October 28, 2013

How my DNA Set me Free

How my DNA set me free

For the past fifty years, I have been living under the shadow of a lie. I think it has to do with the shape of my eyes. From the time that I was in primary school, my friends and classmates thought that I was part Chinese. In high school at Jamaica College, one of the boys in Cowper, the upper house to Murray, called me a “Tappa shop Chinee bwai.” The name calling didn’t bother me. Growing up in Mona Heights with Jamaicans of African, English, Chinese, and East Indian ancestry, I knew that Jamaicans of Chinese descent (especially our fathers) were just as crazy as everyone else.

Yet even after I graduated from Jamaica College and I moved to Miami, the mistaken identity followed me. I just smiled whenever someone called me, “Mr. Chin,” and went on with whatever I was doing. However, when a Chinese-Jamaican cashier at our local supermarket asked me how I was going to celebrate the New Year—she meant the Chinese New Year—I decided to research to create a family tree.

This was not as easy as it seems. My father was married four times and I have brothers and sisters living in Jamaica, Canada, England, and Switzerland. My mother’s family is even more complicated with cousins and aunts living in Jamaica, Cuba, Canada, and Panama. Piecing together a family tree under these circumstances was going to be a challenge.

With the help of my brother, Ricky, who lives in Canada and who had already begun putting together the Philp family tree, I began working on the Lumleys, my mother’s side of the family.

Using Ancestry.com, I created a family tree and traced my roots to the early nineteenth century when the Philp and Lumley males came to Jamaica from Great Britain and began marrying Jamaican women. Both Philp and Lumley males were also very religious and left behind family Bibles and other artifacts. My great-grandfather, Frederick Andrew Lumley, Sr. was one of the earliest founders of the Seventh Day Adventists in Jamaica and one of my grandaunts, Marie Evelyn Jones née Lumley, “is thought to be the first Negro to enroll at Loma Linda University.”

But then my research came to a halt. Using immigration records, the males on both sides of my family could be traced back to Scotland and England, but the females on either side ended up in slavery as property. I always knew I had African ancestry, but  after being called “Mr. Chin” for so many years, I wanted to know if there was even a trace of Chinese blood flowing through my veins. After collecting the email and snail mail addresses of my relatives, I asked the question, “Do we have any Chinese ancestry?”

All the answers came back negative. This I suspected could have been due to the prejudice that many Chinese Jamaicans have faced. I continued asking what could have been perceived by my relatives as uncomfortable questions, but I wanted to know the truth. Despite making connections with living first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth cousins, many of whom I had never known before, I kept hitting genealogical dead ends.

I was just about to give up when Ancestry.com introduced AncestryDNA, which promised an accurate reading of my DNA. I purchased the kit and within a few days, it arrived on my door step. After following the instructions, I returned the kit and waited for the results.

A few weeks later, I received an email from AncestryDNA. My ancestry was 51% West African and 49% European (36% Great Britain, 5% Scandinavian, 3% Ireland 3%, 2% Italy/Greece, < 2% Iberian Peninsula, and < 1% Finnish/Northern Russia.  

Scandinavian? I guess that’s where I got my "Chinee eyes" or the epicanthal fold found in Europeans such as Poles and Scandinavians.

The DNA test had lain to rest all the doubts about my so-called Chinese ancestry. But now a new set of questions opened up before me. Which part of Africa did my ancestors come from?


As a part of the Bob Marley: Messenger exhibition at Miami History,  Cedella Marley, Gerard Hausman and Geoffrey Philp will be reading Jamaican Tales at MiamiHistory on November 9, 2013

HistoryMiami, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami, FL

October 23, 2013

The Writing Life: Erica Kenick

Why did you take Literary Journalism?

I was under the impression that this course was a journalism course in which we would be able to report creatively/in a more "literary" way on news events. It turned out to be a Journalism course with a focus on literary events! That's what I get for not reading the full online course description, I guess. I'm really enjoying the class though.

What have you learned so far?

Literary Journalism is a very broad field. We aren't just writing book reviews and author interviews- we're encouraged to think creatively. For example, a Literary Journalism piece could focus on anything from the evolution of the pen to a diary entry. This course also gives me an excuse to get out of my comfort zone a bit and take part in community Literary events. I've been to Books & Books more often than usual to scope out authors for class assignments and I'm looking forward to interviewing or live blogging when the Miami Bookfair rolls around.

Is blogging in your future?

