Bookends - Feb 05, 2012

PAGE ONE: Inside: Checking In With Horane Smith



Checking In With...

Horane Smith

[2 pics: Horane, Lover's Leap]

This week Bookends checks in with Horane Smith, the Jamaican-born Canadian author of eight novels, including Lover's Leap: Based on the Jamaican Legend.

It's been a while since we heard from you, Horane. Tell us what's been going on with you and your writing career. Is there a project that you're working on now?

I'm still active at writing and have quite a few unpublished manuscripts. I will have a new novel published later this year, but is undecided which one should go ahead of the other.

On the other hand, right at this moment, I'm preparing for my busiest month of the year - February. It's Black History Month and also Reggae Month in Jamaica. I travel to a number of libraries and schools to read and discuss my Jamaican and slavery-themed novels. I'm like a roving ambassador for Jamaica because at those fora I'm selling historical tourism, promoting reggae music, and encouraging foreigners to visit Jamaica.

Lover's leap will probably be the book that you're most known for here in Jamaica. What year was it published, and can you give us a synopsis of what it's about?

Lover's Leap was published in 1999 and has gone through four printings. It has just been released as an eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords online sites and even selling much faster than printed copies, nearly 12 years after publication. It's a perennial favourite that has attracted even movie offers that I had to decline because they weren't in my interests.

Lover's Leap: Based on the Jamaican Legend was set in the 1830s, shortly before Emancipation, when there was unrest in areas like St James in Jamaica. It is the poignant tale of the tourist attraction in Yardley Chase, St Elizabeth, where I was born and grew up as a young boy. Legend has it that two slaves, after their forbidden and secret romance was discovered, jumped to their deaths, rather than being separated, from the 1700-ft cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. There are more than one version of the legend, and the novel was able to combine most of them.

The book has been chosen for discussion in a conference on 'mixed/fixed relations'. What does that term mean, exactly, and how does it relate to the book?

Egyptian Associate Professor of English Language and English Literature Noha Faisal Mohammed, who I've never met or known before, is interested in the subject of mixed/fixed relations and during her research, came across Lover's Leap, which has that theme throughout the novel.

Each year, researchers, professors and others interested in the subject of the humanities come together in a different country to discuss and present their research on various social and cultural issues at a conference sponsored by the International Journal of the Humanities. Lover's Leap and another novel, Forbidden Quest, both of which address this subject, will be used to investigate the points of view of the authors in addressing discrimination, interracial relationships, racism, and so on, in their respective works.

All these years later, do you still think about your characters in Lover's Leap every once in a while? If you were to resume their stories today, what would you envision happening to them in today's world?

In fact, Lover's Leap keeps me occupied all the time. The publisher went out of business shortly after it was published and all the publishing rights, distribution rights, copyrights and subsidiary rights were reverted back to me. Fortunately, all matters concerning Lover's Leap have to come through me, including orders through my ecommerce site, so I'm handling queries and orders quite often.

The characters in Lover's Leap are always with me; I had to revive them in Dawn at Lover's Leap, the sequel, which has done quite well, too, having been a finalist the USA Booknews Bestbook Awards. Once you read Lover's Leap, you'll want to read what happens after. And guess what, I think I'm going to end up with the trilogy because I'm getting the questions about when it is coming out. It hasn't been written as yet, but the ideas are floating around in my head and, given the successes of Lover's Leap and Dawn at Lover's Leap, why not?

If I were to resume their stories today, they would be very happy people. For one, there would be no need for their romance to be a secret and they'd be free people. Perhaps one day I need to go there with a story as well.

For our readers who may be contemplating creative writing, what were some of the novels that inspired you to become a writer (and those that continue to inspire you to write) which would you recommend for them to read?

I was hooked on westerns in my early days - Louis L'Armour and Zane Grey. Later on, I got into Mickey Spillane, Tom Clancy and a not so popular American writer Kyle Onstott, author of Mandingo and Drum.

Mandingo is a good place to start if you like historical fiction, but just about anything from Robert Ludlum, and Tom Clancy provide for good reading mainly because of the writers' skills in developing characters so real that you'd want to believe you know or have met them.

There are more opportunities for writers now compared to the nineties when I was banging away on an old Smith Corona typewriter. The internet has opened up vast opportunities and eBooks are carving out a new path for writers, too. Happy writing! One love.



