December 13, 2007

Holiday Break

Happy New Year

Another year has come to an end, so I'm signing off until January 14, 2008. It's been a wonderful year and I want to thank all the readers who have blessed these pages with their interest, the authors who have shared their journeys with me, the bloggers who have linked to this site, and those who have supported my online book store.

Take care of yourselves, have a great holiday, and an even brighter New Year!


Look out for "In My Own Words: Nicolette Bethel" on Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

December 12, 2007

Beauty Will Find A Way

Mexican petuniasWhile I was busy with holiday shopping, bureaucratic activities and teaching, little did I know that my Mexican petunia had been secretly planning to embarrass me. She had jumped from the garden, planted her feet on a crossbar in the fence, and then, squeezed herself between the crevices to show her petals shamelessly to passersby and for any errant bee to pollinate.

So, on Saturday when I caught a glimpse of her poking her head through the fence, my first thought was to chop off her stems and petals, pull her out by the root, and feed her to my next door neighbor's pet rabbit. After I had placed her in good soil with lots of sunlight and water, this was how she repaid me? Ungrateful wench!

But then, I went behind the fence and saw her persistence to escape the shadow of her more stately sisters, roses and azaleas, I realized that I needed to cherish and to capture, however momentarily, her beauty.


Give thanks to Dave Lucas for inviting me to write a guest post over at his site and to Jamaican Dawta for publishing one of my poems that was awarded a medal by the JCDC, "Warner Woman (For Edward Baugh).


Also check out "Honey Dripper" by Duane Francis (Rootzpoet) and while you're at it read Doris Lessing's, "A Hunger for Books." Thanks, Maud!

December 10, 2007

Jamaican Athletics: A Model for the World

Under the distinguished patronage of the Consul General of Jamaica, Hon. C.P. Ricardo Allicock, the Consulate General of Jamaica will host a book signing for Judge Patrick Robinson of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, on January 4, 2008, from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm at the Lexington Hotel, Downtown Orlando, 304 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando, Florida.

Judge Robinson’s book, Jamaican Athletics - A Model for the World, analyzes the phenomenon of Jamaica’s achievements in global athletics and suggests models for further successes. Five dollars from the sale of each book will be donated to the Arthur Wint Basic School in Lucea, Jamaica.

“This small treasure of a book by distinguished jurist Patrick Robinson is a feast for any fan who’d like to know more or be refreshed about Jamaican track and field: its history, the structure---including the national federation, the secondary schools sports association, the junior levels, and CHAMPS (national HS championships)”--Coach Stephen Francis, junior and senior national records, international competition.

For information please contact Sandy Isaacs @ 407-272-7522 or e-mail Lewis Buchanan @


December 9, 2007

Christmas Night II

The cool December breeze

wanders through the town,

aimless as shooting stars

over a pasture where a heifer

breaks the glass of a pond

and splashes toward a clear

opening, for even the goats

have come down off the stony

hillside to rest by the roots

of the allamanda--it's time;

time to wash away

the smoke of the year's turmoil,

to put aside profits, gains, losses--

the familiar ache that brings

tears in the bathroom mirror--it’s time;

time to listen to the wind's

chorus of the children's carols,

time to untie the knots in the old

men's arms, loosen the cords

around the old women's hips, crown

with poinsettias the young girls' hair,

garland the young men's shoulders--its time;

time to smooth the lines,

dampen the fires in the wrists, knees, elbows,

and pour the balm of aloe over the new

skin that we are becoming

with every flicker of candles

reflected in the circle of faces

of those here, gone, and to come,

whose only promise is joy.


From Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas.

December 7, 2007

An Interview With Mervyn Morris

Mervyn Morris was born in Jamaica in 1937 and studied at the University College of the West Indies and St Edmund Hall, Oxford. In 1992 he was a UK Arts Council Visiting Writer-in-Residence at the South Bank Centre. His previous collections include The Pond, Shadowboxing, Examination Centre and On Holy Week; he also edited The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories and published 'Is English We Speaking' and other essays. He lives in Kingston, Jamaica, where he is Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing & West Indian Literature.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
In my teens, I think. At first I wrote short stories. I also wrote light verse.

Was there a moment of doubt? Did you ever say, “What am I getting myself into?”
Not really. I kept my day job.

Did you have any mentors? If so, who were they?
In a general sense, my English teachers.

Poetic influences?
A major influence, I suspect, was the fact that in sixth form at Munro College our English master chose The Age of Johnson for our Special Paper (at a time when many other schools were choosing The Romantics or Early Twentieth Century). So at a formative age I was studying poetry which seemed to say, whatever its rhythmic and tonal subtleties, that it wished, at some of its frequencies, to be immediately understood. At school early in the 1950s I was also reading in English journals some of the Movement poets who valued a cunning plainness, in reaction against grand rhetorical gestures they often deemed bogus.