I have blogged in the past on my experiences practicing Buddhism and meditation (when I first gained interest in those subjects), but found it tedious to post as frequently as I wanted to  - not good for my Zen! I would like to start a blog in the future, but my interests are so varied that I'm having a hard time honing in on one subject. 

About  Erica Kenick

Erica Kenick is a recent graduate of the University of Florida and is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Florida International University. When she's not dutifully reading or writing, she enjoys spending time with her parrot, swimming, and stargazing at the Weintraub Observatory.

October 21, 2013

African-American and Caribbean Authors: Miami Book Fair International 2013

Several of the country’s most renowned and celebrated contemporary African-American and Caribbean authors will be featured at this year’s 30th anniversary edition of the Miami Book Fair International (MBFI), presented by The Center for Literature and Theatre @ Miami Dade College (MDC). Award-winning authors Nikki Giovanni, Walter Mosley, Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat and Kwame Dawes are among the lineup of nearly 35 African-American and Caribbean authors who will discuss their latest works during the Fair, as well participate in book signings, readings, and one-on-one discussions.

They join other distinguished African-American authors, such as Stanley Crouch, Dr. Carl Hart, Terry McMillan, James McBride, Albert “Prodigy” Johnson and Representative John Lewis. The exciting lineup of top Caribbean authors also includes up-and-coming author David Valentine Bernard and Oonya Kempadoo.  A few of the authors, though not of African nor Caribbean descent, have written and presented about African-American and the Caribbean experience in their work, such as Robert Antoni, Jonathan M. Katz and Candice Russell. For scheduled events, please visit www.miamibookfair.com.

Here’s a list of this year’s featured authors of African-American and Caribbean descent, as well as those whose work highlights black culture and interests:  

Preston Allen, Every Boy Should Have a Man
MK Asante, BUCK
Stanley Crouch, Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker
Lolis Eric Elie, Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans
Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane
Nikki Giovanni, Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid
Dr. Carl Hart, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society
Mitchell S. Jackson, The Residue Years: A Novel
Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, H.N.I.C.
Representative John Lewis, Mark: Book One
Walter Mosley, Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery
Ishmael Reed, American Book Awards Moderator
Tennessee Reed, Life Among The X Challenged
Donald Spivey, If Only You Were White: The Life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige (Robert Paige, son of Satchel Paige and appearing with Donald Spivey)
Terry McMillan, Who Asked You?
L. Lamar Wilson, poetry reading, Sacrilegion
James McBride, The Good Lord Bird
D. Marvin Jones, Fear of a Hip Hop Planet: America’s New Dilemma
Jason Mott, The Returned: A Novel

Robert Antoni, As Flies to Whatless Boys
Elsie Augustave, The Roving Tree
David Valentine Bernard, The Thirsty Earth: A Novel
Edwidge Danticat, Claire of the Sea Light
Kwame Dawes, Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems
Thomas Glave, Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh
Fabienne Sylvia Josaphat, All That Glitters: Non-Fiction from Sliver of Stone
Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
Oonya Kempadoo, All Decent Animals: A Novel
Jamaica Kincaid, See Now Then: A Novel
Montague Kobbe, The Night of the Rambler
Candice Russell, Masterpieces of Haitian Art
Evelyne Trouillot, Rosalie l’infâme
George Vilson, Kandelab 101: Notated Haitian Folk And Vodou Songs, Volume 1
M.J. Fievre, editor, All That Glitters
June Aming, Cecly Ann Mitchell and Colleen Selvon-Rampersad (representing the Writer’s Union of Trinidad & Tobago)

For more information, please visit www.miamibookfair.com, call 305-237-3528, or email wbookfair@mdc.edu

October 16, 2013

The Writing Life: Jan Becker


Why did you take Literary Journalism?

To be honest, I discovered after the first class meeting that I was taking a different course than I anticipated. Prior to this semester, I thought "literary journalism" was the kind of writing that Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson and to some extent, David Foster Wallace wrote. I thought I was taking a course on what I would now call "artful journalism," or journalism with literary merit. That topic was interesting to me, because I am concentrating in non-fiction for my degree and much of my reading has been very artful journalism. I also enjoy writing about writing, and I wanted to take at least one course with Lynne Barrett while I'm still in school. 

What did you hope to learn in this course? 

Lynne has a reputation for being an excellent editor and a challenging teacher, so my expectations coming in were more focused on technical aspects of writing than on a specific topic. To give you a short answer, I'd have to say I took the class because I think it will help me improve my writing to work with a teacher I know will challenge me.

