Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dispatches from the Book Collector: Batch 2


Dispatches from the Book Collector: Book giveaway 

 Hi Guys,

I'm downsizing and have to give away my precious, precious books. I'm going to be posting lists on my blog. You can contact me at <mdianebrowne@yahoo.com> should you want any. If you see one of your books here, please don't feel that your work doesn't matter to me. It does, that's why I have it. They just can't all go with me. So I've decided to keep some Caribbean reference books and some children's. Please pass the lists onto anyone who might be interested. Another list will go up tomorrow, and so on. 

Books to be Given Away: Batch 2

  • Run Big Fraid: Easton Lee
  • Caribbean Women Writers: ed: Selwyn R. Cudjoe
  • Magic Seeds: V.S. Naipaul
  • Green Days by the River: Michael Anthony
  • Slave Women in Caribbean Society, 1650 - 1838: Barbara Bush
  • Historic Roseau: Lennox Honeychurch
  • Trade Government and Society in Caribbean History 1700--1920
  • A Collection of 19th Century Jamaican Cookery and Herbal Recipes: John McKenzie Pringle
  • Jamaican Holiday: the Secret Life of Queen Victoria: Jonathan Routh
  • Edna Manley, the Diaries: Rachel Manley
  • Anna Karenina: Leo Tolstoy
  • Working with Dreams Montague Ullman and Nan Zimmmerman
  • The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: Deepak Chopra
  • Poet Speak: selected by Paul B. Janeekco
  • Singing and Swinging and Getting Merry for Christmas: Maya Angelou
  • Gloria: Kerry Young
  • The Power of Story: Jim Loehr
  • Growing Younger, Live Longer: Deepak Chopra
  • Unconditional Life discovering the Power to Fulfill Dreams: Deepak Chopra
  • Many Masters Many Lives: Dr. Brian Weiss

Monday, June 14, 2021

Dispatches from the book front: Book giveaway 1

 Hi Guys,

I'm downsizing and have to give away my precious, precious books. I'm going to be posting lists on my blog. You can contact me at <mdianebrowne@yahoo.com> should you want any. If you see one of your books here, please don't feel that your work doesn't matter to me. It does, that's why I have it. They just can't all go with me. So I've decided to keep some Caribbean reference books and some children's. Please pass the lists onto anyone who might be interested. Another list will go up tomorrow, and so on. 

List of books to be given away: Batch 1

·         Blood and Fire: John Marquis  (something to do with the Duke of Windsor)

·         Arch of Fire: Barbara Lalla

·         Stone Haven: Evan Jones

·         Singerman: Hazel D. Campbell

·          White Teeth: Zaidie Smith

·         Cascade: Babara Lalla

·         Drumblair: Rachel Manley

·         Dog-Heart: Diana McCauley

·         Huracan: Diana McCauley

·         Great Tales from English History: Robert Lacey

·         Going Home to Teach: Anthony Winkler

·         These Days I Celebrate: Raymond Mair

·        Learning to be A Man: Barry Chevannes

·        Trust the Darkness: Anthony Winkler

·        The True History of Paradise: Margaret Cezair Thompson

·        Images, Heroes and Self Perception: the struggle for identity – from mask wearing to authenticity: Lou Benson

·        Maroon Heritage, Archeological, Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives: ed: E. Kofi Agorsah

·        Jamaican Energy: Raymond Wright

·        Growing up with Miss Milly: Sybil Seaforth

·        Cambridge: Carly Phillips (regretfully some pages brown)

·        Bellas Gate Boy: Trevor Rhone

·        The Right to be Proud: A bright guide to Jamaican heritage sights: David Buckley


Monday, May 10, 2021

Breaking Barriers or Just Peeping up Through the Glass Ceiling

 Of what value is Young Adult literature? Said often by those  who are inclined to dismiss children’s lit as well. It would seem that YA should either be categorized as fitting into the chapter books of middle grades or into adult genres. These people would also say isn’t there Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys? No, I’m not going to start off this blog with a rant. But the world has changed big time since Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. These books are read by children under 12. They are fun but add nothing to our lived experience.

So first let’s say that YA for the Caribbean, just like children's literature, is important for self acceptance and consequently self confidence. 

