April 29, 2021

Five Questions With Celia A. Sorhaindo


Celia A. Sorhaindo

1.      When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I have a difficult relationship with labels like “writer” or “poet.” Definitions and meanings vary so widely; I’m never really sure what is meant or not meant by the person asking. Labels also often draw a finite inclusion and exclusion line, and, in my experience, things are never that simple. At the simplest level, a writer is just someone who writes, something I would encourage everyone to try at some point in their life, without thinking about “being a writer” or who your reader will be.

I recently read an interview with Kwame Dawes where he said, “Poets are priests of language, and that title has to be earned.” So, with all that in mind, I don’t think I’ve yet categorically said to myself, “I want to be a writer,” and these days, I’m not often in a hurry to call, label or tag myself anything, except the full name my parents gave me.

But for sure, I do think there was a point a few years ago when I felt a compulsion, an overspilling, to voice something and seek to improve the way I could express myself in a literary form. At the time, I wasn’t really clear what I wanted to say or why, but poetry was the form that I felt drawn to.

Although I have been an avid reader from an early age, my career background is computer programming, so I am relatively new to the whole literary world and am still learning and understanding what exactly being “a writer” means, in terms of a vocation; and understanding all the complexities and the business part of becoming/being a writer.

For now, I am just enjoying the journey of “poeting,” learning all the various aspects of the craft and seeing where things lead.


2.      How have you developed as a writer?

I think my writing development goes hand in hand with my self/character development and personal and spiritual growth; the two cannot be easily separated for me. As I become more comfortable and confident in myself and more comfortable and confident with the tools of poetry and what I can do with them, so my writing has developed, and I take more risks on the page.

With all its horrors, the pandemic has led to a host of online workshops, open mics, events like poetry readings and literary festivals, virtual spaces to share, discuss and connect with other writers and writing communities, and a host of other opportunities. All of these have helped to improve my craft and my confidence. I have also been reading poetry voraciously from a diverse range of poets, and other articles that catch my interest, not just literary ones, from quantum physics to the amazing life and anatomy of an octopus. I assume it’s the same for everyone.

Writing draws on so many different inputs. Since school, I have had very little formal literary training, so the internet and books have been my key resources.

3.      What was the most challenging part of writing Guabancex?

Writing Guabancex was cathartic. It might seem a weird thing to say, as the collection deals with what happened during and after the traumatic event of Hurricane Maria, but working through the complex, conflicting, and confusing mix of emotions and thoughts through the potent craft of poetry was very empowering and gave me a lot of joy, release, and clarity. Also, the alchemy, transmutation, of something aesthetically beautiful being created from the debris and devastation; holding the physical book in my hand at the end was life-affirming. To paraphrase Kamau Brathwaite, I, too, believe art can come out of catastrophe.

Some of the challenges with writing the poems were the vulnerability I felt using the lyric “I,” when the speaker was not necessarily a factual “Me,” and tackling some of the more complex topics or themes that might have been viewed as “political.” I had to take some deep breaths and resist self-censoring.

Another equally challenging aspect, which I never even considered, was how I would feel “performing” some of the poems; first because performing to an audience is still not an aspect that I’m not comfortable with, and secondly, I found it difficult to “embody” some of the personas in the poem, some of the tragic emotions, performing trauma or sadness; especially when that is not how I felt at the time, years after writing the poems.

I was also conscious of not wanting to re-traumatize anyone who had experienced a hurricane. In addition, hearing about, or seeing the impact of some of the poems on audiences and readers, was unexpectedly complex to deal with emotionally; like hearing a poem made someone cry, or having people feel sorry for me, or for “my Grandmother,” when the Grandmother persona was not a “real” person but drawn from the real and the imaginary. It was emotionally confusing.

There are a whole host of things that happen after you publish a book that I did not have a clue about, so it’s been a steep learning curve and sometimes an uncomfortable one; especially being “visible” when you are a natural introvert and being expected to articulate yourself clearly.


4.      What is the most important lesson you have learned from writing Guabancex?

That I have no control over how my work will be read or received once it is “out there”; who will read it, what will be read into it, how readers and critics will respond to it - and that I have to learn to be comfortable with all of that; especially as it can often be a positive and nourishing experience to read or hear how your words have been received.

Also, to trust and have courage as much as possible, going into the unknown. My major life lessons time and time again have been that life will take you down paths you could never have imagined, positive and not so positive, and one thing definitely leads to another; a constant ripple of cause and effect or effect and cause, which is unavoidable, and perhaps necessary for experiential learning and growing.

Lastly, that the promotion of a book takes a lot of hard work and effort, is a whole complex science by itself, and requires skills and a mindset/character disposition that seem at times in opposition to the writing process; all made more “interesting” during a pandemic and when your book is themed around a devastating hurricane. Again, the process sometimes left me feeling conflicted.


