March 31, 2009

New Book: "The Dead Yard" by Ian Thomson

The Dead YardJamaica used to the source of much of Britain’s wealth, an island where slaves grew sugar and the money flowed out in vast quantities. It was a tropical paradise for the planters, a Babylonian exile for the Africans shipped to the Caribbean.

Since independence in 1962, it has gradually become associated with a new kind of hell, a society where extreme violence has become ordinary and gangs control the areas where most Jamaicans live. Ian Thomson’s brave new book explores a country of lost promise, a country that most older Jamaicans in Britain cannot recognise as their own. Once a beacon of optimistic third world politics, the island is now sunk in corruption, hopelessness and drug wars.

Jamaica’s music was once the lilting anthem of idealists everywhere; now it is a repetitive glorification of homophobia and violence. Thomson walks the streets and rides the buses that most middle class Jamaicans, let alone white visitors, avoid like the plague. He describes poverty, the reality of gang rule and police brutality. He meets Jamaicans who are trying to make a difference, and astonishingly complacent members of the elite. This is an unforgettable portrait of a country that has had a huge influence on British culture, for good and ill.

Source: Faber & Faber

Ian Thomson – ‘a chronicler of formidable power’ (Guardian) - is the author of Bonjour Blanc, an acclaimed book about Haiti, and of Primo Levi (‘one of the best literary biographies of the year, Observer). He lives in London with his wife and children.

March 30, 2009

"The Ex-Files" by Barbra Nightingale

There is often the urge when faced with an unbearable tragedy to wallow in self-pity. And if one turns to verse to render the circumstances into an aesthetic experience, the most important aspect of poetry—transport—is often missing.

In the The Ex-Files, Barbra Nightingale has transformed the details of her ex-husband’s death into a powerful meditation that takes the reader through landscapes of grief filled with hurricanes, cookbooks, dreaming cats, and ruminations about the meaning of the Hebrew word: chai.


Upcoming Posts

Five Questions with Garry Steckles (4/3/2009).

Garry Steckles, author of Bob Marley: A Life.


In My Own Words: Martin Mordecai (4/6/2009).

Martin Mordecai, author of Blue Mountain Trouble.

March 29, 2009

Another Presumptuous Post About Calabash 2009

I've read your open letter to the Prime Minister of Jamaica and I think it's quite presumptuous.

This was the opening salvo from a prominent Caribbean writer/critic whose reaction to "An Open Letter to the Hon. Bruce Golding, Prime Minister of Jamaica," was to send me a personal e-mail that defended the Jamaican government's decision to reduce the funding for Calabash 2009, thus forcing the organizers to cancel the festival. But after "an amazing outpouring of sadness, disappointment, and disbelief from all around the world," the government decided to reverse its position and fully fund the festival.

I've decided not to reveal the person's name because his or her identity is not germane. Rather, it is his/her ideas and the manner that s/he chose to defend the government that interests me.

I've read your open letter to the Prime Minister of Jamaica and I think it's quite presumptuous.

I thought we lived in a democracy and as a citizen who had serious concerns about the direction of my government, I could voice my opinion through my blog to another citizen who had been entrusted to make decisions about our collective fate. Apparently, I was wrong. I continue to be wrong.

But not entirely.

As I wrote in a post some time ago, "Blogging Bypasses Gatekeepers," blogging is a threat to politicians and to people who want to continue the "mental slavery" against which they rail publicly. Blogging is a kind of freedom that can only survive in a democracy where there is a free flow of ideas and any attempt to shut down or diminish freedom of speech, especially given our collective history in the Caribbean, has the scent of empire and colonialism.

Mea culpa. I have breached the social order. I should know my place.

I've read your open letter to the Prime Minister of Jamaica and I think it's quite presumptuous.

Tell me which writer isn't?

I know this person and s/he knows me. But instead of publicly making a comment on the blog and revealing her/his identity, s/he chose to make this personal by sending me an e-mail.

It's not the first time I and/or my writings have been labeled "presumptuous." It's part of a larger pattern.

I've been called nuff, extra, and out-of-order. One of my classmates at Jamaica College once called me "Sister Big Stuff,"--a slap at my sexuality because everyone knows it's saaf battyboys who enjoy literature.

But as with all things Caribbean, only "certain people" are allowed to have an opinion. I am not one of those people. And I know this person. We've even been snapped in a few photographs together.

And you would have thought that after writing as many books as I have that I could have at least earned the right to criticize my government.

But no. Not quite.

This person is a professional writer, so his/her words were chosen deliberately to have a chilling effect on my criticism of the government. This scholar belongs to that class of Caribbean critics that continues to ignore my work at home even while my novel and short stories are being studied abroad. This writer belongs to that class of Caribbean critics that publishes articles about Bob Marley, Louise Bennett, Sparrow, and Kitchener and their ability to "speak truth to power," yet when they are given the chance to demonstrate this ability, they choose to attack someone whom they think has the audacity to speak his mind.

And the strange irony is that I am not the author of the letter. I am merely a co-signer and publisher of the letter. Yet I was the only one who received a personal e-mail.

