Monday, April 17, 2017

Despatches: BookFusion, Lignum Vitae Awards, Talking Trees Literary Fiesta


 Bookfusion: Weeks  ago I should have mentioned BookFusion, an enterprise recently established by a young couple.  They did a presentation at one of our coffee mornings. It’s a space where you can buy Jamaican books  (children’s; yes, children’s!) and it’s also the digital library for books from the Ministry of Education. This is what we always said we wanted and here we are dragging our feet again. Instead of sending a hallelujah chorus (no disrespect especially at this time of year) and taking advantage of it, we are  wandering around and wondering what next to do.  (This is directed to myself as I am not having the big writing weekend I planned.  A little bit  devastating to find you have all the time really and you’re still stuck  . . .)

Heaps of Ministry books are on it, (you know the ones you can’t buy, because the Ministry doesn’t sell books): Dr. Bird Reading Series, the Blue Mahoe (which came after the Dr. Bird) for grades 7-9, and even Literacy 1-2-3, that great series I managed and was so upset that they weren’t in all schools or available for sale.  Well they  are there in all their splendour!  And you can borrow for free.  I was at a meeting with some educators (vague enough for all to be unidentified) and I mentioned it, and someone was quite astonished, said he had heard nothing about it, and looked it up immediately. Delighted! I gather information had been sent out to all. However, I suppose sometimes more than one messenger has to go out  with the news.

So please look up BookFusion and pass the word around.  Be another messenger. There are two sections, one the digital library (please note this, all those schools that wanted access to Literacy 1-2-3),  and the other, the bookstore. Below is a link to an article about BookFusion.

Since its capital injection from First Angels, the company has added Carlong Publishers, Blue Banyan Books, LMH Publishing and a "few other local publishers" to its client list.” (Quote from the article above)

This is a link to the bookstore.


Lignum Vitae Awards 2017: The next piece of news is that the Lignum Vitae Awards are on this year. Please check the Jamaican Writers Society website.  Entries for this year should be sent in by June 30, 2017.

My dear fellow writers, I know that you have been working on your story/novel since the last  awards in 2015, either because you couldn’t finish the story for the 2015  competition, or you didn’t get shortlisted then, or  you just got the idea to start it then when you realized that maybe you could be just as good as some of those who won, or. . . .

Talking Trees Literary Fiesta  is also on this year, May 27 at Treasure Beach. The last time I went it was beautiful. I wrote a story (first draft) the next weekend as a result of all the inspiration  and creativity I felt.

The Fiesta will feature poet and author, Olive Senior. She will share the stage with the newly named Jamaican Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison, who was the featured reader in 2015. Other readers include Malachi Smith, Roland Watson-Grant, Margaret Bernal, Ann-Margaret Lim, Yashika Graham . . . . (quote from the Website.)
This promises to be wonderful.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Jamaican novel sold to Major US publisher: Headline in Bookends in today's Sunday Observer

The novel: Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay:
The publisher: Harper Collins from its UK publisher Papillote Press

What better news to start my blogging for 2017. I had reviewed this book in 2016.  I loved it. Congratulations to Diana and Papillote Press.  I am reposting the review below for your interest:

In praise of "Gone to Drift" by Diana McCaulay: 
Prize Winner Burt Award for Caribbean  Literature, 2015:  Papillote  Press, 2016

This is a beautiful book. If it were a painting it would be in tones of grey and shades of blue for the sea, and for the land,  tones of beige and green, with splashes of colour added by the people who travel across its landscape. And I would buy it instantly for fear of losing it.  