There was an interesting comment from one of the panel members on a Bocas Lit session on the 100 books that 'formed us' on the weekend of  25th April.  It was suggested that the 100 books that formed us  could be divided into those with which we are familiar, sometimes on school book lists,  and others that we were unfamiliar with.  Interesting! I had not thought of it that way. Yes, I read Miguel Street, (often on set book lists) and I agree that the novels of  Naipaul,  Selvon, Mittleholzer and to top it off, Merle Hodge’s Crick Crack Monkey formed and informed me. Crick Crack Monkey has some of the most powerful  statements on the socializing effect of colonialism. I used to start writing workshops with quotes from it. These may  no longer have the significance to the younger generation now writing and publishing as they did for us. These young people are perhaps more exposed to Caribbean culture (we lived it), but more Americanized. There is still much to be learnt about the Caribbean we share with our sisters and brothers of this region, and if we don’t, we do so at our peril.  The lack of recognition of our commonalities (not common at all) in this upside down world with it’s pandemics and climate change shall leave us perishing in hot sun, rising waters and hurricanes.

Consequently I want to share with you books (Burt Awardees - my heart is broken about the abrupt ending to this dream come true. Look at the wealth of talent it has unearthed.)


The first is: The Art of White Roses  by Viviana Prado-Nunez. (winner 2017 Burt Caribbean award – Papillote Press ) I love this book! The cover is enticing, a girl half seen entering through a door, perhaps encouraging  us into her world. It is set in 1957 Cuba and strange things are happening, neighbours are disappearing.  The author's use of language is gorgeous, her writer’s voice welcoming and warm, including with it everyday life, lurking with danger. The protagonist is 13 but grows up as young people do in times of great social change and revolution. I myself found the ending surprising, humane; this ending is worth discussing. New York bestselling author Daniel Jose Older says: "The Art of White Roses is a gorgeously written story, full of nuance, sadness, and the joy of growing up. A terrific debut from an exciting new voice in young people’s literature.” The writer was born in Puerto Rica and lives in the USA. I’m glad that her voice is included as part of our Caribbean literature, our 'own  voices.'

Another book I liked was Girlcott by Florenz Webbe Maxwell ( Burt Caribbean 2016 winner - Blouse and Skirt Books ). It’s set in Bermuda.  When I was young all we knew about Bermuda was that it was picture perfect, a tourist destination,  run by white people and people of colour had no say in anything. All they had was money from tourists. Well this book opened my mind. It’s about a boycott of the segregation in theatres.  So often we sit in judgement when we do not have the full story. I  developed a new respect for the people of Bermuda. Now if I, who actually experienced colonialism, didn’t know this, how are young people to know and to understand the significance of what has taken place in the region? 

( I get a lot of my knowledge of history from novels. That’s why writers must do their research properly, especially for books for Young adults and children.)

The other book I want to mention is called Home Home, by Lisa Allen-Agostini. It is set in the Canadian Midwest and the protagonist is a Trinidadian teenager who is depressed (Papillote Press). So we acknowledge the diaspora. Good! The significance of the diaspora was also mentioned in the weekend  BocasLit panel. That depression in an adolescent  from the Caribbean is a focus of this book, is certainly a plus. There are probably more depressed adolescents in our societies than we can imagine. This book might give them the permission to look for help. The other ground breaking aspect of the book is that the aunt to whom the teenager  is sent  is a lesbian who lives with her lesbian partner. And they are both normal human beings. I don’t know if this will pass the gatekeepers any time soon, but at least it has been written.

 It seems that contemporary stories are suspect at best by the gatekeepers and cannot easily get through the glass ceiling for books, much less when they could be culturally controversial. I understand this, not only because I am an author, but because I’m an editor, and sometimes you have to say to the author, 'do you want this to be a challenge to the gatekeepers and even to the teachers, or not?’ However, if we are true to ourselves we write because we have a story to tell, and sometimes it may take us all into this modern and ever changing world.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Bocas Lit Fest and your next YA novel

 This weekend Bocas Lit Fest is on virtually. Fantastic, eh! I have not been able to get on before, due to my own technological problems, but I'm enjoying it now.

