September 30, 2009

Tribute to Trevor D. Rhone @ Backyard Labrish

 Geoffrey Philp, a successful Jamaican poet and novelist in the Diaspora, joins The Backyard to help us celebrate and honour the late Trevor D. Rhone.

Mr. Rhone, a leading Caribbean playwright and screenwriter, co-wrote the 1972 hit, The Harder They Come, which helped introduce reggae music and urban Jamaican culture to international audiences. Rhone also wrote and directed several other hits including Smile Orange and School’s Out. Considered a "Master of Tragicomic,” Mr. Rhone leaves a strong cultural legacy.

This week's featured guest, Mr. Geoffrey Philp, was referred to as "Funny and Fearless" by The Daily Gleaner in a review of his short story collection, Who's Your Daddy: "Philp writes without fear or favour. He tells his stories with honesty, throwing away the pen of pretentiousness to weave simple, but poignant plots with a down-to-earth style, which is refreshing.”

Mr. Philp, who earned his Master of Arts in Creative Writing, is the recipient of several awards and has penned several articles, poems, children's books, short stories, and maintains an active blog: Geoffrey Philp’s Blog Spot.

Join us as we welcome fellow Kingstonian, Geoffrey Philp, to The Backyard to help us honour the accomplishments of Trevor D. Rhone as we continue to preserve the rich culture of Jamaica, "Land We Love."

To join The Labrish and share your stories call:
718-766-4558 on Wednesday 9/30/09 at 8:00PM EST


Listen in by clicking the link below:

Backyard Labrish

To set a reminder: GO NOW to this link & click on the Remind Me button.

We welcome your questions and comments.

Call us @ 718-766-4558 on Wed. 9/30/09 at 8:00PM.

Join the Labrish!

Margaret Marshall

Producer & Host

Click the icon to listen

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September 29, 2009

Eric Williams Memorial Collection: 2009 "School Bags'" Essay Competition

Port of Spain, TRINIDAD and TOBAGO (September 10, 2009) The Eric Williams Memorial Collection (EWMC) at The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, announces the biennial “Eric Williams ‘School Bags’ Essay Competition.”

Since 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, Caribbean students are being asked to assess its successes and failures and to comment on their relevance to today.

This year, the EWMC is partnering with UNESCO offices in Trinidad and Tobago; Jamaica; Guyana; Grenada and the British Virgin Islands in encouraging eligible schools in those countries to participate.

Throughout his life, Dr Eric Williams, noted scholar/historian and the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, gave special emphasis to learning. “To educate is to emancipate,” he famously said, and on August 30, 1962, the eve of his country’s Independence from Britain, he exhorted:

“You, the children, yours is the great responsibility to educate your parents, teach them to live together in harmony…To your tender and loving hands, the future of the Nation is entrusted. In your innocent hearts, the pride of the Nation is enshrined. On your scholastic development, the salvation of the Nation is dependent…you carry the future of Trinidad and Tobago in your school bags.”
The contest is being offered to all final year Sixth Form students (or equivalent) in the former and current British-colonized Caribbean countries: Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos. It will be held from September 2009 through January 31, 2010.

Winners will be announced on April 30, 2010. 
The first prize winner will receive a four-day trip for two to Trinidad and Tobago with airfare, hotel accommodations and two meals daily; a tour of The Eric Williams Memorial Collection and University of the West Indies campus; a US $1000 educational voucher; courtesy calls on the President of Trinidad and Tobago and the Speaker of the House of Representatives; a tour of Parliament; a set of Eric Williams’ books; a framed certificate and a 2010 African American Black History Calendar. In the event of a Trinidad and Tobago winner, a trip to Jamaica will be substituted.

The winning essay will also be published in CARICOM’s Newsletter and the Miami Herald Newspaper’s online edition.    
2007 Competition winners were:  Dexnell Peters, Trinity College, Trinidad and Tobago (First); Patrina Pink (Second) and Machela Osagboro (Third), both of Wolmer’s School, Jamaica.

Patrons of the Eric Williams Memorial Collection’s ‘School Bags’ Essay Competition are:  Caribbean Airlines, Ltd.; CARICOM; Digicel Trinidad & Tobago, Ltd.; Encyclopedia of the Caribbean – Professor John Garrigus; IOKTS Productions; Journal of African American History; LIAT (1974) Ltd.; Miami-Dade County Public Schools System; Miami Herald Newspaper; Trinidad Hilton; UNESCO. 