This may seem like a strange way to begin a book review, and maybe this is not really an actual book review; maybe it’s more like in praise of good writing, a good story, and the environment. This last may seem too obvious to mention because we know that the author is a well known environmentalist. However, this book is not just an opportunity to recognize the importance of the environment; it is a hymn to it. You cannot read this story and come away unmoved by the significance of our environment and its importance to the characters in the story, and  to the island. 
The setting is the environment; more specifically the sea. The characters and  the sea are entwined in a dance, an embrace, which we  soon understand, can at any given time act  in favour of the human characters, or not.  It is this overarching character,  the sea, unmoved one way or the other by all that is happening,  and bearing  no animosity to anyone, that  forms the backdrop to this story.  This sea can bring you a bounty, yet you can get lost in it, gone to drift. 
Of the two main human characters, one is Lloyd, a young boy, who is worried about his grandfather, who has not returned from a fishing trip, in what  Llloyd perceives as good time. None of the other characters, mainly fisher families, Lloyd’s family, those who interact with them along the various coastal areas, seem to be very worried. You are left to wonder if, as they suggest, that perhaps there is nothing wrong;  Lloyd is unduly anxious. On the other hand, you wonder if it is that they do not wish to make Llloyd feel any more worried than he is. You fear that they know something that he does not, that they are not telling him the whole truth. 

The other character is Gramps, Lloyd’s grandfather, whose voice Lloyd can hear  in his head, “I come from a line of fishermen.”  This is as powerful as if the statement were, “I come from a  line of kings.” We believe this, a line of greatness.  

 Gramps  also tells his story.  And so we have the two stories, Llloyd looking for his grandfather, using any means necessary, his good friend, Dwight, the Coastguard, Jules, the lady who cares about the dolphins, his mother, his ne’re-do-well father, his grandfather’s friends; and Gramps’  story of his own father, his many brothers, all fishermen, and his mother. We come to care about Gramps’ family, as well as for Lloyd, whose determination and bravery in his search for Gramps often astounds us.  

It eventually dawns on us that Gramps is not on any of the main cays off the coast of the island,  but is stranded on what seems to be  a mere rock in the sea. The tension is created  not only by Lloyd’s search for his grandfather, the question of how  dolphins fit into this scenario, and whether his grandfather can be found in time, but also by seeing the  old man himself wondering how long he can survive on little crabs and rain water, the latter coming  sporadically.   

The author uses the device of alternate chapters for each of these two human characters, so that we can measure Lloyd’s attempts against the will of his grandfather to survive. It works; we are not distracted; rather, we  are caught up in the emotion of the situation.  

The language is measured, like a tale told on dark nights by lantern light, increasing  the feeling of  being at the mercy of the elements.  Descriptions are rich, as  seen in Gramps recollection of a sunrise.  

Then I realised that  I could see my hands and feet as a grey light stole across the sea. And to the east I saw the sky turning into a hundred different colours from the blue of a summer day to the dark purple of the thickest squall, from the pale pink of the inside of a conch shell to the bright orange of a ripe mango, until the round ball of the sun itself came up and the colours of the  sky spread over the water and even warmed our faces. I knew then that the best place to see a sunrise was at  sea.

It is for this reason alone that you cannot hurry through this book. Even as the mystery deepens, you need to stop to see what the characters see, to feel what they feel.
 Then, suddenly you may be caught unawares, by an intervention into this beauty, alerting you to  danger, which may be lurking, as in Gramps’ description of his brothers going to sea: 

It was late when they left and I thought the night was darker than usual.  We stood on the beach and watched them go. The boats made a ragged triangle formation, like a flock of birds, and for a few seconds their wakes were visible. Then they pierced the night and disappeared.
And you understand  in the sameness of their going to sea, the routines of their lives, the power of  nature, of the dark, of the night, of the sea.
The dialogue, which is a mixture of standard Jamaican English, and what I like to call a modified Creole, is well handled. It effectively represents  the mother tongue of our people, but does not become so deep as to make it difficult to read, or for the book  to travel to other countries. From Lloyd to his grandfather, to Jules the uptown girl, their voices ring true.  And this use of language, this love and respect for the sea, for the creatures of the sea, bridges what could be social differences and makes us one. 
Consequently, just as you come to respect the environment,  you come to respect the people who depend on the sea, and their way of life. The author does not allow you to feel any  pity for the difficulty of their lives.  This is a great skill, to describe another life with empathy. You may even begin to think that like Lloyd and his grandfather,  these people are the salt of the earth, or the sea, their nobility in facing the dangers of the sea  surpassing those who make a safe living from the land. And then the author brings you back to reality. These people are no better or worse than people anywhere. They have their nobility, they have their heroes and their villains, and their awful betrayals. 
This coming of age story of a boy called Lloyd, who loves his grandfather,  will leave many wondering about the meaning of it all, and yet Llloyd must make sense of it. 