Like other poets colonially educated, I’ve been influenced by English Literature in general, and by bits and pieces of it, especially Shakespeare. At the University of the West Indies, I was introduced to some of the Metaphysical poets (John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell), and learned to appreciate ambiguity (a recurrent feature in Shakespeare also, of course). I have been teaching West Indian Literature since the 1970s and have been influenced by it, especially from studying the major poets. But I tend to be influenced not so much by the entire oeuvre of anyone as by particular poems or passages I have admired—poems by Hardy, Yeats, Eliot, Graves, R.S. Thomas, Larkin, Frost, Roethke, Stevie Smith, Langston Hughes, Louise Bennett, Walcott, Brathwaite, Martin Carter, Lorna Goodison and many others.

In your early career, how did Dennis Scott, Tony McNeill, and Wayne Brown figure in your development?

I was Warden of Taylor Hall (UWI, Mona) from 1966 until 1970 (when I joined the Department of English). Dennis, Tony and/or Wayne often dropped in at the Warden’s house. Tony was working for the Jamaica Information Service, I think. Dennis and Wayne were students on campus. We would often show each other poems we were working on or thought we had finished. The friendship was mutually supportive, I believe. I think I was strengthened by access to the responses of Dennis, Tony and Wayne. Approval from Tony was greatly valued, but he did not often say much about what he didn’t like. Dennis was very good at pointing to a line or a phrase and asking, “Can you get away with that?” Wayne was often brutally challenging, and for that reason very useful (even when I believed him to be mistaken). He would question the very basis of what you were trying to do. At that time, he was demanding visceral commitment.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome with the publication of The Pond?

None that are unusual. I had some rejections before I found a publisher. (Looking back, I am glad that some of the earlier collections I was peddling were rejected.)

How has your work changed from The Pond to I been there, sort of?
I think it is tighter. It is certainly less expansive.

What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
Each time, the challenge to get the next collection published.


Related posts:

December 5, 2007

A Conversation with Peter Schmitt

Peter SchmittPeter Schmitt is the author of four collections of poems: Renewing the Vows, from David Robert Books (August 2007); Hazard Duty and Country Airport (Copper Beech Press); and a chapbook, To Disappear, from Pudding House. He has received The Lavan Award from The Academy of American Poets; The “Discovery”/The Nation Prize; and grants from the Florida Arts Council (twice) and The Ingram Merrill Foundation. His poems have been featured on National Public Radio’s Writers Almanac (read by Garrison Keillor), and his poem, “Packing Plant,” won The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival open competition in Farmington, Connecticut, in 2001, chosen out of 632 entries. His poems have appeared in many leading publications, including The Hudson Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review, and have been widely anthologized. He has also reviewed poetry for The Miami Herald and The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. A native Miamian and graduate with honors from Amherst College, where he studied with Richard Wilbur, and from the University of Iowa, where his teachers included Donald Justice, Peter Schmitt has taught creative writing and literature at the University of Miami since 1986.

Where were you born? Describe current family life.

I was born in Miami, and to my surprise, am still living here. My local family consists of my mother, who lives in Bay Harbor. I’m single, and share my residence with Chelsey, a highly intelligent and mischievous 17-year-old cat.

What do you do for a living? Why did you choose this vocation?

I have taught creative writing (poetry and fiction) and literature at The University of Miami since 1986. As a student at Amherst College, I was considerably influenced by certain teachers (like Richard Wilbur, Barry and Lorrie Goldensohn, and David Sofield), whose balanced careers of teaching and writing seemed a highly attractive model to emulate. By about 20, to write and to teach at the college level was what I wanted to do with my life, and I’ve been fortunate to have achieved that goal.

Who are your favorite writers? Why?

It’s very difficult to narrow the list to only three, but I would cite these poets: Elizabeth Bishop, from whom I learned that “quiet” and “understated” need not mean “minor;” Robert Frost, who brought home to me the centrality of metaphor, who for all his association with the natural world, with only one or two exceptions never wrote a poem without a person in it; and Donald Justice, also born in Miami, and one of my own teachers [at the Iowa Writers Workshop], whose dedication to art and to the craft of poetry provided an example that I will always hold before me, if never match. As with Bishop and Frost, Justice epitomizes clarity and reveals an emotional power made keener by restraint.

What was the first book you fell in love with and how have your reading habits changed over the years?

My mother claims I began to read at two, but as I don’t remember, I also can’t recall what must have been the first book I loved, though surely there was a first and have been many. I will say that I’m quite a slow reader—having read so much poetry over the years that I’ve become an ear-reader rather than an eye-reader. I wish I had more time for reading—reading of all things, especially novels. Significant gaps loom in my reading I’m embarrassed to admit to.

What are you reading now?

Just at the moment, I am as usual in the middle (slowly) of several books: poetry collections by Jim Daniels, Elise Partridge, Alison Townsend , and Natasha Trethewey; story collections by Max Apple (which I hope to review) and William Trevor; a novel by Brock Clarke, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in NewEngland (good title); a history of Florida hurricanes, by Jay Barnes; and several magazines and literary journals (Atlantic, New Yorker, Paste, Hudson Review). Over the coming break I hope to make some headway in Robert B. Shaw’s Blank Verse, a form I teach in my poetry writing classes.