The Eric Williams Memorial Collection constitutes the Research Library, Archives & Museum of Eric Williams. It was inaugurated by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell in 1998, and named to UNESCO’s prestigious Memory of the World Registerin 1999.

For more information, please contact Erica Williams Connell, The Eric Williams Memorial Collection P.O. Box 561631, Miami, FL  33256-1631, USA. Fax: (305) 271-4160; Websites:   www.ericwilliamsmemorialcollection.org

Media Contact:

Erica Williams Connell

Tel: 305-905-9999



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Blog Action Day: October 15, 2009

Recent visitors to my blog may have noticed a series of changes such as the addition of new sponsors and a button for Blog Action Day, which will be celebrated on October 15, 2009.

So far, over 2000 blogs from over 102 countries with a combined readership of approximately 9,000,000 readers (you are one of them) have decided to rally around the cause of climate change—a phenomenon that is already affecting island nations such as the Maldives.

On October 15, 2009, I plan to blog about climate change and Jamaica. I’d like to urge fellow bloggers to register, promote, and take action at the Blog Action ’09 site to change “the conversation across the blogosphere.”

But this call to action is not only for bloggers. Climate change is affecting all of us. By raising awareness about this issue, we can, perhaps, forestall the effects, some of which have already become apparent in the Caribbean.

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September 28, 2009

Riding the Big Destiny: Adrian Castro

Adrian Castro is a poet, performer, and interdisciplinary artist. Born in Miami from Caribbean heritage which has provided fertile ground for the rhythmic Afro-Caribbean style in which he writes and performs. He is the author of Cantos to Blood & Honey (Coffee House Press,1997), Wise Fish (Coffee House Press, 2005), and has been published in several literary anthologies including Conjunctions, Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets, Little Havana Blues, A Century of Cuban Writers in Florida, Step Into A World: A Global Anthology of New Black Literature, Renaming Ecstacy: Latino Writings on the Sacred. He is the recipient of the State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, the NALAC Fund for the Arts Individual Fellowship, NewForms Florida, the Eric Mathieu King award from the Academy of American Poets, and several commissions from Miami Light Project, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, and the Miami Art Museum.

He has performed throughout the country in venues such as the Taos Poetry Circus, Bumbershoot Festival, Miami Book Fair International, Nuyorican Poets’ Café, and several universities, as well as with many dancers and actors including Chuck Davis and African American Dance Ensemble, Heidi Duckler and Collage Dance, and Keith Antar Mason & the Hittite Empire. Adrian Castro is also a Babalawo, herbalist, and acupuncturist.

Riding the Big Destiny

Articulating the search for a cohesive Afro-Caribbean-American identity, I honor myth on one hand and history on the other. I am a poet, performer, and interdisciplinary artist. Born in Miami in 1967, just a few years after the city’s first large scale Cuban migration experience, it is a place which has provided fertile ground for the rhythmic Afro-Latino style in which I write and perform. I address the migratory experience from Africa to the Caribbean to North America, and the eventual clash of cultures. A characteristic of my work is a circular motion of rhythm, theme, tone, subject matter, style, and cultural history that gives rise to a fresh illuminating archetypal poetry. These themes reach their climax in their declamación – the call-and-response rhythm of performance with a whole lot of tún-tún ka-ka pulse.

In my first book, Cantos to Blood & Honey, many poems had a performance quality. They focused on the migration of Latinos to the U.S.: the music, language, and dissonance. During these years I focused on forging my performance skills. I toured extensively throughout the U.S. and collaborated with interdisciplinary artists, dancers, painters, and sculptors, including Eduoard Duval-Carrie, James Herring, and Charo Oquet for a grant winning poetry/performance installation titled Ogun: Iron, Conflict, and Creativity. I was also commissioned several times by Miami Light Project and the Miami Art Museum to write poems, direct workshops, and perform.