And this, without apology, brings me back to the Burt Caribbean Award. 2014 was the inaugural Award. My book Island Princess in Brooklyn was shortlisted. The winners were Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis; Musical Youth by Joanne Hillhouse; and All Over Again by A-dZika Gegele. They deserved to be winners; I enjoyed them, but here, in the essence of space and time, I can only mention some of the things that engaged me. I was literally on the edge of my bed with parts of Inner City Girl, saying, 'don't let him (predator in her 'family') back you into the house, girl.' I loved the knowledge of music that the youth had in Musical Youth, showing that young people can have interests other than what we might expect, while still being 'normal' youth. With All Over Again, nobody writes comedy like A-dZika!

The overseas sponsorship for the award having ended, I truly cannot see why another sponsor cannot step up.   As I said, give only a first and second prize, or only a first prize. One prize and seeing that a number of books are in schools is lunch/entertainment money for some companies. I once said that in a extended family function, I being an educator and writer (accustomed to no money) and many of the others being from the private sector. Well them nearly nyam me (eat, for the uninitiated into our Creole) but in this context, if they could have swallowed me whole, or shredded me first, they would have done so. Sacred cow? Now, with Covid fretting us, is not the time to approach anybody, public or private sector, but it is something to think about.

We should also, in all fairness, ask what has become of the Jamaican awards; Vic Reid Award (young adult) and the newly minted Jean D'Costa Award (children). For similar reasons mentioned above, this is not the time to pursue sponsors. However, do you know how many young people might have gained courage from these books, or those not yet written? It's a psychological fact that even though they are important, the lockdowns are taking their toll. Fright, depression and short tempers are all over the word. I promise you that the right book will help your young adult escape for a while; or show them that we are not the first persons to have gone through this sort of upheaval. Our Young Adult books are important for our young adults!

So guys, who is going to write a YA  book about the St. Vincent volcanic eruptions and the effect on the other islands, and as small islands we cannot escape. Conflict upon conflict, danger and more danger! Write it guys! By the time you finish we may have found a sponsor for YA Caribbean Awards. You can show them this blog, or just use your powers of persuasion.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Burt Caribbean Award for Young Adult Literature and our Authentic Voices: a much needed sponsor


I promised a comment on the Burt Caribbean Award for this next blog and yet thoughts on 'own voices' pull at me. Having thought about it some more, I find they are intertwined. As our young people move from childhood to the distractions of the teenage years, the period of further development of the self concept, bombarded by social media and  media in general, they need a cultural  anchor for this journey towards adulthood. I am not for one moment suggesting that we miss out on the exciting Divergent series, the emotionally engaging Hunger Games series, nor even the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy books which, in fact, by now they have probably out grown. There are wonderful new and exciting books out there, books galore, books like sand. 

This is where the Burt Caribbean Award for Young Adult literature came in. I have enjoyed these books, become overawed at the ideas, the gorgeous language, the sway of emotions. And then suddenly the euphoria was over! It ended! I believe it was decided that money be directed instead to indigenous writers in Canada. ( Please correct me if this is wrong). I applaud this. It’s not my business, but I have wondered how the indigenous people of North America have been 'abandoned' for so long. I once created a bit of excitement at an overseas conference in the USA by asking a question about the country not supporting their development more. Chaos erupted! Shouting from people at the back and the front of the room. (On occasion I have been known to be carried away with emotion and done things like this.) When I explained to some Jamaican officers later, one said, “Then, Diane, you come to mash up the people’s country.”  "No," said I, "but this is not right." You know, Jamaican  righteous indignation. So I am overjoyed for this move. Not the same country, nor the same First Nations, but you get the drift.

So, guys, why can’t somebody here in the Caribbean be convinced to be a replacement sponsor for that award? Everybody supports adult writing. Brilliant! But are we going to treat YA writing like we have done with children’s for years. Adolescence is when our young people explore, interrogate values, attitudes, cultural norms. This is when they begin to become the adults they will be. So we say, 'what a way the teachers migrate, eh', 'what a way the nurses migrate eh', and so on.  Big time Brain Drain! However, people have always migrated from island nations, for economic reasons, more opportunities, but some stay. Some even go to study abroad and come back ( I did); the ebb and flow of island life. But what if, exposed to more YA literature, more caught the spirit of our lives, and wanted to contribute more of  themselves than remittances! What a something, eh! No, I’m not knocking remittances. People from developing countries all over the world go abroad to work to send money, barrels home. 

