Friday, January 28, 2022

I would love to stand corrected. We left the golliwog concept behind, didn't we!

Breaking news: I saw Dreams Beyond the Shore come into my inbox about 3 times recently as one of the books recommend for me by Amazon. I do not know if that was because of my post or because of the publisher’s/author’s promotion. The mystery of algorithms! H
owever that's why it's headlining my blog again. 

 I am glad that Bocas Lit has added a prize for Children’s Literature. As we also consider the enthusiasm of the young publishers and writers now, I feel as if all we have done over all these years is bearing fruit,  

However, we still seem to be out in the wilderness with Young Adult (YA) Literature. I have noted previously the importance of the Burt Award, and that if it was withdrawn from this region to be given to First Nations in Canada, one could not but honour and respect  that.

You may recall that as part of the Burt Award process 2,500 copies of each book were to be subsidized and given to schools across the Caribbean. Has this happened? If so how come we haven’t  heard anything about these donations, seen pictures of beaming school children and principals  with book donations, book covers splashed across front pages of regional newspapers, or if that is too much to ask, tucked away somewhere inside. I am told that with very little fanfare they were given away to charitable organizations,  and not  so much to the schools. I would love to stand corrected on this. Surely we couldn’t let that opportunity  for exposure pass us by. If we did indeed print 2,500 of each and give them out with no fanfare, nor recognition of their significance,  then we deserve to have Enid Blyton (now dark-washed for modern consumption) get up out of her grave and write her golliwog stories all over again. And yes, I read them and so did my first daughter, who couldn’t understand why the golliwog was always getting into trouble. That’s when I realized I had to start writing, so by the time the second daughter came along there was other material. We were no longer left to wonder about the connection between ourselves and golliwogs. Subtle racism and  colonial indoctrination.       

Now it is possible that in the last 2 years we’ve all been made distraught by the pandemic. I may not have heard anything.  Therefore I could be wrong about donations of books. Please tell me if I am. However this award had been running since 2014; that was from before covid.

Of course, the students in secondary schools have set books. Why should we care whether they read additional books or not. Why should we care whether  young adults  read anyway? We did our best with them in primary/prep. The set books in secondary, many of them classics, whether European, American or Caribbean, cover a range of human emotions and experiences. They will soon be adults, and readers will read and the rest won't. 

Of what value is the reading  our own books to the young adults of our region? Well a clue might be that the same overseas publishers who sell their books to us are also filling the needs of their own target audience. Aha, guys, aha!

I'll look at this further in my next blog.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Romance and Reality in a Caribbean Young Adult Novel


Read this book: Dreams Beyond the Shore  

I have not in all honestly seen romance portrayed in Caribbean young adult books. I would think it would be portrayed as something dangerous and to be avoided at all costs especially if you are still in school and have exams to study for. Or at least just a mild suggestion of it; manageable for both write, school librarians (if there are any libraries that carry young adult books –sorry but it’s one of those days when I just don’t think we try hard enough) and all other gatekeepers. If I’m wrong please let me know. And yet all our young people are maturing and would be interested in romance even if there wasn’t social media, and now there is social media.

A book I found delightful was American Panda (Simon Pulse, 2018) by Gloria Chao. That’s what made me start thinking about romance in YA literature. The characters are actually at university so it’s probably a bit older than the YA we are accustomed to writing. There’s a lot of flirting taking place and a totally unmentionable scene when I thought the heroine was totally unflappable. It’s hilarious; it portrays the difference between Asian parents of one generation, and the family expectations for their (American) college children including, naturally, who they should marry. It’s a theme we’ve met in adult novels and movies, to me always fascinating. I was surprised that the protagonists would face problems from their families because one is Taiwanese and the other Japanese. All Asians are not the same; I would think it would be most appropriate for America at this time of increased migration of different ethnicities and discovering Asians face prejudice also. It’s the  migrant experience in the USA. Anyway if you run  across it, read it, I think you’ll enjoy it.

And then my friends I came across the 2016 first prize winner Burt Award for Young Adult Literature by Tamika Gibson. I Love it! It’s set in Trinidad and it does not shy away from the realities of our lives on the islands in this region. Tamika Gibson hits every right note, corruption where you don’t expect it to be, political activities, family wishes for their children versus  their children’s desires, and a little romance between the two most delightful teenage protagonist I’ve ever met. And the Trinidadian language is like music to our ears.

