Interviewing the Caribbean featuring Summer Edwards

Page 1

“I know from my own experience as a teen that writing can help you process life – the good and the bad, and especially the traumatic.” — Joanne C. Hillhouse — “Even if you want to get a lesson or moral across, you have to find an exciting and appropriate story to convey it. See the entire story through the eyes of the child.” — Olive Senior — “I am always mindful of how our culture and history shape us and therefore shape the characters I create. My mission is to enable us to see ourselves more clearly – our challenges, our greatness and possibilities, and to encourage us to embrace all of this and achieve our highest potential.” — A-dZiko Simba Gegele —

“One of the reasons I am driven to work with children’s books is because I want to help children acknowledge and work through psychological homelessness.” — Summer Edward —

Vol. 5, No. 2 :: Spring 2020

:: Spring 2020

“Since we cannot reverse the digital space, we should find a way to encourage our children’s imagination and physical movement beyond the movement of their thumbs. Children used to interact with one another more…Now, they interact digitally, and their experience is given to them.” — Elpedio Robinson —

*Interviewing the Caribbean | Vol. 5, No. 2

“Poetry for me probably is one of the most exciting genres. In poetry, you can make language behave and sparkle in surprising ways. You can show new possibilities of language because you are pulling and pushing that language to its most wonderful extensions.” — Kei Miller —

“Children are very sensitive; more often than not they learn and understand what you do, not what you say. You have to love teaching…” — Andrea Bowman — “The trauma mothers inflict on their sons comes around not onto them but onto other women.” — Michael Abrahams — “Parental abuse of children is the most common form of violence in Jamaica, but of course ACEs extend beyond physical violence, neglect, sexual abuse, and so on. Extreme poverty, which afflicts twenty–five per cent of our children, is perhaps our most impactful ACE.” — Juleus Ghunta —

Caribbean Childhood: Traumas + Triumphs, pt.2 In this issue:

Summer Edward

Michael Abrahams : Tanya Batson-Savage : Trish Cooke Joanne C. Hillhouse : Kei Miller : Elpedio Robinson Olive Senior : Tanya Shirley : Yvonne Weekes + more






This issue is dedicated to

Kamau Brathwaite

May 11, 1930–February 4, 2020


© 2020 University of the West Indies Press / Caribbean Visual and Performing Arts. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the editor, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. All rights revert to individual creators: authors/artists, upon publication. Interviewing the Caribbean requests, that if work is published in the future, Interviewing the Caribbean is credited. ISSN 0799-6047 (Print) ISSN 0799-6055 (Online) For permission requests, write to editor, addressed IC Permissions to: Interviewing the Caribbean The University of the West Indies Press 7A Gibraltar Hall Road Mona, Kingston 7 Jamaica, West Indies Email: uwipress@uwimona.edu.jm Office: +1-876-977-2659 / 702-4082 > Ext 2470 / 2432 Facsimile: +1-876-977-2660 Interviewing the Caribbean, Vol. 5, No. 2 Founder/Editor — Opal Palmer Adisa / Co-Editor - Juleus Ghunta Creative Director — Steve Jones / www.plantainstudio.com Associate Editors — Camille Alexander, Sharon E. Lake Copy Editors - Dr. Ute Kelly, Daisy Holder Lafond www.facebook.com/groups/interviewingthecaribbean Cover Illustration: Cherise Harris

Dear readers, We invite you to enjoy the content, and be mindful that throughout the Caribbean, and its Diaspora, many different languages—official and unofficial—are spoken. Because we believe in the diversity and multiplicity of languages, two ‘accepted‘ standard spellings are used throughout—British and American. — IC Editorial


CONTENTS Editors’ Letter 11

Caribbean Childhood: Traumas + Triumphs By Opal Palmer Adisa + Juleus Ghunta

13

Editorial Team Features

14

The Nature of Belonging: Making a Home for Children’s Literature in the Caribbean’s Literary Landscape By Summer Edward

22

Kei Miller: Writing Taught Me How to Think An Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa

36

Elpedio Robinson: Music as Inspiration An Interview with Juleus Ghunta and Opal Palmer Adisa

48

Michael Abrahams and Juleus Ghunta: Adverse Childhood Experiences in Jamaica An Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa

60

Tanya Batson-Savage: Blue Banyan Publishing Affordable Books An Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa

74

A-dZiko Simba Gegele: Rooted in Their Lives as Afrikans An Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa

92

Joanne C. Hillhouse: Caribbean Children Need as Many Stories as There are Tastes An Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa

118

Tanya Shirley: Allow the Poem to Go Where it Wants An Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa


Elpedio Robinson - Nature’s Shelter, 2009


FEATURED CONTRIBUTORS

32 Olive Senior Creating a Climate that Embraces Our National Culture 42 Pamela Mordecai We had no Caribbean Limericks! 56 Shauna Morgan We Are Expected to Honour Our Abusers 66 Linda M. Deane A Pawpaw to the Light: Adventures in Sharing Poetry with Children 82 Barbara Arrindell Create Stories that Remind Us of What We Went Through 88 Marsha Gomes-McKie Promoting SCBWI in the Caribbean 100 Carol Ottley-Mitchell (CaribbeanReads) Reflecting the Realities of Caribbean Children 104 Romaine McNeil Shed the Old to Embrace the New 110 Joanne Dowdy Storyboards for Films

114 Nathan Gibbons Use Creative Arts to Connect With Children 130 Trish Cooke My Books are Inspired by Real Life 134 Stacey Byer Visual Storytelling Empowering Future Generations 138 Yvonne Weekes I Want My Grandchildren to Be Confident and Bold 142 Andrea Bowman Engendering a Tradition of Excellence 148 Kya Nailah Knight Fighting for Women’s Rights 154 Glyne A. Griffith The BBC and the Development of Anglophone Caribbean Literature, 1943-1958 161 Advisory Board 162 Winners of Prizes 163 Call For Submissions - Next Issue


10

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020


EDITORS’ LETTER Caribbean Childhood: Traumas + Triumphs In December 2019, when part 1 of this volume was published, we could not have imagined that the world would be transformed so dramatically in just a few months. The Covid-19 pandemic is changing much of what most of us know as normal, as familiar, as neighbourly. This crisis will likely have a lasting impact on how Caribbean citizens interact with each other and how we see the world. Whatever happens, Caribbean children’s lives will continue to be shaped by complex challenges and possibilities. Alongside those children who are loved and protected, many are victims and survivors of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and violence. We believe literature can help to heal these wounds by opening up conversations about diverse issues that impact our children. We want to see more children’s and young adult books that address challenging topics, as well as stories about our culture and mythology, our love and ingenuity, and adventure and time travel stories set in our islands. There is also a need for more local, qualified book reviewers and trained illustrators, as well as for an online directory where information on the works and services of Caribbean children’s and young adult writers and illustrators is easily accessible. Despite these needs, the landscape of Caribbean children’s and young adult literature has experienced notable growth in the last few years. It has benefited from the vision of independent presses such as CaribbeanReads, Papillote Press, and Blue Banyan Books, from the pioneering curatorial work of Anansesem Magazine, and from the creation of several national and regional prizes for young adult literature. We are grateful to our contributors for opening doors, and we encourage others to keep doors open and to unlock others by flooding the market with diverse stories for Caribbean children. Finally, we acknowledge The UWI Press for acquiring the journal and for putting it at the centre of the region’s literary sphere, where our contributors will have a broad platform from which to engage in conversations across the Caribbean. We welcome your feedback and look forward to hearing from you. Safety & Wellness to all,

Co-editors: Opal Palmer Adisa + Juleus Ghunta Mona, Kingston, Jamaica

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020

11


12

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020


EDITORIAL TEAM

Steve Jones / Creative Director - is a graphic designer and artist. He received his MFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. His interests focus on African American history and Black icons and their representation in mass media and popular culture; community and public art. He is an Adjunct Professor at the California College of the Arts, and the Principal of plantain studio (Oakland, CA). www.plantainstudio.com Camille S. Alexander / Associate Editor - is an assistant professor of English Literature at UAE University. She earned her PhD in English at the University of Kent, and an MA in Literature from the University of Houston, Clear Lake. Dr Alexander’s research interests include Caribbean studies, Black British literature, and third-wave feminism.