This book should be read in all schools. To say that a book should be read in schools, makes it sound like a textbook, or the over-worked literature set-books. However, I would want all our young people to read it, to discuss it, and  that seems to be the only way to get it to them. This is a beautiful book!




Thursday, December 8, 2016

And more readers who read in schools for Child Month 2016

While most of our readers were writers of material for children or YA, there were others who either wrote for adults, or weren't writers at all. So as we get to the end of the year, thanks must go to all of them who responded to the call from JaWS to read in our schools.

Rebecca Tortello:
I read at Carbury Court pictured here with the librarian in the library. It was lots of fun to read with the children as they participated eagerly, and I wound up reading three  stories as they showed such keen interest.  Lots of smiles all around. 
I read Big and book part of Literacy 123,  Silly Sally Audrey W ood and Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andrae. All three are good read alouds that invite movement and laughter but also promote thought and reflection.

I enjoyed reading…encouraged me to write again. 

Bio: From 2007-2011, Dr. Rebecca Tortello served as a Senior Advisor/Consultant to the Minister of Education with special responsibility for early childhood, primary and parenting issues. Dr. Tortello holds a PhD in Comparative Education and Sociology from Columbia University, a Masters in Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor’s Degree with Honours in History and Literature from Harvard University.

A former Assistant Professor of Education at New York’s Adelphi University, for the past ten years, Dr. Tortello regularly lectures at the University of the West Indies. She is the author of a number of articles on education as well as the popular history book, “Pieces of the Past – A Stroll Down Jamaica’s Memory Lane” (now in its second printing). Dr. Tortello has edited and advised on a number of early childhood series for Jamaica and co-written the Teacher's Guide for Pearson's "1,2,3, You and Me." She has also written a number of children’s books including "My Jamaican ABCs," “Nancy and Grandy Nanny,” and the Ministry of Education’s titles, “Big and Strong” and “Colouring My School.”

From April 2012 to February 2015, Dr. Tortello focused on expanding the scope of the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation as its General Manager.  In March 2015, she began a new position as Quality Education Advisor at UNICEF Jamaica.
Dr. Tortello has also served on various school boards, the National Council on Education, the Jamaica Library Service, the Council of the Institute of Jamaica, chairing its Museums Division, as well as the Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO, the Early Childhood Commission and the National Museum Foundation.
Dr. Tortello is married to Dr. Jonathan Greenland and they have two young children, Rhys and Maria.

Marie Cunnigham-Clarke
Book read: "Abigail's Glorious Hair" by Diane Browne

  The Grade 3 class connected immediately with the story about Abigail's "Poufey" hair.  Both the boys and girls enjoyed reminiscing on their own Poufey hair and having it combed and de-tangled to their own occasional "OW!"  The children joined in the "one two twist, one two twist" chorus as Abigail's mother daintily parted and twisted her hair to produce eight beautiful twists all over Abigail's head.  They LOVED the illustrations and in particular the girls exclaimed with delight when they saw Abigail's trendy outfit and hairstyle at the end of the story.  The session ended with the students drawing different aspects of the story.  The  Class Monitor then formally thanked me on behalf of the students.  A truly delightful experience to see how the book boosted the self image of the children and helped them to celebrate and appreciate their African roots.  I was subsequently invited to be a guest reader to a Grade 4 class on June 1, Literacy Day. 

Bio: Marie Cunnigham-Clarke, is a Communications Consultant (retired). She conceptualized and is responsible for adjudicating a Speak Up Programme at St Andrew High School for Grades 7-10 students.  The programme  aims to improve students' use of Standard English through annual conversational, poetry and literary  competitions. Grade level winners receive cash and book prizes.

