Sunday, 06 June 2010 06:00
By Joanne C. Hillhouse
I’ve been drawn time and again these past weeks to the new Wadadli Pen blog (http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com) I’ve not long started; a tweak here, a twitch there.
Time consuming as it can be, as much as it challenges my limited technical knowledge, I feel energized by this as I don’t much else right now.
Maybe it’s the pure pleasure I experience reading the creative efforts of our young writers through the years; the way their storytelling prods at relevant social issues and reveals, in some instances, a literary maturity I didn’t necessarily have at their age.
Mired in things, it’s sometimes hard to feel the heft and texture of them; and in the first three years of this competition, 2004 to 2006, I was a bit of a headless chicken trying to make sure everything ran just so.
I read the stories, sure; appreciated them. But as I edit and post, I feel like I’m reading them for the first time. So it was, for instance, that I was seeing, with a certain clarity, the parallels between Gemma George’s Stray Dog Prepares for the Storm and Damani Tabor’s Irate Beggar, one with a dog and the other with a human at their centre but both really speaking to the way society recoils from its responsibility to the less fortunate.
And when at the Best of Books Open Mic after my reading of Kemal Nicholson’s Ma Belle, one listener commented on his effective use of irony, I felt collectively proud of these youngsters. They’ve proven that not only is Antigua a reading public, s/he’s also a writing public. It strengthened my resolve to bring this competition back, to keep it alive, wherever my personal fortunes may lie – notwithstanding my abhorrence of going cap in hand to businesses for patronage knowing the cause may be good but the reception not always pleasant, nor polite.
Interestingly, as I prepped the author notes to accompany the story postings, I realized that none of these, to the best of my knowledge, were beelining towards a literary career; but I felt fairly certain of two things – they’ll continue writing nonetheless in some way/shape/form, and their ability to express themselves in this way will be an asset in the courtroom or wherever they find themselves.
The other thing that I think draws me to this project is the growing number of publications and/or recordings by Antiguan and Barbudan writers, which I have taken it upon myself to catalogue these several years. I’ve begun posting these lists on the site and find that they are never done. No sooner have I ironed out a crease there, than someone will email to point out another crease an omission or such and I have to tend to that as well.
Far from making me feel hassled, it’s made me a little proud that here on this 108 square miles, we’ve produced such a wealth of publications (the vast majority books of non-fiction and poetry, with fiction a distant third and children’s fiction bringing up the rear); defiantly, persistently finding our way through the tiny cracks of a global publishing industry that really has little interest in who we are and what we have to say. Never mind, we seem to say, we’ll find a way.
Hence, the sheer number of publications, and the list, I fear/hope/dread/believe has only just begun to grow. There might be a lot more work ahead.
I’m thrilled to discover, as I have, that people are using the list, that people are being directed to it to discover who’s published what.
This list is particularly an eye opener – going back to that adage about how much we do or do not read – because growing up I really wasn’t exposed to/aware of much of what we had created, literally, and, frankly, the output then was paltry compared to the level of activity in the past decade or so. And for a long time, I don’t think I felt confident enough to believe in this pie in the sky dream of being a writer.
Even now, that that resolve is too often tested. And it felt then that there were no models, outside of the rich calypsos and Anansi storytelling, as I’ve said before, until I discovered Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John. Well, I feel fairly confident that young Antiguans and Barbudans with that secret dream in their heart can go to this list and I find inspiration.
I can’t mention that list without mentioning John Lee of St Lucia, whose similar listing of West Indian literature is also posted on the site. In fact, that’s an aspect of the site I’m excited about, the window I hope to open up not just to the Antiguan and Barbudan literary scene but to the wider Caribbean and the world really, as far as literary resources are concerned.
Wadadli Pen returned in 2010 and will be back in 2011, as my tanty would say, God spare life. With this time consuming blogging adventure, however, it’s kind of already here. I encourage readers to stop by and make use of it.
Joanne C. Hillhouse (http://www.jhohadli.com) is the author of The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight; and the founder/co-ordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize.