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GIVE BOOKS! One book can change a child’s life, but too many children don’t have access to the kinds of libraries we enjoy here in the U.S. You can support groups like Golden Baobab in Ghana and Hands Across the Sea in Bedford, MA. I had a chance to talk to Harriet Linskey last week and you wouldn’t believe everything she and her husband (and a team of volunteers) go through to build libraries in Caribbean schools. I would be SO happy if I never got another piece of jewelry for my birthday or for Xmas; for years I’ve been trying to get my relatives to make a donation instead, and these two literacy orgs are at the top of my list. Last week I received a bundle of letters from the girls at the Youth Institute for Science and Technology in Ghana—THIS is what even a small donation of books can do:

The reason why I am writing to you this letter is to say an appreciation for what you did for us at the conference. Madam, I want to tell you that I’m really happy to thank you because you donated us some books and bags and I think [it] is because we are genius students and how we speak our English. That was why you gave those things to us. May the almight[y] God bless you and your family and also increase your salary in any job that you do.  ~ Regina

The main reason why [I] am writing this letter to you is to thank you for the books you gave to us. In fact the book is interesting and good for us who want to be a writer. In my own way I think that if someone gives you something you should be grateful and show appreciation to what the person gave you because in this world not all people gives and so if someone gives you something you must show something so that they will know that you appreciate. Zetta, may all your dreams comes through. May you become a great writer. May you live to be 1000 years and above. May you live to see your great great great grandchildren give birth to another great grandchildren of yours. Thank you so much.   ~ Veronica

The reason why I am writing you this letter is that I want to be your role mod[el] and also I like writing poems and stories. And also I want to be famous like you. I also like you as my friend so that you will help me whenever I am writing poems or stories. And again on 19 May 2013 I read one of your books. I enjoyed it very much. So I want you to help me whenever I am writing a poem or story. Furthermore the reason why I choose you was that I like the way you talk and the way you walk. And also you are friendly. That is why I like you as my role mod[el]. I hope to hear from you soon.   ~ Doreenda

Also I have heard more about the famous people in Africa. I would like to tell you the person I like best when we went to the Organization of Women Writers of Africa. The person I like best was Zetta Elliott. The reason why I am saying this is that they were selling bags [but] most of us were not having money to buy some but this woman brought some to all of us. She also gave us about six or seven books. All her books were interest[ing]. That is why I like her.   ~ anonymous

1015787_10201434273401206_2089104039_oShortly after I returned from Ghana I received this email from the girls’ teacher, Kaitlin:

“On behalf of the Youth Institute of Science and Technology, I want to say thank you very much for your generosity. The girls were so enthralled by the books that you gave to them and they were so proud to bring them back to the school. Now everyone is enjoying the books- we have a library checkout and as soon as one student returns one of your books, about 10 more fight over who gets to read them next. Your gift to the school has brought joy to many students and gotten them excited to read again, which is priceless.”

GIVE BOOKS!

book news

img550I finally took the time to unpack my suitcase this morning. I got back from St. Lucia on Saturday night, and immediately starting reaching out to some of the people I met at the ACLALS conference. Then I spent two days revising my paper, “‘All Land Is One Land Under the Sea’: Mapping Memory in Canada and the Caribbean,” so that I could submit it to Caribbean Quarterly. Now I’m working on my writing intensive syllabus and as soon as that’s done, I am going to FINISH writing Judah’s Tale. Yesterday I was pleased to receive copies of the latest issue of Canadian Children’s Book News; a couple of months ago, to my surprise, editor Gillian O’Reilly invited me to participate in a roundtable of African Canadian authors and illustrators, including Tololwa Mollel, Dirk McLean, Nicole Mortillaro, and Sean L. Moore. I was surprised to see so many Canadian scholars attending the St. Lucia conference and since I generally feel invisible to Canadians, I wanted them to know about my books and my scholarship on diversity in children’s literature. When I finished presenting my paper last week, St. Lucian poet Jane King came up and asked why I have such strong feelings about my country of origin. In my paper I confessed that “I seem unable to write or talk or even think about Canada without becoming bitter and, at times, irrationally enraged.” It’s hard to explain how I can recognize how privileged I am to have spent the first twenty years of my life in a progressive, wealthy country like Canada while simultaneously resenting the fact that nearly every door I’ve knocked on up there has remained closed. I’m heading to Toronto next month for the Word on the Street Festival and hope to coordinate a book event for young readers in my old neighborhood of East Scarborough. I’m keeping my expectations low, however, since previous efforts to pull this off have failed. For the roundtable I was asked why I self-published some of my books and my answer, of course, was: REJECTION! Yesterday img459I went looking for a file on my computer and stumbled across a folder *full* of query letters to Canadian publishers. I’m sure if I opened my file cabinet I’d find a stack of rejection letters from those same presses. And yet I still have moments when I wonder if I tried hard enough to make a go of it in Toronto, and I suppose that’s why I keep going back and why I continue to write about my frustration with the status quo. As I work on The Hummingbird’s Tongue I’ve been referring back to my first memoir, Stranger in the Family, and I still wonder why that book couldn’t find a publisher in Canada. I look at the literary landscape up north and it’s virtually impossible to find a novel or film or play that reflects my generation’s reality; there’s a fair amount of “back home” or “over there” and not a lot of “this is what it’s like for us HERE.” So much work to do…