During this time till about 2003, I worked on poems that were included in my second book, Wise Fish: Tales in 6/8 Time. Most of the poems in this book concerned themselves with similar themes as in my first. However, the Caribbean takes the stage as the principle place and point of departure. The New York Times Book Review selected Wise Fish as an Editor’s Choice saying, “Sinuous, syncopated verses about the Caribbean melting pot…even a cursory glance suggests his poems—which seem to be trying to dance off the page…would truly come alive on the stage. “Wise Fish” is a serious and seriously enjoyable contribution to our flourishing Latino literature.”

In my latest book Handling Destiny (Coffee House Press 2009), many of the poems also map the diasporic triangle of Africa, the Caribbean, and contemporary North America, the migratory experience (forced or otherwise), and the geography of these experiences. However, in this one, the spiritual, physical, and psychological place is West Africa, specifically Nigeria. With Handling Destiny, we return to the beginning, the root of so much Caribbean and North American culture. In effect these three books form a trilogy.

Since 1994 I have been rigorously studying Ifá divinational poetry, and in 1998 I was formally initiated as an Ifá priest and herbalist, or Babalawo. Babalawo are priests who specialize in Ifá divination and philosophy.

Briefly, the Ifá literary corpus is divided into 256 sections called Odu Ifá. Each of these sections contains countless poems, narratives, incantations, medicines, and rituals. Babalawo are considered the elder priests in the Yoruba religion due to our many years of erudition. Babalawo also incorporate the use of herbs, stones, animals, and other elements from the natural world in our daily practice. Frequently, poems and incantations derived from the 256 Odu Ifá are chanted to activate the spiritual power of these ingredients. According to Afro-Cuban and Yoruba culture, words are also imbued with ashé, divine energy. Much of my work derives from this philosophy of activating power and change through poems and incantations.

In Handling Destiny the second section comprises of sixteen poems from which the book takes its title. Each of these poems articulate intrinsic aspects of one’s destiny—i.e. place of birth, parents, children, lovers, spouses, careers, legacy/inheritances (material, emotional, spiritual). These sixteen poems are inspired and evolve from the first sixteen Odu Ifá.

This last book, Handling Destiny, has been an effort to reconcile what I consider to be my destiny—the devotion to the word spoken, sung, written, and its spiritual, ultimate power.


USpeak: Adrian Castro

Open Verse and Story Performance is proud to feature Adrian Castro, who is what writer Campbell McGrath says is "fast becoming our foremost poet of the Caribbean, that crossroad of the Americas whose multiple cultures and languages he knows and speaks so fluently."

Castro debuts his newest book of poetry, Handling Destiny (Coffee House Press), as poets, writers and musicians of UM step up to the open mic on Friday, October 2, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Oasis Deli Café at the Whitten University Center.

USpeak will be taped and broadcast by WVUM, UM's student radio station, and is sponsored by the Creative Writing Program, UM Citizen's Board and Auxiliary Services. The event is free and open to the public. For directions and/or more information, please call 305-284-2988 or visit our Web Site at

Host:    University of Miami Creative Writing Program
Date:    Friday, October 2, 2009
Time:    6:00pm - 8:30pm
Location:    Oasis Deli Cafe
Street:    Whitten University Center

September 25, 2009

African Diaspora Short Story Competition

Introducing the 1st Annual


In our ongoing effort to promote positive images that reflect people of African descent, the website that connects that African Diaspora is pleased to announce our first annual Short Story contest.

We're looking for fiction that is unique, stories with characters we'll remember, plots that leave us thinking. The contest is open to anyone, any race, any country, any continent. The only caveat? The main character must be of African descent.


  1. The contest runs from October 1 – December 31, 2009, winner announced February 1, 2010
  2. Entries must be 1500 words or less
  3. The entry fee is $10 (via Paypal or money order payable to DreamDeep LLC.) Address:
DreamDeep LLC
9360 W. Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89147
  1. Main character must be of African descent
  2. Story must be previously unpublished
  3. Submit entries to, with the words “Short Story Contest: (input name of your short story)” in the subject line. Ex. Short Story Contest: My Story. Copy and paste into the body of the email. No attachments.
  4. Be sure to include your contact information and word count with submissions
  5. There will be one overall winner and one winner from each of the following genres: Literary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery, Romance (we prefer stories without gratuitous sex or violence)
  1. First Place: $500 Genre Winners: $25 Borders Gift Card
  2. Each winner will have their story and a feature article published on
  3. The winners and top three entries in each genre will have their short stories published in a short story collection at the end of the year.