On Friday (12/7/2007) I will be featuring an interview with Mervyn Morris.

December 3, 2007

My Jamaica: Part Two

JamaicaMona had changed. It was not the manicured lawns of my childhood nor was it the world that I'd described in some of my stories that I'd published in Uncle Obadiah and the Alien in which my friends, Paul, David, Pat, Bruce, and Norman appeared in my thinly disguised fictions about growing up in Jamaica.

In fact, I didn't see any children playing cricket or football as we had done at Top Park, Bottom Park, and the community center, or in front of our homes. It was a symptom of the exodus that began in the late seventies when I and many of my friends left for London, New York, Ontario, Atlanta, and Miami. This saddened me a bit because it was in Mona Heights that I developed my sense of community and learned how to foster many of the relationships that have played an important part in my life.

I walked through the streets like a ghost, unknown and not knowing anyone, until I reached the gates of my aunt who had lived in London, Ontario, and New York. I didn't expect her to be home because the process of moving her possessions from all the previous places where she had lived had been slow, and at her advanced age, she is often in transit between continents and the island.

I knocked on the gate and one of my cousins, Paul, peered up from behind his car. This was a sure sign that she was home because Paul has been charged by my uncle (her brother) with taking care of my aunt whenever she is in Jamaica. He opened the gates and went around the back to tell my aunt that she had a surprise: I was home.

Paul and I chatted for a while and he told me that his brother, Hew, had moved to Canada and that everyone in the family had seen the review of Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories in the Jamaica Observer. We continued talking until my aunt came outside to the verandah and greeted me. She was as feisty as ever and chided me (only as she could) about not calling beforehand. I accepted the mild reprimand as we sat and she asked about my family and work. We talked about my mother and she told me that she was proud of me. I accepted the blessing.

Then, she asked me where I was staying and she offered to give me a ride to the hotel. I told her that I wanted to visit my old school and she understood. I said goodbye and as I walked through the gates, I looked back at the woman who I admired for being one of the most independent of my grandfather's children. She had never got married, never had any children, never took any crap from any man, and never compromised on anything. And now she was being helped into a car by my cousin.

I crossed Daisy Avenue and then, over to Hope Road to Jamaica College where I was confronted by a security guard. (So many sentries have been appearing in my life!) I told him that I was a former student and he allowed me into the school to take a few pictures, yet he watched my every move.

As I walked by St. Dunstan's, past the names of the JC Old Boys who had died in World War I, I saw behind an open window, the eager faces of young men behind desks in what was once One Chambers. I used to be one of them. I snapped a few pictures of the school and felt vaguely nostalgic about the place that been the setting for my semi-autobiographical novel, Benjamin, my son. Of course, I had to take pictures of "Holy Ground," and the Assembly Hall, and then, went back to Mona on a hunch, a feeling that Paul Smith, one of my childhood friends was back in Jamaica.

I was right. The hunch paid off. Paul wasn't home, but his helper gave me his address and synchronicity! His business, Reggae Vacations, was right beside my hotel in the heart of New Kingston. I practically ran back to Hope Road, jumped in a mini-bus that now played music videos instead of CDs, and headed off for Half-Way-Tree.

From Half-Way-Tree, I walked over to Reggae Vacations and went up to Paul's office. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked gain. Still no answer. I went down stairs and talked with a receptionist who insisted that Paul had not left the building.

I want upstairs and knocked again. Nothing. Then, I heard a voice that I was certain was Paul's coming from an adjacent office. I knocked on the door. Silence. A voice said, "Come in." It wasn't Paul's. I backed away from the door. A moment of hesitation. The door opened and my Idren, Paul, was startled. He laughed. He immediately introduced me to his friend, and we were off to eat at one of his favorite East Indian restaurants in Liguanea.

It was if we'd never had a break in seeing each other. We picked up the conversation since he told me about three years ago that he was leaving for Dominica. During that time, we'd exchanged a few e-mails, but nothing big. We bragged about our kids and families. Paul said that he was surprised to see me because I hadn’t mentioned the trip on my blog. I knew he had subscribed, but I thought he was still in Dominica working with their tourist board. After a few laughs and Red Stripes, he told me about his work with the cruise industry and about another of our friends, Norman Pennycooke.

Paul, Norman, and I go way, way back. Our friendships started at Mona Primary. Norman's mother was our teacher in sixth grade and we were the three kings in our annual Christmas play. I was Gaspar ("Gold"); Norman was Melchior ("Frankincense"), and Paul was Balthazar ("Myrrh"). When we graduated from Mona Primary, we went to Jamaica College where our friendships deepened and was tempered by competition and cooperation.

Norman, as it turns out, was doing well in Dominica and that was expected. We'd attended the best high school in Jamaica (take that Kingston College and St. Georges!). In between clients for his reggae themed vacations, I teased Paul that he'd never capitalized on his music lessons, but he told me in some ways that had paid off. A few years ago, he was the leader of a reggae band, MLC (Mid Life Crisis) and they'd played a few gigs around the island.