Here’s a glimpse of the roundtable:

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taking flight

IMG_1980Now that my panel is over I have time to blog about my first visit to St. Lucia. The island is beautiful and the beach across the street from our hotel is stunning. Rosa and I went over there late in the afternoon and the water was so clear, even when it reached up to our necks. I don’t have the same tolerance for the sun that I had when I was a kid, but we did lie out for a while and it was nice not to have to stress about my paper. I applied to this conference because I knew it would force me to make some kind of sense out of all the research I’ve conducted in and on Nevis. I’ve been thinking about The Hummingbird’s Tongue for months and months and I bet I could sit down and write the book in one month—IF I had a month with no other obligations. But the fall semester starts in a couple of weeks, I haven’t yet designed my new writing intensive syllabus, I still haven’t finished Judah’s Tale and that HAS to happen this month, and I’m still working to place The Deep. My article for Jeunesse will likely need more revisions before it gets published this fall, and that just doesn’t leave a lot of time for me to write this memoir. I wrote Stranger in the Family in about 5 weeks, but I was unemployed then and trying to hold onto my sanity while living with my mother in Toronto. While we were treading water this afternoon Rosa told me about some artists residencies in the Caribbean. I’m thinking I should plan to return over winter break and really try to get this book written. It weighs on me—I’m constantly remembering things from my childhood, and I’m discovering more about my family as I meet more and more cousins. I also think about my father a lot and that can be emotionally exhausting. Today my co-panelist Cyril Dabydeen came up to me and asked, “Is that your father at the back?” And for a split second I wished I could say “Yes.” But it was my other co-panelist, filmmaker Davina Lee, whose father was anxiously awaiting his daughter’s presentation. I have so many memories and ideas and questions; it’s all piling up in my head and I need to sit down at a IMG_1953table, spread everything out before me, and make it all make sense. I think I said I would post my conference paper here on the blog but as soon as the panel ended, the editor of Caribbean Quarterly came up and said she’d be interested in considering my paper for publication! That was my main objective in attending this conference and I wasn’t completely satisfied with the paper I pulled together this week, but with a little more work I think it will be worthy of publication. The hummingbird is almost ready to take flight…

I’ve had two migraines this week and Rosa and I have both remarked on how difficult it is to “turn off” our brains, which are always looking ahead, prioritizing items on the neverending To Do list. But on Tuesday we flipped the switch and took a day trip to Soufriere. The Pitons were stunning, even when draped in mist, and the off and on rain showers didn’t matter much since when we weren’t covered in volcanic mud, we were bracing ourselves for the HOT HOT HOT sulphur springs. We had lunch at Fond Doux, a nearby cocoa plantation, and then held on as our driver expertly navigated the narrow, winding road that led up and down the steep hills. Tomorrow we’re hoping to spend some time in Castries, the capital city, before attending the farewell beach bbq on Friday night. And then Saturday takes me back to Brooklyn! This isn’t a vacation but conducting and presenting research in the Caribbean definitely has its perks…

imagesAs I prepare to write my conference paper I’m reading The Repeating Island by Antonio Benitez Rojo. Islands in the Caribbean are not identical but during the 90-minute taxi ride from the airport yesterday I had a chance to compare St. Lucia to Nevis. These are just preliminary observations, of course, and Nevis is a much smaller island (often lauded by travel writers for remaining “unspoiled”).