Sharon E. Lake / Associate Editor - is an award-winning educator, linguist and human resource professional—fluent in English, French, and Spanish. She has been writing poems and short stories from childhood. Her stories and poems have been published in Caribbean Reads, Where I See the Sun; Contemporary Poetry in Anguilla, and Interviewing the Caribbean.

Dr. Ute Kelly / Copy Editor - is a lecturer in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, UK. Among other things, she is interested in the potential of creative approaches in engaging with conflict and trauma, difference and otherness, and in social healing and peacebuilding.

Daisy Holder Lafond / Copy Editor - is a former newspaper editor, columnist and magazine publisher. Her essays and poems have appeared in various journals, including The Caribbean Writer, Poui, Small Axe, Interviewing the Caribbean and Moko Magazine. She is co-author of All This is Love—A Collection of Virgin Islands Poetry, Art, and Prose.

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020

13


14

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020


The Nature of

Belonging: Making a Home for Children’s Literature in the Caribbean’s Literary Landscape

By Summer Edward

Photo / Illustration: Steve Jones / Summer Edward

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020

15


Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie … and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter? – Zadie Smith, WHITE TEETH

After a decade in America, I made the long-contemplated decision to leave my adopted hometown of Philadelphia and move back to the island, armed with a new, hard-earned understanding of what “home” means. I was born in Trinidad and Tobago where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. The diasporic experiment is a way of life; it can make return to the homeland difficult, a process rife with ambivalence. Somewhere in my muddy well of motives for going back was the need for cultural footing, to feel grounded in my writing and my work as a Caribbean children’s book activist. This feeling of being somewhat displaced from my origin was something I grappled with even before leaving Trinidad; in some ways, I have always felt like an outsider. The dépaysement (this French word denotes the unsteady feeling you get when you are away from your home country) that plagued my ‘American decade’ dredged up childhood experiences of unbelonging that, until then, I had never had a language for. It’s difficult to speak of one’s childhood with the full nuance it deserves, so I will not attempt it. Suffice it to say I was a bright, precocious child who switched schools twice, attending first a private, then a government, then a parochial school. Each school was a separate universe, a different microcosm of Trinidad’s racially and socially complex society. At the private school, my richer peers, many of whom were white Trinidadians, inhabited worlds I could not enter. At the newly-opened, forward-looking government school, students like myself – an Afro-Trinidadian child of the university-educated, rising middle class – were a pronounced minority. For the first time, I learned and played with poorer children whose Hindu religion and East Indian culture I imitated and appropriated out of both admiring fascination and a desperate bid for belonging. Suspecting that my Blackness and Catholic upbringing would alienate me from my schoolmates, I had little reason to embrace those vital parts of myself. At the parochial school, the student body was also heavily Indo-Trinidadian, but the students were from middle class families. In the short year I spent there, I struggled to fit into yet another new matrix of race and class, and I ended my primary school career with the gloom of unbelonging hanging over me. I was also a third culture kid. From the age of ten, I spent every summer with my father in America, another formative experience which greatly enriched me but also made me feel somewhat rootless. I was never a proper “barrel child” because I lived with my mother, but with a father gone to seek a better life abroad, I always felt a little different from my peers. My parents’ divorce while I was very young and the challenges of a blended family left me with a persistent longing for something I could barely name. One of the reasons I am driven to work with children’s books is because I want to help children acknowledge and work through psychological homelessness. Psychological homelessness is what children experience when they struggle to fit in for whatever reason, or when they don’t feel welcome, safe or simply at ease in the physical, social or cultural spaces they inhabit. Young people in the Caribbean grapple with psychological homelessness when they don’t feel seen, heard, appreciated and accepted for all that they are, when they are deprived of a strong sense of their roots, or when they have been put in a box by their society. Children of color and children from culturally disenfranchised communities are especially vulnerable to psychological homelessness because their experiences – the full spectrum of who they are – are inadequately reflected in the human-made world and the social milieu, including in children’s books. As an Afro-Caribbean immigrant in America, I experienced psychological homelessness on a profound level, which although difficult has served my work as a storyteller and a facilitator of children’s words and worlds. I want my children’s book activism, the stories I tell and help others tell and the art