5.      What are you working on now?

I wish there were a different word we could use besides “working,” again because there are so many expectations and connotations to the word “work”; there is a lot of joy in crafting and creating as well as the hard work, which sometimes doesn’t get talked about. Also, “poeting” for me, is not something separate from living and “being,” so my practice as a daily ritual means paying attention/listening/observing, reading (tons of that), thinking/reflecting/imagining (a lot of that too), writing, and following where my curiosity leads; as well as all the other mechanics of improving my craft and being part of a writing community.

I have no formal writing background, so I have a lot of catching up to do, especially with reading poetry, essays, and other literary material. I’m also trying to familiarise myself with the host of literary journals, finding the good fits, and investigating if and how a living can be “earned.” I also have a pre-Guabancex collection I have been having fun with for several years, but she’s starting to get stage fright as she feels she will be compared to Guabancex, and she is a different child, birthed at a different time in my life.


About the Author


Celia A. Sorhaindo

Celia A. Sorhaindo was born in The Commonwealth of Dominica. She migrated with her family to England in 1976, when she was eight years old, returning home in 2005. Her poems have been published in several Caribbean journals, Anomaly, New Daughters of Africa Anthology, and longlisted for the UK National Poetry Competition. She is co-compiler of Home Again: Stories of Migration and Return, published by Papillote Press, and her first poetry chapbook collection, Guabancex, also published by Papillote Press, was longlisted for the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.


April 22, 2021

Five Questions with Andrene Bonner


What do you want readers to know about Long Walk to Cherry Gardens?

Long Walk to Cherry Gardens, the second in the literacy fiction series, is the story of a protagonist with whom they will make a deep emotional connection long after they close the book on the final chapter. In the story, an abandoned adolescent boy, Roderick Brissett, is growing up in Olympic Gardens, an emerging garrison in Kingston, Jamaica, during the 60s and early 70s. Cherry Gardens, an affluent neighborhood, becomes Roderick’s Valhalla, a metaphoric utopian society of his dreams. Set against the backdrop of a post-colonial and recently independent society, themes of class, race, culture, identity, kinship care, and education are examined to tell of the transforming power of love.  


2.      What fascinates you about Roderick?

My interest quickens; I am on the edge of my seat when Roderick enters any space. What is he going to say? What is he going to do? It is heartwarming and admirable to experience his inquisitiveness. He wants to know and is going to ask others. When answers are not forthcoming from folks he thinks should know, he puts on his detective hat, searches the crevices and corners, following every lead. This is when he puts both head and gut to work. Most children Roderick’s age just want to go to school, hang out with friends and play. But he sets goals and goes after them fiercely. Although selling on the streets is not a lofty goal for children, Roderick takes advantage of available resources as insignificant as stones to create beautiful and marketable Stone Art. Roderick is a resilient young boy with this uncanny way of balancing his feelings with the ebb and flow of daily life.   


3.      What is the most important lesson or lessons you have learned from writing these novels?

I have learned that writing is a disciplined process in which I set clear goals and carve out quality time. I wrote Long Walk to Cherry Gardens while commuting on the New York City subway, roundtrip, between home and school.  During that time, my characters would tell me what to write against complex emotional arcs. As I got deeper into the human suffering through Roderick’s character, it became more apparent that children do not have the tools and must look to parents, teachers, and mentors for help. Childhood is sacrosanct, and children, including the child in adults, want their humanity validated. The rub happens when grownups like Aunt Hope, in Long Walk to Cherry Gardens, are less than empathetic. As a result, I research, observe and write accordingly.


4.      You’ve had a long career in many artistic disciplines. What would you say to a young artist about how to create and sustain creative passion?

Go easy on yourself. Overnight success is a myth. Furthermore, The Arts are not static. It is a fluid process that changes as the world and cultures shift. Instead, be prepared to adapt to change. The artist’s journey has bumps and detours on the road. If you have sights on Hollywood, the Broadway stage, or Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry, guess what? The best talents descend on those regions in record numbers. They come from all over the world with tremendous skills. In order to distinguish yourself within this pool of talent, start by learning all you can about your craft; it is going to serve you in the end. 

Regina King enjoyed her life but took it all in by paying attention to the directors when she was a child actor. Now, what she has done as a producer, director is highly regarded by the entertainment industry. Her ability to adapt to change continues to influence the trajectory of her life as a creative. I remember John Tesh, the broadcast journalist whose voice I just love to hear. One day, I saw an announcement that he was going to do a piano recital. Imagine how surprised I was but happy to know that he had another well-developed talent to unleash on the world.

Passion resides deep in that place inside of you where you feel excited about it all the time. Be honest about what you are feeling and why. Then go explore.  I had to take inventory of my many interests in the arts and ask myself these questions: Which art forms am I passionate about investing my time, energy, and available resources? Am I in this for the money or the love and appreciation of art? Your “why” will keep your passion burning. In addition, what you do or how you serve can be shaped by or influenced by several of my areas of interest.

