September 28, 2007

Dexter @ Books and Books

DexterI have to admit that I was a bit scared when Jeff Lindsay began reading from his book, Dexter in the Dark, at Books and Books on September 26, 2007. In the latest installment, which has been made into a Showtime series, Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who murders other serial killers, has to "research questions that he has never dared to ask: Who is the Dark Passenger and where does he come from?" And so there I was, after watching the series and now reading the novels, in the middle of mostly white males who all looked and seemed normal (one even looked a bit like Michael C. Hall) waiting with "fear and trembling" for Lindsay to begin another episode in Dexter's life. But isn't that the appeal of Dexter and the real life tragedy of Ted Bundy, who died in a Florida electric chair--our fascination with monsters, who unlike the rest of us, have given full reign to the archetypal Destroyer in our collective unconscious while all the time appearing to be normal?

I listened, shuddered, and sometimes laughed along with other members of the audience at the macabre humor in the fifteenth chapter where Dexter is going through a phase of teenage rebellion. Dexter decides he is not to follow the advice of his father, Harry, a police officer and the only one who can teach him "how to act human, how to be certain and careful, how to lean up afterward" (113). In what is to become trademark behavior in his later years, Dexter chooses one of the bullies at Ponce de Leon Junior High as his victim. Unfortunately, he gets caught, scalpel in hand, by the assistant principal. And in typical fashion, Harry rescues Dexter. However, Harry doesn’t scold Dexter. Instead Harry takes Dexter to met Carl, a serial killer whom he has just arrested.

At first when Carl meets Dexter, he misinterprets the reason why Harry has brought Dexter to the jail. But then, in one of the more chilling passages, Carl realizes why Harry has staged the encounter:

"He got caught," Harry said to me, "because he didn't know what he was doing. And now he will go to the electric chair. Because he didn't know what the police were doing. Because," Harry said this without raising his voice at all and without blinking, "he had no training."

The scene ends with Harry and Dexter leaving the jail and Dexter acknowledging the "end of my youthful rebellion."

After the applause subsided, Lindsay during the Q&A gave details about his early life and admitted that in every profession he had tried--actor, stand-up comedian, and a member of Dorx!, a rock and roll band--he always ended up writing jokes for other comedians, writing plays for the ensemble, or writing song for the band and he finally broke down in exasperation, "Okay, I get it! I'm a writer."

"Do you have any advice for young, aspiring writers?" asked one of the students who had listened to Lindsay's tales of balancing part-time teaching at a community college and being a fulltime father and husband. "Luck is a big part of it," he said, "but you have to be good long enough to get lucky."

Lindsay finished the Q&A after a series of questions about the craft of writing and the amount of time he spent writing Dexter in the Dark: "I never had a book fight back so hard." Of course, there were many questions about his inspiration and show he came up with a character like Dexter Morgan, who has been compared to Camus' Mersault, and Lindsay confessed that the idea came first and then he had to do the research. Unsatisfied, some members showed a deep desire to know how Lindsay came up with the plot and the inner workings of Dexter, whom Lindsay calls "an errant, little monster." They probed and they probed. Yet what was missing from the discussion was Lindsay's ability to hold the interest of a largely liberal audience, as was evident from many of their questions, with a protagonist, who holds deeply conservative ideas about subjects such as authority and rebellion.

As I left the reading, I felt glad to have met a writer, who after facing many adversities had created a character who had gained popularity in America, and especially in affluent Coral Gables. But it also frightened me. So, as I walked back to my car in that mostly white neighborhood, you know I was looking over my shoulder.

For photos of the event, please follow this link: Dexter in the Dark @ Books and Books.


Next week I'm beginning a series called, "Conversations with…" and it will feature artists, writers, book lovers, and interesting people in and from South Florida and the Caribbean.

I'm beginning the series with Tobias Buckell on Monday and Richard Grayson on Wednesday.



September 26, 2007

Global Reggae: Jamaican Popular Music A Yard and Abroad.

ReggaeThe Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of the West Indies, Mona announce an international conference on “Global Reggae: Jamaican Popular Music A Yard and Abroad.” The conference, to be held February 18-24, 2008, at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica and other venues on the island, is the third in a series focusing on Caribbean culture. The first, held in 1996, honoured the distinguished legacy of Professor the Hon. Rex Nettleford, Vice-Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies. The second, held in 2002, celebrated the work of the Barbadian griot/historian, Professor Kamau Brathwaite. This third conference, to be held in association with the Recording Industry Association of Jamaica (RIAJam), the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, the Bob Marley Foundation, and the Jamaica Tourist Board, pays tribute to the generation of musicians who have created reggae – Jamaica’s distinctive contribution to world culture. Icons such as: Count Matchuki, Don Drummond, Count Ossie, Mrs. Pottinger, and Prince Buster.

For more information, please follow this link: Global Reggae Conference


Edwidge Danticat at Books and Books

Edwidge Danticat will be reading from Brother I'm Dying at Books and Books, Coral Gables, on Friday, October 12, 2007 at 8:00 pm. This powerful memoir describes Danticat's family life and the tragedy surrounding the father, Mira, and his older brother, Joseph.

From the age of four, Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph, a charismatic pastor, as her “second father,” when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for a better life in America. Listening to his sermons, sharing coconut-flavored ices on their walks through town, roaming through the house that held together many members of a colorful extended family, Edwidge grew profoundly attached to Joseph. He was the man who “knew all the verses for love.”

And so she experiences a jumble of emotions when, at twelve, she joins her parents in New York City. She is at last reunited with her two youngest brothers, and with her mother and father, whom she has struggled to remember. But she must also leave behind Joseph and the only home she’s ever known.