Yet, this is not a poor me, pity me post. If anything, it is a post about disillusionment and reclaiming personal power.

There was a time when this would have shut me down because I would have thought, "This is a big person. They know what they are talking about. Boy, shut you mouth and keep quiet."

I would have folded my wings, gone back into my shell, and been silent.

But those days are over.

I will continue to be nuff, presumptuous, out-of-order and extra.

The times of being small are over. If there is one thing that the Calabash incident has proven to me is that we've had our YES WE CAN moment in Caribbean writing. We can and should build on that moment to extend democracy in all its forms to every part of Caribbean life.

But more than anything else, I will continue to be grateful to the readers of this blog who have supported me by reading, commenting, and linking to my blog. Freely. You haven't followed anyone's opinion. You've read because you think that I sometimes have interesting things to say.

Thank you. You have made me stronger.


March 28, 2009

Calabash is back on!

Update: March 28, 2009---Calabash is back on!

From Justine Henzell:

Miracles happen. At Calabash we’ve always known this to be true. At the first Calabash in 2001, a flock of yellow butterflies hovered like a mist over the festival tent on the first day. They stayed with us until the final day, when they disappeared. What could that have been but a miracle?

On Friday, March 27, we experienced our most recent miracle.

Due to an amazing outpouring of sadness, disappointment, and disbelief from all around the world the government of Jamaica has restored our funding for 2009.

In addition to the restored allocation from the government we’ve received a hefty three-year grant from a philanthropic agency. Our present and future are secure.


I'd like to think that the readers of this blog had a part to play in the restoration of Calabash and to thank all who left comments and were willing to step out and take a stand. It took courage to do this.

Again, thank you!



March 26, 2009

An Open Letter to the Hon. Bruce Golding, Prime Minister of Jamaica

Update: March 28, 2009---Calabash is back on!

From Justine Henzell:

Miracles happen. At Calabash we’ve always known this to be true. At the first Calabash in 2001, a flock of yellow butterflies hovered like a mist over the festival tent on the first day. They stayed with us until the final day, when they disappeared. What could that have been but a miracle?
On Friday, March 27, we experienced our most recent miracle.
Due to an amazing outpouring of sadness, disappointment, and disbelief from all around the world the government of Jamaica has restored our funding for 2009.
Calabash 2009 is on!
In addition to the restored allocation from the government we’ve received a hefty three-year grant from a philanthropic agency. Our present and future are secure.

27 March, 2009

The Hon. Bruce Golding
Prime Minister of Jamaica

Dear Mr. Golding,

Since its founding in 2001, the Calabash International Literary Festival has played a huge and invaluable role in promoting the work of Jamaican and Caribbean writers, and exposing new audiences to the region's literary heritage. Calabash is now considered the major event on the Caribbean's literary calendar, and is celebrated internationally not just for the calibre of the world-class writers who participate in the festival, but for its uniquely Jamaican energy and verve.

Further, by insisting that attendance at Calabash remain free, its organisers have ensured that Jamaicans from all backgrounds can participate. And the festival is a remarkable model for sustainable community-based tourism, with direct benefits to the people of Treasure Beach and the rest of St. Elizabeth.

It is shocking and deeply disappointing, therefore, to hear that the 2009 Calabash Festival has been cancelled due to insufficient funding. The rewards of Calabash -- to its audiences, to the region's literary culture, and to Jamaica's international reputation -- far outstrip the financial costs of staging the festival. Jamaica, like many other countries, now faces difficult economic circumstances, and Jamaica's leaders are forced to make difficult decisions about financial priorities. However, we respectfully suggest that allowing Calabash 2009 to be cancelled is not in the best short- or long-term financial interests of Jamaica.

It is impossible to quantify the Calabash Festival's contribution to Caribbean literature, and to the promotion of books, reading and education. But a glance at the international press coverage of the festival over the last eight years, and at the numbers of foreign visitors in attendance, gives a sense of how effectively Calabash showcases Jamaica's culture to the world. Most of all, Calabash has been an economic lifeline to the people of Treasure Beach and other communities in St. Elizabeth. They are the ones who will suffer most from its cancellation.

We the undersigned -- writers, editors, publishers, and literary scholars from across the Caribbean and further afield -- therefore urge you to reconsider how your government and its agencies can support Calabash 2009, in the hope that it is not too late for the festival to proceed as planned. We believe the question is not whether Jamaica can afford Calabash, but rather how Jamaica can afford to let it disappear. Now, more than ever, this cultural asset needs and deserves and will repay Jamaica's investment

Yours respectfully,


Nicholas Laughlin
Geoffrey Philp
Sasenarine Persaud
Lasana M. Sekou
Opal Palmer Adisa
Dear Reader,

If you would like to add your name to the open letter, leave a comment with your full name below. I'd really appreciate it and please pass this post on to all your friends in your distribution list.


March 25, 2009

Derek Walcott's Square

Derek Walcott's Square, St. Lucia
So poetry made this happen--take that, W. H. Auden!
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In the heart of the town of Castries, there is a small square with a long history dating back to the 18th century. It used to be the Place d’Armes when the island was under French control. In January 1893, it was rechristened Columbus Square in honor of the discoverer who never set foot on the island. One hundred years later—to the date-it was renamed to honor Derek Walcott’s 1992 Nobel Prize for literature. It has become, to judge by the number of cruise ship passengers that flock there every day, the second most popular tourist attraction in St. Lucia (after the duty-free shops).

