Wednesday, August 27, 2008

When Me Was a Boy

I know that my uncle Alvin planted the line of apple trees along the river near to my childhood home. I know that my childhood home was carried from one mile up the road (a place called Hillsbourough) on the back of a Leyland truck some time before I was born. I know that my grandfather was a baker and that he baked the best bread for miles around in a brick oven at the front of the yard. I know that when my Aunt Amy died and I asked what had happened to her, my response to Mom's answer that "God took her" was "Tell God sey me want back mi Aunt Amy yah". I know the names and deeds, as well as misdeeds of many relatives up to three generations back. I know all of this from my mother, the family historian.

I like the history you get from scholars, but I like the history you get from the people who were actually there a whole lot better. So when I walked into the Old Harbour library last week and saw the book "When me was a boy" on the West Indian authors shelf, naturally I grabbed it for a second read. Master story teller Charles Hyatt tells what Jamaica was like in the 1930's - when he was a boy. It is a collection of over one hundred stories each about two pages long, each funny, each conjuring a picture of a Jamaica that was. Tramcars, horse and buggy, Bustamante without a shirt. It uses words like creng-creng, brawta, bankra and gig, from a generation before refridgerators, superstores and video games.

It is written soley in Jamaican creole, which is a hodge-podge of English, Spanish, some African languages, and words we made up along the way. Yes, we rearranged the syntax a bit, and added our own rhythm to the morphology, but Any English speaker can understand it, with a little bit of effort. If you are a Jamaican living abroad this book is a nice mosaic of home, and you will probably remember the inimitable voice of Charles Hyatt on radio reading an episode for the radio programme "When me was a boy". If you are a young Jamaican this will a glimpse of your parents and grandparents days in living colour. If you are not a Jamaican but have an interest in Jamaican culture When Me Was a Boy is touchstone.

Here is a little snippet:

When me was a boy-lickle boy- we didn' have nuh television fi watch so you find that other than when you doin' homework round the dining table or readin' comic book pon the veranda we neva used to inna house fac' the house was a punishment area inna the daytime. When them tell yuh.."walk inside go siddown!" that is like jail. ...Of course when it rain is a different story. Everbody haffi stay inside and the jalousie window blind them haffi shut and the door half turn...

Story telling is a strong tradition in Jamaica, both in theater and in the living room (in some cases on the verandah, under the breadfruit tree, under the moon). How is it in your culture? How much of it is legend and myth, how much actual events?

Editing note: I've found a blog post with very nice pictures of the Kingston that Charles Hyatt might have seen the last of. The whole blog is one woman's fascinating journey into her family's history.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blog Action Day- Join the Chain

Blog Action Day is a nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. The aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion. It's in its second year, last year's theme was the environment, this year's is poverty.

Why Join?

Because over 15,000 bloggers did last year? Well not exactly, but the numbers illustrate the power of word of mouth to spread a message. This is a good time to let your voice be heard in a collective cry against poverty, an issue which might not otherwise fit in with the theme of your blog.

When is Blog Action Day?

October 15.

What do you do?

Promote: Tell everyone about Blog Action Day starting now.

Publish: On October 15 incorporate the theme of poverty into your blog- so for instance since I blog about books and literature, I could probably write about a particular writer's treatment of poverty in his novel, or I could post a poem about it.

Donate: Microloan on Kiva or donate your day's profit (or a little someting for those of us whose profit will be zilch on that day) to charity.

How does this Blog Action Day chain work?

  1. Post to your blog about Blog Action Day.

  2. Include a link to this post like I am including a link to this post on The Writer's Edge, or leave a comment saying that you have joined the chain.

  3. Create a list of participants in your sidebar.

For more information, ideas and resources click the link below.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Humming Bird Tree

Welcome Google visitor. These are not notes for the CSEC exams, but reading others' response to the text and sharing your thoughts is likely to help you in your preparations for the exams. Enjoy.

In the novel The Humming Bird Tree, Ian McDonald affirms what a special period of our lives childhood is. Our love is unconditional. Our trust is complete. Our laughter is unbridled. Everything is simple. Then we grow up.

In the case of young (Master) Alan, idyllic Trinidad is his playground; the rivers tossing over the white rocks, the cool scent of the bamboo trees, the moon over the citrus trees form a backdrop to his adventures.