Things that are the same:

  1. The night-time chorus of frogs/crickets.
  2. Even with all the curtains drawn, light enters your room before 6am.
  3. Mourning doves start cooing before dawn.
  4. Lush green vegetation everywhere and rainforest in undeveloped areas.
  5. Enormous cinder block houses in various stages of construction can be seen from the road.
  6. St. Lucians drive on the left.
  7. Both islands have hot springs and the potential for geothermal energy.

Things that are different:

  1. Drivers raise an arm in salute but don’t lightly tap their horns every time they pass a friend on the street.
  2. Goats and cows are tethered and not roaming freely in packs (I haven’t seen any monkeys yet).
  3. There aren’t any swales to allow rushing rainwater to cross the road as it comes down the mountainside.
  4. St. Lucia has an active volcano that was last active in 1766.
  5. St. Lucia has an impressive-looking mental health hospital.
  6. There’s a KFC, Burger King, and Church’s Fried Chicken in a nearby mall.
  7. St. Lucia produces its own bananas and sugar rather than importing these from neighboring countries.
  8. Lasting influence of French rule (St. Lucians speak English and Kweyol/Creole).

Yesterday I shared a taxi with a scholar from Long Island University and a musicologist from Nigeria. I asked her if St. Lucia reminded her of Nigeria and she said that the setting did feel very similar. She then asked the driver if there was a KFC in St. Lucia and so he made sure to point it out as we drove by…

Time for breakfast. More later after I have a chance to explore.

No, I am not going to write about that brilliant essay by Hortense Spillers. I just want to share part of this amazing blog post over at Hope Avenue. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my frustration with relatives who feel entitled to comment on my weight. This advice will go in the letter I send to those women:

How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

“You look so healthy!” is a great one.

Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.”

“I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.”

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Do read the entire post—sometimes we don’t know how to change the dialogue because we can’t find a better script. This is it!

triple shot

indexWhen I sat down to write on Friday morning I realized I’d only written 850 words for the week and only 3200 words for the entire month. Spending a week in Nevis threw my writing routine, and when I got back I found it hard to reach my self-imposed quota of a thousand words a day. But what I’ve learned about writing is that you have to trust yourself—and you have to keep at it even when the results are disappointing. By 3pm yesterday I’d written a thousand words and to celebrate I went out and bought a pint of triple espresso gelato. After devouring half the pint in one sitting, I went back to the novel and wrote another 1500 words before calling it quits around midnight. Then I woke at 4:45am and managed to crank out another 300 words before heading to the park for a run. I also did a bit of pruning last night—it’s funny how being productive somehow gives you the courage you need to cut away dead weight. When you’re not writing, every word seems too precious to surrender but I *know* this novel is too long. And I know that when I finish these last ten chapters, I’m going to have to go back to the beginning and show no mercy. I’m at 88K words and will probably reach 100K before I’m done.

It took a while for me to accept that this book will not be the novel I set out to write in 2003. In fact, I recently accepted the fact that it will also need a new title because it’s no longer accurate to call it Judah’s Tale. I first envisioned a book told entirely from Judah’s point of view. But now I’ve got alternating viewpoints, which helps to reveal the journey that Genna’s on as well. What interests me most is the way teenage girls handle power and so I’m struggling to give Judah equal time in this novel. I just don’t know him the way I know Genna, and I thought I could redeem him in this book but so far that’s not looking likely. He’s a boy who’s bought into patriarchy and there’s not a whole lot I can do about that—not if I’m committed to realism. Even a fantasy novel has its limits…

Ok, there’s no food in the house (besides leftover gelato) so I better head to the grocery store. Samiya Bashir posted a brilliant diagram on Facebook a while back that argued artists can only do two things at a time: you can meet your deadline and a) practice good hygiene, or b) socialize with friends, or c) maintain good eating habits. This weekend I think I will opt for good hygiene. If I reach 1000 by 3pm, I’m heading out for a burger with fries (hold the shake).

gec_photoThis morning I received an invitation from George Elliott Clarke , Toronto’s Poet Laureate, to participate in the Canada Seminar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. George, who is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto, will be William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies and Canada Seminar Chair for the coming academic year.