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Photo: Repeating Islands Blog.

Letter to a Young Writer: Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo by KatieVandyckI frequently encounter talented students when I run creative writing workshops around the world, talent which may one day lead to publication, or not. As Thomas A. Edison famously said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Without focus and hard work many a spark fizzles out. Sometimes this is what aspiring writers need to be told – that the craft of writing is something which has to be developed over many years and that you need tremendous drive. The first challenge is to complete a manuscript and get it published; the second is to keep doing it. It may appear that published writers are somehow just ‘lucky’, but the truth is that no one is going to publish a book that hasn’t been written. As the American motivational guru Anthony Robbins says, “The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck.”

Quite a few writers have passed through my workshops and eventually been published. I’m not saying this to take credit for their success, but to make the point that not all of them showed that special creative spark. But the other qualities they possessed: openness to learning and developing craft, determination, self-discipline, consistent hard-work, single-mindedness, and tenacity, were all major factors in their transformation into published writers of note. They also had self-belief. Over two thousand years ago the Roman poet Virgil wrote “They can because they think they can.” How true. When students cite lack of self-confidence as the reason why they’re not writing, or writing but not sending their work out to journals, agents or publishers, I suggest they go on motivational and confidence-building courses, or at least read the books (Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is a good starter). I did. And yes, in true cringe-worthy fashion –it changed my life.

So it’s not about starting out fully-formed as a writer but working with what you have to grow your talents and give yourself the writing career you desire. I am a firm believer in taking responsibility and positive thinking at all times. This has led me to where I am today. If one door closes, I open another one – I don’t wait for someone to do it for me.


Bernardine Evaristo was born and raised in London where she still lives. Blonde Roots is her first prose novel. She has previously fused fiction with poetry in the novels, Soul Tourists (Penguin 05) and The Emperor’s Babe (Penguin 01). Bloodaxe Books will publish a new expanded edition of her verse novel Lara in 2009--the story of her family history with roots in England, Nigeria, Ireland, Brazil, and Germany. In 2007 she co-edited the Granta new writing anthology NW15. She has received several awards, her books have been a Book of the Year nine times for national newspapers and publications, and she is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts. For more information, please visit her website: or her blog:

Photo: Bernardine Evaristo by Katie Vandyck

March 23, 2009

Derek Walcott: Gros Islet

The connection between our writers and our landscapes grows even more tenuous because of the yearly migrations and the lack of publishing possibilities in the Caribbean.

And given the ecological disasters about which John Maxwell writes ( there is a poisoning of the land that makes it difficult to reconcile any sense of the sacred with the painful history of the region.

If we have learned anything from our literature, it is that nothing is inherently beautiful. If is we who create beauty and unless we decide to preserve the land as ours, the poisoning and degradation will continue.

clipped from

In his Nobel Prize address, Walcott wrote of his belief in the sacredness bestowed on places by the power vested upon them by being the settings of classic texts of Caribbean literature. He wrote of the possibility of those places made significant by our literatures turning into the loci of Caribbean nationhood and identity:

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Photo: Repeating Islands Blog

Essay Contest:Jamaica Ex-Police Association of South Florida

The Jamaica Ex-Police Association of South Florida, Inc. is now accepting applications for its annual USA and Jamaican scholarships. Applications for the USA scholarship should be submitted to the scholarship committee of the association by March 31, 2009. Applications for the Jamaican scholarship will be handled by the Community Affairs Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

The South Florida Scholarship will be awarded at the association’s annual ball on Saturday, April 25, 2009, at the Faith Tabernacle Banquet Hall, 7100 West Oakland Park Boulevard, Sunrise, Florida. The Jamaican Scholarship will be awarded on Monday, May 25, 2009, at the Negril Police Station in Westmoreland, Jamaica, at the conclusion of the association’s annual Jamaica Police Station’s Refurbishing Project at the station. A presentation of medical supplies and equipment will also be made to a health clinic in Westmpreland.

Both scholarships are awarded annually by the Jamaica Ex-Police Association of South Florida, Inc., in its effort to assist students in the South Florida community and in Jamaica. The scholarships are one time cash awards.

The criteria for the local USA scholarship are:

1. Applicant should be a legal resident in Broward, Miami-Dade or Palm Beach County, Florida.
2. Applicant must provide proof of residency in one of the listed counties.
3. Applicant should be currently registered as a student in a 2-4 year college, or has been accepted as such.
4. Applicants must submit, on line and via mail, a two-page essay (81/2 x 11), typed in 12 inch fonts and double spaced. In the essay, the entrant should articulate convincingly why he/she should be awarded the scholarship.
5. Applications should be submitted to the Jamaica Ex-Police Association, P.O. Box 8605, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33310, by March 31, 2009.
6. Application packets must include the entrant’s full name, address, telephone number, and an email address if available.
7. The scholarship is a one-time cash award.
8. Students of Jamaican parentage are strongly encouraged to apply.
9. The financial need and scholastic aptitude of the applicants will be considered in the selection process.