Edwidge tells of making a new life in a new country while fearing for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorates. But Brother I’m Dying soon becomes a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Told with tremendous feeling, this is a true-life epic on an intimate scale: a deeply affecting story of home and family—of two men’s lives and deaths, and of a daughter’s great love for them both.


A review of Edwidge Danticat's reading at Books & Books


September 25, 2007

Residential Workshop for Caribbean Writers

Cropper FoundationThe 5th Caribbean Creative Writers’ Residential Workshop sponsored by The Cropper Foundation, and organised in partnership with the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, will take place from June 30th to July 31st 2008 in Trinidad and Tobago. The 2008 Workshop will focus on fiction, playwriting, and poetry.

Support for Caribbean Writing is an ongoing programme of The Cropper Foundation that seeks to contribute to the development of the Caribbean on many levels and in different areas of interest. The writers' workshop is part of the Foundation's effort to encourage new Caribbean literary voices by providing practical advice on the craft of writing. This will be its Fifth Workshop in the series which started in 2000.

Writers from Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean Diaspora (Canada, USA, France, and UK) have competed to take part in these workshops held so far in Grand Riviere on the eastern end of Trinidad's north coast, on Gasparee Island off Trinidad’s northwest peninsula, and in Tobago. From the participants of this workshop series, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming, Lenworth Burke (Jamaica) went on to win the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and the Jamaica Observer's Annual Fiction Award respectively; Ruel Johnson (Guyana) has won the Guyana Literature Prize 2003, Krishna Ramsumair (T&T) has published a number of short stories in local and international journals; Robert Clarke (T&T) received a Trinidad Guardian Writer of the Month award, as well as an EMA 2003 Green Leaf Award for journalism; and Tiphanie Yanique is now an editor with Calabash and Story Quarterly.
(Bahamas) and

For this year's Workshop, a maximum of fifteen participants will be selected from entries only from the Caribbean. The moderators will be novelist Dr. Merle Hodge (Crick, Crack Monkey and For the Life of Laetitia) and poet and short story writer Professor Funso Aiyejina, winner of the 2000 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa) for The Legend of the Rockhills and Other Stories. They are both lecturers at UWI, St Augustine, in the Faculty of Humanities and Education.

Participants will engage with published authors and professionals from the publishing industry, as well as speakers from a variety of other disciplines including history, culture and political science.

Applicants, twenty years and above, are invited to submit application forms and samples of their writing (five pages only) no later than November 15th 2007 to the following address: Writers Workshop, Centre for Creative & Festival Arts, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad. Works of prose fiction, playwriting or poetry, either published or unpublished, will be considered for this workshop. For application forms and further information, please call Dr. Dani Lyndersay or Ms. Marissa Brooks at the UWI Centre for Creative and Festival Arts, telephone: (868) 662-2002 (ext. 3791/3792); tel/fax: (868) 663-2222 (ask for fax tone); or email: (Subject: 2008 Writers' workshop).

Follow this link for the application form:


Related Post: List of Caribbean writers

September 24, 2007

Maguey Magnificus

magueyAbout seven years ago when I used to jog by Snake Creek, I saw this plant that had spilled its orphaned seeds all over the banks of the canal. I picked up three of the seeds and soon after I moved from Fulford-By-The Sea, I stuck them in the furrowed garden of my new home in Highland Oaks. I didn't know the name--didn't care--I just loved the shape of the plant.

Now for the past two weeks, the plant, despite my inattention, has sprouted this giant stalk (I told Pam Mordecai I know how "Jack and the Bean Stalk" got started) and it's been growing and growing, and growing…

At first, I didn't know what to make of the plant because I didn't know its name. Then, a few days ago my wife, Nadia, said to me, "I asked around and I've found out the name! In Mexico, they call it maguey."

Of course, I began my research and found a whole mythology surrounding maguey. Among other things, maguey is associated with Mayahuel (also Mayahual, or Mayouel), Mayatl, Teteo-inan, Virgin of Guadalupe, Quetzalcoatl, and Tepozteco.

I've been so busy with school work and there is so much happening around me that I haven't had time to process all the information, or to ignore the maguey that's almost been saying to me, "Slow down, Geoff," and "Look at me! I'm spectacular!" She says it with a Spanish accent. So, I have slowed down and what I've learned so far has kept me wondering about the associations:

I found the seeds at Snake Creek.

Tepozteco, the consort of Mayahuel, is a Trickster similar to Anansi.

The flowering stalk of the maguey, which can grow up to 25 feet, emerges from the heart.

The maguey is following it's own timetable and is doing what it needs to do without my assistance or worrying about it.

Mezcal, tequila, and other useful products can be made from the sap, leaves, and stalk. It's a totally consumable plant. Bio-fuel of the future?

The sheer abundance/opulence of life-of giving freely and unreservedly.

Everything about the maguey has been, like love, a perfect, unbidden gift.

I've started to track her growth and I'm definitely going to take pictures of the flowers when they bloom--which means the maguey will also die. In this lifetime, she has a lot to teach me.

Photos of Maguey Magnificus in Miami

September 21, 2007

Book Buying in the Caribbean: An "Extravagance"?

Geoffrey Philp's Blog SpotI've decided to run a survey based on this quote by VS Naipaul in "Caribbean Odyssey":

"But to go out and buy a new book like the Walcott because people were talking about it would have seemed an extravagance; and that was where we were in the end ruled by the idea of our poverty. And though, as a writer, I was to depend on people buying my new book, that idea of book-buying as an extravagance stayed with me for many years."