Kaiser, with his treasury of knowledge and skills, his fearlessness, his manliness, his invincibility, is Alan's hero. Similarly his love for Jaillin is unfettered by any inkling that a bi-racial relationship comes with certain... er... difficulties, especially in pre-independence Trinidad. He knows he must see her often, he knows he blushes at the thought of kissing her, he knows he is thrilled when she looks at him, he knows he must marry her when they grow up. And that's all there is to it.

But 'reason' begins to take hold and his Indian friends begin to appear vulgar- didn't anyone teach them not to spit or pick their noses? And they are so superstitious! (Although it does seem inane to believe that the wafer clinging to the roof of his mouth is the body of Christ).

And so time passes and Master Alan loses his virginity. The beauty of the land blurs and the trappings of his upperclass life come into sharp focus. Crab hunting gives way -at his parents insistence- to afternoons at the tennis club and soon Master Alan is about to go off to Cambridge to study History (something Kaiser, now a store clerk, cannot understand, why would anyone study History?) Much to his parents' relief, Master Alan now knows what is what and he accepts his superior lot in life.

But deep down he is not happy. Like the marbleus butterfly, Jaillin has eluded him; he can never love like that again, but being with her is just not that simple. The poverty that was always around him seem starker, more troubling. Trinidad is on the brink of change and the significance of this is not lost on him. An uneaseines, an awareness that he has betrayed a trust, that he has betrayed his true self, by taking the path of least resistance, rests on his mind. It will be like going through life with a mango strawn caught between his teeth.

The Humming Bird Tree is pleasure to read. The graphic descriptions took me right into the heart of Trinidad. The cockfight and the carnival scenes could not have been more vivid if I had been there myself.

One particularly engaging aspect of the novel is how the folk wisdom connects with the collective body of understanding. For instance, Old Boss says "people never know what is what wid each other". This is exactly what Roth explores in The Human Stain, as I wrote in this post, we can come only this close to understanding ourselves, let alone each other.

Funny, the two novels connect in other ways; There is the contention between the individual and the forces that mold him. The contention between the individual and the society. What are the consequences of, what are the challenges of constructing your identity outside of your upbringing, outside of what you are fed by the media, outside of the whole system of beliefs you were baptised into at birth?

This novel is on the CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) reading list for English Literature. It has the 'f' word and other obscenities in it. The Minister of Education in Jamaica wants to have it removed from the syllabus here. Do you agree with him?
Edited (November 13, 2009): Since this page turns up so often to people studying the text, I've decided to help those people wanting to share their thoughts, or to benefit from the thoughts of others by posing a few questions. Please leave a response to even one of the questions. If you have a question, by all means, ask it. And by questions I do not mean "Please summarize the chapters for me". When you leave a comment check the box marked "email follow-up comments" that way you will receive all subsequent comments in your email. Thanks to everyone who shared their opinion about the issue of 'bad words' in the text.
1. Comment on the changes that Alan undergoes by the end of the novel. Which Alan do you like better, Alan the boy, or Alan the young man? Why?
2. Does Alan truly love Jaillin at the beginning? (In other words, is a boy capable of loving a girl the same way a man loves a woman, as McDonald suggests early in the text?) Does Alan still love her at the end? Give reasons for your opinion.
3. Is Alan's father less prejudiced against the Indians than his mother is? How would he fit into today's Caribbean?
4. Who is the real hero: Kaiser? Jaillin? Alan?
5. What is Alan's biggest loss?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Black Albino

In this historical novel, Nambo Roy does for the Maroons what Peter Abrahams does for the Arawaks; he gets up close and personal with a people forgotton by most other creative writers. The only other Jamaican writier I know to have bothered about them is Vic Reid in Young Warriors.

Black Albino is something of a thriller; fast moving, goes into the scene of the battle, and naturally there is a pretty girl in it. But instead of impossible car chases on busy streets and bombs exploding in crowded areas, what you will find is runaway slaves protecting their mountain fortress, lots of bow and arrow action, ambush, fire.

A maroon chief is astonished when his son is born 'white'. Everyone feels like a curse is brought upon the village, and this brings his leadership into question. The boy and his mother are ostracised by the whole community. But the boy has inherited his father's courage, tenacity, and shrewdness, and in the end it is he who leads them to victory.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

All for One!