Marie was recently elected President of The International Proxy Parents (IPP), a non-profit organization which raises funds for less fortunate children  in Jamaica. Each year IPP gives over $1.5m in scholarships  and assistance to State run childrens' homes in Jamaica.

 Erika Heslop Martin
 “Reading maketh a full man, so read and read all you can”. (Francis Bacon) This is a powerful statement and I believe that it was very fitting for the “Read Across Jamaica” programme organized by the Jamaican Writers Society and the Jamaica Library Service. On April 27, 2016, I started the reading programme at Holy Childhood Preparatory School. I read from the children’s story book: “No Boy like Amanada” written by Hope Barnett. The children had a wonderful time. They were filled with enthusiasm and excitement.
On May 3, 2016, “Read Across Jamaica Day,” I read from the children’s story book: “Butterfly Meadows” by Olivia Moss at Elim Early Childhood Development Centre. It was such a delightful experience with these 5 and 6 year old children. On May 10, 2016, I read the fishing chapter from the children’s book: “No Boy Like Amanda “ to a group of 4th graders from the Porter’s Centre for Knowledge, this was facilitated by Bookophilia. These children were remarkable! Their motto for the day was: “Readers are leaders!”
On May 27, 2016, I read to another group of children from New Providence Primary School which was also facilitated by Bookophilia. It was wonderful! The book that I read from was: “Tek mi! Tek mi noh!” a book of Caribbean folk tales published by Carlong Publishers Limited. The reading programme was great and I would definitely participate again. Many thanks to the Jamaican Writers Society and Jamaica Library Service for organizing the programme.
Bio: Erika Heslop Martin is a Writer/Poet and Business Professional with over twenty years of writing experience and over twelve years of professional experience in accounting, financial and administrative management from several corporate entities in Jamaica.  She is a graduate of Camperdown High, the University of Technology, Jamaica and the University College of the Caribbean. She has published three books of poetry and motivational messages (A Poetic Revelation, The Power of Words and A Poetic Journey) and is in the process of writing other books. She contributes poetry to the Sunday Gleaner periodically, Facebook , you tube and She also presents poetry at a wide variety of events and judges poetry competitions as well. Her books can be found on Amazon and in several bookstores in Jamaica. She is a Director of the Jamaican Writers Society, a member of Book Industry Association of Jamaica, a member of the Poetry Society of Jamaica, a member of JAM Copy, a member of We Connect International and a member of Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica. She is a Creative Entrepreneur with a lot of potential; and is excited about exploring and utilizing all her talents to live a more fulfilling life and to make a positive contribution to her country and the world at large. She loves to write, read, recite poetry, dance, sing, cook, dabble into fashion, take pictures, travel, motivate others to be the best they can be and invest time with God, family and friends.





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More authors who read in schools for Child Month 2016

Melanie Schwapp:

I read at Holy Childhood Prep. School to the Kindergarten classes. I read Abigail’s Glorious Hair by Diane Browne and ‘Lally-May’s Farm Suss’ written by me.  

Abigail’s Glorious Hair sparked a lively discussion about hair and the joys and stresses of combing it. Many of the girls were thrilled to show that they had the same hairstyle as Abigail. Some of the boys expounded on going to the barber and the fact that they did not have to comb their hair every day.
Lally-May’s episode with the rolling half and Jonkanoo had them mesmerised and a little frightened, because many of them had never heard of the myth of the rolling calf, and only a handful had ever seen Jonkanoo. Again, a lively discussion of ‘scary’ things and how brave they were when they had to face frightening things. A few of the boys demonstrated some karate moves that they would use to fight the Jonkanoo if ever faced with the Lally-May scenario. 

