October 17, 2006

Lip Service @ Books & Books, Miami

Lip Service
Direct from L.A. to Miami at Books and Books
265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables

Thursday, November 2, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

Lip Service is true stories, read out loud.
It’s raw, moving, sad, honest, intimate, bold, funny.

Featuring Stories by

Rachael Aranoff
Andrea Askowitz

Susan Coppola

Goldie Kossow

Lisa Merritt
Geoffrey Philp

Patrick Quirk
Laura Wides-Munoz

Wayne Willison

Tickets are free and open to the public
Come early, seats go fast.

Produced by Andrea Askowitz and Goldie Kossow

By Sutze Daniel

On Thursday November 2, I attended Lip Service at Books and Books in Coral Gables. It was phenomenal and this type of event provides a corridor for writers who want to mingle with fellow writers and maybe meet publishers and agents. It was the first time that I ever participated in such an event and I found it really..."refreshing." At least for my soul.

Around 50 people attended the event and nine writers, Patrick Quirk, Susan Coppola, Lisa Merritt, Wayne Willison, Rachael Aronoff, Geoffrey Philp, Goldie Kossow, Laura Wides-Munoz, and Andrea Askowitz, read their heartfelt stories. True stories read outloud. They were sad, happy, funny, and outrageously shocking. All the stories were great, but the one that really stood out for me was “Chicken Soup and My Family,” by Geoffrey Philp. The story was basically about a time when Philp and his family were coming down with a severe flu, and Philp explained in this story how his homemade chicken soup cured not only the flu, but the spirit and the soul of his family.

“The soup may not have cured our colds, but it gave us a chance to sit down together and have a hearty meal with equally wholesome company,” as it is said at the end of the story. He drew from his past and how his mother taught him how to perform house chores and not to be a “worthless man.”

Early in his chilhood, Philp knew he wanted to be a writer, and he was blessed with the presence of his mother who continually encouraged him to pursue his dreams. As Philp described it, his mother was “a lover of the words,” and she taught him everything he now cherishes.

“She made me realize that reading and writing involve the most sacred faculty of a human being—the imagination. My mother gave me the space to grow and to develop my talents as a writer and to expand my love for my craft—the rapture, excitement, and discovery that comes with writing.”

Philp was born and raised in Jamaica, and his coming to the United States made him re-evaluate his principles and his beliefs. In his quest to answer the questions to which he could not find answers (when he was a child), Philp found inspiration in his Jamaican roots, especially Bob Marley and raggae.

“Reggae, and especially Wailers flavored reggae, became the means by which I interpreted the world,” he says.

Although Philp acknowledged and was grateful for the works of authors like Oku Onoura, Mikey Smith, Linton Kwesi Johnson, or Mutabaruka, he thought that they “interpreted the world in a socialist point of view, sometimes Marxist point of view.” The way Philp saw the world had a crucial impact on his writing, and although he shared those writers’ visions, Philp wanted his community to see past the anger and celebrate life, celebrate joy. He wants the black community to draw strength from their past, while building a new life through self-acceptance.

“When would we write stories that liberated us from such a narrow vision of our past and ourselves? When would we write stories that portrayed us as shapers of our future and not merely passive agents in our own existence?” is what Philp asks.

As a fatherless boy, Philp had many questions, and they remained, for the most part, unanswered. He had several mentors and role models, but none of them could fullfill the role of a father.

“My story really begins with me trying to write poems to a girl with whom I was head over heels in love and she was tiring of my fake Khalil Gibran poems. I had to look for inspiration elsewhere. At that time Bob Marley’s music was everywhere, and Dennis Scott had resumed teaching at my alma mater, Jamaica College. I began reading Uncle Time, then The Pond by Mervyn Morris, Reel from the ‘Life Movie’ by Tony McNeill, The Arrivants by Kamau Brathwaite and Another Life by Derek Walcott. I now wanted to write poems with the vision of Marley, the intelligence of Scott, the wit of Morris, the lyricism of McNeill, the experimentation and afro-centrism of Brathwaite, and the imagery of Walcott while maintaining the integrity of my own voice.”

As for many immigrants, Philp’s new life in Miami didn’t start out smoothly. I personally relate to the fact that he gave first proiority to work instead of his education because he wanted to support his mother and family back in Jamaica. Many Haitians do the same. But one day, through all the struggles he encoutered as a bag boy at Publix, Philp decided it was time to go back to school. Enrolling at Miami Dade Community College was by far the best choice he had made, for that helped him win the Fred Shaw Poetry Prize Award (at the North Campus) for his poem "The Lady Awaits the Sting," and from that point, “things were looking up.”

When asked about the greatest challenges he has faced in his career, Philp says it is finding a publisher who understands his vision of Jamaica and the Caribbean. “A publisher who believes in the worth of the region and is willing to go beyond stereotypes.” Although Philp is facing all these issues, he still refuses to compromise his beliefs just to sell more copies. And on being an independent writer, here is what Philp has to say:

“If a publisher wants to exploit stereotypes or wants something contrary to my beliefs, then they've got the wrong writer. This is why I've taught and done other things to support myself and my family because my writing is one of the purest things in my life. I will not compromise it for anything.”

Attending the Lip Service was a privilege for Philp. It was the first time he had read an autobiographical piece in front of an audience and he says it was intimidating because it was his life, not the life of a made up character.

When I asked him how it felt to read his story out loud and whether or not he would read on the next Lip Service –on February 24, 2007- he said: “My life was on the line. Would people like it? I never felt so naked in my life. I want to do it again!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sad pity that I'll miss it...