October 30, 2006

In My Own Words: Donna Weir-Soley

Donna Weir SoleyI come from a family of teachers, preachers, and storytellers, and they all told different types of stories. My father’s side of the family, farmers, teachers, and storytellers, told such scary ghost stories that after listening to them, I often wanted to make my bed right where I was sitting rather than risk walking home on a dark country night and running into rolling calf or some other bad duppy.

My mother’s side of the family, healers, entrepreneurs, and storytellers, told stories that would surely fall into the category Audre Lourde calls biomythography. This isn’t because my mother’s stories are fictional, but because her “true” stories are so incredible, the natural inclination is to think she’s making them up. My mother’s stories blended dreams and reality so seamlessly that often, as a child, I could not distinguish between what happened in my dreams and my waking life. Both were aspects of reality to which I had to pay close attention or risk losing important “messages” or life lessons that were important to my future path. My destiny was mapped out in dreams, omens, and signs.

My ancestors, long passed-on, were as important to my life as my living kin, and could appear in dreams or to some kinfolk who had the ability to see spirits, not just to warn me, but to stage intervention when necessary. So, I guess, you could say I come by storytelling quite naturally, and that is really how I think of my writing. Whether in poems, short fiction, memoir writing, even essays, I am always trying to find the true way to tell the story. Sometimes it is my story. Sometimes it is a combination of myth, legends, facts, fiction, and somebody else’s story, but always it is my truth, the way I understand it.

First Rain , my first book, is a collection of poems that blends myth, dreams, and family history with social and political commentary. Mostly, I hope that my love for my people and my roots shines throughout the work. And my roots are as much in rural St. Catherine, Jamaica, as they are in inner-city New York where I became a woman, and where my brothers went through trial-by-gunfire coming into black manhood in Cambria Heights, Queens. And I say love, not to be naïve or uncritical, but to let it be known that there is no shame in my game. I am a product of all of it, good, bad, indifferent.

My high school, Andrew Jackson, had as many metal detectors as Rikers Island prison. It was the first place I heard the term coke, short for cocaine. I was fresh out of St. Catherine bush and someone offered it to me in the girl’s bathroom. My answer was “Why are you selling coke (thinking Coca Cola) in the bathroom?” Who knows, perhaps my naiveté saved my life.

After I left Andrew Jackson, the school got progressively worse. Some of the most notorious drug lords of New York came out, excuse me, were kicked out of Andrew Jackson. The city closed it down a few years after I graduated, leaving most of the student population with no zone school. The neighborhood kids were only too happy to oblige by becoming high school drop-outs, courtesy of the city of New York. One thing I know for sure everything that I have been through has led me to this place. I don’t believe in luck, but I believe in God because I know I have been blessed, protected and highly favored. Sometimes, the writing goes down smooth like a cool Red Stripe on a sweltering day. Other times, it is jagged like broken glass bottles edging the high walled homes of the wealthy, keeping out prowlers, keeping in the rank smell of fear. Ragged or fluent, my writing represents my reality, and I respectfully submit that I have a right to write, to tell these stories (with my story woven into the tapestry) the best way I know how, and I won’t give up till I get them right. Until such time…


Donna Weir-Soley was born and grew up in Jamaica. She currently teaches at Florida International University. She is a poet and critic and has been widely published in journals such as Macomere, Caribbean Writer, Sage, The Carrier-Pidgin, Frontiers and in the anthology, Moving Beyond Boundaries. She was recently awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship for career enhancement.

This Wednesday (11/1/2006): Results of Poll/Survey on Bob Marley and Rastafari.

Friday (11/3/2006) Five Questions With Sandra Castillo, author of My Father Sings to my Embarassment.

Monday (11/6/2006) In My Own Words: Shara McCallum, author of Song of Thieves.

Filed under give thanks and praises: The vivacious Maud Newton for linking to Marlon James' interview and expanding on it, and the gracious Georgia Popplewell for continuing to spread the word. Of course, there are many, many people to thank and they are listed in the links. The most recent addition is Cherryl Floyd Miller who has been compiling an impressive list of African American literary sites. BTW, for the most up-to-date information on African American/Caribbean/Black literary information, check out Kalamu ya Salaam's e-drum: http://lists.topica.com/lists/e-drum and subscribe to it. Kalamu, despite the tragedy in New Orleans, has remained undaunted. To all, Rispec'.


Caribbean , Americas , poetry blog, Jamaican author, Jamaican writers, Caribbean writers, Miami , Miami Dade College, Miami Book Fair International, Caribbean authors, Caribbean literature, Books, Poetry, South Florida writers, Jamaica,


Stephen A. Bess said...

I look forward to reading your work one day soon. I look to this blog as my main source for Caribbean Lit/Poetry. I appreciate the info that you and Geoffrey provide.


Stephen Bess

Geoffrey Philp said...

Yeah, Donna is pretty awesome. And so are the rest of the poets/writers I've been putting up here. It's been great working with all of them and part of the reason is that they all realize that in the new paradigm for writers, you can't depend on anyone else to do your PR.


Anonymous said...

Nuff respek to Donna for her struggle and success in writing and life. Nice to meet her via blog and I'll look out for her writing. -Jeff

Geoffrey Philp said...

Jeff, maybe in one of your many travels, you could come to tthe book fair. We have it very November.


Karel Mc Intosh said...

Hi Geoffrey

I enjoy reading your interviews. On an unrelated note, I just posted an article on blogging in the Caribbean, in which I quote you. Would love for you to check it out and see if you have anything to add.

Anonymous said...

Man, I have to get around to putting on my Amazon wish-list all these folks I'm "meeting" through this blog.

After all, Christmas is just around the corner.

Anonymous said...


Enjoyed it. I would like to contact Donna as we are planning an Andrew Jackson HS reunion. We have an alumni association just formed. She can contact me at rsclement@gmail.com or visit our mailing list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ajhs_NY_alumni_association/join

Ron Clement '76
AJHS Alumni Association

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna,

We had some email contact way back in 2001, I think. I've known Dorothea Smartt for years too. I enjoyed reading your piece and can relate to the bit about your mother's 'true' stories being incredible, because one of my great friends comes from Antigua and her family's stories too are incredible. I also think it's amazing that you went to that school and became the writer and academic you are. It shows such inner strength.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Bernardine,

Welcome & thank you for contributing to the conversation.