Not to be missed! On Monday, September 28, 2009: "Riding the Big Destiny" by Adrian Castro.

Adrian debuts his newest book of poetry, Handling Destiny (Coffee House Press), as poets, writers and musicians of UM step up to the open mic on Friday, October 2, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Oasis Deli Café at the Whitten University Center.


September 24, 2009

Unveiling of Official Poster Miami Book Fair International 2009

Last week Wednesday, my wife and I attended the unveiling of the official poster and program of authors and activities for the Miami Book Fair International presented by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at ECCO Pizzateca and Lounge in downtown Miami.

Created by Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, the poster's subtle visual humor was a welcome addition to the array from the past, and aptly demonstrates the interesting methods in which the MBFI has reinvented itself over the past twenty-six years.

If the kickoff event was an indicator of what this year's MBFI will be, then Alina Interian, Mitch Kaplan and the board of directors have another great program for us that will include the following authors: Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Roy Blount Jr., Robert Olen Butler, Meg Cabot, Alan Cheuse, Susie Essman, Mary Karr, Mike Farrell, Nobel Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Barbara Kingsolver. Jonathan Lethem, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Ralph Nader, Richard Powers, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Francine Prose, Ruth Reichl, Senator Bob Graham, Wally Lamb, musician and performer Iggy Pop, Melvin Van Peebles, Jeannette Walls and many others. Confirmed Spanish-language authors include Roberto Ampuero, Carmen Posadas, Boris Izaguirre, Angela Becerra, and Jaime Bayly .

I can't wait.


For more photos, please follow this link: 2009 Miami Book Fair International Poster Unveiling Reception.

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September 23, 2009

Opal Palmer Adisa Interviews Kamau Brathwaite

What I recognize is that the art is a calling, is a commitment; and you’ve got a sense that you have something to say, and you’ve got to fight to find the time and space to say it. The world is always trying to distract you from that, and the world is willing to try to buy you out from that particular commitment and engagemant; but when you decide that you, despite all that, are going to concentrate on your own work—on what calls you, as some would say—it means you are sacrificing a lot of material benefits and a lot of material gloss; and you are willing to invest at whatever personal or social, economic or political cost, your own time & attention to the art.

To read more of Opal’s interview with Kamau Brathwaite, order your copy @ The Caribbean Writer, Vol. 23.


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September 22, 2009

Edwidge Danticat Wins `Genius Award,'

Miami writer Edwidge Danticat has won the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation `Genius Award,' which carries a $500,000 ``no strings attached'' prize.

Read more @

Reblog this post [with Zemanta] Wins an Emmy!, a multimedia website on the human face of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, has won an Emmy for new approaches to news and documentary programming, in the arts, lifestyle and culture category. The prize was announced Monday, at the 30th annual News&Documentary Emmy Awards at the Lincoln Center's Rose Theater in New York City., an interactive site based on Kwame Dawes's Pulitzer Center project, HOPE: Living and loving with AIDS in Jamaica, has won other accolades including a People's Voice Webby Award, and was the inspiration for the music/spoken word performance Wisteria & HOPE which premiered at the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina on Aug. 6-7.

Read more at:
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September 21, 2009

New Book: Eroticism, Spirituality, and Resistance in Black Women's Writings

Donna Aza Weir SoleyWestern European mythology and history tend to view spirituality and sexuality as opposite extremes. But sex can be more than a function of the body and religion more than a function of the mind, as exemplified in the works and characters of such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Opal Palmer Adisa, and Edwidge Danticat.

Donna Weir-Soley's Eroticism, Spirituality, and Resistance in Black Women's Writings builds on the work of previous scholars who have identified the ways that black women's narratives often contain a form of spirituality rooted in African cosmology, which consistently grounds their characters' self-empowerment and quest for autonomy. What she adds to the discussion is an emphasis on the importance of sexuality in the development of black female subjectivity, beginning with Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and continuing into contemporary black women's writings.