The BBC world service has a wide range in its programming that makes listening a pleasure. Although the hourly replay of the same news for six or seven hours can be such a bore . Saturday that's what our radio was on and this interesting story caught my ears.

Alexander Dumas created the Three Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo and over 200 other works. Recently, someone discovered a lost manuscript and that too is being published. The French President has said that "his books have done more to teach French history than any number of academics".

It was quite a surprise to learn that his grandma had been a Haitian slave. This is significant and the article acknowledges that, noting that "his prodigious success was achieved in the teeth of the racial prejudices of the day".

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I made it to one hundred!

As of sometime last night I've had three figures on my stats counter! So now, being pleased as a puss with milk on her whiskers, I'm displaying my stats on the site. Purr.

That being said, I know half of those people clicked in and then out immediately. A quarter of them scrolled down and then clicked out. Maybe ten percent read a post. Five percent are repeat visitors. At least one percent actually read my blog through! (Thanks Geoffery!)

For me quality is better than quantity- though you wouldn't guess by the way I'm preening. So I'm about to tweak my strategy for getting traffic so that I get readers not clickers. I'm not going to adjust my content; I'm bogging about books and writing. But I am going to try to make my posts more interactive starting now.

What about you, how do you balance getting quality and quantity in your readership?

Monday, August 11, 2008

A-Z of Caribbean writers

This blog post inspired me to do an A-Z of Caribbean writers. It will list creative writers- novelists, short story writers, poets, playwrights. I hope it will serve two purposed; a quick reference or directory, an inspiration to aspiring Caribbean writers (a tradition of excellence tends to have that effect).

Disclaimer: This is will be a work in progress for a while; forever, maybe. There will be some blank spaces to be filled in as I learn. Also the Spanish and French speaking writers might probably be somewhat ignored. This is not intended to be a canon, although it might look like it.

Here goes:

Abrahams, Peter


Peter was born in South Africa in 1919. He died in--- in 19--. He worked in London between 1941 and 1954 as a journalist. He was once a corespondent for the New York Herald Tribune as well as The Observer (London). He came to Jamaica in 1955 when he was contracted by the British government to write a book about Jamaica. He stayed.


  • Dark Testament, Allen & Unwin, 1942; Kraus Reprint, 1970.
  • Song of the City, Dorothy Crisp, 1945.
  • Mine Boy, Dorothy Crisp, 1946; Knopf, 1955; Collier Books, 1970.
  • The Path of Thunder, Harper, 1948; Chatham Bookseller, 1975.
  • Wild Conquest, Harper, 1950; Anchor Books, 1970.
  • Return to Goli, Faber & Faber, 1953.
  • Tell Freedom, Knopf, 1954; Knopf, 1969; Macmillan, 1970.
  • A Wreath for Udomo, Knopf, 1956; Collier Books, 1971.
  • A Night of Their Own, Knopf, 1965.
  • This Island Now, Faber, 1966; Knopf, 1967; revised edition, Faber & Faber, 1985.
  • The View from Coyaba, Faber & Faber, 1985.
  • The Black Experience in the Twentieth Century: An Autobiography and Meditation, Indiana University Press, 2000.



Anthony, Michael


Michael was born in Trinidad in 1930. In 1954 he moved to England where worked in factories full time and on the side he wrote pieces for 'Caribbean Voices', a BBC feature. He later moved back to Trinidad where he was closely associated with National Cultural Council. In addition to many novels and short stories, he has several non-fiction publications



  • The Games Were Coming - London, Deutsch, 1963
  • The Year in San Fernando - London, Deutsch, 1965
  • Green Days by the River - London, Deutsch, 1967
  • Streets of Conflict - London, 1976
  • All That Glitters - London, Deutsch, 1981
  • Bright Road to El Dorado - Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, Nelson, 1982
  • The Becket Factor - London, Collins, 1990
  • In the Heat of the Day - Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1996
  • High Tide of Intrigue – Heinemann, 2001

Short Stories:

  • Sandra Street and other stories - London, Heinemann Secondary Readers, 1973
  • Cricket in the Road - London, Deutsch, 1973
  • Folk Tales and Fantasies - Port-of-Spain, Columbus, 1976
  • The Chieftain's Carnival and Other Stories - London, Longman, 1993

Awards & Honours:

