November 30, 2006

Give Thanks, Perry Henzell

Perry HenzellPerry Henzell, the director of The Harder They Come, made his transition today. I met him only once at a Calabash reading at Red Bones and he was still fiery, opinionated, and irascible. I loved it. I shook his hand, thanked him for the film (he must have heard this a million times), and moved on. To him, I was just another fan.

He couldn't have known the effect that the film had on me. He couldn't have known that when I was writing my novel Benjamin, my son, I wanted to translate to the page the gritty realism I saw in The Harder They Come. The film captured the mood of the country and the dread times we were living through, and many of the writers who grew up during the seventies in Jamaica owe an incredible debt to Henzell because he made us see a Jamaica that many of us, growing up in places like Mona Heights and Hope Pastures, never knew existed. Henzell's characters humanized the ghetto for us, and the reality that many of our classmates at Jamaica College who lived in places like Stand Pipe, Trench Town, and around Olympic Way, became real. The characters also looked, walked, danced, skanked, and cursed like us. In some ways, it was us "up there in the flim" (no, it's not a typo). Which was why I marveled at the sheer brilliance of the movie when Henzell broke through the "fourth wall" and showed us ourselves in the theater watching the movie and watching ourselves. I don't think I will ever experience a moment like that in film again.

Of course, I hadn’t seen The Harder They Come when it was released in Jamaica. I was too young, it was rated R, and my church-going mother would never have allowed me to see it. But I remember a week later a friend of mine, Keith, who was older and got to see all those movies came back, and acted the entire film--some scenes word for word. Through Keith’s eyes and acting, I experienced movies such as For A Few Dollars More, Dirty Harry and Smile Orange. There were even a few times that Keith’s interpretation was better than the original.

When I moved to Miami, I eventually saw The Harder They Come, and for once Keith had been undone. Jimmy Cliff as Ivan had that star quality that made me want to watch every scene that he was in and I waited in anticipation for him to enter. Jimmy Cliff exuded that bravura that we all wanted to have even when facing a sure death, "Star cyaan dead till the last reel."

It was Perry Henzell’s vision and pioneering spirit that brought to life the ordeals that many Jamaican singers/artists and by extension Caribbean artists must confront: the neglect by recording/publishing companies who prefer to exploit ruthlessly the talents of the artists rather than nurturing their talents. The Harder They Come became the metaphor for the plight of many Caribbean artists, and it took the courage of Perry Henzell to believe that it could be done and to make his vision, despite the obstacles, a reality.

Give thanks, Perry Henzell!



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November 29, 2006

Podcast of Mervyn Taylor's, "This Island"

Mervyn Taylor was born in Trinidad. He is the author of three books of poetry: An Island of His Own (1992), The Goat (1999), and Gone Away (2006), and a CD, Road Clear (2004), done in collaboration with bassist David Williams. About the poems in his latest collection Debbie Jacob wrote in her column in the Trinidad Guardian, "Lost in the cold and unable to return home to the tropics, the West Indians of Taylor's poems reach as far as they can: Florida." Mervyn Taylor lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Here is an excerpt from a reading that Mervyn Taylor gave at the Miami Book Fair International on November 18, 2006.

For those wishing to hear the entire reading, here is the link

Here are the pictures from the event:


Fragano Ledgister has sent me a great livication for Tony McNeill’s birthday (December 17), and it is the kind of writing that I have been looking for all year—a combination of personal narrative involving a Caribbean writer and a reaction to his/her work. Fragano has extended this--a tribute to the great poet by including a story about Tony McNeill.

I’m sending out the word again for requests for the livications—a celebration of the writers from the Caribbean who are with us, always.

South Florida writers books writing Miami Dade College Miami Book Fair International Caribbean Caribbean writers Trinidad Trinidadian author Authors Literature books podcast poetry podcast

November 27, 2006

The Angel's Message: Twelve Poems & A Story for Christmas

Caribbean Christmas poemsThe opening poem in Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas, “The Angel’s Message,” portrays Mary as a reluctant hero in the Christmas story. I’ve imagined her as a feisty, young woman in the mode of Judith or Esther—proud, Jewish patriots.