Melanie Schwapp was born in Kingston, Jamaica. She attended Montego Bay High School in St. James from 1st to 5th form, then was enrolled in St. Andrew High School for Girls in 1982 to sit her A’level exams.
Two short migrations at two key stages of her life, opened Melanie’s eyes to the cultural and social discriminations in society, and thus began her quest for understanding through writing. At the age of five she moved to England with her family, where she was awakened to the nature of colour prejudice, and then during her late teens and early twenties, she attended the University of South Carolina, where the subtle traits of discrimination cemented her interest in the social repercussions of these prejudices.
Although Melanie has written recreationally all her life, her first published work was a children’s book, Lally-May’s Farm Suss in 2005 in which she revives a Jamaican myth and several cultural aspects through the eyes of a child. Her second publication was the novel Dew Angels in 2011 where she explores the hidden aspect of prejudice and other social handicaps in Jamaican society. Having fallen in love with the rural lifestyle while growing up on her
grandparents’ farm in Montego Bay, Melanie also does small garden landscaping and interior decorating. She is a devoted mother to her three children and a sometimes devoted wife to her husband. She resides in Kingston.


Diana McCaulay:
Diana McCaulay is an award winning Jamaican writer and a lifelong resident of its capital city Kingston.  She has written two critically acclaimed novels, Dog-Heart (March 2010) and Huracan (July 2012), published by Peepal Tree Press in the United Kingdom.  Dog-Heart won a Gold Medal in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s National Creative Writing Awards (2008), was shortlisted for the Guyana Prize (2011), the IMPAC Dublin Award (2012) and the Saroyan Prize for International Writing (2012).   Huracan was also shortlisted for the 2014 Saroyan Prize. Her third novel, Gone to Drift (February 29, 2016) is published by Papilote Press, placed second in the Burt Prize for Caribbean Literature and won the Lignum Vitae Vic Reid Award in 2015. 
Diana won the Hollick Arvon Prize for Caribbean writing in 2014, for her non fiction work-in-progress Loving Jamaica: a memoir of place and (not) belonging. 
Diana founded the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in 1991 and still serves as its CEO and guiding force.   She was a popular newspaper columnist for The Gleaner (1994-2001) and her short fiction has been published by the journal Eleven Eleven, Granta On Line, Fleeting Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, Afro-Beat, Lifestyle Magazine and the Jamaica Observer’s literary supplement, Bookends.  She was the regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2012, for her short story The Dolphin Catchers.  
Diana was born into the Jamaican upper-middle class and has spent a lifetime pondering questions of race, class, colour, and privilege in Jamaican society.  The honest and penetrating insights in her novels and stories come from sharp observation and profound self-reflection.  Hers is a uniquely authentic voice from a background which usually turns away from all that she unflinchingly faces.
 (I am having all sorts of challenges with the font, as I capture the words of the authors. So apologies for that, but I think you will enjoy what they have to say, what motivates them. I love hearing why authors write what they write.)



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Towards a gentler Jamaica: Authors/readers sharing the magic of stories in schools

Why should you consider having a local author come to your school and share the love of reading and writing with your students?
Well it is one of those little things which has a ripple effect that  keeps on giving dividends. It allows the students to recognize that there are Jamaicans who write books, that the writing of literature is not just a gift given to people who are abroad. This then encourages students who  themselves wish to write; but also it encourages the students to appreciate themselves and their environment. This bolsters their self confidence. You cannot develop a positive sense of self, if your sense of self is rooted elsewhere, in other books from other lands. You cannot develop a nation if your sense of self and all things good is located elsewhere, in other books from other lands.

Moreover reading and writing, in this new world of 140 characters, is at risk. Getting the full understanding of what another human being wants to say in this world of abbreviated language, is at risk. OMG! Sharing with an author and fellow students, words, paragraphs chapters, which  may lead to shared opinions, experiences, not only allows for  brain activity,  but also perhaps, perhaps a vision for the future, perhaps for a gentler Jamaica. I think every school should invite at least one author per term (okay per year) to visit their school and share their stories with their students. I think anything that helps us to develop self confidence and a gentler society is essential at this time. We are at a crossroads. So is the rest of the world actually; big, big cross roads! But our focus has be on us at this time.

