Some Moments

This is random…literally…just, some moments.

Top left, first reception at the Anguilla Book Fair (lovely time, beautiful country)
Top right, promotional interview for Musical Youth on the teen edition of Good Morning Antigua Barbuda (cool kid)
Bottom left, my family family and my Cushion Club family at the launch of With Grace (love them)
Screen capture of my headline on The Culture Trip (because being there at all was kind of trippy)
Lunch at a Caribbean restaurant in New York after my panel at the Brooklyn Book Fair (three memories converge in this picture – the Fair itself, the delight at having been invited and my appreciation for how gracious my New York Antigua connections have been throughout my publishing journey; the grief at losing a sister-friend whose funeral I spoke at shortly before this trip; the anticipation of finally visiting New Orleans which I’d first fallen in love with between the pages of a book)

The journey’s the thing.

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268 in the Global Anthology

My story The Other Daughter, which, you may remember was published earlier this year in Adda, an online literary platform by Commonwealth Writers, is now a selection for The Culture Trip’s “Global Anthology, an initiative that highlights a work of prose from every country on Earth, as well as many nations, states, sovereignties, territories, and flag-less regions.”

It’ll be a lot of reading to get through but I look forward to it.global anthology

Here’s what Michael Barron, the Culture Trip’s US literary editor said in his intro to the anthology:

“As with any project covering the entire world, assembling an anthology on this scale required a few allowances in its methods. Only three of its criteria are therefore invariable—every piece had to be written in or translated into English; every writer had to be native to the country represented (no expats); and all 193 member states of the United Nations had to be present. That we ended up with over 220 selections is a barometer of how fraught international ‘recognition’ can be, and even this number doesn’t recognize the entirety of Earth’s many human-made divisions.

The variety of prose and the political states of regions found here is an indicator of the many geo-socio-literary challenges that presented themselves as the Global Anthology developed. It was just as difficult, say, to find a writer from the Central African Republic, as it was to choose a single American author to represent the country. We sought to feature as many under-known and contemporary writers (to English and Western readers) as we could, often cold emailing people after hours of Google sleuthing. In cases where we were able to make contact and received permission to translate and publish their work, we would then conduct interviews with these writers for the site. Subsequently, much of this material marks the first appearance by, and introduction to, these writers (and in some special cases the first appearance from a country or region) in English. That they understood and contributed directly to the vision of this project was a huge encouragement for us to keep going. Thank you.”

With only one author per country, he acknowledged, “This isn’t a perfect anthology, but it is a sincere attempt to cast as wide a literary light on the world as we could for English readers. And it will be a living thing, its scope periodically updated and expanded until we’ve accounted for a voice from within every human border. We hope it spurs similar projects in other languages. There is no singular “voice” that one can give to the world; we let the type of writing represented be determined by what we encountered in a certain area: whether it be hospital stories from Andorra, or queer literature from Greenland, or postmodernism from Honduras, or black satire from Eritrea. Along the way we discovered the developing literature of some countries and the robust yet undiscovered oeuvres of others. Obscurity, however, is subjective: we can confirm that there is no place on Earth (not even Antarctica) that literature isn’t written.”

I am thrilled to be repping for the 268 (Antigua and Barbuda) in this anthology. If you haven’t read The Other Daughter Yet, I hope you’ll give it a read and also read the interview conducted with me by Mr. Barron.

‘Open’ the anthology here.

