not purely a celebration of an accomplishment; it’s also about sales and promotion – performing, and the success is not just the book you hold in your hand but did the media come out, will you get some good buzz from the event, how will the book perform. Six books in, still not on any one’s bestseller list but heartfully thankful for reader response to and support of my books to date, I want to try just enjoying this one.

Tall order – right now I’m in promotion mode, trying to make sure people know about the book and the launch (purpose of this post)- but on that night, I’m aiming to be so present, so joyful, so in my skin that none of it feels like performance, that all of it feels real.

If I never get a chance to write another book, I want to enjoy not just the launch of With Grace but that I’ve been fortunate to be a writer, to write these books; and the launch of a book about Grace seems a good time to bask in the gratitude I feel to live doing what I do, even on the roughest days of this journeying in the Writing Life. Give thanks for all the readers, for every publisher that made an investment in me, for the friendships and familial bonds that have strengthened and challenged me, for the ones who are always there for me, for all of the booksellers who have stocked my books and Best of Books for hosting me through six launches, for the ones who encourage and appreciate the effort, for God who blessed me with this talent, for every teacher who has helped me build the skill needed to become better and better and more confident in honing that talent. Whatever happens, I can’t say I didn’t get a chance to, didn’t claim my dream to be a writer. Am I tired right now? Yes…but I’m a tired writer. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be (definitely with a different adjective in front of writer).

With Grace is a fairytale and something about writing one of those has brought out my inner child, hopeful that it will fire the imagination of young readers as the fairytales I was exposed to as a child fired my imagination.

So, Wednesday, at 6…look forward to adding new pictures to the book launch collection, but, more than that, hope to relax and feel every moment joyfully in my bones. Hope you will come out if you can.

Media and bloggers, you can make use of the links below from the promotional package I’ve put together about the book, my other books, and me. I appreciate any and all courtesies, you have extended in the past and will again in future as I try to ripple the water; I don’t expect any of it as a right nor do I take any of it for granted.

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