We started calling friends around the island and I learned that Bruce was now a successful dentist in May Pen. I asked about Errol McDonald (Macky D) who given me the name, "Herbert Spliffington." He said Errol was in Ghana touring with a reggae band. For the most part, most of our friends were doing well, but then the dread catalog began: those who had been killed or became killers; those who had died from natural causes or had become invisible in America; those who were on the FBI's "Most Wanted List," and those who had suffered from an extreme case of "lead poisoning" to use one of Jimmy Carnegie's favorite euphemisms.

By the time we had caught up with everybody and everything, it was dark and we decided to go to the Top Park in Mona Heights. There we saw old friends like Larry Smith, Boothes, and Peter Moses. Peter teased me about gaining the extra weight since my Manning Cup Football days, and then, he went off to play with the "old timers." Men my age or a few years older.

As we were about to leave, Paul's sister, Gail, came by and we sat down and ate barbequed chicken (Okay, Peter, I hear you!) and talked some more until nine o'clock We reminisced about the annual Christmas fair at the community center where many of us smoked our first cigarette or kissed or first girlfriend. Or got caught doing both. Sometimes on the same day and by different parents.

We finished the chicken and our beers at about ten thirty and followed Gail back to her house. Paul drove me back to the hotel and promised me he would pick me up the next day and take me to the airport.
I slept well that night and got up the next day, ready to go back to Miami and to read at the Miami Book Fair International.

As I waited for Paul on a bench near the reception area of the hotel, I looked up at the hills how much I had missed waking up every morning as Paul, Norman, Bruce and I walked to Jamaica College. I was glad that I hadn't given into my fears and that I'd seen Kingston on foot and by taxi, bus, and mini-bus. I remembered Minto's comment about me becoming Americanized and yet in some ways how I had remained stubbornly Jamaican.

I opened Kendel Hippolyte's Night Vision with the haunting phrase, "our first generation of unmeaning," and I became conscious of how much I had changed and my connection with the generations that had grown up since I had left in 1979 was tenuous at best. My impending mortality in the face of my aunt (I turn fifty next year), and that my football friends were now called "old timers" stayed with me.

Listening to the hotel workers going back and forth as they did their duties, I realized that Jamaicans laugh at the sheer pleasure of being alive. No matter how hard the times, how dread the circumstances, we laugh. A lot.

I glanced across the front of the hotel. The two guards that I'd talked with the day before were outside smoking cigarettes and I told them about my adventures. One said that I was brave and one hinted that I had been very foolish to go out on my own like that. But that's Jamaica for you. Put two Jamaicans in a room and you'll have three different opinions. And all of them are right!

I sat back on the bench and looked at the hills once again. I closed my eyes and gave thanks for the good time, however brief, that I'd had on my return.

When I opened my eyes, my Idren, Paul, had pulled into the driveway to take me to the airport and back to Miami.
For photos of the trip, please follow this link: My Jamaica.
On Wednesday (12/5/2007), I will be posting"A Conversation With Peter Schmitt," and on Friday (12/7/2007), I will be featuring an interview with Mervyn Morris.