What have you learned so far? 

So far, I've learned that "literary journalism" is a much larger field of writing than I was aware, that it is possible to support oneself with an MFA after graduation, and that writing overall is changing rapidly with the advent of electronic media.

When did you begin blogging and why? 

I work on two different blogs. My personal blog is one I neglect to write. I started it after having an essay published in Sliver of Stone, mainly because I have seen friends who are trying to start their careers as writers. My friends who write blogs regularly are able to find readers easily through the world wide web. In a way, I suppose blogging is the most convenient vanity press ever, and much less expensive than going through a printer. 

The second blog, Selfies in Ink, is a collaborative art project on Tumblr. I was invited to be a regular contributor to that blog by the editor, Dana Jaye Cadman. Her vision was to pair women writers' poems and flash memoir pieces with cell phone self portraits. By doing this, we are able to take authority over the images we project of ourselves and create identities that we determine separate from what is typically expected of women. It's a good, sneaky way to subvert many of the oppressive niches society often tries to cram women into. The scope of the project is expanding also, as men have begun contributing, and truthfully men are getting shoved into corners as often as women are, so it's only fair we include them.

What are the advantages of blogging? Disadvantages

The advantages I would say are that blogging is a good way for a writer to get publicity, and to attract readers. I think the flip side is that it is hard sometimes to be regular about posting, the criticism seems to be a lot nastier on the web than it is in response to print publications, and there is no editorial oversight, so if I write something that is factually incorrect, or even just grammatically incorrect, there is no one there to point out my errors. 

About Jan Becker

Jan Becker is an MFA candidate at Florida International University. Her writing has appeared in Sliver of Stone, The Florida Book Review, The Circus Book, Brevity Poetry Review and Emerge. She is a regular contributor to Selfies in Ink, an online writing and art project.

Twitter: @olivepoetry
Web Site/Blog: http://selfiesinink.com/tagged/janbecker 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jan.becker


Human Rights in the Caribbean: Using Stories and Poems to Discuss Human Rights

When Christopher Columbus set foot on San Salvador, the struggle for human dignity that had begun with Cyrus of Persia (c. 600 BC or 576 BC–530 BC), and eventually spread across Europe assumed a different context. Out of that initial encounter of a colonizing nation and native peoples, the need to define human rights vis-à-vis the indigenous populations, who were perceived as the Other, became a preoccupation of the English, French, Spanish, and Dutch nations. As commerce developed between the colonial powers and the colonies, in the quest to increase the production of sugar cane and its byproducts, a cheap labor force was needed; this fateful encounter led to the genocide of native peoples.

The Slave Trade and the horrors of the Atlantic Holocaust ensued and in order to maintain colonial domination, a caste system based on race and class was enshrined into law, which effectively transformed New World Africans and indigenous peoples into non-persons. Simply put, in law and customs, New World Africans and indigenous peoples were less than human and therefore did not have any rights.

These patterns of behavior became part of the culture of the Caribbean and long after former colonies gained their independence from the "fatherlands," the legacy of slavery, patriarchy, and colonialism continued in many forms that have had disastrous effects on the psyche of the oppressed.

Jamaica, one of the earliest sites of rebellion against the inhuman legacy of slavery and colonialism, has had an enduring history of preserving human dignity in the figures of Queen Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, and Marcus Garvey. In nearly every aspect of Jamaican culture, the struggle for human rights has become a raison d'être for the creation of art. In popular music, musicians/songwriters such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, and Bob Andy, have made the cause of human rights an integral part of their work.

This is also true in the literary arts where writers such as Claude McKay, Roger Mais, and Orlando Patterson laid the foundation for many of the writers from the Caribbean Boomer generation to continue the struggle in poems, short stories, and novels.