Criteria for Jamaican Scholarship are:

1. Applicant must be a high school student or must have been accepted in a Jamaican High School.
2. Money awarded should be used only to purchase school supplies: books and uniform.
3. Over a one year period the funds will be disbursed by the principal or (the designee).
4. The principal (or designee) of the recipient’s school will administer the funds and submit an expenditure report to the Jamaica Ex-Police Association of South Florida, Inc., via the Community Relations Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
5. The Community Relations Division of the JCF will select the recipient. No division of the police force will be excluded from participating in the selection process.
6. For the one-year period of the scholarship, the recipient must attend school regularly, maintain satisfactory grades and display good conduct.
7. The scholarship is a one-time award.

For further information contact: Malachi Smith, MSCJ, PR Director JEPA: (305) 302-5365;

March 21, 2009

Derek Walcott's First Home

I'm following the Repeating Islands blog which is on a tour through the Caribbean and each island. They are now in St. Lucia, home of the great poet, Derek Walcott.

Our literary tour through Castries, St. Lucia, took us to Derek Walcott’s childhood home, located at #17 Chausée Road. The house, once described as a “quaint little gabled cottage with a portico that sported two benches with golden alamanda and poinsettias softening the harshness of the setting sun,” is now empty and forlorn. The air was scented with the irresistible smells of the bakery next door, but the house was sad and derelict. We left, like the poet with his father Warwick in Omeros, down Grass Street towards the port, amid the concern of neighbors, who worried about us being in what they considered a bad part of town.

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March 20, 2009

New Book: "Blue Mountain Trouble" by Martin Mordecai

Martin Mordecai
Martin Mordecai has written a novel, Blue Mountain Trouble, for readers between the ages of 9-12, and so far, the reviews have been glowing:
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The story begins with a bang. A pair of twins, walking down a mountain to their village school, encounter in the morning mist a vision of a huge, disembodied goat's head. The vision fades, and seconds later the ground in front of them trembles and slides away. Was the goat a malevolent presence, or did it save them from injury or worse? Already, the book is a grabber.

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Derek Walcott Reads "Sea Grapes"


March 19, 2009

Cuban American Writer: Ivonne Lamazares

Ivonne read from her newest short story "Hostal Jamil" published in The Southern Review for 2009.
On March 12th, in honor of Women's History Month, Miami Dade College hosted novelist Dr. Ivonne Lamazares who left her homeland of Cuba in 1962 at the age of thirteen.
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March 18, 2009

Call For Papers: Going Caribbean!

ACT 22


International Conference

Going Caribbean!

New Perspectives on Caribbean Literature and Art

Centre for Comparative Studies.

University of Lisbon, November 2 – 3, 2009

In an age of intensifying globalization and interdependencies, «being Caribbean» means more than fashioning a particular identity. Being Caribbean refers to a complex, particular condition, which transcends regional boundaries. Who is Caribbean? And who is «going Caribbean»? Are we all Caribbean now because we live in «urban archipelagoes» (Clifford)? Around the globe, cultural archipelagoes are quickly emerging as a result of the complex process of creolisation, which is taking place in regions and nations far beyond Martinique, Aruba or Jamaica. In the heart of Europe, for instance, —something nobody would have thought of a few decades ago—where nations claim separate cultural identities, from Scotland to Cataluña and the Balkan.

In spite of this exciting and celebratory view of the Caribbean as the paradigm of creolisation, critics still lack a deeper understanding of the intra-Caribbean reality, for a simple reason: in approaching the Caribbean we have almost never crossed linguistic and national boundaries. Although there has been growing academic interest over the past few decades, Caribbean culture is usually studied according to the nationality or language: Cuban writers are part of Cuban or broader Spanish-American literature, Martinican novels belong to Francophone or French literature, Dutch Antillean poetry is part of Dutch literature. Whatever the writers or artists´ background is, they are rarely seen as the protagonists of a common Caribbean cultural identity. As a result, important parts of Caribbean literature and art, especially the multilingual «Dutch» Caribbean where writers express themselves in many languages (not only in Dutch), remain largely unknown. How to resolve the problem of this critical «insularism» so often entrenched in academic departments? Can we go beyond such a limited, artificial view on Caribbean culture?

This conference aims to open up new perspectives through the comparative study of Fiction and Art from the broader Francophone, Hispanic, Dutch, and Anglophone Caribbean as well as their respective Diasporas. A comparative perspective urges us to unveil hidden connections, influences and dialogues between writers, artists and intellectuals. How can a Caribbean nation be imagined beyond geographical and linguistic boundaries? What are the convergences between authors and artists that at first have little in common, like, for instance, Caryl Phillips, the incisive writer from St. Kitts, and Frank Martinus Arion, from Curaçao, who three years ago was the focal point of the Dutch publishing industry's "Holland reads!" campaign? Is there a literary connection between Edwidge Danticat, one of the fascinating voices of the Haitian diaspora, and Patrick Chamoiseau, the Goncourt winning novelist from Martinique? Are the «Puerto Rican» paintings of Arnaldo Roche in dialogue with the Dutch Antillean work of José Maria Capricorne? Finally, how does a transnational, multilingual, perspective on their work shed light on current processes of creolisation inside and outside the Caribbean? Beyond the possibilities, what obstacles and objections persist in undertaking a comparative study of Caribbean culture?