November 30, 2007

Writing about the Immigrant Experience in America

The Big ReadAmerica competes for the imagination of its citizens and recent immigrants with two compelling stories: "The American Love Story" told mainly by told mainly by Americans of European descent and "honorary whites," and "The Road to Freedom" told by African Americans. Typically, "The American Love Story" follows the pattern of persecution at home, voluntary migration, journey across the sea, initial prejudice in America and eventual triumph. "The Road to Freedom" begins with slavery in Africa, involuntary migration, the Atlantic Holocaust, slavery in America, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow/Segregation and the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These two stories have become the de facto narratives for entry into American life and culture.
And yet as tempting as these models appear to be, they are not quite true. Almost daily our Haitian brothers and sisters, whose story closely resembles that of Americans of European descent, are routinely denied entry into the United States because of the twin shibboleths of American culture: race and xenophobia.
It is within this context that I have been telling the story of the Jamaican diaspora, a story that does not fit into the neat categories of "The American Love Story," nor does it fit "The Road to Freedom"--two stories that literally see the world in black and white. But Jamaica and the Caribbean have always defied neat categorizations. Perhaps, this is why the poet, Mervyn Morris, in the poem, "Valley Prince" declared, "But straight is not the way; my world/ don' go so; that is lie."
It is this straightness, this narrowness of perception that Caribbean writers such as Derek Walcott in "A Far Cry from Africa," Dennis Scott in "Epitaph," and Edgar Mittleholzer in A Morning in the Office have always bristled against, and through their poems and novels, they have presented an alternative vision that does not see human experience solely through the lens of race and ethnicity and displays a readiness to embrace the Other in whatever form it manifested itself. The Caribbean archipelago is a complex region and as such it demands an equally complex aesthetic informed by a sense of history. As an inheritor of that tradition, I have tried to be true to the elders while maintaining the truth of my own voice.
In telling my story, it would be impossible for me to embrace either "The American Love Story" or "The Road to Freedom," and this has nothing to do with the infamous Jamaican arrogance, which I suspect is a reaction to our intense nationalism. I am descended on my father's side from Scottish slave/ land holders and on my mother's side by Scottish missionaries who came to Jamaica to oppose the landed plantocracy. My African blood completes the circle. My story is similar to many of my Jamaican brothers and sisters. We carry memories of those who wielded the whip and those who were whipped; those who stood on the bow and those groveled in belly of the slave ships. But we also carry memories of resistance, the stories of the Maroons and other cultural heroes who fought against slavery, the time when Jamaica ruled the world in the parliament of William Pitt, Apprenticeship/Emancipation, the Asian influx, two World Wars, Windrush, trade unions and growing nationalism, Federation/ Independence, post-Independence trauma, the Cold War and Black Power, the emergence of Reggae/ Rastafari, the untold civil war, and exodus in the late seventies, which is where my story as a Jamaican-American writer and a member of the "Reggae Generation" begins.
That hyphen, that bridge, that momentary pause in time, as brief as one generation (for my children have already entered a different version of all three stories) is my story--my life in South Florida, the unofficial capital of the Caribbean.
In some ways, I have tried to preserve the story of how we, Jamaican-Americans, came to America in the novel, Benjamin, my son and two poetry collections, Exodus and Other Poems and Florida Bound. In hurricane center, I depicted the lives of those in the Caribbean and South Florida who live in the eye of hurricanes that are both physical and metaphorical.xango music was different. Thematically, it relied heavily on the work of Kamau Brathwaite and his insistence that our collective denial of the Middle Passage and our African heritage cripples our understanding of ourselves and only an embrace of this part of our African-ness will lead to psychic healing and wholeness. xango music also recognizes African wisdom and honors the cultural heroes who fought against colonialism/slavery of our hearts, bodies, and minds. And finally, my most recent children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, of which I'm especially proud, recognizes the value of one the most influential yet denigrated cultural heroes in the Caribbean pantheon: Anancy. Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is my contribution, my hope that we can get the word out to young people, especially the young males before they hit those troublesome years between eighteen and twenty-five and who are ruled by Xango, that there are other ways of confronting the dragon, that there are other ways of being in the world. That the answer to a challenge doesn't always have to be Xango and war, but Eshu and intelligence.
Of course, I also tackle other themes in Uncle Obadiah and the Alien and in Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas. But my main goal has always been to demonstrate that the story of the "Reggae Generation" is just as important as "The American Love Story" and "The Road to Freedom." We have to be the main characters in our own story. Our story is also important because if America will listen, we can teach something about the complexity of the Black experience; the value of intelligence over brute force,; the courage needed to live in a space threatened by yearly hurricanes; the fortitude to resist systems that dehumanize; the necessity of forgiveness, and finally, that despite all the troubles that this world can bring, we must as the poet laureate of our generation, Bob Marley has exhorted, celebrate life:
Forget your troubles and dance.
Forget your sorrows and dance.
Forget your sickness and dance.
Forget your weakness and dance
You're gonna dance to Jah music, dance.
We're gonna dance to Jah music, dance.

November 28, 2007

National Endowment for the Arts: The Big Read

The Big ReadI will be participating in THE BIG READ, a community-wide reading grant project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and focusing on Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, which will include book and film discussions, cultural programs, panel presentations and Mah Jong games.

November 29 - 7pm
Between Two Worlds: Writing about the Immigrant Experience in America
Broward County Main Library
Panel discussion moderated by Sun-Sentinel Book Editor Chauncey Mabe.
Panelists include: Authors Diana Abu-Jaber, Tara Kai and Ana Menendez and poets Richard Blanco and
Geoffrey Philp.

is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The Big Read is presented locally by the following partners: Florida Center for the Book, Broward County Library and Broward Public Library Foundation, Community Foundation of Broward, Organization of Chinese Americans, Coral Springs Chinese Cultural Association, Florida Center for the Literary Arts and Miami Book Fair International.

My Jamaica (Part One)

Knutsford Court HotelDespite the beauty and tranquility of the Knutsford Court Hotel, I was feeling trapped. I kept looking up at the hills, but the old "skin bag" fear returned. And reading Dennis O’Driscoll's poem over at John Baker's blog didn't help. I wanted to venture out into New Kingston, but the fear that I would become a meaningless statistic of Jamaican violence kept haunting me.

I had to admit that I was scared. Yet I kept reminding myself that this was the plan that I'd devised when I learned that I'd won four medals from the JCDC. I'd told myself that this trip to Jamaica would be much different than the five other trips that I'd taken when I taught poetry for the Calabash Literary Festival.

On those trips, I was pampered. Calabash paid my airfare and as soon as I landed at the airport I was paged, "Mr. Geoffrey Philp, please come to the office of the Jamaica Tourist Board." Next, I would be whisked through the airport and taken by a driver to the place where I would stay. In the mornings, the driver picked me up and took me to meet my eager students. After teaching all day, I was taken home to shower, change and escorted to the theatre or similar cultural event. This usually lasted for a week, and I stuck to the schedule. But over the years, I began to ask myself if I really knew Jamaica since leaving in 1979. I wanted to test my impressions on this trip. This time I wanted to do it on my own. So, other than one friend whom I called and then learned he was leaving for England, I didn't call anyone else.