16

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020


I create, to provide space and pause for children to be present with feelings of unbelonging. I want them to then use their vast creative capacity to empower themselves beyond psychological homelessness. I am determined to find creative ways to help support the creation and proliferation of “word-worlds” that help all kinds of Caribbean children feel strong inside and supported in who they are. It’s why I founded Anansesem, an online magazine of writing and illustration by and for Caribbean children and teens which, for the past ten years, has also provided literary coverage of Caribbean children’s and young adult books. In Jamaican-American poet and activist June Jordan’s famous poem Moving Towards Home, the metaphor of “living room” emerges as an essential cultural space where “the talk will take place in my language.” Run by a revolving team of respected children’s authors, editors and advisors, Anansesem is helping to usher a new generation of Caribbean storytellers into a living room of our own making. A platform like ours provides the safe space Caribbean children’s writers need to nurture the ‘cultural child’ within and to practice using their authentic voices. Many of the magazine’s contributors have gone on to secure publishing contracts with major publishing houses. Our hope is that Anansesem will evolve into a full-fledged community-based ‘publishing home’ for Caribbean children’s and young adult writers and illustrators. Through the inalienable heritage of storytelling and the power of words, Caribbean children and youth can come to know that they too belong. Through the magic and medicine of stories, they can find a much-needed querencia. Beginning in childhood, I found querencia – a Spanish term conveying the idea of a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home – in the natural environment of my island. Querencia was the majestic mountains lush with mora forests; the sparkling cries of kiskadees in the morning; the heady petrichor of sugarcane fields after a fleeting midday rain; a largesse of fruit and flowering trees coloring the yards and roadsides everywhere, that riot of color spreading even to the wild fringes of the sea. Later, as an immigrant coming of age in a bustling American metropolis, I sought out nature as teacher and healer. Turning to the natural world was an act of instinct, a means to survive during those times when I felt isolated, displaced, unsure of who I was. Philadelphia’s temperate landscape was so far removed from the island querencia I had known, but in the universal, welcoming embrace of nature I found a saving sense of home. At the time, I was reading several children’s novels a week and copious picture books for my graduate classes at the University of Pennsylvania. So many of the books were full of enthralling descriptions of the natural world; after all, great children’s literature has always thrived on stories of place. With each real-life excursion into the American outdoors, and with each vicarious journey into the beautifully rendered naturescapes of children’s books, I was carving a niche in the world, building an awareness of the hoped-for spiritual home which, if one reads closely enough, lies at the heart of every good children’s story. It took leaving behind Trinidad to gain an appreciation of the native, intuitive connection I have to nature, an affinity borne of a childhood spent on an island climbing mango trees and roaming free in the bush behind my grandparents’ house. My grandparents are now deceased, but their house still stands in Mon Repos, a quiet district in the south of Trinidad. I spent a good part of my childhood joyfully exploring the wild, green land there. The French words mon repos mean “my place of rest” and that is how I will always remember times spent at my grandparents. Shortly after my return, I visited the now run-down house. As I stood in the whispering shadows of the old fruit trees – sugar apple, cerise, guava, mango and sour cherry – that still thrive in the yard where I played as a child, I was reminded of the earthiness of my childhood. What I had taken for granted growing up in Trinidad, I now saw as a gift. I began to think of ways to transmute lifelong conversations and “homecomings” with nature into literary works for children. I grew up in the late 80s and 90s, decades in which large-scale socio-technological-economical changes were slowly but surely creating a divide between children and the natural world. My younger self had a strong gut longing and spiritual need for the querencia of nature, but even then, Caribbean childhoods were becoming more and more nature-deprived. As a child I somehow knew that I needed