Keynote Speakers (Confirmed):

  • Mayra Santos-Febres (Puerto Rico)

  • Ineke Phaf-Reinberger (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)

  • Kathleen Gyssels (University of Antwerp)

  • Aart G. Broek (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies)

  • Theo D´haen (Catholic University of Leuven)

  • Frank Martinus Arion (Curaçao)

Suggested topics for papers and sessions:

We welcome all comparative approaches to Caribbean Literature and Art in relation to the following areas and topics:

  • Representations of Caribbean Identity

  • Arts from the Caribbean Diaspora(s) and Exile

  • New Directions in Caribbean Studies

  • Influences on Dutch Caribbean Art and Literature

  • Translation of Caribbean literature (specially to Portuguese): problems and perspectives

  • Memory and Trauma

  • Visual Arts

  • Cultural Studies

  • Impact of circular migration on Caribbean culture

  • Caribbean Philosophy

  • Postcolonial theory

  • Cultural and Literary Reviews

  • Creolisation in the Caribbean in comparison to Cape Verde

Paper submission:

  • Papers may be presented in Portuguese, English, French or Spanish

  • Abstracts (max. 300 words) and a short biography (100 Words) should be sent electronically via attachment to:

Deadline for submission of papers: May 31, 2009.

For more information, please visit:


March 16, 2009

Fifteen Books That Have Influenced Me

15 Books MemeI was going to write a post similar to Monique Roffey’s, but then, I was tagged by Lisa, so the first five books on this list are My Pentateuch: The books that I carried with me from Jamaica when I had to make a real choice about which books would come with me to America.

1. Uncle Time by Dennis Scott.

The world of the fantastic surrounds us. Portrait of the Artist as craftsman.

2. Reel from “The Life Movie” by Anthony McNeill.

It’s the music of the line that matters.

3. Another Life by Derek Walcott.

Poetry is a vocation—a calling.

4. The Arrivants by Kamau Brathwaite.

Africa is an integral part of our culture and we denigrate the continent to our own psychic peril.

5. Mimic Men by VS Naipaul.

Naipaul’s cautionary tale about a man who is so consumed by the notion of “superior” colonial culture that he demeans the beauty around him.

6. The Pond by Mervyn Morris.

Make every word, every syllable, and every sound count.

7. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

The life of an artist, especially those from colonized countries, is fraught with perils to conform.

8. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.

Camus’s response to our collective existential condition.

9. The Inferno by Dante (trans. Robert Pinsky).

A poet’s response to the moral crisis in his culture. I also have to thank Mr. Pinsky for allowing me to use a quotation from his translation in my novel Benjamin, my son.

10. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.

Corruption, father and son relationships, the burden of Plantation America

11. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

Lyricism, the burden of Plantation America

12. Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquéz.

What can I say? I’m a romantic.

13. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda.

See above.

14. The Children of Sisyphus by Orlando Patterson.

A Jamaican hell.

15. The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Myths are intertwined/hardwired into our DNA. It is the poet’s job to revise/ renew the myths and suggest new ways.

I’m not going to tag, anyone for this meme. However, if you read it, liked it and want to jump in, come forward! The virtual pool is irie.


March 15, 2009

Media Woes

Here's a snippet from a piece I wrote over at Groundreport:

Many of the media houses instead of offering a reasoned analysis of economics or politics have adopted an ESPN style programming: Two pundits face off in the intellectual equivalent of Fight Club, and battle for ten or fifteen minutes. Viewers decide the winner, thumbs up or thumbs down, via text messages or by Twitter. Cable news programs have reduced the search for objective truth by following the advice of twits.

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March 13, 2009

2009 Short Story Competition

Nicholas Laughlin and I are the judges for this contest.

Short story competition updates: Judges & new deadline for submissions

1. Judges for the short story competition:

--Nicholas Laughlin; writer, poet, editor of the Caribbean Review of Books.

--Geoffrey Philp; writer, poet, literary critic.

2. As a result of a recently discovered conflicting schedule, I've changed the deadline for submissions to the competition. The new deadline is April 15, 2009. Thanks to those of you who have already submitted entries. Be reminded that each person is allowed up to three entries.

3. Included in my initial prize package were two US$50 prizes for outstanding participation in a workshop to be run by Ruel Johnson. Since that workshop has been postponed, I've added that money to the other prizes. Updated prizes:

--1st Prize: US$550 + publication (TBA)

--2nd Prize: US$325 + publication (TBA)

--3rd Prize: US$125 + publication (TBA)

4. Winners will be announced in May 2009.

Happy writing to you!