When she realizes that she is pregnant, her world comes crashing down on her, for she knows that she is about to lose everything: Joseph and her “good name” in her family and village. But then, she grasps the enormity of her choice--her son would be the answer to the Roman occupation that had martyred her brothers and widowed her sisters, and her heart answers before the words can come out of her mouth.

Mary has found the passion to guide her life, which is one meaning of the “Virgin Birth”—the beginning of a spiritual life. She will give birth to a liberator of her people, and her life has now opened up to new possibilities because she has accepted the role of mother of the Messiah.

The Angel’s Message

This was the last thing she’d expected

to hear, for she had seen her own mother

birthed into old age by so many children

and a silent rage shuddered through her body.

Then the fear, would Joseph, her betrothed,

abandon her to the gossip of loose tongues

in the village that would one day, surely rise,

and tear her out of the story of her family, her people?

Was this shame worth the surrender of her pride?

But when the angel said he would be called

“Prince of Peace,” and she heard outside her window

Roman soldiers nailing another cross to the sky,

before she could say the words, her heart stuttered

her reply for all her sisters who had wept for their sons,

their brothers, who had died too soon, and bowed

her head to the new life that filled her body with joy.

To buy or to see more of the book, follow this link: Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas.


November 26, 2006

About Geoffrey Philp's Blog Spot

My name is Geoffrey Philp, and I am a writer from Jamaica. I started this blog to provide readers with information about my writing and the work of contemporary Caribbean and South Florida writers.

Stories and poems about father-son relationships, Anancy (Anansi), and the effects of the Jamaican/Caribbean diaspora have always appealed to me and are the major themes that I've explored in my books--some of which are used as textbooks in many schools, colleges, and universities.

I am available for "Meet the Author" readings/lectures and creative writing workshops where I focus on the craft of writing short stories and poems.

If you'd like to contact me, here's my e-mail address: geoffreyphilp101 [at]

The Abbreviated Bio

Geoffrey Philp, an author from Jamaica, has written two children's books, Marcus and the Amazons, and Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories; two collections of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien and Who's Your Daddy?; a novel, Benjamin, my son, and five poetry collections, Exodus and Other Poems, Florida Bound, Hurricane Center, Xango Music and Dub Wise. A graduate of the University of Miami, where he earned a Master of Arts in English, Philp teaches creative writing at Miami Dade College. He posts interviews, fiction, poetry, podcasts, and literary events from the Caribbean and South Florida on his blog:

The Long Story

I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and I attended Mona Primary and Jamaica College, where I studied literature under the tutelage of Dennis Scott. When I left Jamaica in 1979, I went to Miami Dade College and after graduating, I studied Caribbean, African and African-American literature with Dr. O.R. Dathorne and creative writing with Lester Goran, Evelyn Wilde Mayerson, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Since then, I have attended workshops with Derek Walcott , Edward Albee, and Israeli playwright, Matti Meged. As a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami, I studied poetry under Kamau Brathwaite and fiction with George Lamming.

In 1990, I published my first book of poems, Exodus and Other Poems, and four other poetry collections have followed: Florida Bound (1985), hurricane center (1998), xango music (2001), and Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas (2005). I have also written a book of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien (1997), and a novel, Benjamin, My Son, which was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize. I've also written two children's books, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories and Marcus and the Amazons.

My poems and short stories have appeared in Small Axe, Asili, The Caribbean Writer, Gulf Stream, Florida in Poetry: A History of the Imagination, Wheel and Come Again: An Anthology of Reggae Poetry, Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root, The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse.

Follow me on Twitter @ geoffreyphilp

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November 22, 2006

Podcast of Joanne Hyppolite & Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas

Joanne HyppoliteDr. Joanne Hyppolite is the Curator for Community Research at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. She holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Miami and an M.A. in Afro-American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. An experienced public speaker and author, she lectures widely at schools, libraries, and conferences on African-American and Caribbean culture and children's literature. Her short stories have been published in the Caribbean Writer and The Butterfly's Way: Voice from the Haitian Dyaspora. She is also the author of two popular middle-grade novels for children Seth and Samona, which won the 1994 Marguerite DeAngeli prize for New Children’s Fiction and Ola Shakes It Up.