You see, it's been gnawing at me that it may actually be true. But what I think and where the evidence leads are two different things. So, I'd like to ask you, Dear Reader, to help me to solve this riddle and also to ponder these questions:

If the statement is true, what factors led to the situation?

If the statement is no longer true, what has changed?

If the statement was never true, why would Naipaul make such a statement?

If the statement is true, what can be done to change this attitude? Should there be a change? Why?

Have you ever thought of books as "extravagances"?

I'm going to run the survey for a week (9/28/07). And while this is not a scientific poll, based on previous surveys of my readers, I'd say most of my readers are "opinion makers" and that goes a long way.

Caribbean people consider books to be "extravagances"
This statement was once true.
This statement is no longer true
This statement was never true.
This statement is still true.
Free polls from


Here are the results (9/29/07):

September 20, 2007

Twenty Five Years of Books & Books

Books and BooksCoral Gables, Florida – Books & Books, the locally-owned, independent bookstore founded by Mitchell Kaplan in 1982, will celebrate its 25th Anniversary in October. The store has designated the month of October as its anniversary month and has planned a number of events to mark the occasion, including a community-wide Anniversary Party on Saturday, October 20, from 7-midnight, a tribute to South Florida-based music legend Federico Britos, and a commemorative publication, Twenty-Five, which will be posted online, with thoughts and reflections from authors, publishers, customers, and cultural partners.

Anyone interested in sharing their thoughts and memories can send their comments 200 words (or fewer) about 25 years of Books & Books to by Friday, September 28th and it will be posted online during the month of October.


Photos from previous Books & Books events:

Junot Diaz

Preston Allen and Vicki Hendricks

September 19, 2007

In My Own Words: Anthony C. Winkler

Anthony WinklerWhy I Write

I write for the same reason I breathe—because I have to. As a son of Jamaica, I never wanted to do anything else but write. Yet the strange wasteland of retail dry goods stores and mercantile practicality in which I was raised was horrendously unforgiving of any of its wayward children whose ambitions were regarded as peculiar or different. Arrayed against my expressed ambition to write was a brace of uncles on my mother’s side of the family who regarded me as presumptuous or deranged. Many took me aside and flailed me with stern avuncular lectures on the need to renounce literature and embrace, instead, gabardine, calico and tweed. My only ally was an elderly frail uncle, the husband of my father's only sister, who stood doggedly at my side against this horde of Mongolian naysayers.

I have read some critics who lament the barren culture of the West Indies in which literary talent is planted and often malnourished. But I think this misses an important point, namely, that a strong literary tradition can actually bully and dwarf fledgling talent. Where there is little or no tradition to stunt the beginner's growth, there's a liberating magnification of even small gifts along with the exhilarating opportunity for experimentation. Fireflies—what Jamaicans call “peenie wallies”—burn brighter in a dark night than they do in brilliant sunshine. The absence of tradition or the sparseness of it is good for young West Indian writers and saves them from being traumatically diminished by the hulking presence of a Shakespeare or Charles Dickens peeping captiously over their shoulders. In my case, this was certainly true. When I look back at my adolescent work, I'm amazed that it was greeted with such enthusiasm and encouragement. Had there been higher standards from an established literary tradition my road would have been steeper and harder. One can only imagine the dismay of young George Bernard Shaw—the aspiring playwright—upon discovering that he was walking in the footsteps of a dramatist named Shakespeare. Personally, I think our triumph in having produced two Nobel laureates in literature owes something to the barrenness of our literary tradition.

There's an old saying among teachers of rhetoric, "there's no writing, there's only rewriting." Without question, this adage informs every inch of my work. I rewrite everything I write, and everything I write that I do not rewrite always seems to turn out badly. The extent to which I rewrite, particularly long material, would stun most people. I reread and rewrote every page of The Painted Canoe at least 100 times. I go over my work obsessively, making changes large, small and infinitesimal. If I'm on page 300 and think the is narrative sagging, I sometimes go back even to the very beginning to find where I might have made a misstep that brought the story to this sorry pass. I wrote one book, The Duppy, twice—in the omniscient point of view, and then in the first-person point of view after I decided that it required the limitation, and biased expressiveness, of a personal narrator.

I also write in the darkness. Until I’m finished, I almost never know what the work I’m writing is about. Or if I know, it's with the cursory vagueness of Calvin Coolidge who, upon being asked by his wife what a certain preacher had said in his sermon about sin, offhandedly replied, "He was against it." When I wrote my most popular book, The Lunatic, I hadn't the foggiest idea what it would be about. I knew only that I wanted to draw a sympathetic portrait of the itinerant mad commonly found roaming the back lanes and byways of the countryside. All my life I had felt a deep sympathy for these outcasts and the way they were mistreated by the government and society—either warehoused in a filthy institution unfit even for habitation by wild dogs or driven away into the deep bush of the countryside by constables or by local vigilantes armed with stones or machetes. But like every book I write, I began The Lunatic in the darkness and worked my way, by fits and starts, towards the light. It is only when I had finished the book that I could answer that fatuous, but endlessly asked, question, "What is it about?"

I have written five novels about Jamaica: The Painted Canoe, The Lunatic, The Great Yacht Race, The Duppy, and Dog War; an autobiographical memoir, Going Home to Teach; and a collection of short stories, The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories, all of which have been published by Macmillan. In production is my autobiography tentatively titled Trust the Darkness: A Writer's Journey. Next to come is a novel titled Crocodile.

I'm occasionally asked why I write so much about Jamaica. It is not a complex question. After all, I have lived longer in America than in Jamaica. But Agatha Christie, another writer whose work I admire, answered for me when she was asked why she wrote only crime stories. “One writes what one can,” she said simply, “not what one can’t.”

