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Archive for the ‘book festival’ Category

The only good thing about having a summer cold during a heat wave is that it keeps me at home, which is where I get most of my writing done. Last week I was out and about every single day, but since waking with a sore throat on Monday, I’ve pretty much been out of commission. I had one day of fun on Thursday, but I’ve been housebound otherwise and that’s led to increased productivity: last week I wrote 4500 words and so far this week I’ve written 6000 words. I’m hopeful that between naps and coughing fits, I’ll be able to write at least 1500 words today and tomorrow. That would put this first draft of Judah’s Tale at 85K words. I am determined to NOT go over 90K. On Friday I got an offer for The Deep. I’m not sure how/if that’s going to work out, but I’ll keep you posted. Right now I want to get my voice back so I can read at tomorrow’s festival and plead my case for greater diversity when I meet with my publisher on Tuesday…

If you’re in Brooklyn, stop by St. Francis College tomorrow afternoon for the WORD Caribbean Book Festival. My reading & panel starts at 5:30. I’ve been listed as a Nevisian author so the first thing I’ll have to do is break that down…

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BOOK BUSINESS
2:00PM
Balancing Creativity and Commerce in Caribbean Literary Expression

 

Marva Allen - CEO of Hue-man Bookstore, and co-publisher of Open Lens an imprint of Akashic Books

Crystal Bobb-Semple – owner of Brownstone Bookstore

Ron Kavanaugh – founder and managing editor of Mosaic Literary Magazine, exploring the literary arts created by writers of African descent

Summer Edward – founder and managing editor of Anansesem, Caribbean children’s literature ezine

Victoria Brown, author, Grace in the City – Moderator  

YOUNG READERS
3:15PM
Culture Making – Literature that Defines Us  (Under 8 yrs)
Shabana Sharif (US/Guyana), “Ins and Out of Queens”
Tiphanie Yanique (Virgin Is), “I am the Virgin Islands”
Ibi Zoboi (Haiti), “A is for Ayiti”
4:30PM
Memory and Myth – Rooted in history and the fantastical
(8 – 15 yrs)
Tracey & Harmony Pierre (US/Haiti)
Clyde Viechweg (Grenada), “CaribbeanTwilight; Tales of the Supernatural”
 5:40PM
Off Island – Journeys in time and place 
(Teens – Young Adults)
Zetta Elliott (St. Kitts-Nevis), “Ship of Souls”
Devon Harris (Jamaica), “Yes I Can”
Workshops & Special Presentations
Illustration, Graphic & Costume Design, Steel Pan Demonstration; Storytelling
ADULT BOOK WRITERS
3:15PM
Where We’re From – Identity and Influence
Carmen Bardeguez-Brown (Puerto Rico), “Straight from the Drum”
Etaniel Ben Yehuda (US/Trinidad & Tobago), “The Chronicles of Air, Water, and the Source”
Anna Ruth Henriques (Jamaica), “The Book of Mechtilde”
Monica Matthew (Antigua & Barbuda), “Journeycakes:  Memories with my Antiguan Mama”
4:30PM
Memory and Myth – Our History Clings to Us

 

Keisha Gay Anderson (Jamaica)

Lynn Grange (Trinidad & Tobago),

“Freedom and the Cashew Seed”

Petra Lewis (Trinidad & Tobago), “Sons and Daughters of Ham”

Bernice McFadden (US/Barbados),

“Nowhere is a Place”

5:40PM
Off Island – Migration and Displacement

 

Elsie Agustave (Haiti), “The Roving Tree”

Elizabeth Nunez (Trinidad & Tobago), “Boundaries”

Sandra Ottey (Jamaica), “Runaway Comeback”

7:00PM
Get Up Stand Up – Texts of Empowerment

 

Deborah Jack (St Martin/St Maarten)

Rosamond King (US/Gambia/Trinidad), “At My Belly and My Back”

Hermina Marcellin (St. Lucia)

David Mills (US/Jamaica), “The Sudden Country”

Ras Osagyefo (Jamaica), “Psalms of Osagyefo”

Jive Poetic (US/Jamaica)

Maria Rodriguez (US/Puerto Rico)

 

Program, schedule and writers subject to change without notice.
  