Writing in a clear, lucid, and straightforward style, Weir-Soley supports her thesis with close readings of various texts, including Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Morrison's Beloved. She reveals how these writers highlight the interplay between the spiritual and the sexual through religious symbols found in Voudoun, Santeria, Condomble, Kumina, and Hoodoo. Her arguments are particularly persuasive in proposing an alternative model for black female subjectivity.

Donna Aza Weir-Soley is associate professor of English at Florida International University. Eroticism, Spirituality, and Resistance in Black Women's Writings is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and at Pyramid Books in Boynton Beach.

Praise for Eroticism, Spirituality, and Resistance in Black Women's Writings
Weir-Soley speaks with an authority that comes from real knowledge of, investment in, and attention to the details of the African cosmologies and textual complexities she unearths.
~Carine Mardorossian, SUNY-Buffalo
The most original and significant contributions are the often brilliant readings of Morrison, Adisa, and Danticat. The work is riveting, both methodologically and critically.
~Leslie Sanders, York University
In Eroticism, Spirituality, and Resistance in Black Women's Writings, Dr. Weir-Soley successfully undertakes an analysis of how black women writers, beginning with Zora Neale Hurston in her masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God, have used  overlapping narrative depictions of sexuality and spirituality to recast the denigrated black female body and rewrite an empowered and fully actualized black female subject.
~Candice M. Jenkins, Associate Professor of English, Hunter College, City University of New York

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September 18, 2009

"poltergeist or the duende's gift" by Geoffrey Philp

if only sleep or a good night's rest could absolve
my many betrayals: retreating when i should have stepped
forward, retiring when i should have charged ahead;
for the ghosts keep tumbling into bed with me, they grow
arms and legs, and poke and kick and jab all through the night,
and i'm left standing naked in the bathroom mirror, battered
and bruised in the sunlight, wondering, how did it come to this?
why have i allowed this to go on for so long? and when i leave,
they pluck the springs in the mattress, rip the pillowcases
with their teeth, scatter strands of hair on the night table,
bump photographs of happier times until they hang
lopsidedly on the walls, their edges bent or broken,
the glass stained with soot; then they rearrange
the furniture, so the troubles i come home to look different,
but are the same tussled sheets and torn comforters.
i never sleep in the same bed twice.

From xango music (Peepal Tree Press)

September 16, 2009

"The Witness": Wayne Brown (1944-2009)

I still have the copy of On the Coast that Wayne Brown autographed for me when he visited South Florida as a guest author at Miami Book Fair International in 2003. In that slim volume, Brown demonstrated his ability to extend Derek Walcott's influence while maintaining his own voice. This is evident in the poem, "The Witness," where his mastery of lyricism, enjambment, and imagery are on full display. Wayne Brown, poet, journalist, and creative writing teacher, died yesterday.

T.S. Eliot once said, "As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing." As a poet and teacher, Brown extended his legacy through the many creative writing workshops that he organized in Jamaica, and was responsible for creating opportunities for writers such as Kei Miller, Millicent Graham, Sharon Leach, and Frances Coke.

Perhaps Brown's greatest contribution to Caribbean letters was the publication of Derek Walcott: Selected Poetry, where he introduced generations of students and poetry lovers to an understanding of the many levels of Walcott's verse. His exegesis of poems such as "To a Painter in England," "The Castaway," and "Mass Man," established Brown's considerable skills as a critic.

Wayne Brown's persistence in broadening the public's appreciation of Caribbean literature will be cherished by his readers and students, who I am sure were grateful for having known this remarkable man.


The Witness

Always when the warring tides

ebb at sunset, someone comes.

At first you can hardly see

him: a black nut in the surf

Of the advancing skyline,

or as if the dusk congealed

to fleck that darkening iris:

your eyes widen in terror,

You hate him, mock him as he moves

among the schrapnel of chipped stones,

the palm trees' tattered flags, the stiff

trunks flung face down in the sand…

Later, on the well-lit train

to a colonial future

narrow as rails, you ask 'Who

was that stranger by the sea?'

Man, he is your memory

that each sunset moves among

the jetsam of the tribe, the years

widowed past grief, yet lingering.

Even as the murmuring

sea unwraps and wraps its arms

in turn around each dead, loved thing:

and the gesture may be fruitless, but is made.