The Canada Seminar examines Canadian social, economic, cultural, and political issues in their domestic and international dimensions. Presentations are made by public figures, scholars, artists, and experts in various fields to provide Harvard faculty and students, and the broader community, a look at Canadian scholarly and public life. It seeks to enhance the understanding of one of the United States’ closest allies and largest trading partners, and to provide a forum for the lively exchange of ideas on a wide range of issues. Because Canada and the United States must respond to similar economic and social challenges with distinctly different frameworks and historical legacies, the study of Canadian issues offers rich opportunities for scholars engaged in comparative studies. The seminar has presented numerous distinguished speakers including Canadian Supreme Court Justice Madame Rosalie Abella; political philosophers, Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka; Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario; and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Honorable Bob Rae.

Needless to say, the lineup will look very different while George is at Harvard! My talk, “The (Revolving) Door of No Return: Memory, Migration, & Magical Thinking,” will take place on February 24, 2014.

waiting in vain

970807_10151793016135701_924416939_nEvery time the crises facing our youth make the news, I wait (in vain) for the children’s literature community—and its institutions especially—to issue a statement about their commitment to social justice. But the truth is, many in the kidlit community here in the US are NOT committed to social justice and so perhaps feel it is “not their place” to comment on the murder of Trayvon Martin and the problematic profiling of so many youth of color. As scholar/urban librarian Vanessa Irvin Morris points out on her blog,

…any librarian who is worth their education in gold, will at times, embrace a social stance for justice, that will be based on belief and experience – not someone else’s facts and references. We’re talking about real life here, and librarians do live it. If a librarian tells you otherwise – go to another library. Seriously.

I’ve been in a funk lately and felt I ought to write something about the verdict but didn’t really have much to say. There’s a lot of commentary out there, but I was gratified to see my HuffPo article, “Trayvon—Killed by an Idea,” reposted by some friends on Facebook. Over a year ago I wrote,

Imagine what it might mean if those same professionals took a moment to consider what they owe Trayvon Martin and all the other teens of color who don’t see themselves reflected in young adult literature. Imagine what it might mean if they realized that a broader range of images in books might have created a different set of assumptions in the mind of George Zimmerman (or Anders Breivik). I wish publishers recognized that they have the power to help undo the distortions that are destroying our youth.

I feel like I write the same thing over and over again and nothing seems to change. Fortunately, my friend Swati Khurana directed my attention to this encouraging blog post in which a white reader testifies to the power of books she read as a child to foster empathy for others who seem different. In “I Am Not Trayvon Martin. But I Can Be in My Imagination. And That Would Have Made All the Difference,” she writes:

Of course, like all of us, I look at the world through the prism of my experience and who I am. But literature helps me move beyond that “bubble of me” and look at how life is for someone else…So I can be Trayvon Martin in my imagination. I can put myself in his place. He isn’t “other” to me, even though I am a middle aged White woman.

I wish George Zimmerman could have been Trayvon in his imagination. That he could have looked carefully beyond his first impression. That he could have thought about whether he was scaring Trayvon by doing what amounted to stalking him. If he could have seen Trayvon as a kid, not as a “an asshole” or a “f*cking punk”.

I think my study of Literature helps me do this. But Literature is just stories. And sometimes powerful stories just come out of people’s mouths. Or appear on sites like this one. We need to listen. Not just to the words. But to use our imagination to truly feel what another person might feel, how another person’s experience and frame of reference might be different from yours, how you might be making a mistake in the way you are judging someone else.

Amen.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

thin-skinned

IMG_1939My dad used to call me “Krissy.” It drove me nuts, especially since I stopped going by that name when I was 12. Everyone else in my family made the switch (to Kris or Kristin), but my father just refused and that meant everyone in his world also referred to me as “Krissy” and assumed it was okay. When I went to Nevis last year (at the age of 39) I explained to my aunt and my cousin that I preferred to be called “Zetta” and they made a conscious effort to honor my preference. This year my aunt called me “Krissy” several times but remembered to say “Zetta” when she was asked to stand and introduce me to the congregation during Sunday service. I didn’t bother to correct her whenever she slipped up because I was grateful that when I walked through the front door of her home my aunt didn’t call me fat. When we embraced she did let her hands linger on my waist to take a quick, silent measurement, but then we sat down to lunch and simply enjoyed each other’s company. That was Thursday. On Sunday I went to church with my aunt and when the service ended, my aunt’s sister-in-law dashed up to the front to shake my hand. She seemed to be in a hurry but took time to say, “You got fat!” before laughing and rushing away. My cousin also left church in a hurry so I called her the next day. She started with a couple of complaints: 1) it was Monday and I’d been on the island for five days without contacting her, and 2) I was paying money to stay in a hotel when she told me last year I was welcome to stay with her. Then she said, “You’re SOOOO fat!” And there wasn’t any laughter until I said, “I knew you were going to say that.” Then she laughed, I steered the conversation in another direction, and we moved on. Before I boarded the ferry to leave Nevis yesterday, another cousin made time in her busy schedule to stop by and say a quick hello. We embraced, I said, “You look great!” and she said casually, “You’ve put on a little weight.” I told her she was the third person to point that out, and then we spent the next few minutes catching up.