Here is just a partial list of Caribbean writers (some of whom have been featured onthis blog) whose work explores the issues of human rights:

Robert Antoni
Opal Adisa
Julia Alvarez
Reinaldo Arenas
Edward Baugh
James Berry
Neil Bissondath
Dionne Brand
Kamau Brathwaite
George Campbell
Jan Carew
Patrick Chamoiseau
G. Cabrera Infante
Alejo Carpentier
Martin Carter
Adrian Castro
Colin Channer
Michelle Cliff
Merle Collins
Afua Cooper
Christine Craig
Fred D’Aguiar

Edwidge Danticat
Rene Depestre
Oscar Dathorne
Kwame Dawes
Junot Diaz
Zee Edgell
Garfield Ellis
Frantz Fanon
Rosario Ferre
Brenda Flanagan
Rawle Frederick
Marcus Garvey
Thomas Glave
Edouard Glissant
Lorna Goodison
Jean Goulbourne
Nicolas Guillen
Wilson Harris
John Hearne
Nalo Hopkinson
Slade Hopkinson
Cynthia James
Janet Jagan
VS Naipaul
Oku Onoura
Orlando Patterson
Sasenarine Persaud
Caryl Phillips
Velma Pollard
Patricia Powell
Jennifer Rahim
Jacques Roumain
VS Reid
Elaine “Jamaica Kincaid” Potter
Walter Rodney
Andrew Salkey
Dennis Scott
Mikey Smith
Malachi Smith

Virgil Suarez

Michael Ekweueme Thelwell
Ana Lydia Vega


October 10, 2013

BOB MARLEY MESSENGER: October 11, 2013 - January 05, 2014

Bob Marley Messenger uses artifacts, photographs and interactive elements to explore the man, the musician and the legend. The exhibition was curated by the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE and includes a special supplement, organized by HistoryMiami, which highlights Bob Marley’s impact on South Floridians. Planned exhibition programs include a panel discussion on the life of Bob Marley with journalists, historians and music industry professionals, a Jamaican-themed family festival featuring children’s book author Cedella Marley, the daughter of Bob Marley and several music programs. 

Exhibition Designer: Shulman + Associates

Exhibition Programs

Traditions of Jamaica, Saturday, October 12 from 1 to 4 PM

Wine Down Wednesday featuring local band Inna Sense, Wednesday, November 6 from 5 to 7 PM

Jamaican Tales, Saturday, November 9 from 1 to 4 PM

Remembering Bob Marley, Saturday, November 16 at 2 PM

Wine Down Wednesday: The Messengers, A Spoken Word Experience, hosted by "Soulcialite" Ingrid B, Wednesday December 4 from 5 to 7 PM

Healthy Living, Saturday, December 14 from 1 to 4 PM

Bob Marley Messenger Closing Party, Saturday, January 4, 2014 from 6 to 9 PM

For more information, please follow this link: http://www.historymiami.org/museum/exhibitions/details/bob-marley-messenger/

October 9, 2013

The Writing Life: Lynne Barrett

Literary Journalism

Why did you create the course Literary Journalism?

Since 2008, I’ve been editing The Florida Book Review. Some of my FIU students have written book reviews and features for FBR, in some cases doing independent studies, so I’ve been teaching them elements of book reviewing and writing for the web. I also had students in graduate fiction workshops write book reviews (of all sorts of fiction, not solely Florida books) as a way to articulate their tastes and standards.  I’ve included blogging about Miami Book Fair International as an optional assignment in my nonfiction classes, and students loved doing it, alongside the FBR contributing editors. Last Fall, the WLRN-Herald News picked up pieces from the FBR Book Fair coverage for their website. Having seen how eager students were to learn the practical aspects of this type of writing, and how much confidence they gained when their work was published, I proposed a graduate course in Literary Journalism.

What were the challenges in setting up and maintaining the course?

I needed to think through what the assignments would be, in such a way that each student could pursue individual interests while all gaining needed skills and experience. I also felt it was important to look at current literary journalism as it happens, which means each week I am reading a great deal online to find examples (good and bad), innovations, controversies, etc., though I'm also using some older, classic pieces to balance that. To amplify their understanding, I'm bringing in visitors who can offer a range of perspectives on places Literary Journalism can lead them. And in November, they'll be live-blogging from the Book Fair, which is an intense experience.  I'll be acting as editor, posting the pieces, and checking them as I do so, for accuracy and suitability. This is fun but exhausting; it's a good thing the Book Fair comes just before Thanksgiving break.

When did you begin blogging? Why?

To be clear, I don't have a blog where I write regularly. I considered it, but could see that I don't have time to do it often enough, when I’m teaching, editing, and writing fiction.  Instead, I've been contributing to blogs and other web publications, and I post links to these pieces on my Goodreads author blog and of course on my website.  And I am active on Twitter. While I have written book reviews for a long time, it was really during the year leading up to the publication of my third story collection, Magpies, that I started to jump into writing for online media. I’d already published fiction and nonfiction in online journals. 