That is also the case with me. And, I suspect with you or any other writer.

Anthony C. Winkler was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1942. His first novel, The Painted Canoe, was published in 1984 to critical acclaim. This was followed by The Lunatic (1987), The Great Yacht Race (1992), Going Home to Teach (1995) and The Duppy (1997, Akashic 2008). A short story collection, The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories, was published in 2004, and his latest novel, Dog War, was published by Akashic in June 2007. He has also written two movies, The Lunatic (1991) and The Annihilation of Fish (1999). The Burglary, a play, was produced in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1993 and in Toronto in 2005. Another play, The Hippopotamus Card, was produced in 2005 by the German radio station WDR under the title Das Rhinozerossystem. Winkler lives with his wife in Atlanta, Georgia.


Anthony Winkler will be appearing at the Miami Book Fair International (November 4-11, 2007) at the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College.

September 18, 2007

Marva McClean's Stories & Memories

Marva McCleanCelebrate Marva McLean’s newest book of poetry, Bridges to Memory. We'll weave a tapestry of stories, poems, and rhythms, Jamaican/West Indian-style -- exploring connections between culture and identity, memory and imagination. Come in search of ancestral footprints, mile-markers to anchor the people of the Diaspora in the New World; or just come to enjoy an evening you will treasure.

Marva brings a unique perspective to excavating the past through poetry and her books will be available for purchase and signing at the program.

Light refreshments will be served. Books available for sale & signing.


Susan Sandness (305-948-2970)

North Miami Beach Public Library

1601 NE 179 Drive

North Miami Beach, Florida 33162


September 17, 2007

Miami Book Fair International, 2007

Miami Book Fair InternationalLemme tell you, the Florida Center for Literary Arts and the Miami Book Fair International know how to party! Tonight amidst the mojitos, music by Ed Calle and paella, the official plans for the Miami Book Fair International were announced at the Miami Freedom Tower, a memorial to Cuban immigration.

The main event, the unveiling of two posters by Miami artists Viviana Ponton and Sarah Vazquez, was introduced by Alina Interian, Director of the Florida Center for Literary Arts, who spoke briefly about the Translation Project, and Dr. Eduardo Padron, President of Miami Dade College.

The Miami Book Fair International, founded in 1983, runs through November 4 -11, 2007.

For more photos of the event, please follow this link: Miami Book Fair International 2007.

In My Own Words: Rabindranath Maharaj

Rabindranath Maharaj My most recent novel, A Perfect Pledge, began with a solitary image of an old man toiling away in a canefield shadowed by a windmill. The novel progressed slowly at first, stuttering until chapter four when I changed the voice and almost immediately everything came together- the conclusion, the value of some of the secondary characters and a clarification of the main theme.

This novel was different from my previous novels in several ways. All the other books explored the immigrant experience, and they were all set in Canada. A Perfect Pledge was set in Trinidad and in this novel, I was more interested in the ambivalence that many West Indians feel about the canefields, a reminder of more oppressive times and also a means to a livelihood.

A Perfect Pledge was also a more complicated novel to plot. It took three years to complete, more than twice the time of my other novels, and because it was set in the late sixties, I had to rely on (occasionally unreliable) early memories of village Trinidad.

However, there were also similarities between this book and the others. Some writers begin their books from an idea or a theme or a rough plot. My books each begin with an image. From this image, a couple characters emerge and wander around for a while. Some of them wander right off the pages and others become more important. They dictate the plot and the voice. For instance, in a just completed manuscript, a secondary character, a librarian who complains endlessly about the memoirs clogging up the library shelves- he begins to see himself as a custodian of misery - gradually grew in importance to become a central character.

I write constantly until the book is finished and then I return to Trinidad for a little lime before I begin my next book.

About Rabindranath Maharaj

Rabindranath Maharaj is the author of A Perfect Pledge, which was short listed for a Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and the 2006 Rogers Fiction Prize. His two previous novels: The Lagahoo's Apprentice, was a Globe and Mail and Toronto Star notable book of the year; and Homer in Flight, was nominated for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award. He has also written two collections of short stories, The Book of Ifs and Buts, and The Interloper, which was nominated for a Regional Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book. Maharaj was born in Trinidad and now lives in Ajax, Ontario. He was the be the Writer in Residence at the Toronto Reference Library from September 2006 to December 2006. He now teaches at the Humber School For Writers.


Rabindranath Maharaj will be appearing at the Miami Book Fair International (November 4-11, 2007) at the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College.


This Wednesday(9/19/07): Anthony Winkler.

Anthony C. Winkler was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1942. His first novel, The Painted Canoe, was published in 1984 to critical acclaim. This was followed by The Lunatic (1987), The Great Yacht Race (1992), Going Home to Teach (1995) and The Duppy (1997, Akashic 2008). A short story collection, The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories, was published in 2004, and his latest novel, Dog War, was published by Akashic in June 2007. He has also written two movies, The Lunatic (1991) and The Annihilation of Fish (1999). The Burglary, a play, was produced in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1993 and in Toronto in 2005. Another play, The Hippopotamus Card, was produced in 2005 by the German radio station WDR under the title Das Rhinozerossystem. Winkler lives with his wife in Atlanta, Georgia.

Anthony Winkler will be appearing at the Miami Book Fair International (November 4-11, 2007) at the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College.


September 14, 2007

Junot Diaz @ Books and Books, Miami

Junot DiazJunot Diaz seemed relaxed last night as he flipped through the pages of his long awaited novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and began his reading to a capacity audience at Books and Books with two simple questions, "How have you guys been? It's been like what, ten years?"