The plan had worked, but then I began to get angry with myself. I was allowing the actions of a statistically insignificant fraction of Jamaica's population to govern my behavior--to blind me to the beauty of Jamaica and to transform every poor Jamaican into a potential gunman. It wasn't fair. Still, I had to acknowledge and the newspapers confirmed these facts: the elections had just finished, a hurricane had juts passed through, and Jamaica was increasingly becoming the land of "Passa Passa" funerals.

Yet the hills, which had been an integral part of my childhood landscape in Mona Heights, kept on calling.

I walked out to the gates of the hotel and talked with two stern looking security guards. We talked about the rains and how green the island looked. I asked them about taxi rates, and then, I made the decision.

I walked out the gates of the hotel down to Half-Way Tree Road where I caught a taxi that was dropping off another customer. Using the information that I gathered from the security guards, I negotiated a price and jumped in the front set of the taxi.

As we made our way past King's House, I introduced myself to the driver and he told me his name was Minto. We talked about the weather, the recent elections, and life in Jamaica.

By the time we got to Matilda's Corner, Minto said to me, "So, you've become an American?" I'd never been asked the question so directly and there was no equivocation. I had to say yes.

We talked a bit more about the rain and the roads that were filled with potholes. I would have taken pictures but I still haven't learned how to use the panorama setting on my camera.

After dodging an oncoming car and landing in one of the craters, Minto complained, "We're too talented to be this poor!" I agreed with him and gave him a few examples of several Jamaicans in South Florida who had distinguished themselves in many fields, and many examples of students such as Lance McGibbon at Miami Dade College (where I work), who has provided outstanding leadership in the Student Government Association by involving our students in working with Habitat for Humanity and other civic organizations.

"There's something about us," said Minto, "that makes us stand out." I agreed with him again. As I got out of the taxi at the gates of the University of the West Indies, we shared a joke and I laughed as I waved goodbye and then headed towards the English Department.

None of my friends were there. They'd either finished teaching their classes or had finished their office hours and had gone home. So much for surprises. I wandered around the campus and visited some of my old haunts. Then, I went to the bookstore where I bought a few books that some of my friends in Miami had "borrowed" and were now missing from my small library. At least the morning wasn't a total waste.

I made one last circle around the campus, walked out the gates, and caught a bus that dropped me off at the bottom park of Mona Heights.

I was ready for my next adventure.


For photos of the trip, please follow this link: My Jamaica.

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November 26, 2007

Preston Allen's Blog

Preston AllenPreston Allen has started a blog, Preston L. Allen's Ing and Bling Book Review: A blog for lovers of the printed word (novels, short stories, poems--the Ing so to speak), popular film, politics, and casinos (the Bling).

In his initial offering, Preston is running a poll, "Do you support Las Vegas style casino gambling in Florida?", and Cash 3 and Play 4 numbers that he's dreamt about.

For the literary, he has a video of Norman Mailer and a list of recent great reads: Johnny Too Bad Stories by John Dufresne; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; The Last Flight of Jose Luis Balboa by Gonzalo Barr, and Let It Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz.

If his eclectic mix of religion, literature, and gambling still doesn't tweak your interest, you can read "Interesting Gambling News" or check out Preston's latest novel, All or Nothing, about a hapless gambler, P., who lives in South Florida.

I've already subscribed via Google Reader because I know his posts will always be interesting.

2008 is already looking up!


Preston will be reading at St. Thomas University (16401 NW 37th Avenue, Miami, Florida) on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 6:00 p.m. For more information, please e-mail Professor Conley ( or Ms. Jensen (

November 19, 2007

Mileposts & Caribbean Writers

I’m feelin’ Irie.

And for good reason. In December this blog will be two years old and since I started measuring visitor stats on April 6, 2006, this blog has had over 50,000 visitors. I never thought I’d get this far from those early days when only Rethabile, Stephen, Madbull, Professor Zero, and Anonymous were my only readers.

With the passing of the 50,000 visitor mark, I’ve also been reflecting on how well I’ve lived up to the mission of the blog: to provide readers with information about my writing and the work of contemporary Caribbean and South Florida writers.

Before I go any further (and especially since we are heading into the Thanksgiving season), give thanks to the readers and subscribers who have blessed these pages with their interest. I must also thank those readers who have bought copies of my books either directly from Lulu or from my online bookstore.

Give thanks also to the writers who have shared their stories and who continue to expand our understanding of life in South Florida and the Caribbean.

And, finally, give thanks to the many bloggers who have linked to this site and for increasing the visibility of this blog.

But to the matter at hand and the mission of the blog.

I started re-reading a post, “It’s All About Love” where I created a list of the Caribbean writers that I intended to showcase. Some were famous and some were still relatively unknown. Although I’ve covered many of the writers, I am reminded of the motto of my alma mater: “Fervet opus in campis.