Joanne read "Dyaspora" from The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora, an autobiographical essay, and an excerpt from chapter 4 of Seth and Samona, the story of two children’s first encounter with death.

For photos of the event, click here:

Here’s the podcast:


Beginning on Friday, I am going to be running Amazon coupons and excerpts from Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas, which I hope will generate some book sales over the holidays. (Click here for a review of last year's reading at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery). It’s always a tricky situation for independent artists to do things like this because it seems like unwarranted self-promotion which is frowned upon by our cultures, especially those belonging to the former British Empire. But big publishing houses advertise through publicists and surrogates to create the illusion that their writers are far removed from the taint of money and “filthy lucre.” I can no longer hold on to these pretensions. But it’s also tied to the reason why I write.

From the time I discovered that I had a gift for writing, I realized that it was skill that had to be honed. My stories have been developed through listening to the stories of friends, relatives, acquaintances and eavesdropping—I still haven’t figured out how to tell the story that I overheard at a bus stop in Jamaica, “And when the girl fling her waist like this, the man never had a chance!”

I also realized as I wrote the stories (some of which included personal details from the my life and the lives of my friends, relatives and acquaintances) that what separated me from many of my peers was that I was willing to tell the stories. This has sometimes led to some awkward situations where people confuse me with my characters, and they come over to my side and whisper, “You know, the same thing happened to me.”

That’s why I believe these stories have to be told. Writers tell the stories that many people don’t want to tell and they examine issues that many don’t want to confront. But it’s not until the story has been told that we can gage our individual response against the “traditional” voices of the culture. And sometimes the culture is wrong. Sometimes the culture convicts us for just being alive. Stories are about finding a way to be comfortable in our own skins, so that even if we break the “law,” we can say, “If I am guilty, I will pay.”

But it takes time to arrange the details of a story in order to achieve the intended results. And time, as they say is money. Writers use money to buy time. To be a writer is to expose oneself to enormous monetary and social demands, which is why so many writers (not just from the Caribbean) finally give up.

Pressure drop.

We are welcomed back into the fold with open arms, back into “cultures of shame.” This is even more dread in our region. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy (part of the human condition, really) are compounded in the Caribbean by institutional racism, colonialism, and churchism—where people use the Bible to kill us instead of trying to heal us. Instead of the power of love, it’s the power of ME.

This is what led to the writing of the story and the poems collected in Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas. The poems are about the travels of Joseph and Mary-- an older man betrothed to a young girl who has been ostracized by her family and village because she is pregnant with an “illegitimate child.” I often wondered, how did Joseph feel when Mary told him she was pregnant and he knew the child wasn’t his? How did Mary feel when the weight of her culture came crashing down on her because she had broken one of its taboos? I’ve tried to humanize the saints. It’s not faith without working through the doubt; it is not redemption without changing from within.

The poems and the story in Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas reveal the grandeur of the Christmas story from the perspective of a Caribbean man, husband, father, and son. Except for marketing purposes, Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas is much broader than the labels book sellers have applied to the collection: Jamaican Christmas stories and poems, Caribbean Christmas stories, Jamaican Christmas story or even as Caribbean Christmas poems, but you gotta do what you gotta do. For as Keith Nurse pointed out in his lecture at the Miami Book Fair International, writers from the Caribbean do not have access to the vast philanthropic resources that writers from other cultures have and as he also argued, we have not developed the habits of first appreciating/ supporting our own talent. We’ll import before we buy locally.

I think we can stop this, and if there is to be a change as a great man said, let it begin with me. So, I’m going out on the limb, and “If I am guilty, I will pay.”