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020

17


nature to feel at home with myself and to connect with the magical web of life. Even then, I intuitively grasped, through the instruction of nature, the central truth of human experience: we are all connected, we are all equal, and we all belong. For a while, as I grew older and life grew busier, I had fewer and fewer meaningful encounters with the natural world. Then, there was a deep, disturbing sense of not being at home in the world, or even in my body. There was a sense of paradise lost. As an adult, I started reading children’s books again to revisit and regain that paradise. Reading the works of many children’s authors from different cultures and ages gives us a map to paradise, that primal innocence of humanity that first reveals itself to us in childhood through the sacred, primal intimations of the natural world. My desire to work with children’s books is in many ways a desire to hand the map to another generation, so that children in today’s nature-deficit world may not lose all sense of paradise and our place in it. Here in Trinidad, I re-encounter with a mixture of nostalgia and curiosity the indigenous, earthbased ways of knowing that still linger in Caribbean societies. Although the island has seen a lot of modernization, there is still, upon closer inspection, a lingering sense of people living in harmony with the earth. There are farmers’ markets, lush agricultural estates, trade shows put on by the island’s organic health communities, and pockets of husbandry in the rolling fields along the highways. There is the everyday transmission of traditional knowledge: a neighbor disclosing the right time to plant pigeon peas (two days before the full moon); my mother sharing her method for making orange peel tea that’s not too runny. I seize every opportunity to learn about Trinidad’s indigenous culture and try to build a life that regularly converges with the outdoors. Soon after my return, I took an online children’s writing and illustration course with Pura Belpré Medal award-winning children’s book author-illustrator Maya Christina Gonzalez, offered through her community-based virtual classroom, School of the Free Mind. I was blessed to find a mentor in Maya whose teachings foreground the importance of becoming reflections of what we want for our children. As I explore the green, hidden places of Trinidad – the waterfalls, rivers and other natural wonders found in abundance here – I am aware that I am cultivating a reverence for nature and its wisdom that I will be able to reflect back to children in writing and art, and in my presence when I engage with them in the classroom and workshops. For Maya’s online course, we read Toni Morrison’s philosophical picture book, The Big Box, co-written with her son Slade Morrison and illustrated by Giselle Potter. The book serves as a powerful mirror for readers to see how commercialized, nature-deficient childhood environments disrupt children’s freedom, suppress childhood imagination, and otherwise leave children with a restless longing for home that they sometimes never resolve. Children’s books that socialize children toward an understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the place of humans within it, and that reflect and reference Caribbean children’s own physical likenesses, beliefs, cultures, and immediate everyday experiences, offer a querencia of words, images and imaginaries within which both children and adults can learn to master the art of nostos – a Greek word denoting the idea of returning home from a long journey – of coming back home to ourselves, our communities, and our natural, cultural and inner ways of knowing. At both personal and cultural levels, this process of homecoming cannot reach full measure without community. Indeed, I have returned to the Caribbean in search of convivencia, a Spanish term denoting ‘the art of living together,’ of working closely with other people with whom you share feelings, desires, or a common purpose. To be immersed meaningfully in a creative pursuit is to be called into communion with others who share the same vision and heartspace for creative transformation. Creating children’s books is one of the most collaborative kinds of work there is. The writer, literary agent, editor, illustrator, art director, book production manager, book designer, printer, publicist, and finally the reader, all come together in an imaginative, conversational dance. It is only through such committed collaboration that the primordial marriage of language and pictures can do its mysterious work in the world: the ancient, sacred work of story. A children’s book is indeed a powerful work of convivencia, and thus one of the most precious objects we can gift to a child.

18

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020


‌I am aware that I am cultivating a reverence for nature and its wisdom that I will be able to reflect back to children‌ Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020

19


Caribbean children’s literature needs time, intentionality and the flourishing of cultural consciousness in order for its community and machinery to converge and mobilize. This literary and cultural evolution of the Caribbean children’s story does not have to be experienced as struggle; there is enough power and medicine in the children’s story itself as an animating, healing force to draw a kindred community around it in a natural state of flow. The Caribbean is a complex region, variegated by nationality, culture, race, immigration, generation, language, identity and history. Convivencia has become a totem word I incant to remind myself that I need to come together with cultural allies and kindred spirits in my own Caribbean backyard, if I am to be effective in putting my skills and knowledge in the practice of children’s books to use for cultivating and serving the communities I call home. What I’ve realized is that the means and reasons for coming together and coming home are one and the same; both invite, even demand, healing and transformation. Children’s books are powerful tools for healing and change, and for individuals and societies alike, these are best achieved from the inside out. As Caribbean people, our work with children’s books should be a work of soul and love, grounded in our truest and most powerful sense of ancestral, cultural and personal self. This is the heritage we must continue to create and nurture for the upliftment of future generations.

Caribbean children’s literature needs time, intentionality and the flourishing of cultural consciousness in order for its community and machinery to converge and mobilize.

20

Interviewing the Caribbean :: Spring 2020