I read somewhere that some representatives for office no longer have to be able to read and write in English as it was decided that that was a colonial device to belittle us/exclude us, the people. Nobody could have really said that, eh. However, if you believe that having to read and write English, (in a world where English is still an official language) is an imposition put upon you by ‘bad-mind’ people,  you might also be interested in buying an entire big country (not just an island or the Brooklyn Bridge)  at a discounted rate, J$1.00. Always be wary of those who require you to know less, especially when it’s something they have already mastered, or can easily master.

If you’re reading this, I’m reaching to the converted, eh. However, I’m not preaching, just sharing with you  thoughts, and dreams, and hopes which cannot be encapsulated in 140 characters or abbreviated language. LOL! For a long time I thought that meant lots of love, and I was astonished at all the love people were sending around. Personally, I think DWL is more Jamaican, (as in ded wid laugh!)

So I'm sharing with you the experiences of some of our writers who went into our schools and read for the children to celebrate Child Month (under the auspices of the Jamaican Writers Society). You will see from their comments that the children enjoyed their visits immensely. I will also include the bios of the authors/readers (because it’s interesting to see who writes/read and the reasons that motivated them)  and some photos (because photos always make for a more interesting blog). Perhaps you can get  some of them to read at your school if you wish.

Jean Forbes: Reading  in schools for Child Month, 2016
I did two readings for Child Month at Alvernia Prep.  For the pre kindergarten level, I read  The Happiness Dress and Abigail’s Glorious Hair, by Diane Browne, and they were very well received. For the kindergarten and grade one levels, I read Late Again from Little Lennie's Leisure time book (out of print) and Why the Rain Bird Calls the Rain by Jean Forbes, from the new Caribbean Junior Reader. I thought it might have been long but they enjoyed the stories and it generated a lot of discussion. 
On the second day, by request, I read The Happiness Dress and Abigail’s Glorious Hair again and A Right to be Me (audio book).
Bio: Jean is one of the original members of the Children's Writers Circle.

I am a widow and the mother of three boys and grandma to nine. I have won several silver and bronze medals and certificates of merit in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission literary competitions. I have had historical articles and short stories published in The Gleaner, The Observer, Jamaica InterCom (No longer published) . My children's stories have also been aired on the local children's programme, Colgate Cavity fighters programme. In addition, some of my children's stories published in collections by The Children's Writers Circle, are The Ghost in “Double Trouble and other stories” and Lydia in “Just Suppose and other stories”. Selectco published Late Again in Little Lennies Leisure Time Book. 1. Ginn Publishers used Why the Rainbird Calls the Rain in their New Caribbean Reader Book and Carlong Publishers used The Legend of Martha Brae in TeK Mi, Noh TekMi!, one of the books in their Sand Pebbles series. The Ministry of Education uses some of my stories in their print publications. In their audio Books they have used Midnight Earns Friends, Night Blooming Cereus, Toady, None Like Me and Why the Rain Bird Calls the Rain. “Kids Read”, a Canadian Publication has used Midnight Earns Friends in its Summer 2015 collection. The Little Christmas Tree was published as a story colouring book

●I hold a diploma in writing for children from the Institute of Children's and I am Fellow Of The Life Management Institute with specialties in Personnel Management and Administrative Management
●Presenter and Resource person for CARICOM/OAS workshop for new writers held at the Liguanea Club Jamaica in 2000
●Chosen by the JCDC as a Children’s writer to represent Jamaica at the Canadian Caribbean Cultural Exhibition in Toronto Canada in June 2003
More to come or to be continued:


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Morning coffee: and stories we cannot write or tell?


On a recent Saturday, after thinking about it for some time, I finally had ‘morning coffee’ with writers – three children’s writers, one adult and one poet, a male. The first time we have had a male for any meeting here. (And my husband joined us because he knows the poet, and actually seemed to enjoy our literary conversation)   We were supposed to be looking at the usual, the viability of children’s writing, marketing and other miseries. However, as we always do, we wondered off agenda to things of general interest, bearing in mind that anything we actually mention can be considered fuel for creativity. And this time, here with us  was a writer writing in another genre. Our poet wondered if any of us had ever considered writing poetry. It turned out two of us had. I have known him from he was a young poet of 19 or so, impressing us with his poems at the gate at the bottom of a hill on which his cousin, my friend, lived. I think she and I were about 14.  How far we have all come. Bona fide writers.