You are going to say that nobody can prove that reading your own literature as a young adult made a difference to the adult you became. Well, you can do a research paper on attitudes, values and behaviours  if you wish, to see what you can find out. We have enough Burt Award books for you to do that.

I’m not asking for any big prizes. Just give a first prize, if that’s all you can do. There must be a company, a trust, a 'somebody' that can do this. If I was wealthy I would do it in a heartbeat. Our own authentic voices call to our young people to let them know what we have achieved, what they can achieve. They can’t hear them if they can’t get the books, right?

So my next blog will identify some of the things I learnt from the Burt Award books that I never knew before, or things that I liked, engaged my emotions; or even those that made me wish I could write like that. Working on the cliff hangers!



Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Own Voices and the Authentic Voices of the Caribbean


Down sizing and clearing shelves of books, one entirely of children’s and YA literature; in a digital world not many people or even libraries want them. What then will happen to our voices for our children? I once did a presentation at an ASCD conference in the USA entitled, Our Authentic Voices Call Out To Us: Do we listen? I presented a local version  Authentic Voices: The Case for Caribbean Children’s Literature in Teachers’ Colleges in Jamaica. In both, I referred to writers like Merle Hodge (Crick Crack Monkey), Olive Senior, Lorna Goodison, and research papers which highlighted the significance of  authentic voices in the material for our children and young people. 

Suddenly, it seems, America has identified Own Voices, and the Black Lives Matter movement has led to the ‘discovery of minority (African American) writers and children’s books.’ Then, since the prejudice against Asians has been uncovered, Asians are beginning to be included. We cannot but be pleased. Inclusion is essential, we know. 

The term Own Voices has been around for a few years, from 2015, it seems. If I’m wrong about this please write me or post a reply on my blog and I’ll acknowledge it.  It seems the  term ‘own voices’ was brought  back into focus because someone had written a book, to great acclaim, about Hispanics, and then was criticized as not giving an accurate portrayal of the particular group by a member of that group. I am being deliberately vague because I do not wish to rake up a discussion, which must have been painful for the writer and the critic

 The quote continues: “Those books that are # Own Voices have an added richness to them precisely because the author shares an identity with the character. The author has the deepest possible understanding of the intricacies, the joys, the difficulties, the pride, the frustration, and every other possible facet of that particular life — because the author has actually lived it.”

I think this must be especially important with  books for Native American or First Nation children. Who else could ever tell their stories? I gather also that an African American had quite rightly pointed  out that he did not think 'others' should  be trying to write about the African American experience. However having made this point, he set a story in a country he had never visited and was called out on that.

So that leads us to another point of view: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/04/228847/...
Taken to its logical conclusion, this approach to storytelling will set strict and claustrophobic limits on imagination, confining authors according to an ever-narrowing concept of which identities, settings, or narratives are their own."

 What has this to do with us here in the Caribbean? Certainly, we have been telling our own stories from we started to write children’s literature. We recognized the need for our children to see themselves in books, to validate their lived experience, especially  in  our post colonial territories,  socialized by British stories fist,  followed by their American counterparts. While adult literature blossomed early it took some time for us to get to this stage where we see increasing awareness and acceptance of children’s and YA literature of our own, where perhaps we could say that we now have a third generation of authors and publishers.

Moreover we, as a multicultural, multiethnic region, seem to have worked out who can tell what stories. The challenge we face is not lack of representation of all our people in books;  we have built up  a trust amongst ourselves; we are sensitive enough not to write about what we don’t know. I can write about Indian children ( almost half of the population in Trinidad and Tobago and in Guyana) but the stories I have written are generalized, things that could occur among any group going to school, for example, Twins in  a Spin. Interesting though, there are twins in my family. This story is true to a twin experience that we in our family  had wondered about. So it is still ‘write what you know’. However, I would never write a coming of age book for an ethnicity  to which I do not belong, without consultation/a reader who represents this group. There is a connection, therefore,  to the concept of own voices and our authentic voices and validation of our lived experience.

This brings me to the importance of the Burt Caribbean Awards  for Young Adult stories, and regretfully its absence from our young adult coming of age lived experience. That will be for another blog.