  • The Arts Council of Great Britain 1967 Fellowship
  • T&T's Hummingbird Gold Medal - 1979
  • Honorary Doctorate - University of the West Indies (2003)

Source: National Library of Trinidad & Tobago

Behar, Ruth


Ruth was born in Cuba of Jewish parents, but moved to New York at age five. In addition to being a writer she is also an anthropologist and film-maker. Between January and May of this year she was a visiting professor at the University of Miami , where she held the Hent king Stafford chair. She is a professor of anthropology at Michigan University. In addition to the publications listed below, she has published numerous essays, poems and short stories


  • The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village: Santa MarĂ­a del Monte -Princeton, 1986; expanded paperback, 1991
  • Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story (Beacon Press, 1993, Tenth Anniversary Edition, 2003)
  • The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart (Beacon Press, 1996).


  • The MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1988)
  • John Guggenheim Award (1995)
  • Fullbright Award (2007)


Bennett, Louise


"Miss Lou" was born in Jamaica in 1919, she died in Canada in 2006. Between that she lived in different countries including Britain and the United States. Hers is a household name in Jamaica. Many of her words are immortal; used in everyday conversation by young and old, academian and unschooled.

Braithewaite, Edward Kamua
Brodber, Erna
Carrington, Rosalyn
Cesaire, Aime
Channer, Collin
Collins, Merle
Collymore, Frank
Conde, Maryse
Danticat Edwidge

Dawes Kwame

Here's my review of She's Gone.

Ferre, Rosario

Goodison, Lorna

Please see this post about Lorna.

Guillen, Nicolas
Guy, Rosa Cuthbert
Harris, Wilson
Hemans, Donna
Hearne, John
Harrison, Hubert
Hodge, Merle
Hopkinson, Nalo
James, C.L.R
Kincaid, Jamaica
Kwamdela, Odimumba
Lamming, George
Lovelace, Earl
Mais, Roger
Makeda, Silvera

McKay, Claude

I've written these three posts on him: one, two, three. And this was a spin off to one of those posts.

McDonald, Ian
Meeks, Brian
Miller, Kei
Naipaul, Shiva
Naipaul, V.S
Persaud, Lakshmi
Phelps, Geoffery
Phillips, Caryl
Reid, Vic
Rhone, Trevor
Ross, Leone
Salkey, Andrew
Scott, Dennis
Thomas, Macdermot

Walcott, Derek


Noble Laureate and Boston University professor Derek Walcott was born in 1930, in St. Lucia, the West Indies. His published his first poem at the age of 14, and by 19 had already published two volumes of his work (25 Poems [1948] and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos [1949]). He was educated at St. Mary’s College in St. Lucia and the University of the West Indies.


  • 25 Poems, Port-of-Spain: Guardian Commercial Printery, 1948
  • Epitaph for the Young, Xll Cantos, Bridgetown: Barbados Advocate, 1949
  • Poems, Kingston, Jamaica, City Printery, 1951
  • In a Green Night, Poems 1948 - 60, London: Cape, 1962
  • Selected Poems, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1964
  • The Castaway and Other Poems, London: Cape, 1965
  • The Gulf and Other Poems, London: Cape, 1969
  • Another Life, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux: London: Cape, 1973
  • Sea Grapes, London: Cape; New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976
  • The Star-Apple Kingdom, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979
  • Selected Poetry, Ed. by Wayne Brown. London: Heinemann, 1981
  • The Fortunate Traveller, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981
  • Midsummer, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984
  • Collected Poems 1948-1984, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986
  • The Arkansas Testament, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1987
  • Omeros, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990

In 1957, Derek Walcott was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to study the American theater. Since that time he has written a number of plays, including: The Odyssey: A Stage Version (1992); The Isle is Full of Noises (1982); Remembrance and Pantomime (1980); The Joker of Seville and O Babylon! (1978); Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970); Three Plays: The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; and A Branch of the Blue Nile (1969). His plays have been produced throughout the United States.

Over the course of his career, Professor Walcott has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry and, in 1992, the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is also an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Derek Walcott has been a professor in the English department at Boston University since 1981.

Walrond, Eric Derwent
Winter, Sylvia

Wrinkler, Anthony

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Oh, the places I'll go!

Today somehow I got the inspiration to do something about my writing. I started a novel last November and got undulated by the mundane. My job. House keeping. Fretting about the spiralling cost of living here in Jamaica. Sleeping. Tinkering with blogging. Et cetera.