I think the blurb describes it best. ‘Seventeen-year-old Chelsea Marchand was pretty satisfied with her life. Until recently! Willing to play the dutiful daughter as her father’s bid to become Prime Minister of their island home brings her family into intense public scrutiny. Chelsea . . . becomes increasingly disturbed by her father’s duplicity. She finds a reprieve when she meets Kyron a kindred spirit encased in low riding jeans. ( the only time I’ve liked low riding jeans, but it’s a reality for modern teenagers and so I learnt something). The two share a bond as he too struggles to get beyond his father’s shadow.


Dreams Beyond the Shore is a heartwarming story declaring that decisions matter far more than destiny. ‘

What a fantastic concept for our young people to comprehend! which is why the image is here twice.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Hindsight from 2021: Dispatches from 2016; still relevant: Diane Browne's latest - West Indian children's guides to self acceptance: Sunday Observer, May 15

 To get myself restarted after this long absence from blogging, writing and even reading, I thought I'd look again at  some old posts from long ago which still had relevance. Many of them still do. And if, like many writers, you have found that covid has sapped your energy and the desire to create, hopefully this will help us.  I feel that perhaps  I can start again, that maybe my downsizing and having to clear out the study is possible without falling flat on the ground amongst books and files from every workshop I've run. I have takers for the Jamaica Journals! What more could one ask! I read some of my stories left untouched  and actually liked one very much.  No, I have not deserted my latest love. It is a YA. So I invite you to come with me as I see what all these changes, one top of the other, uncover creatively.

The launch of the prize-winning The Happiness Dress and Abigail’s Glorious Hair took place on May 10, at the Kingston and St. Andrew Parish Library. The launch was lovely; much thanks to all those who helped with it and participated in it, and those who attended it. The guest speaker, Dr. Kim Robinson Walcott,  made an excellent  speech. It is published in Bookends in The Sunday Observer today, along with covers of the two books launched, as well as other book covers of mine. Thanks to Sharon Leach of The Observer for the coverage of Kim’s speech and my books. Kim’s speech and the launch will provide content for more than one blog, because she touched on so many things which impact the writing and publishing of children’s books in the Caribbean.  Quote from her speech: I wish books like these were around when I was a child. I wish books like these were around when my children were young. This is the type of material that we need to engender pride in our culture and ourselves.

The headline in The Sunday Observer is shown above. I have to thank Sharon for that headline. It is such an astute point of view, and changed the direction of this blog.  Apart from the two books being launched,  the other books highlighted on the page are Island Princess in BrooklynEbony and the Auntie of the Starlighta Caribbean Cinderella story and Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune. I know that many of my stories focus on  identity and  celebration of ourselves,  but it wasn’t until I read that headline that I fully understood the variety of ways in which we can say "I am me and that’s very fine." 

 Cordelia is teased  because she is different from the other children in her village. She discovers that once you accept yourself the teasing stops, and that what is different about her  can be what contributes to  success.  Princess struggles against having to  replace her beloved Jamaica with Brooklyn, and fears she will lose her concept of who she is. She discovers that her self-concept will not be lost or replaced. It will only grow, and that you can love both Jamaica and Brooklyn like all the other Jamaicans in the diaspora, and that she can love her mother as well as her granny. Ebony, from a children’s home,  proves children from children’s homes can be successful, and she escapes  the traditional Cinderella story, by not only marrying a man worthy of her, (it isn’t that she has to be worthy of him), but earns shares in his spice factory, and trains and employs other girls from the home to work with her in the company.

In The Happiness Dress, Carolyne proves what she already knows,  that it’s okay to accept that you reflect the Caribbean even when you are in another place, and she is the happiness of her Daddy’s heart. And finally Abigail! To quote Kim: Abigail's poufy hair is nothing like a Barbie doll's, but Abigail  doesn't care two hoots about that. What a wonderfully self-assured little girl, in love with her own glorious hair, and by extension her own glorious self. You just have to look at Rachel Moss’ illustration of Abigail looking at herself in the mirror, to be assured of this.  It’s a wonderful synchronicity that most of these books have been illustrated by the talented Rachel Moss, who is gifted  at interpreting what  the writer imagined.

And now, guys, you know how we wonder if Caribbean children’s literature makes a difference, even though we, the writers, know that it does. But how do you quantify it, we ask, to prove its importance to others?  Okay! I have news for you! One of my friends bought the books at the launch for her grandchildren. She just sent me an email and photo of her little granddaughter who  wanted her hair let out for church this morning, just like Abigail's. Truly guys!  We have to continue writing.  As Kim said in her address: The road is long but we have to keep on going. For the sake of our children’s self esteem, we don’t have a choice.
Photos: top left of Dr. Kim Robinson Walcott, courtesy of Michael Reckord. Me, signing books: courtesy of Camille Parchment

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 <> 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 <> 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.