Now I have gained weight since last year—I know that. And I know that I am a highly sensitive person (HSP); my feelings bruise easily and I have had to learn not to let careless or unkind remarks get to me. I wouldn’t say I’ve traveled widely, but I have seen a bit of the world and I have to say that I have never visited a place where people felt entitled to call me fat. I grew up in a household where one man (my athletic father) felt he had the right to police the weight of everyone else (his wife and two daughters). He used to pinch me and my sister and say, “You’ve got an inch to pinch!” The message being that “good” bodies had no excess fat—bad news for a pudgy kid like me. Because I was so eager to please my father, as a child I learned to do the things he approved of—I was active in sports and I even went on a liquid diet when my dad started selling Herbalife products. I was an adult when my mother shared some of the insensitive and cruel things my father said to her about her weight prior to their divorce. I’m 40 now and I’ve never known a time when my mother wasn’t on a diet. It can be damaging to girls when they see their mothers being self-critical; I shared this important letter with my mother and she didn’t even (know how to?) respond. By the time I was a teenager I had decided I would never count calories or let food dominate my life. My siblings are rather image-conscious and I also decided I wasn’t going to obsess over the way I look; I figured if people truly liked me, they’d have to accept me as I am. I could afford to hold those attitudes when I was in my 20s, but in my 30s I started to gain weight and I know that my metabolism has changed. If I don’t exercise 3x a week, the pounds pile on and I become the pudgy girl my father feared would become obese (just like her mother).

I come from a family of big women; my great-grandmother Jenny Hobbs was a tall, big-boned Irish-Canadian woman and many of my relatives on that side of the family struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. But what I love about my mother’s family is that NO ONE ever makes insensitive remarks about size. It’s natural to notice changes in a person you haven’t seen in some time, but in North American culture it is rude and hurtful to blurt out observations about weight. I understand that Caribbean culture is different, but I’m not willing to give folks a pass on this. I hate to take it to Dr. Phil, but he’s right when he says, “You teach people how to treat you.” Calling a woman fat is an act of aggression—that’s how I see it. It’s not a compliment, it’s not an expression of concern. It’s a way of taking a swipe at someone without accepting accountability. Just because you laugh when you say it doesn’t make it a harmless joke. And yes, this is a particular trigger for me but it’s also part of a larger cultural problem that turns women’s bodies into public property to be ogled, judged, and handled without care.

When I think about moving to the Caribbean, I think about having to surrender my privacy—those spaces/stretches of solitude that enable me to dream, to heal, to write. Could I really live on a small island as an HSP? As a feminist and an artist? When my aunt stood to introduce me during church last Sunday, the pastor welcomed me and said, “I met your father, I believe. You look like him.” Which put a huge smile on my face because no one ever says that. My father called me a “stranger in the family” because of my attitudes and ideas, but he could have been talking about my appearance. Aside from my wide hips, I don’t share certain physical traits that mark the members of my “clan.” And I don’t share their belief that blood is thicker than water. If you mistreat me or disregard my boundaries, I’ll leave and/or cut you out of my life. I can afford to do that because I have so many wonderful friends and extended family members who accept me unconditionally. But where do you go when land is limited and friends are far away? My aunt’s pastor came up to me after the service to ask what brought me back to Nevis. I told him I was doing research for a book and he told me he was also writing a book—on the sanctimony sanctity of marriage. I managed a diplomatic reply: “You must have found the recent Supreme Court rulings interesting.” But then he started pulling at his side as he explained that woman was taken from Adam’s rib, and it’s “womb-man,” etc. I said, “No doubt a well-read man like yourself has heard that ‘biology isn’t destiny.'” He said he had, and I said we would have to leave it there since we’re clearly on opposite sides of that argument. If I lived in Nevis, I wouldn’t attend church and I doubt I’d have many conservative people in my life. That might mean that I’d have a very small circle of friends! After Ghana I realized that there aren’t many places in the world for a single, child-free black feminist like me, which is a rather sobering realization…