November 20, 2006

Caribbean Voices @ Miami Book Fair International

Caribbean writers Miami Book Fair“There’s a Caribbean conference happening under the radar,” said Adrian Castro as the 23rd Miami Book Fair International began, and the continuation of the successful Caribbean Voices series under the guidance of Mervyn Solomon kicked into high gear. This year’s program featured younger writers such as Marlon James, established veterans such as Mervyn Taylor, and displayed the breadth of talent in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that has emerged from the Caribbean during the past thirty years. For whether it was Shara McCallum’s reminiscing about her family’s choice to leave Jamaica during the seventies, Pamela Mordecai’s elegies to a slain brother, or Deborah Jack’s celebration of motherhood, the tone of the presentations reflected the newfound confidence of the writers who’ve come a long way from the image of Brathwaite’s “homeless, harborless spade,” to adventurous journeyers like Dawad Phillip.

The program began with Visting Author, Colin Channer and Marlon James who read from Iron Balloons and I read a story from my manuscript, “Who’s Your Daddy?” and Other Stories. Christopher John Farley read excerpts from The Rise of Bob Marley and gave some interesting insights into the “universality” of Bob’s music and some of the reasons for his continued popularity.

Next came a panel discussion, “Globalisation, Diaspora, and Caribbean Popular Culture.” I usually stay away from panel discussions by academicians, but this one had me riveted. During the course of his lecture, Keith Nurse pointed out that North American markets are rewarding Caribbean artists, especially musicians, so that many of the artists can afford to live and create in the region. Nurse also pointed out that Jamaica imports five times as much media (books, CDs, etc.) as it exports. This certainly contradicts the popular notion that their isn’t a market for the arts in the Caribbean. There is. The biggest challenges seem to lie in devising ways to change local opinion about homegrown talent, and breaking the distribution bottlenecks.

This led to many impromptu gatherings after the lively Q&A, and the consensus in a group of writers (of which I became an unwitting member) was that these problems could be overcome by investment/promotion by the regional media and publishing houses in the wealth of talent that now exists in the Caribbean. These investments in literary talent could bring returns, not only in fee based archival systems such as those employed by the New York Times, but also in copyright/intellectual property contracts. The second problem of distribution is more problematic because it means overturning established patterns of media distribution, but with the advent of the Internet, media entrepreneurs could actually break into the markets (as true entrepreneurs have always done) and create new forms of distribution. Of course, this will involve long-term strategic thinking and partnerships to break the strangleholds of the media giants and distribution companies that continue to neglect the interests of arts and the people whom they claim to serve.

The rest of the evening was devoted to Donna Weir-Soley, Deborah Jack, Shara McCallum, Dawad Phillip, Ramabai Espinet, Mervyn Taylor, Lawrence Scott, and Pamela Mordecai.

The Caribbean Voices program, which has seen the birth of literary careers, highlighted the work of writers in mid-career, and memorialized the work of elder writers such as Kamau Brathwaite (who was sorely missed) has grown in the scope of its ambitions and reflects the confidence of writers who are now aware of their growing critical acclaim and worth in the market. At nearly every Caribbean literary conference that I’ve attended over the past ten years, I’ve often heard it repeated that Caribbean literature is ready to project itself as a powerhouse of diversified talent. Based on what I saw on Saturday, I beginning to think that it’s true.


Here are some of the photos from the two days of the Miami Book Fair International. Podcasts of will soon be available as soon as the editing is finished. Until then, enjoy the photos.

In the photo above (Left to Right): Donna Weir-Soley,
Ramabai Espinet, Dawad Phillip, Shara McCallum, Mervyn Taylor, and Lawrence Scott.

Day One:

Day Two:

The book giveaway has come to an end. I did not specify the official end of the contest, but I did say that the winners would be announced after the Book Fair. Here are the winners of an autographed copy of Iron Balloons.


Congratulations! Send me your snail mail address (geoffreyphilp101 at and I will get the books out to you ASAP. The books have been autographed by Colin Channer and Geoffrey Philp.

South Florida writers, Miami Dade College Miami Book Fair International , Caribbean, Caribbean writers,

November 16, 2006

Podcast of "The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy"

Geoffrey PhilpDean Sluyter in Cinema Nirvana makes the following observation: "But there are really two Christs in the Gospels: the kind forgiving Good Shepherd, and the vengeful smiter of men' (166). That quote was small part behind the inspiration for "The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy" from "Who's Your Daddy?" and Other Stories. 