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Introduction to Caribbean Literature: Dr. Heather Russell

Heather RussellDr. Heather Russell’s research interests examine narrative form and its relationship to configurations of national/racial identities. Her forthcoming book, Legba’s Crossing: Narratology in the African Atlantic, will published by the University of of Georgia Press. She has also published in African American Review; Contours; The Massachusetts Review; and American Literature and has essays in a collection on John Edgar Wideman, Jacqueline Bishop’s My Mother Who is Me and Donna Aza Weir-Soley and Opal Palmer Adisa’s Caribbean Erotic.

At the undergraduate level, Andrade regularly teaches C19th and C20th African American Literatures; Major Caribbean Writers; Black Citizenships and Black History and the Fictive Imagination. For the graduate curriculum, she teaches African Diaspora Women Writers and Narratives of Enslavement and Resistance.

Heather Russell grew up in Jamaica and attended St. Andrew High School for girls. Legba’s Crossing is available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble and Amazon

Presentation for the Florida Humanities Council Florida Center for Teachers (K-12)
By Heather Russell, Ph.D.

Geoffrey Philp's Blog Spot
Anglophone: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Grenada, Belize, Anguilla, Cayman, British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guyana, The Bahamas.
Hispanophone: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico
Francophone: Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana

A Few Definitions

Derek Walcott’s description for Caribbean geo-spatiality in which individual island-states are reconceived as a group – and term is metonymic for Caribbean peoples who are themselves navigating national/regional configurations and identities.

For Antonio Benitez-Rojo the Caribbean is conceived as a “repeating island” – a meta-archipelago which has no center/periphery and hence reconfigures conventional conceptualization of colonial paradigms: center-margin, core-periphery, metropole-outpost. The Caribbean is thus polyrhythmic – or like “a ray of light with a prism.”

The Limbo Gateway

The Middle Passage is the site where New World identities are born: former African identities become disassembled and new world African identities get reassembled. 

Wilson Harris calls this the "limbo gateway." Caribbean literature is thus produced by the "limbo imagination."

Colonial Values
Caribbean Values



Reality v. Fantasy/Myth

Fact v. Fiction

History: linear, causal

Literature: 7 elements:
Meaning,Form, Narration,
Tone, Character,
Use of Language, Structure
Nation Languages: Creoles

Vodoun, Santeria, Obeah

Magical Realism


Historiography: Great Time


Literary Comparison of Elements

Colonial Literature
Caribbean literatures
Meaning: fixed, clear,

Form: genre identifiable

Narrative Voice: principle
narrating subject (epic)

Character: archetypal, fixed

Use of Language: consistent

Structure: parallelism,
Meaning: flexible, indeterminate

Form: mixed genres

Narrative Voice: multiple narrating subjects (jazz)

Character: unstable, fluid

Use of Language: mixed

Structure: hybrid, asymmetrical, disruption of linearity

Caribbean "Quilted Discourse" 

Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido’s concept of the “quilted structure” of Caribbean women’s writing as a reconfiguration of fragmentation (modernist angst) and linearity (phallocentricity).

No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff

We are a fragmented people. My experience as a writer coming from a culture of colonialism, a culture of black people riven from each other, my struggle to get wholeness from fragmentation while working within fragmentation, producing work which may find its strength in its depiction of fragmentation, through form as well as content.
The truck struggled on up through the Cockpits. Its side was painted with the motto…NO TELEPHONE TO HEAVEN. How these words had come to him [the owner] they did not know…NO TELEPHONE TO HEAVEN. No Voice to God. A waste to try…the motto suited them…Depression. Downpressions. Oppression. Recession. Intercession. Commission. Omission. Missionaries…all the same t’ing mi dear.
We is in Babylon. Yes mi dear Bredda. NO TELEPHONE TO HEAVEN. Maybe the line it is engaged and God can’t bodder wid de likes of we. God nuh mus’ be Hinglish…But how could Massa God be their enemy? The seawater which hid their history was not at fault. The moon which lit the sea…the blue mountains. The black widow. The brown widow. The thick stands of Black Mangrove.
None of these were the enemy.
They were tired of praying for those that persecuted them. (17)
*No Telephone repetition like a jazz riff; Blended prose-poetic form; Platform English/Jamaican blended.