Then, I began thinking about a post by Nicholas Laughlin over at Caribbean Beat, “The West Indian canon?” which was considering “a Caribbean equivalent of the French Bibliotheque de la Pleiade or the Library of America--a uniform series of definitive editions of our major literary works, edited by experts and produced to the highest physical standards.”

It could be done, Nicholas. It could be done. We need to preserve our literature. For what else is literature but memory and promise: who we thought we have been and what we imagine ourselves to be.

Here’s a starting point for a list of writers from Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Dominica, Haiti, Cuba, Martinique, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the most of the Caribbean:

A Few Caribbean Authors (Poets & Fiction Writers)

A.J. Seymour

A.L. Hendriks

Abdhur Rahman Hopkinson

Achy Obejas

Adisa Andwele (AJA)

Adrian Castro

Afua Cooper

Aida Cartagena Portalatin

Aimé Cesaire

AJ Seymour

Albert Gomes

Albert Helman

Aldo Alvarez

Alecia McKenzie

Alejo Carpentier

Alfred Mendes

Amryl Johnson

Ana Lydia Vega

Andre Alexis

Andrea Elizabeth Shaw

Andrea Levy

Andrew Jefferson-Miles

Andrew Salkey

Andy Taitt

Angela Barry

Annalee Davis

Anson Gonzalez

Anthony C. Winkler

Anthony Kellman

Anthony McNeill

Anton Nimblett

Antonio Benitez Rojo

Arnold Harrichand Itwaru

Assotto Saint

Astrid Roemer

Audre Lorde

Austin Clarke

Barbara Ferland

Basil McFarlane

Belkis Cuza Male

Beryl Gilroy

Brenda Flanagan

Brian Chan

Bruce St. John

C.L.R. James

Carl Jackson

Carolina Hospital

Caryl Phillips

Cecil Gray

Cecil Gray

Celia Alvarez

Cherie Jones

Chiqui Vicioso

Christine Craig

Churaumanie Bissundyal

Claire Harris

Claude McKay

Claudia Rankine

Clem Seecharan

Clyde Hosein

Colin Channer

Colin Robinson

Cynthia James

Cyril Dabydeen

Dale Bisnauth

Danielle Legros Georges

Dany Laferriere

David Chanderbali

David Dabydeen

Dawad Phillip

Deborah Jack

Delores Gauntlett

Denis Williams

Denise deCaires Narain

Denise Harris

Dennis Craig

Dennis Scott

Derek Walcott

Dionne Brand

Donna Weir-Soley

E. A. Markham

E. Mc.G. `Shake' Keane

E.A. Markham

E.M. Roach

Earl Long

Earl Lovelace

Earl McKenzie

Edgar Cairo

Edgar Mittelholzer

Edgardo Sanabria Santaliz

Edouard Glissant

Edward Baugh

Edward Lucie-Smith

Edwidge Danticat

Elaine “Jamaica Kincaid” Potter

Elisa Albo

Elizabeth Nunez

Eric Roach

Eric Walrond

Erna Brodber

Eunice Heath Tate

Faizal Deen

Faustin Charles

Felix Morriseau-Leroy

Frank Collymore

Frank Hercules

Frank Martinus Arion

Frantz Fanon

Fred D’Aguiar

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Garfield Ellis

Garth St. Omer

Geoffrey Drayton

Geoffrey Philp

George Campbell

George Lamming

Gloria Escoffery

Gloria Wekker

Grace Nichols

Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Gustavo Perez-Firmat

Guy Tirolien

Gwyneth Wood

H. Nigel Thomas

H.A. Vaughan

H.D. Carberry

Harischandra Khemraj

Harold "Sonny" Ladoo

Harold M. Telemaque

Hazel Campbell

Hazel Simmons-Mcdonald

Heather Royes

Heberto Padilla

Helen Klonaris

Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool

Honor Ford Smith

Howard A. Fergus

Howard Pitterson

Hubert Harrison

Ian Bethell Bennett

Ian Craig

Ian McDonald

Ismith Khan

Jacqueline Bishop

Jacques Roumain

James Berry

James Christopher Aboud

James Ferguson

Jan Carew

Jan Shinebourne

Jane Bryce

Jane King

Janet Jagan

Jean `Binta' Breeze

Jean Brierre

Jean Goulbourne

Jean Rhys

Jeanette Miller

Jennifer Rahim

Jesus Cos Causse

Jesús J. Barquet

Jit Narain

Joanne Hyppolite

Joel Benjamin

John Agard

John Figueroa

John Hearne

John La Rose

John Lyons

John Robert Lee

John Stewart

John Wickham

Jos Knight

José Alcántara Almánzar

Jose Marmol

Joseph Polius

Juan Bosch

Juanita Ramos

Judaman Seecoomar

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Julia Alvarez

Julia De Burgos

June Henfrey

Junot Diaz

Kamau Brathwaite

Karen King-Aribisala

Kei Miller

Kendel Hippolyte

Kevin Baldeosingh

Kevin Everod Quashie

Kevyn Arthur