For if this conflict exists in the popular imagination and conflict is the fuel for fiction, then I asked my self, what if the "authentic Enlightened Christ" came back to walk among men and chose Jamaica to stretch his legs? And then to complement the plot to the theme of fatherhood in Who's Your Daddy and Other Stories, I had to ask myself, what would cause this Jamaican Jesus to manifest himself in Westmoreland, Jamaica? Whom would he meet?

In answering these questions, I chose the name Macky (the shortened form of the name of Haile Selassie's father, Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa ) for the main character. I had to find a new way for a father to be absent (Macky's father is in jail in Florida), and then follow Macky around as he and Jesus met figures from Jamaica's past, Captain McKenzie (slavery, British colonialism, Scottish lineage) and Jamaica's present, Miss Mabel (devalued womanhood, church-going alcoholic) and Garfield Holding (surrogate father, resident don/godfather, and gunman). I didn't know what the reactions to Jesus were going to be nor did I know how the characters were going to react to Jesus and each other. So, I followed Macky around and watched them as they walked through the Jamaican countryside.

It was good to be home again.


"The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy" is part of Who's Your Daddy? and Other Stories.


November 15, 2006

Podcast of Joe McNair's Reading

Joe McNairThe poems I read, "Romancing the Goathead," "Jelly," and "Self Sagas I and II," and "Over My head" are a part of a new anthology scheduled to come out in 2008.

"Romancing the Goathead" was a commentary on the drinking/eating behavior of professionals (college professors) "clubbing" in a Nigerian university town. The town surrounding the university, in this case, Ahmadu Bello University was an urban village, with all the characteristics of a rural village in a town setting. Isi Ewu ( EE--SHAY--Woo) or goathead pepper soup was the draw at that time to lure people from the university into town to eat and drink and all of the other behaviors and enticements associated with a night out on the town.

"Jelly" (based on the blues song "Jelly on My Mind") was a poem about growing older and the sexual response moving from genitalia to the eyes, from priapric anticipation to cosmic release.

"Selfsagas I and II" traces the development of the self sense from primordial materia prima to I am-ness. "Over My Head" is an autobiographical declamation of the shaping of a poetic voice and song.

Click here to listen to Joe McNair:

Here are some photos from the reading:

Joseph D. McNair is an African American educator, poet/writer, journalist and musician. He is currently an Associate Professor, Senior in the college of Education at Miami Dade College, North Campus in Miami-Florida and editor of Asili. He is a recipient of the College's endowed teaching chair. His published works include two volumes (Earthbook in1971 and An Odyssey 1976) and one chapbook of poetry (Juba Girl in 1973). He has written three books for adolescent readers published by The Child's World Journey to Freedom: The African American Library series. These are Leontyne Price (2001), Barbara Jordan (2002) and Ralph Bunche (2003). As a journalist, he is the author of sixty-five feature articles and commentary written under his own name and several pseudonyms between 1986 and 1989 for Hotline Newsmagazine, a popular and influential Northern Nigerian weekly. In 1996, he authored a college textbook entitled Multicultural Awareness/Consciousness: Toward a Process of Personal Transformation. In 1998, he revised his first text under a new title: Personal Transformations: The Process of Multicultural Awareness/Consciousness.

Fiction, books, African American writers, South Florida writers, Authors

November 13, 2006

Podcast of Preston Allen's "Full Metal Sonrisa"

Preston AllenThe story, "Full Metal Sonrisa," is from a collection entitled "Full Metal Jitney." I am also toying with the idea of calling it "Terror Gang," but I am afraid of what the word "terror" might imply these days to the American reader. My Terror Gang is not a foreign threat appearing suddenly on homeland soil, but a home-grown throwback to the wild and roaring desperados of the late 20s--in fact, the Dillinger Gang called itself the Terror Gang, and that is my model. My guys, the protagonists of the various pieces, become this neo-Terror Gang, and they are within the plot, actual blood descendents of the original desperados of the 20s and 30s. For example, the group recruits the protagonist of “Full Metal Sonrisa,” Clyde Saxony, (later to be called Killer Clyde Saxony, great-grand nephew of Clyde Barrow) when he has nowhere else to turn. It works like that. Despite the implication, the Terror Gang, however, is not a mere repository for outcasts, but a gathering of those whom the violence of North American culture (Miami, to be specific) has transformed, and Clyde Saxony represents a truly atavistic American kind of hero: the self-made man, the rugged individualist, the anti-hero, the badman--the kind of hero that inspires in us equal doses of admiration and fear.