Jazz and the West Indian Novel

The jazz novel in the normal course of things, will hardly be an epic. Dealing with a specific, clearly-defined, folk-type community, it will try to express the essence of this community through its form.
History of the Voice by Kamau Brathwaite
It is not language, but people who make revolutions. I think however, that language does really have a role to play here, certainly in the Caribbean. But it is an English [French/Spanish] that is not the standard, imported, educated English, …It is what I call, as I say, nation language. I use the term in contrast to dialect…Dialect is thought of as “bad” English. Dialect is “inferior” English. Dialect is the language when you want to make fun of someone. Caricature speaks in dialect…Nation Language on the other hand, is the submerged area of that dialect that is much more closely allied to the African aspect of experience in the Caribbean. It may be in English, but often it is in an English which is like a howl, or a shout, or a machine-gun, or the wind, or a wave. It is also like the blues.(266).


Watch the landscape of this island…and you know they coulda never hold people here surrendered to unfreedom.’ The sky, the sea, every green leaf and tangle of vines sing freedom.
Four hundred years it take them to find out that you can’t keep people in captivity. Four hundred years! And it didn’t happen just so. People had to revolt. People had to poison people. Port-of-Spain had to burn down. A hurricane had to hit the island. Haiti had to defeat Napoleon. People had to run away up the mountains. People had to fight. And then they agree, yes. We can’t hold people in captivity here.
But now they had another problem: it was not how to keep people in captivity. It was how to set people at liberty (7).
*History v. Historiography. This excerpt provides both alternative/resistant history to conventional narrative of Slavery and Emancipation and alternative/resistant historiography: through its form.

Migration Stories

Adopted Country
Developing nations: post-independence, post-industrial, globalization

Political upheavals: political instability, economic instability

Colonialism’s legacies: class/color stratification

Cultural homogeneity:
creoles/nation languages,
music, dance,food,
customs, sports,
national pride
Developed nation: free market, economic alienation for many immigrants: credit system, legal status issues, underemployment

Political stability: high numbers of non-citizenship, limited representation

Racism, ethnocentrism

Cultural diversity: cultural enclaves, nostalgia, displacement, cultural memory, border crossings

Migration Story 1

The more she bought, the more insatiable she became. -God, can you help me out here? she asked, hoping he’d help her win the lottery she played on Sundays. Within days of her prayers, she found a letter in the mail. Esperanza Colon: You have been preapproved. After working as a home health attendant for five years, Esperanza was eligible for a credit card, her very own five-hundred-dollar credit card…Days later another latter arrived. You have been preapproved for up to 1,000 dollars. Preapproved. Esperanza mouthed the words in front of the mirror…it felt good to get some approval for once…When the bills came, Esperanza put them in a drawer. She planned to pay them when she had extra money…And when she reached the credit card’s limit…she filed the credit card itself in the drawer, expecting to pay it all one day, little by little” (33-4).

Migration Story 2:

My mother came forward...She tried to lift my body into the front seat but she stumbled under my weight…She did not look like the picture Tantie Atie had on her night table…she had dark circles under her eyes…her fingers were scarred and sunburned. It was a though she had never stopped working in the cane fields after all…
…Am I the mother you imagined?” a child, the mother I imagined for myself was like Erzulie, the lavish Virgin Mother. She was the healer of all women and the desire of all men…” In the mirror…new eyes seemed to be looking back at me…a new face altogether. Someone who had aged in one day, as though she had been through a time machine, rather than an airplane. Welcome to New York, this face seemed to be saying: Accept your new life. I greeted the challenged as one greets a new day. As my mother’s daughter and Tantie Atie’s child (59; 49).

Two South Florida Caribbean Poets

Florida Bound

For our exile will never end until we free
of those who teach only the whip and rope.
And black man still can’t live in him own
black land without facing the drawn bayonets
of those who exact lives as payment, who disown
with a kiss our martyrs, our prophets.
so we end in the hot and homeless cities
of the South to be free of them.
The last dry months, like bitter molasses.
Tired of dreams, New Jerusalems.