Junot laughed and the audience enjoyed his light banter with a group of University of Miami graduate students, seated in the two front rows, as he talked about the craft of writing, influences, inspiration and rewriting, "I realized I was really going to be a writer when I found out that that this book was going to take at least ten years." When he was pressed by a member of the audience about the intervening time span, he responded, "Some books come easily and some books come hard. This one was carved out of me."

The first excerpt that he read was from the "Wildwood" section of the book, written in second person, about Yola, the protagonist's twelve year old sister, and her relationship with their mother, Belicia. After giving the audience a few minutes to recover, Diaz entertained a few more questions.

Many in the audience were well-acquainted with the novel and one reader admitted to having read it through in one night. She said she came to the reading to get an explanation about the many footnotes in the book. Junot attributed the use of footnotes to the influence of Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau, and when he faltered with the pronunciation of Chamoiseau's name, he called upon his friend, Edwidge Danticat, to help him and she obliged. He explained the use of the footnotes this way: "The idea of writing footnotes was to create a counterpoint to the coherent authoritative story. The novel frequently falls into the trap of the persuasive story without opposition. The footnotes by undermining the narrative become the opposition."

Diaz then read an excerpt from the first chapter which lays the groundwork of one of the themes of the novel--a counter-history that challenges the conceit of the authoritative text and a challenge to the "official" narratives based on Antillean insights and the mysterious Fuku: "They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began…Fuku americanus, or more colloquially fuku--generally a curse of doom of some kind."

The reading, which felt more like a homecoming, drew a capacity audience in the larger east wing of Books and Books, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth year as an independent book seller in Miami.

For more pictures of the event, please follow this link: Junot Diaz in Miami.

Ariel Gonzalez (Miami Herald) reviews The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Vamos! article on Junot Diaz
(via Counter Balance)

The Caribbean Writer (2008): Submissions

The Caribbean Writer is currently seeking submissions for its 22nd (2008) issue. The Caribbean Writer has published the poetry and prose of Opal Palmer Adisa, Kwame Dawes, Zee Edgell, Kamau Brathwaite, E. A. Markham, Carolina Hospital, Willi Chen, Fred D'Aguiar, Cyril Dabydeen, Garfield Ellis, John M. Figueroa, Lorna Goodison, Merle Hodge, and Edwidge Danticat; visual art from the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands and book reviews by an international gathering of critics and intellectuals.

Manuscript Submission Guidelines

The Caribbean Writer is an international literary anthology with a Caribbean focus. The Caribbean should be central to the work, or the work should reflect a Caribbean heritage, experience or perspective.

Submit poems (5 maximum), short stories, personal essays, (2 maximum not to exceed 15 pages each), and one-act plays. Only previously unpublished work will be accepted. (If self-published, give details).

Follow this procedure for submissions: Put title, name, address and other contact information on separate sheet. Title only should be on manuscript. Include brief biographical information and mention previous publications, if any.

Type (double-spaced) all manuscripts.

All submissions are eligible for these prizes:

The Daily News prize for best poetry ($300)

The Canute A. Brodhurst prize for best short fiction ($400)

The David Hough Literary prize to an author residing in the Caribbean ($500)

The Marguerite Cobb McKay prize to a Virgin Islands author ($200)

The Charlotte & Isidor Paiewonsky prize for first-time publication ($200)

Please note that manuscripts will not be returned unless accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Authors of accepted work will be notified.

Book Reviews

Persons interested in reviewing books should contact the editor indicating areas of expertise. Include sample reviews if possible.

Please mail submissions to:

The Caribbean Writer

University of the Virgin Islands

RR 1 Box 10000

Kingshill VI 00850-9781

Email submissions are accepted OR

Next submission deadline is November 30, 2007.


On a personal note, The Caribbean Writer published some of my earliest work, and they also published my first book of poems, Exodus and Other Poems.


September 13, 2007

Avocado - July 2007 – Abolition special issue

AvocadoAvocado - July 2007 – Abolition special issue has been published and it contains one of my short stories, "Third Time," which I read at last year's Miami Book Fair International. Commemorating the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, this special issue of the magazine presents poems, stories and essays on the history of British encounters with Africa and the changing nature of Black Britain.

Avocado also features poetry by James Berry, Dorothea Smartt, Ian McDonald; Brazilian and African poetry translated from Portuguese and French; an article on the representation of Voodoo by Louise Fenton, and short fiction by David Dabydeen, and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw. Not bad company.


September 12, 2007

Reading: Mary Monroe @ Sistrunk Research Library

Mary MonroeBROWARD COUNTY, FL – New York Times and Essence bestselling author, Mary Monroe will make one of her first stops on her book tour on Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 4:00 p.m. at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL. She will be reading from and signing her latest release, Deliver Me From Evil.

Deliver Me From Evil
is Mary Monroe’s ninth novel. In this sensational new novel, a beautiful, resourceful woman is caught in a high-stakes game of money, sex and betrayal – all in the name of a better future… In Deliver Me From Evil, Christine Thurman seemingly had the perfect marriage. Once from the wrong side of the tracks, she helped her husband build a multi-million dollar video business. However, his obsession with the business left her bored after 12 years of marriage. Christine’s affair with her former bad boy lover leads to a scheme so risky, she is set-up to either gain everything or lose it all.

About the Author

Mary Monroe is the third child of Alabama sharecroppers and the first and only member of her family to finish high school. She taught herself how to write. She spent the first part of her life in Alabama and Ohio and moved to Richmond, California in 1973. She has lived in Oakland since 1984.