Brooklyn Caribbean Youth Fest
Caribbean American Sports & Cultural Youth Movement (CASYM)
Friends of the Antigua Public Library
Mosaic Literary Magazine
NAACP/ACT-SO
St. Martin/St. Maarten Friendship Association
Tropical Fete Mas Camp

Union of Jamaica Alumni Associations (UJAA)

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anthillI never had a chance to capture the amazing anthills we saw in Ghana, but this internet image comes close. From inside the tour bus I marveled at their height—some certainly exceeded six feet—and the intricate design made from millions of grains of Ghana’s distinctive red soil. I also wondered about the unseen world within and beneath those striking mountains that dotted the countryside. Today I’m trying to write and so I’m looking inward, reflecting on the forces that built the identity I currently inhabit. It’s complex! And always “in process,” though at 40 I can say that some aspects of my identity seem fixed. I booked my flight to Nevis last night and so pulled up The Hummingbird’s Tongue today. I don’t have much so far, just fragments of memories and the opening lines of what I hope will become paragraphs or even chapters. Here’s one example: “I have never trusted the sea.” And just now I made two lists: “How I know I’m not truly Caribbean” and “How I know I may indeed be Caribbean.” I’m being facetious, of course, but issues of authenticity are ridiculous and real. As we continue to think about the future of OWWA, one thing I feel strongly about is the addition of a “D” to represent either “diaspora” or “descent,” because I don’t identity as a woman writer of Africa. I appreciate the symbolic significance of choosing “Africa” instead of “black” a few decades ago, but in this historical moment I think we need to acknowledge the difference between African women and women of African descent. When I was in Nevis last July, my host always introduced me as a writer of Nevisian descent, and that was perfectly fine with me. I am a citizen now, but that doesn’t make me Nevisian. And when I was asked to read in a Caribbean literary festival, I hesitated—mostly because I know others will question my right to participate. A colleague recently sent me a contest for Caribbean writers, urging me to submit but the rules were very clear: they want writers based in the region and published by a Caribbean press. Which means that a white woman from the UK who has lived in Barbados for fifteen years could become the recipient of that prize, and black writers born in the Caribbean but publishing in the US could be deemed ineligible. And I think I’m ok with that. What troubles me is when the focus shifts to the content of the books, as in “A Caribbean writer must write about the Caribbean.” For this one-day festival I’m on a panel called “Off Island,” which is appropriate since I haven’t yet written a story set in the Caribbean. It’s slippery, though, and it does feel as though content is ranked, with stories set in the Caribbean at the top, followed by stories about Caribbean people living elsewhere, followed by stories that don’t deal with the Caribbean at all. If a black girl wants to write poems about a unicorn, she has that right—and she’s still a black poet. That’s something I talk about with my students when we cover the Black Arts Movement. Do black artists have to make protest art? Or is anything made by a black-identified artist “black art?”  I didn’t expect to grapple with my identity as a Caribbean writer until I published The Hummingbird’s Tongue, but the book is partly about my identity so let the grappling begin…

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It actually feels like spring here in Toronto—for once I’m not shivering through my visit, though I am wearing a hoodie I borrowed from my cousin. She’s out having Easter dinner with her in-laws so I thought I’d take a moment to blog. I’ve got way too much sugar in my system; in addition to Easter chocolate we’ve been snacking on English toffee and vintage candy from our youth, and yesterday I had the ultimate butter tart (no raisins!) at a cafe where I met African Canadian author Kelbian Noel. I’ll be posting an interview with Kelbian tomorrow to coincide with the release date of her second speculative YA novel, Sprung. Despite my sugar consumption, right now I’m feeling bitter and here’s why: Kelbian and I spent most of our time together bemoaning the difficulty of getting published while black in Canada. We also tried to develop some strategies for breaking through the color barrier, and one idea was to propose a panel to the coordinators of an established literary event. There’s an annual book festival in Toronto called Word on the Street and these are the stats they proudly share in their brochure.