Pieces of the Past

There are pieces of paper stuffed in the holes. 12 of them, four to a row. At first it’s the paper that fascinates. The very idea of it. No one had seen paper since the last of the trees was uprooted for timber, 30 or so years ago. She’d been a little girl then, and her Tanty had still been alive. That’s how she knew what the thing with the holes was, a coal pot, for cooking, though only rarely used for cooking by then. At picnics and on Fridays when her Tanty turned cornmeal for the fungee. It nearly knocked her down, this vision, memory, of Tanty bent over the coal pot, bathed in sweat, rump doing a circular dance, like a wine, to a soca beat, as she ground the grains of corn meal into something at once soft and solid. She hadn’t had fungee since Tanty’s death but she could taste it now, the savouriness of it, the sliminess of the okroe mixed in, because fungee wasn’t fungee without okroe and though she detested okroe, she loved her Tanty’s fungee. She always told herself she had time to learn it; it was a fancy more than anything as she wasn’t much for cooking, even then, before cooking became obsolete and everything became pre-packaged and tasteless, and functional, like food wasn’t meant to be. The coal pot was at the old house, tucked under it with the electric typewriter, the blue water tank, and other useless things. The land was being reclaimed now that Future Tech had perfected the art of personal breathers allowing what was left of humanity to leave the domed living spaces sour with recycled air and make a go of recolonizing the earth. Nothing was as it had been, but her feet still took her home to the peach house, where improbably aloe and bougainvillea, and the Century plant her Tanty’s grandmother had planted when they’d first moved into the house on the hill, bloomed. There were no more trees, and, as such no more oxygen, but there were these plants defying everything and insisting on life. And there was the coal pot, under the house, with bits of paper stuffed into the holes where the pot would sit soaking up the heat from the coals below. The clay of the coal pot was cool to her touch, and at the touch of it, feelings surged up inside of her; tears, a lump, memories. Tanty, gone. When she pulled out the first of the papers, it was instinctive, a way of distracting herself from feelings she didn’t know what to do with, and then at the sight of what was written, the feelings pushed against her shaky resolve anyway. Tanty’s handwriting.

“Bring the slimy, okra water to a boil before adding the corn meal”

If the others in her scouting team thought it odd, the sight of her crying over a cracked coal pot and a badly scribbled note on scrap paper, they had the good sense to look away as they continued foraging among the remains.

Coal pot, or as it's referred to in my book of the same name, Oh Gad!

Coal pot, or as it’s referred to in my book of the same name, Oh Gad!

For today’s writing exercise, I decided for the first time to try one of these blog prompts; this one specifically:From the Collection of the Artist This is what became of that experiment.

Wadadli Pen at 11

Winners of the 2015 Wadadli Pen flanked by guest presenter Dotsie Isaac Gellizeau (whose new CD is I am Speaking)and co-founder/coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse (whose latest books are Musical Youth and the Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Stories). Pictured between them are Olsfred James, Melicia McCalmon, Judah Christian, Avriel Walters, Margaret Irish and Ondrej Austin-Josiah. Photo by Glen Toussaint/Best of Books.

Winners of the 2015 Wadadli Pen flanked by guest presenter Dotsie Isaac Gellizeau (whose new CD is I am Speaking)and co-founder/coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse (whose latest books are Musical Youth and the Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Stories). Pictured between them are Olsfred James, Melicia McCalmon, Judah Christian, Avriel Walters, Margaret Irish and Ondrej Austin-Josiah. Photo by Glen Toussaint/Best of Books.

When I started the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize in 2004 (hopelessly dewy-eyed I was), I couldn’t see 11 years down the road. But time flies and here we are and remarkably, Wadadli Pen is still alive (it’s been touch and go a few times). I want to keep it going, I do. I’m working on grant funding applications (again), hopefully learning from past mistakes and hopefully able to harness the resources needed to deliver what this programme can deliver…when I dream of it. Fingers crossed. And if you’ve got ideas or support (money or time to give to these grand ambitions for this little project that could, email wadadlipen@yahoo.com)

Meanwhile, this is a link to the outcome of the 2015 Challenge, and here are some visual highlights from the most recent awards ceremony held last Saturday (April 11th 2015)…and look, we made the front page of one of the local daily papers:

Observer

FLOW rep, Gavinia Michael, assisted with gift presentation to Wadadli Pen 2015 winner Margaret Irish (right). Photo by Glen Toussaint/Best of Books.

FLOW rep, Gavinia Michael, assisted with gift presentation to Wadadli Pen 2015 winner Margaret Irish (right). Photo by Glen Toussaint/Best of Books.

Winner, Margaret Irish, posed up with the Challenge trophy sponsored by the Best of Books. Gavinia Michael of FLOW assists with the presentation. Photo by Glen Toussaint/Best of Books.

Winner, Margaret Irish, posed up with the Challenge trophy sponsored by the Best of Books. Gavinia Michael of FLOW assists with the presentation. Photo by Glen Toussaint/Best of Books.

Gavinia Michael of FLOW presents the cable company's gift of a EC$500 gift certificate for books at the Best of Books to winner Margaret Irish. Photo by Barbara Arrindell/Best of Books.