Kim Robinson-Walcott

Kwame Dawes

Lakshmi Persaud

Lakshmi Persaud

Lasana M. Sekou

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes

Lawrence Scott

Lawson Williams

Laxmi Kallicharan

Lelawatee Manoo-Rahming

Lennox Honychurch

Leon Laleau

Leonardo Padura Fuentes

Leone Ross

Leon-Gontran Damas

Lillian Allen

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Lionel Seepaul

Lloyd Brown

Lloyd Searwar

Lorna Goodison

Louis Simpson

Louise Bennett

Lourdes Casal

Luis Pales Matos

Lydia Cabrera

Lynne Macedo

Lynton Kwesi Johnson

M.G. Smith

Mabel Rodríguez Cuesta

Maggie Harris

Mahadai Das

Makeda Silvera

Malachi Smith


Marc Matthews

Marcia Douglas

Marcus Garvey

Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Margaret Gill

Maria Arrillaga

Marie-Elena John

Marie-Therese Colimon

Marilene Phipps

Marilyn Bobes

Marina Ama Omovale Maxwell

Marina Salandy-Brown

Marion Bethel

Marisella Veiga

Mark De Brito

Mark Mathews

Mark McWatt

Marlene Nourbese Philip

Marlon James

Martin Carter

Martin Espada

Marva McClean

Maryse Conde

Matthew Young


McDonald Dixon

Meiling Jin

Mercedes Cros Sandoval

Merle Collins

Mervyn Morris

Mervyn Taylor

Michael Anthony

Michael Ekweueme Thelwell

Michael Gilkes

Michelle Cliff

Mikey Smith

Milton Williams

Mirlande Jean-Gilles

Mirta Yanez

Moses Nagamootoo

Mustapha Matura


Myriam Chancy

Myriam Warner-Vieyra

N.D. Williams

Nalo Hopkinson

Nancy Morejon

Naomi Ayala

Narmala Shewcharan

Neil Bissondath

Neville Dawes

Niala Maharaj

Nicolas Guillen

Nydia Ecury

Obediah Michael Smith

Ochy Curiel

Oku Onuora (Orlando Wong)

Olive Senior

Oonya Kempadoo

Opal Palmer Adisa

Orlando Patterson

Oscar Dathorne

Pam Mordecai

Patricia Powell

Patrick Chamoiseau

Patrick Sylvain

Paul Keens Douglas

Paule Marshall

Pauline Melville

Pedro de Jesús

Pedro Mir

Pedro Perez Sarduy

Peggy Carr

Peter Kempadoo

Philip Nanton

Philip Sherlock

Phyllis Shand Allfrey

Polly Pattullo

R. Erica Doyle

Rabindranath Maharaj

Rachel Manley

Rajandaye Ramkissoon-Chen

Ralph de Boissière

Ralph Thompson

Ramabai Espinet

Rane Arroyo

Rawle Frederick

Raymond Ramcharitar

Reina Maria Rodríguez

Reinaldo Arenas

René Depestre

Rene Philoctete

Ricardo Keens Douglas

Ricardo Pau-Llosa

Richard Blanco

Rinaldo Walcott

Rob Leyshon

Robert Antoni

Robert Edison Sandiford

Roberto Fernandez Retamar

Robin Dobru

Roger Mais

Roi Kwabena

Rooplall Monar

Rosa Cuthbert Guy

Rosamond S. King

Rosario Ferre

Roslyn Carrington

Roy Heath

Rupert Roopnaraine

Ruth Behar

Ryhaan Shah

Saint-John Perse

Sam Selvon

Sandra Castillo

Sasenarine Persaud

Seepersad Shiva Naipaul

Shake Keane

Shani Mootoo

Shara McCallum

Sharlow Mohammed

Sharon Leach

Simon Lee

Stacey Anne Chin

Stanley Greaves

Sylvia Wynter

Tato Laviera

Tessa McWatt

Thea Doelwijt

Thomas Glave

Timothy S. Chin

Tobias Buckell

Tony Hall


Una Marston

Vahni Capildeo

Velma Pollard

Vera Bell

Verene Shepherd

Victor Questel

Virgil Suarez

Virgilio Piñera

Vishnu Gosine

Vivian Virtue

VS Naipaul

VS Reid

Wayne Brown

Wesley E. A. Crichlow

Willi Chen

Wilson Harris

Yvonne Weekes

Zee Edgell

Zoila Ellis

Other resources:

Caribbean Literature

DMOZ: Caribbean Literature

Russ Filman’s Caribbean Literature

Caribbean Review of Books

Peepal Tree Books: Author Search

The Caribbean Writer

Caribbean Tales

The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories

The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse

Stories from Blue Latitudes: Caribbean Women Writers at Home and Abroad

Her True-True Name (Caribbean Writers Series)

Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica's Calabash Writer's Workshop

The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories

Talk Yuh Talk

Natural Mysticism: Towards a New Reggae Aesthetic

Caribbean Review of Books

Name Your Top Ten Caribbean Novels

Our Caribbean A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles

Caribbean Dispatches: Beyond the Tourist Dream

Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

New World Adams: Interviews with West Indian Writers