images2012 Festival Demographics

  • 65% Female, 34% Male
  • 63% of our visitors have an annual household income of $50,000 and greater
  • 28.3% of our visitors have an annual household income of $100,000 and greater
  • Our visitors come from a range of age demographics (total number of visitors 215,000):

Under 17 – 18% of visitors

18-24 years – 14% of visitors

25-34 years – 20% of visitors

35-44 years – 16% of visitors

45-54 years – 13% of visitors

55+ years – 20% of visitors

  • 72% of our visitors have completed college/university
  • 33% of our visitors have completed postgraduate studies (This is up from 30.9% in 2011)
  • 73% of our visitors are from Metropolitan Toronto
  • 27% of our visitors are tourists from outside the GTA
  • 80% of our visitors describe themselves as avid readers
  • 85% of our visitors consider The Word On The Street a key cultural event

Now, close your eyes and imagine what this book festival looks like. A third of the visitors are middle-aged; the vast majority of visitors are college-educated and a third have advanced degrees; nearly two-thirds are middle class and one third of their visitors make more than a hundred grand a year. Kids account for a fifth of the visitors, but if they’re brought by these highly educated, wealthy adults, chances are they aren’t struggling with literacy. In case you don’t know the city of Toronto, let me share some other stats:

Toronto is one of the world’s most multicultural cities. In 2004, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Toronto second, behind Miami, Florida, in its list of the world’s cities with the largest percentage of foreign-born population. Miami’s foreign-born population is dominated by those of Cuban and Latin American descent, unlike Toronto’s foreign-born population, which is not dominated by any particular ethnic group.

The 2006 census indicates 46.9% of Toronto’s population is composed of visible minorities; 1,162,630 non-Whites, or 23% of Canada’s visible minority population, live in Toronto; of this, approximately 70% are of Asian ancestry. Annually, almost half of all immigrants to Canada settle in the Greater Toronto Area. In March 2005, Statistics Canada projected that the combined visible minority proportion will comprise a majority in both Toronto and Vancouver by 2012.

  • 2006: 46.9% (South Asian: 12.0%, Chinese: 11.4%, Black 8.4%, Filipino 4.1%, Arab/West Asian: 2.6%, Latin American 2.6%, Southeast Asian 1.5%, Korean 1.4%, multiple 1.3%, not included elsewhere 1.0%, Japanese 0.5%)

Poverty is also on the rise in Toronto, with almost 25% of the population living hand to mouth:

Toronto’s poverty rates are higher than the provincial and national average. Overall, recent immigrants fare the worse with nearly half (46 per cent) in poverty. One in three children (under age 15) is living in poverty and 31 per cent of youths (15 to 24). Housing costs is the big driver, with almost 47 per cent of all tenants paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. Another 23 per cent pay an astonishing 50 per cent or more on rent.

So. Let’s revisit the stats for Word on the Street. I’ve never attended or presented at this event, but feedback from attendees seems overwhelmingly positive. Yet does this literary event accurately reflect the 21st-century city of Toronto? Are they actually achieving their objectives if their attendees represent such a small (and privileged) slice of the population? Do you think their featured authors reflect and/or are likely to appeal to people of color (who make up 50% of the city’s population)?

Mission

The Word On The Street Toronto is a non-profit organization that celebrates Canadian reading and writing, and champions literacy, primarily through a free, annual outdoor festival.

Objectives

  • To ensure that the people of Toronto know about the annual festival, and value it as having the best and broadest offerings within the Canadian publishing industry.
  • To ensure that The Word On The Street helps Toronto become 100% literate through its effective support for literacy awareness and programs.
  • To ensure that The Word On The Street Toronto is a valuable and vital event for the Canadian publishing industry and a top choice for Canadian authors, publishers and booksellers.