Her first novel, The Upper Room, was published by St. Martin's Press in 1985 and was widely reviewed throughout the U.S. and in Great Britain. An excerpt is included in Terry McMillan's anthology Breaking Ice. She endured fifteen years and hundreds of more rejection letters before she landed a contract for her second novel, God Don't Like Ugly. It was published in October 2000 by Kensington Books. God Don't Play is her seventh novel to be published, and it landed her a spot on the prestigious New York Times Bestsellers list for the first time! Her eighth novel, Borrow Trouble was released December 1, 2006.

Contact(s): Robin R. Pendleton (561) 731-4422

Akbar Watson, Director

Pyramid Books

544-2 Gateway Blvd.

Boynton Beach, FL 33435

Phone (561) 731-4422 FAX (561) 731-0202

Web site


September 11, 2007

"In My Own Words"... Next Week

Words"In My Own Words” continues next week with two essays by Rabindranath Maharaj (9/17/07) and Anthony C. Winkler (9/19/07).

Rabindranath Maharaj is the author of A Perfect Pledge, which was short listed for a Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and the 2006 Rogers Fiction Prize. His two previous novels: The Lagahoo's Apprentice, was a Globe and Mail and Toronto Star notable book of the year; and Homer in Flight, was nominated for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award. He has also written two collections of short stories, The Book of Ifs and Buts, and The Interloper, which was nominated for a Regional Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book. Maharaj was born in Trinidad and now lives in Ajax, Ontario. He was the be the Writer in Residence at the Toronto Reference Library from September 2006 to December 2006. He now teaches at the Humber School For Writers.

Anthony C. Winkler was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1942. His first novel, The Painted Canoe, was published in 1984 to critical acclaim. This was followed by The Lunatic (1987), The Great Yacht Race (1992), Going Home to Teach (1995) and The Duppy (1997, Akashic 2008). A short story collection, The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories, was published in 2004, and his latest novel, Dog War, will be published by Akashic in June 2007. He has also written two movies, The Lunatic (1991) and The Annihilation of Fish (1999). The Burglary, a play, was produced in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1993 and in Toronto in 2005. Another play, The Hippopotamus Card, was produced in 2005 by the German radio station WDR under the title Das Rhinozerossystem. Winkler lives with his wife in Atlanta, Georgia.


Previous "In My Own Words":

Shara McCallum

Andrea Elizabeth Shaw

Vicki Hendricks

Pam Mordecai

Opal Adisa Palmer


September 10, 2007

Moral vs. Ethical Writing: Naipaul and Walcott

VS NaipaulIn a recent essay about Derek Walcott entitled, "Caribbean Odyssey," VS Naipaul, while acknowledging Walcott's genius, depicts Walcott as a writer whose reputation had been built on a "racial twist" and as "a man whose talent had been all but strangled by his colonial setting" had he not been "rescued" by the "American universities." As would be expected from an author of his prodigious talents, Naipaul, as a deracinated West Indian and a writer who began his career with comedies of manners, constructs a clever argument by limiting the time span of his essay to the years between 1948, when Walcott published his first collection, 25 Poems, and 1965, when he had a face-to-face chat with Walcott. By using this truncated chronology, Naipaul then carefully selects details from Walcott's life and Caribbean history to continue his canard against the region's failure to live up to its promise and the Caribbean as a place from which one needs to be "rescued." His essay is also dismissive of the "idea of island beauty" as something "imported from outside." Commenting on Walcott's early poems, Naipaul contends, "It is actually possible to feel that without the black idea…the unpeopled landscape would be insupportable." He also suggests that Walcott by embracing the "idea of black children" and "the black idea," became a champion of the Caribbean "middle-class people with no home but the islands began to understand the emptiness they were inheriting (before black people claimed it all) they longed for a local culture, something of their very own, to give them a place in the world." Naipaul continues with the observation:

Walcott in 1949 more than met their need. He sang the praises of the emptiness; he gave it a kind of intellectual substance. He gave their unhappiness a racial twist that made it more manageable.

Naipaul's insistence in "Caribbean Odyssey" that Walcott's reputation was built on a "black idea" is at best disingenuous and at worst morally bankrupt because of its failure to recognize beauty as a human value, and, perhaps, reveals his true sensibilities as a satirist.

Satires and comedy of manners assume an ideal against which human actions are judged. In this respect they are ethical and not moral. The writer, John Gardner, in On Writers and Writing, describes the difference:

Judgment support society; ethical law is the law of reason; imagination, on the other hand supports higher values, those central to poetry and religion: moral law is the law of the imagination. Ethical law, always prohibitive, guarantee equal rights to all members of the group, but moral law, always affirmative, points to the absolute, without respect to the needs of the group.

Naipaul began his writing career by examining Trinidadian society and saw conditions that violated his sensibilities. When these actions were balanced against the ideals of colonial society, the result was comical. To heighten the comic effect, Naipaul's characters demonstrated enough self-knowledge to realize that their circumstances were hopeless, yet they heroically continued their journeys. Naipaul produced several novels such as The Mystic Masseur and The Suffrage of Elvira by using this formula. However, by the time he wrote Mimic Men, he reversed the usual characteristics of a "Naipaul novel" by describing the utter misery of the actual and then destroying the ideal. Naipaul, an iconoclast at heart, used the same procedure for his non-fiction where he used his unmatched skills as a novelist to dissect corruption and incompetence in Third World locales, and then, decimated any prelapsarian identity the locale was imagined to have possessed.

As successful as this method is in producing robust book sales, what emerges from this kind of ethical writing is a description of failure bound by space and time, and which does not take into account the vast sweep of human existence. In addition, because Naipaul is writing from a West Indian postcolonial perspective, the assumption is that the failures he describes are a result of racial inferiority and not human folly. Naipaul's ethical writing supports colonial/tribal values that are founded on denial of values outside colonial mores; moral writing such as Walcott's affirms human values such as joy and beauty. And even if one were to argue that Walcott's writing had a "racial twist" this is merely another human characteristic that the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, in Transformation of Myth Through Time calls "land naming" which "consists in sanctifying the land by recognizing in the features of the local landscape, mythological images" (29).