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New Book: "Liquid Lunch " by Stephen Bess

Stephen Bess
Stephen Bess is now a published author. Stop by his blog and BUY a copy of Liquid Lunch.
Liquid Lunch has arrived! I was smiling ear to ear when UPS showed up with my chapbooks. I felt like a proud Papa; I am a proud Papa! Well, if you wish to purchase just look to your right. There is a "Buy Now" button to click. It's easy and safe to use. If you don't have a credit or debit card, send me an email (for email address just click profile button). I guarantee excellent customer service. Meanwhile, please tell a friend or family member. We gotta move these chapbooks! Thanks for all of your support. *Big Smile*

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In My Own Words: Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo by Katie VandyckMy first prose novel is called Blonde Roots (Riverhead USA 2009) and in it I turn the transatlantic slave trade on its head and create a world where Africans enslave Europeans. My protagonist, Doris, is kidnapped as a child from the Cabbage Coast of England and enslaved in the West Japanese Islands. As an adult she is moved to the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa where she becomes the personal assistant of her formidable master, Bwana, a.k.a. Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I. The novel is about her desire and attempt to escape slavery and return to the Motherland – England.

As a writer I always want to do things differently, to stay true to a creative impulse that wants to re-create and re-imagine the world from unexpected viewpoints. I want to push the boundaries, to venture into new and sometimes precarious territory. I have previously written verse novels, one of which, The Emperor’s Babe is about a black girl growing up in Roman London. I was astonished to discover in my twenties that African soldiers had been stationed in the north of Britain during the Roman occupation 1800 years ago. I just had to write about it.

When I sat down to write about the slave trade in 2005, I wracked my brains about how I could do this in a way that enabled people to see it afresh. I really didn’t want to write the kind of novel about slavery where the reader knows where they are going emotionally and morally. I didn’t want to be predictable because there’s a safeness to that, a familiarity, that reaffirms what we know rather than leading us into new terrain. I had long been aware that the slave trade is a subject that elicits strong responses including anger, defensiveness, resentment, self-righteousness, guilt, sadness. So I decided to ask the question What if? What if the history as we know it is turned on its head and Africans enslave Europeans over a four hundred year period? What if Africans assume the moral and intellectual high ground and notions of savagery and civilisation are inverted? What if Africans see Europeans as depraved, lesser creatures and themselves as superior, more evolved beings? This idea is not without comic potential, so while the novel is a serious re-examination of the transatlantic slave trade, it also lends itself to satire. And while it is in one sense historical, I’ve written it in such a way that it sometimes appears contemporary. The world I’ve created is a parallel universe.

Blonde Roots re-investigates what we accept as the truth of this particular slave history and at the same time references and challenges still-prevailing attitudes towards race in our societies today.


Bernardine Evaristo was born and raised in London where she still lives. Blonde Roots is her first prose novel. She has previously fused fiction with poetry in the novels, Soul Tourists (Penguin 05) and The Emperor’s Babe (Penguin 01). Bloodaxe Books will publish a new expanded edition of her verse novel Lara in 2009--the story of her family history with roots in England, Nigeria, Ireland, Brazil, and Germany. In 2007 she co-edited the Granta new writing anthology NW15. She has received several awards, her books have been a Book of the Year nine times for national newspapers and publications, and she is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts. For more information, please visit her website: or her blog:

Photo: Bernardine Evaristo by Katie Vandyck

March 11, 2009

Nalo Hopkinson Interview

Nalo HopkinsonNALO HOPKINSON is a writer who has so far published a collection of short stories, four novels and an anthology or two.

You’ve taught at workshops, such as Clarion West. What value do you find you get from teaching? What do you enjoy (and not enjoy) about the experience of teaching?

Teaching uses a lot of my mental and creative energy. The more teaching I do, the less writing I find I can do. And the fact is, reading pages and pages of ineffective prose is unpleasant. It makes reading a chore. On the other hand, it can be extraordinarily rewarding work. I love the moment when the light goes on in a budding writer’s eyes about some aspect of craft that had been invisible to her before. I enjoy it when someone dares to push his writing beyond the expected. And when I try to describe something about how fiction works, it makes me think about how/whether it works in my own fiction, and that helps me to improve my craft. Students challenge me in that way all the time. Plus there’s the simple contact high of interacting with people who, like me, are excited by words and story.

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March 10, 2009

100 Free Lectures That Will Make You a Better Writer

This is one that I recommend:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez speaks about Latin America, the persistence of life over death, and the role of the writer in promoting the creation of hope.

Being a writer means you constantly evolve and grow in your writing knowledge. One way to aid in this evolution to becoming a better writer is by learning from what others have to offer. The following lectures cover a wide range of fields including literature, speeches from current writers, lectures from Nobel Laureates in literature, lectures about fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism, and even entire classes on writing.

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March 9, 2009

Give Thanks: Kamau Brathwaite

Kamau BrathwaiteA writer learns her craft by toil, failure, and providence. But mostly from failure. For writing is a solitary discipline--learning to create a poem, short story or poem from a fleeting phrase, an ephemeral image or an indelible experience. And she must do this by using language that is true to her life and her community while she is also learning from other writers, living or dead, how to balance tone and rhythm, metaphor and rhyme, plot and pacing while maintaining her unique vision. This, as Pam Mordecai recently stated, takes persistence and courage.