roots

IMG_1927It’s hotter in NYC than it is here in Nevis. For the past three mornings I’ve woken before dawn to the sound of pouring rain. Then the rain stops as suddenly as it started, the clouds pass, the sun comes out, and when I finally open the door there’s a beautiful breeze blowing in off the blue, blue sea. I realized a few days ago that I painted my front room the color of the sea. I don’t have many vibrant colors in my home, nothing that might look distinctly Caribbean. Yesterday evening my cousin Charlene drove us around the island and I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the homes are—they’re immaculately painted in sorbet colors and most yards are very tidy with lots of flowering shrubs. Land is a big deal here in Nevis—owning it, buying it, selling it. Land is a form of legitimacy; I can remember my father grumbling about the land he never inherited from his grandfather and father. Buying land wouldn’t make me an automatic insider; lots of expats come here and earn citizenship by purchasing million-dollar villas that they only occupy for a couple of weeks. But my other cousin is looking to sell some of her land and there’s a part of me that would like to hold onto land that’s been in my family for generations—land that somehow eluded my father’s grasp. We passed my great-grandparents’ house last night, the house my father grew up in, and it’s fallen into total disrepair since being sold. That never would have happened had it stayed in “family hands.” The other part of me doesn’t want to be a landowner—not here, not anywhere. I don’t want to be bound to any one place. I still have my dream of opening a slavery museum here in Nevis, but for the most part I lack that very Caribbean drive to own a IMG_1896home. Or in the case of Nevis, to buy some land and build a home. Yesterday my cousin Beverley and I took a guided tour of the Montravers Estate (once managed by the infamous Huggins who ordered 32 enslaved people to be taken to town and publicly whipped). It was amazing to follow the path into the rainforest and suddenly come upon evidence of another era—a stone bridge or crumbling wall. The Huggins family eventually sold the estate to the Pinney family (another prominent slave- and landowning family) but over time it fell into other hands. Now a descendant of the Pinney family has bought the estate back and there’s talk of turning it into a hotel. Will they preserve the existing structures? I’d hate to see them destroyed and yet I don’t want white tourists living out their Gone with the Wind fantasies on this terrain. It’s sacred ground—to me, at any rate. As we walked along the rock-strewn path I couldn’t help but wonder who had walked there centuries ago. This was myIMG_1906 second hike in the rainforest and once again I was struck by the quiet. The estate is secluded and so the 90-minute walk was rather serene and largely bug-free except for ants and donkey spiders, which fortunately remained hidden inside their burrows. We stopped for a mango break and then went on until we were standing before the ruins of a three-storey stone building. The counting house was also standing and the kitchen’s brick chimney. We walked without talking so as not to disturb the nearby hive and saw the rusted iron evidence of sugar production (a plow, coppers for boiling), all overgrown by plants and vines. What does it mean to own a piece of the past? If it were up to me, I’d have the estate designated a national heritage site. I’d love for there to be a working sugar plantation in Nevis. It would be a huge tourist draw but unlike a hotel, it wouldn’t cast Afro-Caribbean people in the role of servants to wealthy whites. Instead they would serve as docents who could educate tourists (and locals) about plantation life—the reality, not the fantasy.

I’m running out of energy. I haven’t written enough since I’ve been here and perhaps that explains my lingering headache. This morning I got up and took the ferry to the National Archives in St. Kitts. As I crossed the courtyard I noticed boxes and files stacked along the wall and I wondered to myself if they ever got wet during a sudden downpour. Then I met a woman who told me that when she first started working there, workers were using records to stand on as they fixed the building’s wiring. She found no trace of Rosetta in her files but gave me some good suggestions and I agree with her conclusion that oral history will likely provide more information than official records. There’s more to share but I need to crash. Once I write up my notes for this conference in St. Lucia, I’ll be sure to post the paper in here for those who are interested. This has been a great week but I am ready to go home. Back to the heat and humidity of Brooklyn, which has its own pockets of serenity…