Gavinia Michael of FLOW presents the cable company’s gift of a EC$500 gift certificate for books at the Best of Books to winner Margaret Irish. Photo by Barbara Arrindell/Best of Books.

One of the Best of Books picks, Melicia McCalmon, collects her gifts from Best of Books and the Burt Award sponsors CODE.

One of the Best of Books picks, Melicia McCalmon, collects her gifts from Best of Books and the Burt Award sponsors CODE. Presenting is Dotsie Isaac Gellizeau who performed pieces from her spoken word CD I am Speaking during the awards ceremony – and another piece during the Wadadli Pen Open Mic that followed. FYI, the Wadadli Pen Open Mic takes place the second Saturday of every month at the Best of Books bookstore on St. Mary’s Street.

Margaret Irish reading her story, Justice.

Margaret Irish reading her story, Justice.

Every year at the awards, we are reminded why it’s all worth it. And then there are letters like this the day after:

“I write to express appreciation to you and your team for allowing young writers like [my son] to explore their writing potential. He was quite reluctant to enter at first, but warmed up to the challenge. Excited, elated and ecstatic are just a few of the words that could explain how he felt, by being able to share his story and be rewarded for his effort.”

 

Last Stop – Youths Get Musical at Antigua Girls High School

UPDATED TO ADD: I don’t have any more stops scheduled at this writing but never say never – as approached this time around it was manageable and even fun. And if there was patronage to cover in-school writing workshops and/or support book giveaways to the students, even better. Hit me up if you’re either a potential school or potential patron, and I’ll keep you in the loop re future plans as and if they develop.

Pulled in to my last tour stop on my February schools tour, Antigua Girls High School, today. And after a very fun session, I’m having thoughts and feelings…hope you’ll indulge me…I’ll even give you some pictures to look at as you do so…

...to say the auditorium at the Antigua Girls High School [AGHS] was packed during my visit would be an understatement.

…to say the auditorium at the Antigua Girls High School [AGHS] was packed during my visit would be an understatement.

in the 'wings'

in the ‘wings’

…and yes, I still get nerves, no shame in that… the challenge is to rise to the occasion…and usually once I get in to the reading, I do that. Usually. To that end, the impromptu dance competition as three of the girls and their always game teacher Ms. Airall attempted one of the dance moves from the book Musical Youth, from which I read.

"shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop"

“shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop”

"shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop"

“shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop”

"shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop"  ... think you can do it? Ms. Airall can!

“shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop”
… think you can do it? Ms. Airall can!

I normally sign books for young readers with something like “dream”, “keep striving”, “Aspire!” while adult readers tend to get an “Enjoy” and a “Thanks for the support”. Talking to someone today about the power of high expectations in the lives of young people (in our own lives where our parents expected us to push beyond mediocrity to our personal best), I got a sense of where this impulse is coming from. We need to let our youths know that we believe in them, encourage them to believe in themselves, challenge them to resist settling…knowing that we’ll have their backs either way but we love to see them replace can’t with try …(*awkward segue ahead*) as the ones who stood before the entire auditorium to give Zahara and Shaka’s dance in Musical Youth did; try, that is…yes, they tried it…and for daring, they got copies of Burt Award winning titles All Over Again by A-dZiko Gegele, Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis, and (not a Burt title) my own Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, contributed, respectively by Burt Award sponsors CODE and my schools tour partner the Best of Books bookstore.

11006050_10152550656586148_276555076_n (2)

I was thinking afterwards as well about my answer to the question about planning/outlining (my stories, pre-emptive to writing them) which I admitted I don’t do a lot of – not in a methodical way – when it comes to writing; explaining that I like to discover the story as I write it; that’s what keeps pulling me back to the page. I should have explained though about the multiple rounds of redrafts and edits that that first draft goes through…it’s not all write blind, then publish; there is craft and purpose involved in this crafting. Hopefully, they read between the lines.