Here is how I sustain my creative passions of teaching, writing, and drama. I help young people to identify what they are drawn to in the wide-open fields of the arts. I work with students at different ages and stages of their development, from elementary to high school seniors. Whether I am teaching English Language Arts or Dramatic Arts, I co-create a classroom with my students that becomes an incubator for new energy, a safe place where they can be themselves, be vulnerable and bounce off the walls.

An elementary school student in my online English class sings her prose and informational passages. When she is ready, she asks me permission to dress up in costumes. She uses her imagination to connect with the theme or tone of a story and immerse herself in it.

Before the pandemic, I had written a play for a strong male lead. One student became absorbed by the role and wore his ankle-length coat to class over his school uniform for several weeks. He was attending a school that wears uniforms. However, this student was determined to take risks to channel his character and did.  

There was a student who hated literature but loved and excelled at sports. What did I do? I wrote a play about sports so he could access literature through a sports theme.  

My bossy students get roles of producer and director. It is a pleasure to experience them developing leadership skills. I recall one 7th Grader saying to her peers, “Please leave your ego at the door.”  My talkers make the best poets and orators, and do I encourage them.  

These are some of the ways that I nurture creativity in my students, and I, too, get the satisfaction of watching and growing with them.   

I retired from teaching in the public school to have a more hands-on approach in a smaller specialized setting. Now interventions are more immediate, and I get to make adjustments in real-time. Additionally, my Literacy Gateway Institute educational solutions framework allows me to teach a younger demographic because we have to start early.


5.      What are you working on now?

I am working on the third novel in the Roderick Brissett literacy fiction series. My collection of Short Plays About Sports for Young Actors, which uses sports to teach literature, is forthcoming. Parents and guardians can look forward to Wings: Role Playing To Awaken Your Teacher Mentor, a collection of short plays to help them develop co-teaching skills. A book of praise poems is also in the offing.  


6.      Brawta: You’ve also written many non-fiction books such as Stories To Heal Your Life So You Can Help Your Child Succeed. Are there any crossover themes in Long Walk to Cherry Gardens?

Yes. Education and what it means to children, especially boys, who are failing at higher rates than our girls is a central theme. Parents are asking, “How can I help my child to succeed? How do I do that?”

Through Literacy Gateway Institute (LGI), I provide parents and teachers with a new system to define the parent-teacher partnership and co-teaching model. One of the LGIs solutions was writing these academic wellness non-fiction books and providing professional development for teachers and co-teaching skills training for parents. Stories to Heal Your Life So You Can Help Your Child Succeed focuses on the psyche of parents as in Chapter 5, “Never Too Old To Learn” and Chapter 33, “Adaptability.” Both reveal some problems parents face and give them strategies to adjust. Back in the 1960s, during the period of Long Walk to Cherry Gardens, some parents could not meet with the teacher, let alone, co-teach. For many parents, it is still problematic in 2021. Working with parents and children in the same space during the Covid-19 pandemic, where the regular classroom is no longer the physical space, further exposed the need for innovative approaches to learning.

It is much easier for everyone to meet using the LGI model. Educating the parent along with the child is the new ethos. In Long Walk to Cherry Gardens, in Roderick’s case, his aunty couldn’t make it to school, so the neighbor did it for her. Whether the story is set in 1960s Jamaica or is a real experience in immigrant communities in Brooklyn, New York, parents feel the same anxieties about their children’s education. I see many children in my classroom who are living in the United States without their parents. That is why I started Literacy Gateway Institute. The problems are universal, but our approach has to be unique. For example, LGI’s curricula, wellness tools, and books can be tailored to the unique problems experienced in a specific cultural group. Our co-teaching model helps us crossover kinship care themes, child labor, advocacy, mindfulness education, self-care, integrity, resilience, literacy, and hope. There are so many themes that intersect in both my fiction and non-fiction works. My book publishing list is a long one. 


About the Author



Andrene Bonner is an educator, playwright, and author of four non-fiction books about student resilience and the parent-teacher partnership. No Life in Olympic Gardens and Long Walk to Cherry Gardens, the first two in her literacy fiction series, tell the story of a boy’s heartrending search for identity and education. She is a Westchester Black Scholars Motivating Teacher of the Year and founder of Literacy Gateway Institute, an educational solutions business. She trains parents to become co-teachers and develops literacy curricula and wellness tools. Firelight is her collection of Black Historical and Cultural Dramas that includes: Ruby, a full-length musical that teaches the Harlem Renaissance, Blue Mountain Queen, a dramatic play about a 17th-century female freedom fighter, Nanny of the Maroons, and Room One Eighty: The Forgotten Students of Outerbrook High, a play about a boy in a struggle to help turn his failing high school around and escape the dark side. Bonner holds a Master of Science in Education, a Master of Arts in Language and Literacy, and a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts, Dance, and Directing. She is an alumna of the Lincoln Center Education Learning Labs for Artists and Educators. Bonner served on the board of the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival and currently serves on the board of the Caribbean American Repertory Theatre West.