Monday, September 28, 2020

Memories and Ancestors: to spark creativity


At last I'm writing a blog. I've been aching to do it. I have not written one in ages, even wondering if there is any point. But perhaps one needs to believe that there is a purpose. Maybe this is one of the characteristics of faith.  In the time that I've not written, so many, many things have happened in the world that would cause us to lose some aspect of faith.  And yet if we give in, then it will truly be all over. And in spite of lockdown, with all that time to write, many of us have not written. I think we are just overwhelmed. If you have written please tell us your secret.

I hope you can find this blog. Between my old blog address and the computer being determined to give me a new blog location, I'm not sure what will happen One of the things that technology does to you whether you want it or not. Yes, you can ask for help, but they are all robots so there is no recourse.

The posting below is just to remind us that we missed Calabash this year. It's clearly a long time since I've been but this post helps me, and hopefully you, to recall the joy of being with other creatives.


Memories of Calabash, 2014

 Calabash was, as usual, a feast of emotions. You come away from Calabash full of writing and determined to write, even if you don’t. But yes, I have, in spite of my Capricorn spirit which insists that 'work' should be completed before everything else. 

The last time we had Calabash and I did my blog on it, I focused on things said that I thought could be applicable to children’s literature. This time I think I’ll just share what moved me, what contributed to that gorgeous feeling of fullness to overflowing.

 Because I so admire the craft of writing and writers, just being in their presence can make me joyous. (Yes, I know I’m one too, but I don’t seem quite mysterious enough to myself). So to hear and see Mervyn Morris (our poet laureate then) and Velma Pollard, although I know them personally, is still a delight for me. Hearing Zaidie Smith -  a feast of words. I love the voice in her work, the voice in her voice.

 In the following, if anything is a direct quote, it would purely be by chance. Consider everything reported speech, and anything not quite right is my fault, and not that of the writer to whom the comment is ascribed.

 Karen Lord from Barbados pointed out that ‘choices lead to change and opportunity, and are the cutting edge of chaos, but even chaos cannot overcome choices’.  Fascinating! I’m still thinking that through. It’s as if this should after all be quite obvious, and yet there are depths still to be fully understood - implications. (  September 2020 comment: I have to look at that again, investigate it; turn it this way and that, especially at this time of chaos. There is a story here.) 

The interview with Salman Rushdie was a surprise for me. I had no idea that he had as many interests outside of what we might consider writers are interested in – whatever that might be. Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley, a part of his past, his youth, like ours, others all over the world. I liked his statement ‘that fiction is a journey to the truth’, I liked that in his writing he has tried ‘to look at where private lives intersect with history’, my favourite type of story, ‘man is a story telling animal;  helping us to understand what sort of creatures we are’, with reference to Toni Morrison, ‘magical realism is another way of telling the truth’. 

What is it about Calabash? It is in itself magical; the venue combined with the auras of the people; no, I don’t think  it’s the camaraderie, although that is certainly there. It’s a quietness, a resting, even with the music drumming and throbbing, it’s quiet and restful (perhaps the genetic memories of the ancestors). The sea, the breezes? Ah the sea! Perhaps that is it. Just writing about it brings back the desire to write, to create.


From a 2019 pos
t:  I heard both Olive Senior and Lorna Goodison, at Talking Trees, 2019. Two of my favourite authors at the same literary Festival. My cup overflowed.

 Ann Margaret Lim was also there: a powerful performance: I was fascinated by her reference to her Chinese grandparent(s). We are indeed  an island of Out of Many, One People, in spite of some wanting to change our motto.  I would say to those who want to change the motto: Never judge others. You do not know what is in their hearts, what they hold dear. Do not attempt to erase other people’s ancestors. They are not yours to erase. For myself: All the people who went up into the making of me, I value; I celebrate the me that has survived throughout history. You know I feel strongly about this, don't you? I can be quite a little warrior. And now I have a beautiful new granddaughter (one year +) and she is part Chinese, and I am in love with her. Don't ever fool with me guys when it comes to our motto and who it represents. Sorry, clearly  I've been under lockdown too long.


Photo: Velma Pollard, Ann Margaret Lim, Raymond Mair at Bookophilia

(Change of font size in body text one of the mysteries of technology)