We talked; our poet was astonished as we addressed the matter of gatekeepers in the world  of children’s books, no violence, nor reality as faced regularly by sectors of this society, etc. So he said, (paraphrased of course) ‘You people can’t express your creativity fully; you have to be aware of what teachers, schools, the ministry will say? Silence for a moment as we considered this. (I think personally that we are so aware of this that it may be second nature to us now, or it will be to our editors.) We all talked at once. My friend, also one of my editors, told him of a story I wrote which one teacher said he didn’t like  because the child was rude (she was inclined to have an opinion about things and children who answer back or have opinions are not role models, in his opinion). My friend also indicated a series of YA books where there was a bit of the supernatural, and some parents in another territory found that objectionable as Christians. Well, we know that there was objection to Harry Potter for a similar reason, and if I think far back enough, I come up with one of my favourite books, Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I recall being astounded that in the early 80s there was a problem with this book in the USA because the characters discussed unmentionable female body functions, and I think it would also fall into the ‘opinionated’ children category.

I cast about for examples of real life which have made it into print for our region. I mentioned Bad Girls in School, by Gwyneth Harold (Harcourt Education, 2007) which I knew was used  in some schools. I also  mentioned Inner City Girl  by Colleen Smith-Dennis (LMH, 2009, and third place Burt Caribbean Award winner, 2014,) as one which certainly dealt with the realities of  life, the other side of Jamaica, far away from middle class norms and niceties.   I also told our group of  a visit two of us made to read at  a library  in a rural town. We read! The children then, with great pride, read a story they had written for us. It focused on a young man who was stealing goats in a  village.  The villagers caught him and chopped him with their machetes (true to life) and he was put into hospital where he could at length consider his evil ways. The children may write it, but we can’t.

So after our little ‘coffee morning’, I gave this further thought. And sometimes when you give further thought, you attract things to you. So I was sitting in an establishment, and one of the young ladies started telling us about her life. It was hard, unbelievably hard. I’m sure my eyes opened wide; I’m sure my mouth fell open. I know I kept saying, “Oh, Oh”. It was not that I hadn’t heard that story, or a version of it, before. It was that I knew her, and had no idea that she had had such a hard life, that indeed she was the heroine of her own life, as I told her. And that sounded so hollow in the face of the obstacles she had overcome, just to become a ‘normal person’.

I wondered if I could write her story, do it justice. I even considered coming straight home and writing down the main points before I forgot them. However, I don’t think the gatekeepers would pass it, too sad, too hard, to really true to the  life of some.  I wondered if  any of us could write it. Then I remembered Dew Angels by Melanie Schwapp, (HopeRoad Publishing, 2013). Dew Angels is a well written book, story harrowing and ringing true, and you feel you need to see how it works out. I think that Melanie  or Gwyneth could have  done  justice to my ‘real-life storyteller’. But the question is, could I write my storyteller’s story? Honestly, I don’t know. There’s so much to overcome,  even if it culminates in success. There’s so much  emotion.  So maybe it’s not only about the gatekeepers, when all is said and done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Distinguished Lecture National Library of Jamaica: Una Marson and Alison Donnell

How do we get young people interested in this? (by extension, various aspects of the arts?). This question was asked me by an associate of mine at a lecture, "Una  Marson: Animating the Archive of an Extraordinary Life",  at the National Library of Jamaica on Sunday Oct. 9, given by  Professor Alison Donnell, Modern Literatures in English, University of Reading, UK.