Tuesday, after much planning to and intending to and hoping to, I had finally got around to pulling up my novel and a critique Donna Hemans had made of it. But that's all I did. I pulled it up on the screen. Browsed a bit and closed it again, making a mental note to print out a copy and start working on it again.

After that I thought about my state of mind, how not-fit-to-write it is. And I said to myself I do not want this to colour my novel grey, so maybe I'll wait around a bit. (This reiminds me of something I read in Dr. Seus' "Oh the Places We'll Go!" You should read that if you haven't already. How does he manage to embed all that profound philosophy into children's books?

Anyway, today, somehow I got the inspiration to do something about my writing. Was it the sweeping that did it? The washing maybe? I'm not quite sure but here I am doing something about it. I've printed out the stuff I need. I put some links to resources in my sidebar. I read "At the Barber" a short story by Anton Chekov. Oh the places I'll go!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

I read this novel some years ago and so I do not remember many details. I do remember that he compares one of his fellow inmates to a jackal. And I do remember that life in a Russian slave labour camp crushed everything that is human, dignified and good in most (but not all)inmates, so that after a time they are no better than animals. Camp life certainly brought out the best in Solzhenitsyn, so much so that history will remember him as one of the most fearless men who ever lived.

I also remember that one of the key points Solzhenitsyn makes in this unforgettable novel is that we really come face to face with our true selves when placed in adverse situations.

Solzhenitsyn died on Sunday at the age of 89, and how much did he exerience in that time! I came across an article that reflects on Solzhenitsyn's life and work.

A twice-decorated artillery captain in the Second World War, Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned in 1945 when government spies intercepted a private letter in which he complained to a friend about Stalin's policies.

For this crime he served eight years in prison, then three more years of "internal exile" in Kazakhstan, where he taught high school mathematics and physics.

Solzhenitsyn, 1970 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature wrote about one 'ordinary' day out of the time he spent in a slave labour camp in the novel "One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich". Ordinary indeed! It is a horror story of suffering and degradation. But it is a celebration of the indomitable will that some of us possess. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich was one of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's first lashes against communism.

The rest of the article quoted above details how Alecksandr Solzhenitsyn was able to tell the real reason why some men who discovered fish thousands of years old, frozen in an underwater source, ate some of the fish right away!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The View from Coyaba: Peter Abrahams

Sometime ago I borrowed a copy of "The View from Coyaba" at the Old Harbour public library. It was one of the few West Indian novels on the shelf. I wonder why? Considering that the voices Michael Anthony, Erna Brodber, Jamaica Kincaid, Earl Lovelace, V.S Naipaul, Jean Rhys, Sam Selvon, Derek Walcott (Nobel Prize winner if you please) continue to reverberate everywhere else.

Anyway, The name Peter Abrahams triggered memories of the voice of an old man calmly making sense of the day's news on RJR. If wisdom had a voice it would sound like Peter Abrahams'. As a teenager I really didn't listen to what he was saying but I found his voice reassuring and was sure that whatever he was saying was the embodiment of sagacity. What heightened this infatuation was the knowledge that Peter Abrahams was born in South Africa and had somehow escaped the inferno that was Apartheid and had graced us with his presence here in Jamaica (His autobiography Tell Freedom tells the rest).

So for all these reasons when I took up "The View from Coyaba" I expected it to be good. I was not disapponted.

Coyaba is a historical novel that looks back from the time of the Arawaks - oops Tainos, you can tell what year I took Caribbean History- to the present time. It took me a couple of weeks to read. It's not a fast moving blockbuster, although it does have some sexual tension and intense romance.

One of the ways in which this novel affected my thinking is that it made me see what happened to the Arawaks as genocide. Before I just had this vague notion that after Columbus came the Arawaks became extinct. But after reading Coyaba I saw the extinction of the arawaks as being no different from what Hitler did to the Jews- a crime against humanity; it now appeared horrible and astonishing. I'm sorry, I forget the number, but Abrahams actually put a number to it, and it was far greater than what I had imagined.

The early part of Coyaba put a face to the Arawaks, this was the most memorable part of the novel for me. The rest of the novel spans "four generations chronicling the Jamaican struggle for autonomy". This is a novel I would read again.

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