Migratory Patterns

It’s natural for birds to fly south in winter but we fly north in every season
leaving warmth in search of dreams
that sometimes leave us cold.
Like birds of a feather we fly in formation,
vulnerable at hunting season
yet do not stop or break our ranks
when one of us falls victim
to the hunters’ need for feathery trophies…
…It is natural for birds to fly south in winter,
But Caribbean people fly north in every season
Leaving the warmth of familiarity and family
In search of dreams that sometimes leave us freezing in the snow.


History [with a capital H] ends where the histories of those peoples once reputed to be without history come together.
The struggle against a single History for the cross-fertilization of histories means repossessing both a true sense of one’s time and identity: proposing in a new unprecedented way a revaluation of power.


Important Related Post: Toward a Floribbean Literature.  Speculative theory about the creation of a sub-genre of Caribbean-American and Caribbean writing in the diaspora:The work of Caribbean-American authors living in Florida.

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Books by Geoffrey Philp

September 15, 2009

Master of the Tragicomic: Trevor D. Rhone (1940-2009)

One of the most gut-busting, laugh out loud moments I experienced in a theater was when Oliver Samuels stepped on stage wearing a gas mask in the play School’s Out which was written and directed by Trevor D. Rhone. This giant of Caribbean theatre died today at the age of 69.

Rhone’s great strength as a writer was his ability to weave memorable characters, born out of the matrix of Jamaican history and culture, into a text that always contained biting social commentary. He was also one of the funniest playwrights in the Caribbean. Another of those hilarious moments that Rhone created, this time in film, that I’ll never forget was in Smile Orange: “I can’t swim, Miss Doris. I can’t swim.”

Of course, Trevor Rhone will be remembered for coauthoring, The Harder They Come, the film that brought reggae and the cruelties of the Jamaican ghettoes uptown. Ever since Ivanhoe Martin, singer and gun man, stepped into our celluloid imagination, the world has never been the same.

Trevor Rhone’s tragicomic vision and his abilty to portray the harsh realities of Jamaican life while never losing his sense of humor will remain unrivalled in Caribbean theatre for a long time. His unique voice will be missed when the curtain falls, and the lights will be dimmer throughout the Caribbean.


Photo Credit: Jamaica Observer

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September 14, 2009

I am Not I: The Life of Trefossa

I am Not IIt’s hard for me to imagine a language or dialect without a word for “freedom,” yet this was the situation that Henri Frans de Ziel, alias Trefossa (1916-1975), faced when he began his writing career in Suriname.

In the moving and well-researched documentary, I am Not I, filmmaker Ida Does recounts the life of Trefossa, who for most of his life seemed to be constrained by race, culture, and the influence of his mother, yet ironically he is best known composing Suriname's National Anthem, coining the word, Srefidensi [translated freedom or autonomy], and for publishing a book of poems, Trotji, in Sranan Tongo, the colloquial language of Suriname.

Beginning with his humble origins, the film traces Trefossa’s circuitous journey from his birth in Paramaribo, Suriname and subsequent travels to the Netherlands, his return to Suriname and his death in Haarlem, the Netherlands. The documentary also uses extensive interviews with his sister, Hilda de Ziel; Mavis Noordwijk, a family friend; Richenel Ritfeld, a former student, and his widow, Hulda Walser to capture their obvious pride at the gift that Trefossa had given his compatriots: verse composed in the "Surinamean tongue”—an achievement similar in intent to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Although this revolutionary act of daring to speak in the mother tongue had an immediate impact on many of Trefossa’s contemporaries, he remained a man in conflict with his culture and times—at once impatient and forgiving. Yet sometimes, like in the poem, “Gronmama [Earthmother],” he demonstrates an ecological/symbiotic awareness of the land that has yet to permeate the consciousness of Caribbean peoples:

I am not myself

until my blood

is infused with you

in all of my veins

I am not myself

until my roots

sink down, shoot

into you, my earthmother,

I am not myself

until I manage

to keep, to carry

your image in my soul

I am not myself

until you cry out

with pleasure, or pain

in my voice

I am not I is a gorgeous film and its sensual cinematography captures the beauty of Suriname that Trefossa described in his poems. As Back Lot Film Festival states, “The film is one big poem, so beautiful that it leaves you speechless."

Give thanks to Ida Does and Interakt for giving me a chance to preview this remarkable documentary.

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