By wielding his pen against embryonic cultures or cultures that were subjected to the evils of colonialism, which destroyed the sense of self-hood, individually and nationally, Naipaul has aligned himself either wittingly or unwittingly with racist detractors who use the argument that since Naipaul is one of "them" (Caribbean or East Indian) or know "them" (Africans) better than "they" do, then what he is saying must be true or why would he betray "his own people"? So, the charlatans, crooks, and demagogies that Naipaul exposes in Third World or emerging countries are not indicted on human foibles of greed, lust, incompetence, and corruption, but on the basis of belonging to the lesser tribes of brown and black people.

Yet it in his dismissal of the physical beauty of the Caribbean as a foreign idea that Naipaul shows his contempt, which is seemingly couched in an historical perspective:

The competing empires of Europe had beaten fiercely on these islands, repeopled after the aborigines had gone, turned into sugar islands, places of the lash, where fortunes could be made, sugar the new gold. And at the end, after slavery and sugar, Europe had left behind nothing that could be called a civilisation, no great architecture, no idea of local beauty, no memory of style and splendour (the splendour created by the sugar wealth would have occurred elsewhere, in Europe), only the smallest small change of civility. Everything that remained was touched with the pain of slavery: the brutalities of the popular language, and the prejudices of race: nothing a man would wish to call his own.

Naipaul, again, displays his willing ignorance in the phrase, "nothing a man would wish to call his own." For it is out of a similar narratives of the "the pain of slavery: the brutalities of the popular language, and the prejudices of race'" that literatures such as the Bible and many cultures have been built--the triumph of a small oppressed people over a larger and seemingly intractable enemy.

Following his argument to its logical conclusion, Naipaul, despite the remarkable perceptivity about the loneliness of the speakers in Walcott's early poems, argues that Walcott's feelings of emptiness arise because the idea of "the unpeopled landscape would be insupportable," and dismisses the physical beauty of the Caribbean as an "imported" idea. The emptiness, loneliness, and beauty described by Walcott are not "black" ideas. Had Naipaul extended his essay to encompass Walcott's later poems, he would have had to include an experience of what could only be called an "epiphany" about which Walcott wrote in Chapter Seven of Another Life: "About the August of my fourteenth year/ I lost my self somewhere above a valley…/ and I dissolved in trance/ I was seized by a pity more profound/ than my young body could bear." This experience that has been described elsewhere as an "oceanic feeling" by Erik Erikson or in literatures from the Upanishads, Buddhist sutras "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form" to Jean Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness are varying responses to an existential crisis from which the moral imagination creates its forms. And it is out of this emptiness that Walcott could create beautiful poems such as "Love after Love" or "Light of the World" that affirm the continuity of life and beauty.

"Caribbean Odyssey" contains rare signs of empathy that Naipaul has never disclosed. Naipaul's idiosyncrasies, especially towards poetry and book buying, reveals cultural habits that need to be explored further, and they show a grasp of Caribbean life that many other writers have yet to comprehend. In this respect, Naipaul's foibles in denying the wealth and abundance of "local" beauty, a trait that is endemic throughout the Caribbean, shows that he is indeed one of us, and the description by Joseph Campbell of this kind of behavior makes perfect sense: "Standing on whale and fishing for minnows."


Naipaul on Walcott


September 7, 2007

Happy Birthday, Miss Lou--2007

Miss LouHere is the link post that I did last year about Miss Lou.

Of course, we'll be hosting a Miss Lou celebration later today and if tonight's show is like last year's, there will probably be a few stories about the performer's connection to Miss Lou. I never met Miss Lou, but my connection with her goes back to Jamaica's Festival Competition. I recited one of her poems and I won a gold medal in speech. Reciting Miss Lou's poems gave me the confidence to speak in public and I've never forgotten that.

I tell this story as a cautionary tale when school officials talk about cutting funds for the arts--as if the arts are unnecessary and do not feed people. Artists and writers provide food for many people who have made a living reciting Miss Lou's poems or singing Bob Marley's songs. Think about how many singers, good and bad, that Marley is feeding right now. Think about how many young poets and writers that Miss Lou inspired to write in the language that when everything falls away, they cry in.

What language do you cry in? What language gives you comfort when you cry?

In Jamaica, we always have Marley singing, "No, Woman, Nuh Cry." But more importantly, there is always Miss Lou's voice, brimming with sunlight, singing "Evening Time" and her comforting laugh and adieu, "Walk good, yuh hear!"


In My Own Words: Joseph McNair

O Şe Şango, which means in Yorùbá, “Thank you, Shango,” is my first novel and has been three years in the making. It began as a series of short stories developed around the idea of the descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form. As this is by no means a unique idea, my particular twist on the subject was to select an Òrìşà (Òrìshà) from the pantheon of Yorùbá deities and charge him with the task of opening up a newer, straighter spiritual path to oneness or unity, the ultimate aim of all spiritual journeys, with “All there is,” Olódùmaré, the Great Mystery.

Olódùmaré is described by the faithful as the source of Odu (the entire corpus of two‑hundred and fifty‑six sections of Ifá scripture), the source of form in the universe, the “creator, cause, and origin of all things.” Olódùmaré is All There Is, and is believed to be the most powerful force in the universe for whom “nothing is too great or too small, below or beyond to accomplish.” The powers of Ọbas (kings or chiefs), ancestors, elders, witches, sorcerers, herbalists, medicine men, spirit beings, demons, etc., are all derived from Olódùmaré and are limited and limitable by the Great Mystery. The Yorùbá believe that all good and bad take their origin from Olódùmaré. Olódùmaré’s knowledge is incomparable and has no equal.