Schoolteacher Clyde Saxony is important because he begins the "plot" of the collection (if a collection of variously themed stories can be said to have a plot) with his crime and he ends it with his death. Note also, that he is African American, though of the Barrow (white) bloodline. While there is no story in the collection that focuses on race, blacks and whites in the book seem always to be appearing "related" to each other, by actual blood or through thematic action; and well they should, since this is subtlety a book about history and the history of America is certainly written in black and white blood. So, although the un-named white protagonist in "Strong," (another story from the collection) makes it clear that he is not black, he speaks in Ebonics, walks with a swagger that originates in the black community, and has religious southern-born parents who sing black gospel hymns. I think that I'm trying to say that for good or ill, we're all in this together, or something like that.

Preston L. Allen is the author of the novels Hoochie Mama, Bounce, Come with Me, Sheba, and the short story collection Churchboys and Other Sinners. His stories have also appeared in several of the Brown Sugar series. Preston is the winner of the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Literature and a recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Fiction. He lives in Miami, Florida.

Pictures from “An Evening with Preston Allen.”
In order to protect myself, this story comes with a parental advisory because it contains realistic depictions of adult life that may be disturbing to some people.


Fiction, books, African American writers, South Florida writers, Authors

November 10, 2006

Book Giveaway, Readings, and More!

Today is a day of many celebrations!

Shara McCallum's, “In My Own Words,” brought me over the mountaintop. I’ve reached another peak in the life of this blog which began so innocently in December 2005 when my daughter (who is graduating this semester from FSU, summa cum laude) said to me, “You know, Dad, you should be blogging.”

This is the 200th post and I've had over 10, 000 hits since I started measuring on April 6, 2006. Yaaay! Where's Kermit the frog when you need him?

During the past year, the blog (while it has strayed sometimes) has remained true to the original mission: To highlight the work of writers from the Caribbean and South Florida. Of course, now that I have become a blog maven (as they say in my neighborhood), I’d like to hear what you think. Just answer these two short questions:

What would you like to see more of on this blog?
What would you like to see less of on this blog?

Now to prove that this is a REAL big-time blog, leave a comment below with your name and choose a number between 1 and 101. Choice of numbers is first come, first served. You can't choose a number that someone else has chosen and say, "I thought of it first!"

The number that you’ve chosen will be entered in a random drawing courtesy of

The drawing will take place after the Miami Book Fair International. Winners will receive a copy of Iron Balloons autographed by Colin Channer, Marlon James, or Geoffrey Philp. Or perhaps all three of us will sign a book?

I’ll then announce the winner and I’ll ask the winners to send me a snail mail address, so that I can mail it to them. If you just want to win and don’t want to send me your address, then I will donate the book to a worthy cause.


I’ve finished writing “Who’s Your Daddy?” and Other Stories and I now begin the fun part of editing and passing the manuscript around the dinner table for revision.

With the Miami Book Fair International coming up, maybe I can find a home for “Who’s Your Daddy?”, so I can move on to other some other projects I have in mind. Say a prayer for me.


We had a great reading last at MDC with Preston Allen, Joe McNair, and Joanne Hyppolite On Monday, I'll be posting the podcast of Preston Allen's reading from his new collection of short stories.

Have a great weekend!


South Florida writers, books, writing, Miami Dade College, Miami Book Fair International, Caribbean, Caribbean writers, Jamaica, Jamaican author, Authors, Literature, book promotion, books, free books, book giveaway, contest, blog

November 8, 2006

In My Own Words: Shara McCallum

Shara McCallumShara McCallum is the author of two books of poems from the University of Pittsburgh Press, Song of Thieves (2003) and The Water Between Us (1999, winner of the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize). The manuscript of her third book, "The Shore," was recently completed. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and over twenty anthologies. Originally from Jamaica, McCallum directs the Stadler Center for Poetry and teaches at Bucknell University. She is also on the faculty of the Stonecoast Low Residency MFA program. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two young daughters.