Right now I’m thinking it’s not worth my time to approach the organizers of this event. I may send them an email, however, and hip them to Pop Up—a nonprofit in the UK that brings literature to communities that are too often ignored by big splashy book festivals…

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It’s another rainy day and I’ll be giving my last midterm later this morning but I thought I’d take a moment to list some upcoming events:

On November 3rd I’ll be presenting at the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, SC. Dr. Michelle Martin of USC is teaching Wish so I’ll have a chance to meet with her graduate students, and then I’ll give a public talk with members of the library’s Teen Advisory Board. If you’re in the vicinity, stop by! Before I return to NYC I’ll have a chance to meet students at Westwood HS. Hopefully being in the South will help me finish up Judah’s Tale–I’m nearing 74K words and hope to wrap up at 80. I’ve already made a list of plantations I hope to visit while I’m in the midlands…

On November 9-10th I’ll be attending the second A Is for Anansi conference at NYU. I’m moderating the SFF panel on Saturday morning but am really looking forward to hearing Michelle Martin’s keynote address the night before. If you’re in NYC you definitely don’t want to miss this! I will miss some of the afternoon sessions because I’ve been invited to speak at Girls Write Now, a fantastic nonprofit that’s celebrating its 15th year of pairing teenage girls with professional writer-mentors. I’ll be speaking about historical fiction and can’t wait to meet these amazing young women writers.

On November 17th I’ll be at the Brooklyn Museum Book Fair—one of my favorite kidlit events! Come out with your kids and enjoy an afternoon of books, authors, readings, and fun activities. The next weekend is Thanksgiving and I’ll be heading up to Toronto. If you’re in the city and would like to book a visit, let me know! Though I may be ready for a break by then…

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Woke up early to go for a run but we have stormy weather here today. So instead I uploaded about 30 photos to my Facebook account. Here are some of my favorites:

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That’s how I feel. Not because I attended church at 8:30 this morning for the first time in…ages. Not because my aunt keeps the TV tuned to a Christian station, so while eating the delicious black-eyed peas and rice she made especially for me, I actually heard 3 additional sermons. Not because I slept through the night without being woken by a barking dog or crowing rooster. I feel blessed because when I went for a run yesterday morning and wasn’t sure just where I was, I saw a sign that said Craddock Road and instantly oriented myself because I knew that was where my step-grandmother grew up. I feel blessed because when I step out on my terrace, I have a stunning view of Nevis Peak (and a flamboyant tree)—but am not overcome with guilt when I choose to spend the afternoon indoors working on a novel set in Brooklyn. I don’t feel rushed this time around; nothing feels as urgent (because I know I’ll be back soon) and more things seem possible. Last night, after I facilitated an informal workshop for parents at the Prospect Community Center, one of the participants thanked me for coming and concluded her remarks with, “Welcome home!” And I blurted out that this trip has truly made me feel at home here in Nevis—I’m still an outsider, I’m still learning the history and the culture and the customs. But I’m also being myself. And when you can be who you are—your true self—and feel that you are accepted by others, that’s when you know you’re home. In that community center, when I was surrounded by mothers who formed a book club in order to learn how to develop a love of books in their children, I felt like I had something to offer. I brought the books I purchased in NYC and spread them out on two tables; then I asked each person to take no more than one minute to look the books over and select one that jumped out at her. It was so interesting to see their selections—and flattering, too, since three of them selected books I’d written and self-published! We talked about how to extract meaning from a book cover or title in order to attract a child’s attention, and we talked about how to read so that the child’s curiosity is piqued. Then I handed out copies of Ship of Souls and read part of a chapter aloud. The women then voted to make SoS their first book club selection (bumping The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to September)! I think I’m going to start a book drive. I’m hoping all my author-friends out there will be willing to donate a copy of their book to the fledgling children’s library at Prospect Community Center. We need art up on the walls, and shelves installed, and books to put on the shelves…and a few computers couldn’t hurt. Sunday is a day of rest but tomorrow there will be work to do! I’m giving three presentations at the credit union across the street from my guesthouse. Even if only a couple of kids show up, I’ll still feel blessed because I’ve found a way to be useful to my new community. [Photograph of the Nevis Book Fair by Ryan D. Maynard/ Refined Digital Media]