The Òrìşà Şango (Shango) also known as the Spirit of Lightning and the Òrìshà of thunder and lightning is an elevated ancestor of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. One of the most prominent Òrìshàs in Yoruba culture, especially in the African Diaspora, he is the original owner of the tablets of Ifa (the Odu) and traded them to the Òrìşà Ọrúnmìlà, the Witness of destiny, for the gift of dance. He is Olódùmaré’s prosecutor and dispenser of justice. Şango is seen as one of the most powerful of all Yoruba Òrìshàs. A former Oyo (Nigeria) Ọba (king) and warrior, Şango was a powerful, successful, and perhaps capricious and unreliable ruler who had the amazing ability to throw lightning bolts during battle. On one occasion, while practicing his magic, Şango accidentally hit his own palace and killed many of his own people, including several wives and children. In his remorse, he committed suicide and descended into the realm of Death. He became an Òrìshà after seducing and impregnating the eternal virgin daughter of the original ancestor of the Yoruba people in the domain of death, thus, it was said, bringing life from death.

It is this Shango, who by legend was a profligate debaucher, wife-stealer, and abuser of magic, who incarnates as Olódùmaré’s avatar in a little village in a parallel universe that bears a remarkable resemblance to north central Louisiana in the mid 19th century. He is born aware of who he is, but requires time to complete the merger of his human and Òrìshà natures. He is raised by the village wise woman, Maggie, who brought him into the world. His mother did not survive his birth and his grieving father disowned him. Maggie, who was the leader of an African wisdom teaching community and a “child” (a devotee) of the Òrìshà Eshu Elegbara, becomes aware that this child is much more than he seems.

Thus begins a “coming of age” drama of sorts, where this precocious child grows up and in the process, starting with his foster mother, begins to “awaken” the human beings around him to their Òrìshà natures and put them in touch with the powers of the Òrìshà within them. This it turns out is the new path. Humans are no longer the steeds of elemental forces that “take their heads,” but become one with the Òrìshà within them and their powers and memories in the process of returning to oneness with Olódùmaré.

I have written in the book’s preface:

"This is a work of fiction. Its intent is to entertain. It makes no pretense of orthodoxy and, in fact, liberally draws from the many African-derived religions migrating from the African continent to the so-called New World. The author, wary of the hypocrisy of “defining” truth, has tried to knit together a story that pays respect to the religious sensibilities of the myriad communities of faith and nonbelievers alike, without wholly endorsing a particular worldview. To paraphrase one contemporary blogger, make an attempt to define truth and before long you will be in error yourself.

The word orthodoxy, derives from the Greek words ortho (“right”, “correct”) and doxa (“thought”, “teaching”), and is typically used to refer to the correct theological or doctrinal observance of religion, as determined by some overseeing body.

This writer believes that there is no such thing as “correct theological or doctrinal observance of religion” especially as determined by some overseeing body, person, or persons, present company included. All religious knowledge and truth is influenced by and “strained” through the structures of individual selfhood.

The writer did draw upon the many oral and written traditions e.g. Patakis, myths, folklore, to ground this story within the universe of African Cosmogony, generally, and particularly in and around the seminal worldviews of the Yorùbá people of Southwestern Nigeria, the Fon of Benin-Togo and the Bakongo, Lare and Lingala speaking people of the modern-day Republic of Congo and Zaire. Modern and postmodern interpretations of practitioners in the African Diaspora communities of faith representing such diverse expressions as Ifá, Vodou, Lukumi/Santeria, Candomble, Umbanda, and Obeah were also examined and consulted, and when creatively appropriate, woven into the story line. As such, in the strange and delightful capacity of fiction to teach and explain, one can come away from this reading with a general exposure and syncretic understanding of Òrìshà-based African wisdom traditions. It is hoped that the mix of Pataki, myth and folklore with imaginative characterizations have combined to create a believable and entertaining tale."

I consider myself, first and foremost to be a poet/teacher. I glory in the music of language, intricate rhyme schemes, profound blank verse, narrative stories, elegant phrases, and vivid imagery. I want in my writing to push emotional buttons, flip sensory switches, close tactile circuits, and watch what happens. That is my joy. But I also have a larger commitment to personal transformation and the fulfillment of human potentiality. This informs the under girding structure of my poetry and stories. I t has taking quite a while for me to get this right -- as manifest in my creative works. But I think I’ve at long last, got it write.

Joseph D. McNair is an African American educator, poet/writer, journalist, and musician. He is currently an Associate Professor, Senior in the School of Education at Miami Dade College, North Campus in Miami-Florida. He is the founder/editor of Asili: The Journal of Multicultural Heartspeak, an on-line literary magazine ten years old this year. He is a recipient of two of Miami Dade College's endowed teaching chairs. His published works include two volumes (Earthbook in 1971 and An Odyssey 1976) and one chapbook of poetry (Juba Girl in 1973). A collection of Selected Works is scheduled for release in early 2008. 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 (2000), Barbara Jordan: African American Politician (2000), and Ralph Bunche (2001). His latest release, O Şe Şango, a novel, will be published by The Asili Press October/November 2007. 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 1997 he coauthored Individuals In Transition with three Social Science Colleagues. In 1998 he revised his first text under a new title: Personal Transformations: The Process of Multicultural Awareness/Consciousness. He is a prolific on-line author and manages several websites.