How do we indeed, in a world where everything is judged by its technological significance and the written word reduced to only 140 characters long? How do we, in an island, where for many survival is the main focus of their daily lives? This question could probably be asked in many developing countries. I recall sitting on a panel doing interviews for tertiary scholarships. One of the panel members, and educator like myself, suggested to one of the interviewees that while at the University he should take advantage of artistic activities, like plays, which often offered a reduced price for students. This sounded like an excellent idea. It warmed my heart. The student replied that he could not afford even the reduced rate. He would need that for lunch or bus fare. Reality had given all our artistic ideas a jolt.

The event  I was attending on Oct. 9,  was the National Library of Jamaica Distinguished Lecture 2016, given by Professor Alison Donnell, ‘who has researched  and taught Anglophone Caribbean Literature for more than twenty years. Her PhD, at the Centre for Caribbean  Studies at the University of Warwick,  focused on an  under–researched archive of early Caribbean women’s writing’. 

The lecture highlighted Jamaican activist, broadcaster, journalist, poet and playwright, Una Marson’s achievements, and suggested that she had not received the attention she should have because she was a woman.  It was a fascinating and stimulating lecture. Thank you, Professor Donnell.  Thank you for highlighting one of our women.

How do I come into this? Una Marson lived both here and in London. My grandmother, Clarissa Escoffery, acted in two of Una Marson's plays staged here, London Calling and At What a Price. I had done a blog post some time ago showing the programme for London Calling with the signatures of the actors, including Una Marson’s. Professor Donnell had come across this post and asked if she could use images from it in her lecture. Social media can work  positively. Of course, I was honoured to say  yes, on behalf of myself and my grandmother. I am always thrilled when I can trace creativity from my grandmother, amateur actress, through my mother, amateur painter and professional creator of illuminated addresses (now done by computer), to myself, writer, and one time amateur artist.  I know, totally immodest; but I so love that feeling of continuity.

Another lovely aspect of the event was the pre-launch of Una Marson's plays, Pocomania and London Calling by Blouse & Skirt Books - Tanya Batson-Savage. You know my cup runneth over when I see a synchronicity of events like this. The book is a joint publication between Blouse & Skirt Books and the National Library of Jamaica. So great to see a publisher and the National Library cooperate for the enlightenment of the country and preservation of our cultural heritage. I am so impressed with this young publisher. Quality books and books which inform the publishing landscape.

Yes, I will be passing over my grandmother’s material to the National Library. We are all encouraged to pass on things which we may have which would add to the store of cultural knowledge.

Back to the question which was asked at the beginning of the post. How do we get young people interested in things like this? Of course, in any population, only a percentage will be interested in the arts, writing, music, painting, dancing. However, I think we feel that we would like to see more of our young people exposed and involved, not only because of the great creativity which exists in our country/the region, but also because we know that the arts can bring joy to the individual, and go towards creating/recovering a gentler society. Obvious answers come to mind; exposure in the school curriculum, and activities at schools, and this is certainly being done; institutions which cater to the arts, and they exist, and are active. Perhaps what we really want to ask is how do we touch all lives with artistic endeavour and appreciation for artistic achievement? How do we expose all lives to the sensitivity which comes from exposure to the arts, and by so doing,  create a gentler society?  I don’t have an answer. I write this in the hope that you who read this will have ideas and share them, and that together we can achieve this.

I do recall when I was working with Olive Senior (yes, the Olive Senior) at the Institute of Jamaica Publications, us having a poetry reading by Lorna Goodison at the Institute of Jamaica with 5th and 6th forms from as many schools as we could. The auditorium was almost full. The students were enthusiastic, and this had nothing to do with school set books; it had to do with poetry. Afterwards the students crowded around the stage like Lorna Goodison  was a rock star, (which she is, come to think of it) asking questions, just wanting to share with her their joy at having experienced the event. (If anyone who was there reads this and can tell me that my memory of this event needs some clarification/correction, please feel free to  do so). This occasion is right up there with important memories in my life. I was overwhelmed that the students were overwhelmed.

What has all this got to do with children’s writing and children’s books, you ask? It has everything to do with it. Early exposure! “Train up the child in the way he should go  . . . .”