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It’s happening again—I’m not taking photos of everything that’s going on! Yesterday I snapped a few images of the wonderful kids I met at Gingerland Library, but today the wind was blowing everything off the table and then waves of rain rolled down the mountainside…I still had a great time at the book fair—I met yet another cousin, saw some friends I met in June, and read Bird to a great group of kids who didn’t seem to mind the stormy weather. Last night I attended a performance of Nevisian folk songs at the Methodist church across the street, and then I went back this morning to give a brief presentation to their teen group. At the book fair I met the premier (who *must* be related to me because he looks exactly like my grandfather!). Right now I need a nap because there is a rooster who seems to live directly beneath my window; the first night he crowed from 4-5:30am and last night he got all the neighborhood roosters going at 2am…and yes, I’m staying *in town* this time. Still, it’s good to be back. Yesterday morning I walked over to the hospital and learned that they only keep records going back to 1980. So if my grandmother was institutionalized in 1945, those records will be at the registrar’s office in St. Kitts. I heard from the Secretary General and he’d like to meet while I’m in town so I’ll probably spend a day in St. Kitts next week. On Monday I present on The Hummingbird’s Tongue since we got rained out today…Mrs. Daniel has been an amazing host *and* she’s taken photos of everything so I’ll post more pix later. Time for my nap since Gavin the rooster will no doubt start up at 1am…

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Sometimes people suck. On my way to the airport this morning I found myself making a mental list of the people in Canada who could do something significant about youth violence but who instead choose not to use the power they’ve got to stand up for our kids. I worked myself into quite a funk and realized—yet again—that I can’t wait for those with power to do the right thing. As a friend from Montreal pointed out, we’re going to have to address the problem ourselves. As always.

I was still pretty cranky on the plane but my seatmate, Sylvia, was warm and friendly—when I told her about my father only returning to Nevis twice after leaving as a teen, she admitted she hadn’t been back since 1970! The plane was packed, as was the ferry coming over from St. Kitts; everybody’s in town for Culturama. I was just making the mental transition from “people suck” to “crowds suck” when a pretty little girl came up to me at the airport and asked, “Are you Aunty Zetta?” And from that moment on I remembered that sometimes—even most times—people ROCK. I met Carol Ottley-Mitchell online about a year ago, I think; she was living in Ghana at the time, but shared her fabulous children’s books with me (which are set in St. Kitts) and we swapped stories of our respective struggles to provide kids with culturally and historically relevant material. When I told Carol about the book fair in Nevis, she emailed me back and offered to meet me at the airport; her lovely daughter joined us for lunch at The Ballahoo, which overlooks a busy roundabout in Basseterre. Over a delicious meal we talked about self-publishing, living a transnational life, and which services would best serve the youth of SKN. I met Carol’s parents, got signed copies of her books, and I even got a cheap little cell phone to use while I’m in Nevis. While walking through town we ran into Mrs. Daniel, intrepid organizer of the inaugural book fair. Later she and I took the ferry over to Nevis and on the pier I was introduced to half a dozen people. My landlord was waiting for me in a bright red shirt with “Canada” printed across it. If you look at that photo of the restaurant in St. Kitts you can see a sign for Scotia Bank on the far left…they also have CIBC (another Canadian bank). I’m still thinking about the gun violence in Toronto and the alienation that leads *some* young people down such a destructive path. I grew up in a different city, and my childhood friend sums up the way I feel in this earnest letter to the city’s most recent victims:

I’m sorry that I didn’t have the privilege of knowing you. I’m sorry that you were killed so horribly, so inexcusably, by stupid men with guns. And I’m sorry if now, in death, both you and those you loved are being blamed.