The Poem: Between Worlds.

I'm the mother of two young children (a 3-yr. old and 14-month old, as I write this); being in their presence daily has intensified my interest in language. If I had to define my greatest pleasure in parenting, watching my daughters acquire language would be just shy of seeing them growing into their own bodies and personalities. Witnessing my children learning to talk has also served me well as a writer, reminding me of why I engage in this business with words at all. My daughters' frustration at not being able to express their wants and emotions opens up the wound that is language: the slippage between desire and speech. Over the past dozen years of taking poetry seriously, I have written into and out of that space.

Inevitably, it seems what writers love best in the poems we read is what we hope to do ourselves when we write. More than any other form of verbal expression, a poem must make me experience the pressure the writer feels of not being able to fully say whatever he or she believes must be said. For me, poems are always elegies, the poem itself being testament to what is lost—whether an idea, a moment, or a lifetime.

If language is a wound, ironically it is also the best solace for the wound. With my children, I think of their radiance or self-satisfaction when they have effectively communicated something—and thus felt understood. I find inexplicable those poems that seem to throw up their hands altogether at the difficulty of saying what it is you mean. A poem that sounds only the plaintive note of loss, loss, loss—whether in its form or content—is neither redemptive (something I value in art) nor ultimately interesting in the long run.

In my poems, I hope to achieve some tension between the ineffable and expressible, between loss and recovery, as represented and experienced through words. In the three books of poetry I've written so far, I've drawn from the raw material of my life. My first book dealt with my relationship to my parents, particularly my mother, and to leaving Jamaica as a child. My second book continued the theme of immigration while also chronicling my father's mental illness and subsequent death. In my most recent book, personal experiences with mothering and marriage are set against historical narratives and myths. Still, writing autobiography is not what I am after as a poet. The details of my life are important to my poems but must be transformed to serve the poems' ends: they must enact the struggle for self-knowledge that is at the core of poetry.

In this quest, more than in the presence of a discernible landscape or cultural markers in our works, we writers from the Caribbean share fertile ground. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Caribbean writers have a heightened sense of the existential condition of exile from a real or imagined "Eden.” Our language (creole/nation language/patwa/patois) is archival, recording a history of loss and resistance to loss. In retelling stories (personal, communal, and national), we are often searching for the thread between events of the past and ideas of who we are in the present and who we might become in future.

When I write, I often find myself grappling with issues of language and identity, as well as the interconnection between the two; but when I think about what I hope most for my poems, it is that they will approach these concerns (and any others) in a manner that is translucent. If I succeed in a poem, then words are a pane of glass between my present world and the one I sense is there, even if I can't reach or hold onto it.


Caribbean Crossroads - November 11, 2006 (Saturday) 6pm-7pm
Peppah! Topic: Caribbean Voices - Miami Book Fair International 2006
Guests: Mervyn Solomon, Geoffrey Philp , Deborah Jack, Christine Ho (online)
2828 W. Flagler St. across from Dade County Auditorium
Toll Free 877-825-1080
Live online at

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November 6, 2006

Writing and Mastery

Francis Wade has two blogs, Moving Back to Jamaica and Chronicles for a Caribbean Cubicle that I read regularly. I also subscribe to his newsletter, First Cuts. Besides giving great advice about management practices, he also posts the names of the books he's been reading. One of the books that Francis recommended (give thanks) and that I've just finished reading is Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard, an aikido master. Although many of Leonard's ideas can be applied to any area of life, I've been thinking about their application to writing.

1. Instruction: Learn all that you can about your subject. Seek the best guidance available Seek a mentor, but choose carefully.

2. Practice: Practice, Practice, Practice. "Take pleasure in the endless repetition of ordinary acts (149).

3. Surrender: Let go of old outdated patterns/habits in your life and art and welcome newer productive patterns/habits. "Lose yourself without losing your balance" (149).

4. Intentionality: Create a positive attitude, mental toughness, openness imagination: the ability to see oppositions and visualize desired states.

5. The Edge: Play, enjoy your journey on your path with sense of adventure: "On some occasions live entirely in the moment, revealing everything and expecting nothing in return" (150).

I was elated when I found Leonard's work because he articulated the methods that I've used in my life and in my creative writing workshops. For example, at the Calabash Literary Workshops, I taught traditional forms (sonnets, villanelles, and ballads) in the poetry sessions, so that my students would have a grounding in the poetry of the past. Poets before them. Poets after them. They were here to contribute a verse to the song of Caribbean.

My students wrote and collaborated every day (practiced) and some learned to give up (Surrender) some of the habits that had earned them the title of "poet" among their peers-- the easy rhymes and the vocal tricks that never translated to the page, but sounded great in performance. I also tried to show them how intentionality is demonstrated by the theme. Sometimes, the theme is not readily evident and it takes time to discover, as I am learning with my latest novel, Song for the Shulamite But once you've discerned the theme through revision, it shapes the content. And vice versa.

More than anything else, I tried to get them to play. Most of the time LITERATURE is taught by people who approach it as if they were dealing with sacred text. I approach all literature as the work of a fellow writer who was/is as hungry/jealous as I am, and was/is willing to misread creatively his/her "elders" and to play with the texts that s/he has read/envied/wished s/he could have written.

In fact, I sometimes get a little peeved (not much, they are buying and teaching the book) when I'm invited to a college as a guest author and discover that my novel, Benjamin, my son, is being taught as if it's SERIOUS LITERATURE. I mean, yeah, it's serious, but it's not deadly. I had fun writing that novel, which like most of my work is literary fiction masquerading as popular fiction. And some parts are downright hilarious. It's just that some people don't share my sense of humor. How else could I have written "Uncle Obadiah and the Alien" about an alien who looks like Margaret Thatcher and crash lands in a Rastaman's ganja field? For years, I couldn't get that story published until The Caribbean Writer took a chance and published it. It's the same reason why I blog. I love to play.


Wednesday (11/8/06)In My Own Words: Shara McCallum, author of Song of Thieves.


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November 5, 2006

The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award™ is the first national award presented to published writers of African descent by the national community of Black writers. This award, underwritten by Borders Books & Music, consists of prizes for the highest quality writing in the categories of Fiction, Debut Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry.


Debut Fiction: Debut Novel, Novella, or Short Story Collection
Fiction: Novel, Novella, or Short Story Collection
Nonfiction: Autobiography, Memoir, Biography, History, Social Issues,
Literary Criticism
Poetry: Books In Verse, Prose Poetry, Formal Verse, Experimental Verse

  • Writers must be of African descent; Black writers from any area of the diaspora.
  • Full-length books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, collections of short stories, and
    collections of essays by one author are eligible.
  • Paperback originals are eligible.
  • Works must have been published in the United States or must be U.S.
    editions of foreign books published for the first time in the United States.
  • Self-published authors are eligible.
  • An English translation of a book originally written in another language is eligible.
  • All books submitted for consideration must have a publication date between
    January and December of the calendar year in which the application is being submitted. Bound galleys may be submitted.
  • Anthologies containing works written by multiple authors are not eligible.
  • Poetry books fewer than 50 pages are not eligible.
  • A reprint of a book published in a previous year is not eligible.
  • Board members and staff of the Hurston/Wright Foundation are not eligible for
    consideration of this award.
  • No entry will be ineligible because its author has previously won the
    Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, or any other award.

Submission Requirements
Books must be submitted by the publishing companies only.
For full consideration, however, permission of the author must be granted.
The author of a Legacy nominated book or a representative is expected to attend the ceremony.

Each publishing company will be required to designate one person to coordinate all Hurston/Wright Legacy Award related matters with the Foundation.

The Hurston/Wright Foundation reserves the right to request that publishers submit specific titles to be considered for nomination.

All submissions must be received by November 15, 2006.

How to Apply
Get your application online at or request an application and brochure be mailed to you.
Mail your application to:

The Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award
6525 Belcrest
Road, Suite 531


Books not accompanied by the proper documentation will not be considered.

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