I tell the truth because, in addition to the moral issues, like Zahara in Musical Youth , I don’t have the energy to remember lies and I’m not good at it anyway, but these kids challenged my best intentions with some of their questions… do you make money as a writer? Not nearly as much as I’d like to but God usually opens up a way for me to make what I need (*fingers crossed for a best seller or Oprah book club selection some day*)… have you ever thought about giving up writing? I would except I don’t have writing, it has me… I just can’t quit it #BrokebackMountainreference … what inspires you? … what doesn’t? … Who inspired the character of Vere in The Boy from Willow Bend?… Vere was his own unique, patch-worked creation who stepped in to what was to me a familiar world, as my world of first memory, a dead end willow tree lined alley… Was the character of the grandfather based on anyone? … sigh, now why’d they have to go and ask that…

I want to shout out the girls of Antigua Girls High School who, under the guidance of drama coach and their teacher, Zahra Airall, won the local secondary schools drama festival; happy to give them copies of Musical Youth as congratulations and encouragement…

Winners ...and #MusicalYouths in their own right ... members of the AGHS winning cast from the secondary schools drama festival collecting copies of Musical Youth.

Winners …and #MusicalYouths in their own right … members of the AGHS winning cast from the secondary schools drama festival collecting copies of Musical Youth.

look forward to them bringing home the prize from the Caribbean leg of the competition… and even if they don’t proud of them for doing what the kids in Musical Youth do: do something they love, meet the challenges that come with that, dare, and surprise themselves.

Thanks, Ms. Airall and AGHS for hosting us (me and the Best of Books) – it was a blast!

****

Previous stops on my February Schools Tour with the Best of Books: Clare Hall Secondary School & St. Mary’s Secondary. Also this month, an interview on Good Morning Antigua Barbuda Teen Edition on ABS:

with interviewer, Cuthbert.

with interviewer, Cuthbert.

Oh Gad! Snapshot Reader Reviews

Oh Gad snapshot review

In 2012, my novel Oh Gad! debuted. In July 2014, the mass market paperback edition was released. Above is a snapshot of customer reviews from the book’s Amazon page. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to weigh in and am relieved that the vast majority actually seem to like it. I will continue striving to tell my stories, and hopefully tell them well. Meanwhile, help a writer out by spreading the word won’t you? Mad love and thanks.

acwws2012 106

Go here for more reviews from readers and critics.

No Excuses

Is it the fear of failure? Lack of interest or motivation? Time? Forgetfulness? Wandering Muse? Because if you’re a writer desirous of getting your writing out into the world, you’’ve got to submit it to be in it. A submission schedule is part of my routine, in as much as I have one as a writer, but I hear from time to time how few Antiguans and Barbudans actually do submit to some of the admittedly few regional opportunities available.

Wha mek?

Working on the TOTO Antigua and Barbuda issue, I see some evidence of that even with reaching out directly to some, not just putting out a general call for submissions. Things that make you go hmmm…

Because I get asked so often, how do I publish? No doubt different writers have different answers but for me, it doesn’t begin with publishing – but with imagining, and living, and reading, learning, and writing, and ultimately submitting – a poem, a story, to begin, that manuscript when you’re ready… and each of these helps feed the other…as you submit you face rejection from which you bounce back and learn, after which you keep imagining, reading, learning, growing, writing…submitting again when it feels right. Submitting has helped me accrue publishing credits, has helped introduce me to readers and critics who might not otherwise discover my work, has helped me to set goals and push myself, has helped open up opportunities I didn’t even consider as possibilities…some publications are more difficult than others to get into, some prizes harder than others to capture, but that just makes me strive harder…if I want it. So I guess the question is, how much do you want it?

My answers to the obstacles above – there is fear of failure and rejection (and depression on the heels of rejection) but there is also determination, I want this too much not to self-motivate, which makes moot things like time and forgetfulness, and as for that wandering muse, writing isn’t just waiting for inspiration, it’s meeting the page and doing the work. And the thing I have to check every day, the thing we all need to check every day, is how am I standing in my own way?

So, let’s get out of our way and reach for the opportunities.

If you’re Antiguan and Barbudan and you meant to submit for TOTO but didn’t, you still can to jhohadli@gmail.com

If you didn’t submit to BURT last year, and why didn’t you, well, there’s always this year.

And I keep pulling together and updating Opportunities at the Wadadli Pen site – note if the link is broken, use the search feature.

And I’ll end on that ‘search’, research is a big part of the submission process, involving reading back issues of the market you’re submitting to; understanding the type of material they publish will help improve your odds of success. Of course, if you bet on yourself and make an effort to submit your best work, the odds are always in your favour. So, no Excuses.