I’m sorry if you have grown up in a city and in a land where it is easier for some to offer hurtful words about immigrants and their children than it is to express simple sadness for your deaths. I’m sorry if your family and those surrounding you are dealing not only with unfathomable grief, but also with the bigotry and cynical politicking that preys so eagerly upon the suffering of others.

The truth is, as angry as I get at those who sit back and do nothing to defend children of color in Toronto, I can’t deny the fact that I’m not there doing something—anything—for the kids who can’t escape the city I was able to abandon. Guilt sucks and it doesn’t get us anywhere. I was planning to visit Toronto sometime this fall—think I better get there sooner rather than later. Ah, the transnational life…

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ImageI try to avoid crowds as much as possible but it’s hard to stay away from a book festival—especially when it’s in Harlem and the street is filled with black folks who love to read, write, and talk about literature! I watched some of the Schomburg panels on C-Span before hopping on the train to give my own presentation at the Young Readers Pavilion, which was once again expertly run by the Hudsons. I read from Ship of Souls and took some questions from the young readers in the audience, and then had time to catch the second half of the panel on getting black boys to read, which was moderated by Wade Hudson. I don’t like crowds, but large gatherings do increase the likelihood of meeting folks you haven’t seen in a while. It was great to catch up with Carol-Ann Hoyte, poet, librarian, and editor/publisher of the forthcoming anthology, And the Crowd Goes Wild! Carol-Ann shared some of the sports poems with kids at the Young Readers Pavilion and she’ll be back in NYC this fall for an official launch party so stay tuned. I also met Donald Peebles, author and librarian-in-training; we talked about the importance of male role models, the need for more black male voices in YA lit, and the many different family configurations that make black boys LOVE to read. That was an issue that came up in the panel: what’s the link between fathers and better literacy among boys? I’m not a fan of the “just add MAN” remedy to what ails the black community, though I absolutely believe that fathers are important to boys and girls. But the mere presence of men doesn’t solve any problem—it’s their involvement in the family that matters and their commitment to promoting literacy by reading with and around their kids.

Later that night I had a Skype conversation with my cousin and we realized that our “fun” summer reads actually reflect our scholarship…I just finished a novel on racial violence in the post-Emancipation South, and she was reading a novel about the body’s memory of trauma. I’d been planning to self-publish my novella about black children and AIDS this fall, but somehow that conversation gave me a sharp nudge. I worked on it past midnight and ordered a proof this morning. There is a major AIDS conference in D.C. right now, and a Canadian friend sent a team from her Toronto clinic, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands. When I visited that clinic a couple of years ago, one of the researchers asked me why I didn’t write about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the black community. I assured her that I *had* written about it but couldn’t find a publisher. Well, what am I waiting for? The community is still in crisis and waiting ten years hasn’t helped matters any. I hope to have An Angel for Mariqua out by my birthday in late October. This is just a demo cover I made with the CreateSpace template.

Christmas is coming, but nine-year-old Mariqua Thatcher isn’t looking forward to the holidays. Mama’s gone and Gramma doesn’t know what to do with her feisty granddaughter. Almost every day Mariqua gets into a fight at school and no one seems to understand how she feels inside. But things start to change when a mysterious street vendor gives Mariqua a beautifully carved wooden angel as a gift. Each night Mariqua whispers in the angel’s ear and soon her wishes start to come true! Mariqua begins to do better at school and she even wins an important role in the church pageant. But best of all, Mariqua becomes friends with Valina Patterson, a teenager who lives in Mariqua’s building. Valina helps Mariqua learn how to control her anger, and reminds her pretend little sister that “everyone has a story to tell.” Their friendship is tested, however, when Mariqua discovers that Valina has been keeping a secret about her own mother. Can the magic angel make things better?

A touching story about love, compassion, and the gift within every heart.
For children age 8+.

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