Then, in April 2011, The Review Review, a great online magazine that carries lots of reviews of literary magazines and coverage of them, published my essay, "What Editors Want: A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.” The editor, Becky Tuch, is responsible for that urgent subtitle on my piece, by the way, and I'm sure it's one reason the piece went viral, and within days had been written up in the L.A. Times book blog, linked to by The New Yorker's blog, and was being shared all over Facebook and Twitter. I got email from quite a few editors, and picked up lots of Twitter followers from as far away as India and Australia. Glimmer Train republished the piece in their digest. And it continues to get hits and comments—it had a second round of attention recently, with lots of shares at places like Poets & Writers. All in all, this was a great experience and an education in how rapidly the Internet can move and how eager an audience there is. I started to explore guest blogging and other web writing from there.

How have your past experiences prepared you to teach this class?

I've long been a book reviewer, and I worked on newspapers and as a free-lancer. And the experience of editing The Florida Book Review got me thinking about what I was teaching the writers who worked on it. And then, after Magpies came out, I wrote guest blog posts on my writing process for TSP, the Story Prize blog, and another about how place and displacement affect my fiction for Lisa Romeo Writes.  And I was interviewed by blogs (including Beyond the Margins, Gerry Wilson's The Writerly Life, and Angela Kelsey's Tell the Story) and online magazines like Sliverof Stone and Bookslut.  Reviews of my book appeared in other innovative online venues, like The Rumpus. From all this, I got a closer look at the lively discussion about books, publishing, reading, and writing that the web has made possible, and I wanted to introduce my students to the possibilities it holds for them.

What do you hope your students will learn from this course?

I've focused on the range of forms that come under the umbrella "Literary Journalism": traditional journalism (reporting, interviewing, profiles, and features that in some way touch on books/writing/reading); book reviewing and other opinion pieces; writing about literary history; and personal writing from the perspective of being a reader and/or a writer.  I want to help my students develop the many skills involved and to write a lot of different work that they can, ultimately, publish, whether on a blog or in a newspaper or magazine. A given topic—for instance the recent controversy here in Miami-Dade about library closures and public support for libraries—can prompt many types of pieces, from coverage of a protest, to an interview with someone who'd be affected by library closures, to a personal essay that ranges back to the writer's first experience of libraries. Since they aspire to be authors who will some day be reviewed and interviewed, I think this experience can help to prepare them to understand that role, as well.
And on another level, we are looking at the changing roles and opportunities for them to contribute to and affect what is happening in the literary world. The web has made it possible to show how powerful traditional publications choose to give voice to some groups far more than others, and there’s a debate about this taking place in ways not possible before, when someone can, on a blog or online publication, make an argument that gets seen, holding mainstream publications to account.  This is true, also, for genres that have not been reviewed, or for “niche” types of writing that can now find audiences across international lines. Many who have been invisible can now become visible.  In the class, we are talking about what that means for emerging writers, and for writers in South Florida where there is such a diversity of voices to be heard.
What are the advantages of blogging? Disadvantages?
Writing regularly, on a schedule, is an important means of developing your voice and exploring your material. And having your writing online helps a writer become known. At the same time, once something is out there, it's out there. It's important to be clear about what you do and don't want to cover, to think about what you really have time for.  Being trained in the skills needed for interviewing, reporting, and researching, and learning to write correctly, clearly, and interestingly under time pressure—all of this is training journalists get and that can benefit anyone who wants to blog successfully. 
I'd extend this sense of opportunity and risk to other parts of internet presence. Being on Twitter is a kind of micro-blogging, for instance.  In the class, we're discussing both what the students write and these larger issues, so that they can make informed decisions about the ways they'd like to be visible and how much, the interests they want to focus on, and how to navigate a public writing life.

Lynne Barrett is the author of the story collections Magpies (Gold Medal, Florida Book Awards), The Secret Names of Women, and The Land of Go. She edited Tigertail: Florida Flash and co-edited Birth: A Literary Companion. Her recent work has appeared in Real South, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Southern Women’s Review, Delta Blues, One Year to a Writing Life, and Blue Christmas. Her essay in The Review Review, “What Editors Want,” was featured in the L.A. Times and Glimmer Train’s digest. A recipient of the Edgar Award for best mystery story and an NEA Fellowship, she teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University and is editor of The Florida Book Review.

Twitter @LynneBarrett
Web Site/Blog:  www.lynnebarrett.com