For it is so easy to give in and fade into the crowd. Better to be a prodigal and to be welcomed back into the bleating herd of writers.

But if she is lucky, she may find a way to speak with confidence in the timbre of her own voice. If she is very lucky, she may find a living mentor who may offer her guidance at a crucial stage of her career. A living mentor, as John O' Donohue has suggested in Divine Beauty, has a valuable place in any society: "To know they are there, day in day out, at the frontiers of their own limitation and vision, probing further into new possibility, enduring at lonely thresholds in the hope of discovery, to know they are willing to risk everything is both disturbing and comforting" (257).

I count myself among the lucky because throughout by development as a writer, I've had several mentors who have guided me for the past thirty years.

My first mentor was Dennis Scott and it was through his work that I discovered Anthony McNeill, Mervyn Morris, Derek Walcott, and Kamau Brathwaite. Dennis helped me to see many of my strengths as a writer, but when I came to America and after his subsequent death, I was pretty much on my own.

Of course, I continued to take classes to learn as much as I could from writers such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, O. R. Dathorne, Lester Goran, and Evelyn Wilde Mayerson, who offered me encouragement, but I was essentially rudderless.

I didn't want to become an exiled writer like many of the luminaries of Caribbean literature who over the years grew further and further away from the communities that gave birth to their talent. I had grown up with the music of the "Reggae Generation" and Bob Marley, in particular: "Children, get your culture/ And don't stay there an jester" ("Natty Dread').

Yet it wasn't until I attended the Caribbean Writers' Summer Institute and met Kamau Brathwaite that things began to change. Sure it was a large class, but when Kamau spoke to us about creating beauty from the trees, flowers, plants, and animals that surrounded us, I began to see a way out. It was also a thrill to be in the same room, in the very presence--breathing the same air--of a poet whose work I had long admired.

In our poetry seminar, Kamau suggested a new way of looking at Florida as a part of the Caribbean both in terms of the geography and sensibility-- a unity that was "submarine." Through his words, I was able to find a connection between Jamaica and Florida--my two homes.

Over the days that the seminar continued, we recoiled in horror when Kamau told of about the destruction of his library in Jamaica. To date, I don't know if any of these treasures have been recovered, but they no doubt are part of literary landscape of the Caribbean that has been lost.

So much in the Caribbean comes and goes, it is hard to preserve anything under these circumstances. And the mercantilist mindset that we have toward "soft" things such as literature doesn't help either.

From this insight came hurricane center and xango music. Both locales faced the yearly threat of physical and psychic hurricanes that threaten to destroy anything that we try to build. And there was always the music even in the face of destruction of lives and dreams.

And because we lack sustainable artistic communities, the importance of living mentors within the Caribbean cannot be overstated. For as O' Donohue states in Divine Beauty: "The presence of the contemplative and the artist in a culture is ultimately an invitation to awaken and engage one's neglected gifts, to enter more fully into the dream of the eternal that has brought us here to earth" (257).

Kamau taught us that despite all this, we must build--we must preserve. His example served as the impetus for the creation of this blog. From the start, Kamau was one of the first to urge me to continue and as I have followed his example with x-periments, in my prose and poetry, this blog has also been an attempt to preserve and showcase the literary talents from my two homes.

In the Sufi tradition there is a concept known as the "blessed glance" between a master and an adept. I don't know if I received this from any of my mentors, but I do know that through their words they have given me the confidence to pursue my path.

Give thanks, Kamau, for all that you have done and continue to do for InI.




In the course of writing this post, I received a disturbing e-mail from Kamau for me to spread the news about strange occurrences in his office and at his home. I hope that these incidents have stopped.

March 6, 2009

Letter to a Young Writer: Pam Mordecai

Pamela Mordecai has published four collections of poetry, Journey Poem; De Man, a performance poem; Certifiable; and The True Blue of Islands and, with her husband Martin, a reference work, Culture and Customs of Jamaica.

Her first prose work, Pink Icing: stories, appeared in 2006 from Insomniac Press to enthusiastic reviews. Her children’s poems are well-known internationally and have for many years been used in textbooks and anthologies on all sides of the Atlantic. She has written five books for children as well as numerous textbooks. She blogs at

Dear Young Writer:

I’m using ‘young’ not to signify age, but to refer to how long you’ve been writing, which, I’m assuming, isn’t that long, even if you’re going to be a hundred on your next birthday. If you are looking at your first century, that’s cool, because you have so much more to write about when you put pen to paper. Old bones aren’t great for doing the hundred meter hurdles but they are exactly what writers need to sift around in as they look for a great story! If, however, you are a young-in-age as well as young-in-history writer, give thanks for time — time to do the things all writers must do and keep on doing: dream, research, draft, redraft, and most of all, and above all, read and read and read…All of which has been said before and all of which you have heard before. So this is not so much my advice to you as it is what I would wish for you.

I would wish the following things.

1. A Good Nose. This is necessary so you will not salivate at the enticing smell of every word you put down on a page, and also so that you will not be taken in by the spicy blandishments of words other writers have put down that are by no means a healthy literary meal because someone has decided to publish them. You want to save that mouth-water for the really good repast! A lot of poor entrées find themselves on to the book menu, while some of the healthiest literary consumables remain tucked away on dusty shelves or in bottom drawers, perhaps yours among them. A good writer sniffs out first, things that deserve to be put into the literary pot, and then, snout in the dirt like a pig hunting truffles, the best ways of saying them.

2. Persistence. There was an actor once. He was in his first role. It was a workshop production, in the round, of a play produced by the late Hugh Morrison. The actor had the part of a (Mexican, I think) peasant, and all he had to do was run in, throw himself to his knees, and say, “The rain! The rain!” (This was a not unimportant line, since the time was one of terrible drought.) Again and again he hurled himself upon the floor, and, try as he might, he could not get it right. But he kept going. I won’t tell you who it is, but he is one of the finest actors in the Caribbean, a veteran of stage, TV and the movies! Had he taken his earliest reviews to heart, our loss would have been enormous!

3. Thick Skin. I wish you the covering of the cascadura, since you must endure many disappointments and discouragements. Rejection slips are never welcome, and, unless you are very lucky, you will get many of these. Harder, though, may be the tossing-aside of people who dismiss your work, or folks, some of whom you may count as supporters or friends, who pigeonhole you. “A genre writer! Good at fantasy!” “Not bad at children’s stories.” “Good at travel writing — not much else.” This is where numbers one and two come in handy; married to five, they will take you where you need to go.

4. Pig-in-Mud Experience. Back with the pig again! This is the thing I most wish for you: that you are happy, consumed (ha! you’re the dinner now!) and content when you are engaged in the writing task. And I don’t mean that you are necessarily writing cheerful or funny stuff, or that it’s coming easily — far from it. Funny stuff is often the most heartbreaking, and the greatest exhilaration is to be had from the struggle to get it right. But there is a special high that comes from doing something that you want to do, and working hard at it, and a very special high when that something is writing, for it unites your senses and intellect, memory and imagination, art and craft in a unique way, a way that teaches you about the world, your fellow human beings, and yourself. Not all writers are happy when they are at work: some are anguished putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. I have always been happy when I write, and I wish this for you.

5. Courage. Writing is not for the faint-hearted. Hang around with people who wish you well in the task. Go to places (workshops, readings, courses) that help build a stout heart and join others (writing groups, online or off) who can cheer you on and whose spirits you can help to buoy up.

6. A Solid Bottom Line. You will certainly enjoy this if Oprah buys the movie rights to one of your stories, but it is possible otherwise. You can earn your living from writing. Fame and fortune apart, it is satisfying to know that your writing is a bankable item, so much so that you need rely on nothing else for earning your living.

Blessings, then, on your aspirations, as an early writer named Luke, said, “pressed down, shaken together and running over…” May you ride on into a glorious sunset of many well-wrought books…


March 4, 2009

Anancy @ Opa-Locka Branch Library

“I’d like anyone who has a lot of self-esteem to stand up.”

None of the children moved. I stood in the center of the room and searched their faces for some response, but I was greeted by blank stares.

Finally, one little girl put up her hand.

“What’s self esteem?” she asked.

“Self esteem is loving yourself, being confident, knowing that you are valuable and worthy.”

This was a snippet of a conversation that I had with third, fourth and fifth graders when I read from Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories at the Opa-Locka Branch Library on Wednesday, February 25, 2009.
It was one of the more rewarding experiences that I’ve had with my children’s book, and although I’ve had a few doubts during my writing career, this was one of those instances that put me right again.
And when we talked about confidence, I gave them the example of President Obama and his address to Congress on the previous night.

“If there’s one thing that I want you to remember,” I said, “when you tell your friends about the Jamaican writer who visited you, is that he told you to respect yourself.”

“You’re Jamaican?”


“Say something Jamaican.”

I recited a line from one of my many patwa poems and explained to them my choice of using patwa or Standard English depended on the audience.

“Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of how you speak or how you sound. But realize that if you are going to survive in South Florida, you may have to change how you speak. For example, when I’m speaking with the president of my college, I speak like this: (fake British accent)."


"And when I'm playing dominoes with my Jamaican friends, I speak like this, “Man, shuffle de kyard dem right.”

More laughter.
I then read from the second chapter from Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories where Jimmy encounters the bully, Kevin. We discussed how Anancy, as the smallest animal in the jungle, overcame his enemies by using his wits. We also made the connection between what Jimmy was going through with Kevin and Anancy’s conflict with Snake.
“So no matter what you encounter in life,” I added, “you never have to resort to violence. You never have to use your fists to solve a problem. And no one can ever make you feel small or disrespect you because you have self esteem and you don’t depend on other people to make you make you feel worthy."

The children clapped

"Okay, so how many of you have self-esteem? I want you to stand up.”
About eighteen out of the twenty children stood up. The other two were being pressured by their peers to stand up.

“They don’t have to stand up,” I explained. “Self worth begins with being honest with yourself and sometimes it means not doing what everyone else is doing. And if they don’t feel it right now, then I hope they’ll feel it in the future.”

The children clapped and they all sat down.

Not bad for a day’s work, I thought.