Ugly as sin [2 pics: Ugly, Constance-inset]

Title: Ugly by Constance Briscoe

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd; Revised edition (January 1, 2009), 431 pages

Reviewed by: Saba Igbe

Misery memoirs are popular in England. Books about childhood trauma fly off the shelves. Some are true. Some are embellished. Some are outright lies. The tricky thing about memoirs is that they're the truth as the author sees it, which means things don't always add up. Sometimes truth and fact aren't the same thing. For British author Constance Briscoe's painful memoir Ugly, the truth can be elusive. Briscoe is one of Britain's first black female judges, and Ugly centres on the abuse she suffered as a child. Ugly was originally published in 2006, to much acclaim and fanfare, selling 400,000 copies. Then, Briscoe's mother, Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell, contested the book's claims, and sued her daughter for libel. Ugly has now been re-printed, and includes chapters detailing the trial. Did Constance Briscoe lie for fame and fortune? Her career and reputation are on the line, and that's what makes the new edition of Ugly impossible to put down.

Constance Briscoe (nicknamed Clare by everyone in her family) was born in England in 1957 to Jamaican parents. She is the third child of George and Carmen Briscoe. Carmen eventually has six children in all - some with George, the others with Clare's stepfather, Garfield Eastman. Clare's parents fight bitterly. On one occasion she recalls her mother stabbing her father. It is soon after this that Clare's parents separate and Carmen remarries. The abuse escalates. Clare's bed-wetting gets worse because of constant physical and verbal abuse from her mother, who forces her to sleep on her urine soaked blankets, steals her pocket money, and even attacks her with a knife. Her stepfather joins in the abuse - beating and molesting Clare, burning a cigarette into her hand, and hiding food from the older children. Clare never sees her siblings receive abuse like she does. Somehow, she alone has to find a way to survive the horrific beatings, manage her uncontrollable bed-wetting, and somehow make enough money from weekend and temp jobs to pay her own mother for electricity and rent.

Clare refuses to be a victim. Her description of the abuse is businesslike, though written in the voice of a child. Clare longs for childhood joys that her mother never gives her. Christmas gifts are just rewrapped gifts from the previous year. Every time she wets the bed an alarm goes off, making the experience even more traumatic. When her mother isn't beating her, she's calling her abusive names like stupid, worthless, ugly, whore. Why her mother ever bothers to have children becomes evident enough - there are government benefits that come with having child after child. Clare gives away the slow passage of time through her voice. She remembers with the simplicity of a child, but the simplicity is clever. She recalls the childhood joys she finds for herself. She remembers shopping with her mates, her secret stash of Jammie Dodgers, discovering what she wants to be when she grows up. As the years pass, Briscoe's voice matures, her observations sharpen, her will grows stronger. She isn't angelic or weak. She is judgmental, strong, and accepts no nonsense from anyone - even as a child.

Most of Clare's family members aren't portrayed lovingly. Her mother is violent, unpredictable, and obsessed with making money off her children. Her older sisters are weaklings who suck up to their mother, and send Clare to do their dirty work. Her younger siblings barely appear, but she resents her half-siblings who are treated better than the Briscoe children. Her stepfather is as abusive as her mother, and twice as stupid. In many ways, Ugly isn't only about these particular parents, but a whole generation of parents who didn't draw the line at discipline, and crossed into abuse. Of all her family members, it's Clare's father who remains the enigma. She writes about him with affection. He buys his children gifts, and visits them occasionally. But he doesn't make much effort to rescue Clare. Carmen prevents him from seeing his children, but he's uninterested in fighting for them. For whatever reason, Constance Briscoe refuses to go after him for his failings.

Despite the attention to character, Briscoe goes into mundane details about things that are irrelevant. She gives more details about the food she eats as a child than she does about the abuse she endures. She lists what she eats for lunch at school, Christmas dinner, meals her mother forced her to cook. In a way it makes sense. Clare isn't fed regularly or properly, so she relies on her one meal at school to survive. But it's tedious to read through pages about meals. The descriptions of clothes are the same. Clare's mother doesn't buy new clothes for her, but instead makes her wear hand-me-downs. How Briscoe remembers the exact outfit someone wore in 1968 is a mystery. Maybe she recalls the basics, filling in the gaps with her imagination.

As heart-wrenching as Ugly can be, its message is inspirational. Briscoe believes in getting on with life. Nobody has an excuse for not succeeding. If she can crawl out of hell and make it, then anyone can. Her focus, her drive, her determination, and the kindness from others make her a success. These things don't simply happen. She makes them happen. She creates her own future, and other children can, too.

There are still questions about the truth to all this. If the abuse was so bad, why didn't anyone save her? Why did so few people notice? And how could anyone possibly survive so much abuse? There are no easy answers to these questions, and they only come in the final chapter.



Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography by David Katz [pic]

This careful chronicle of the stellar career of singer, songwriter, and actor Jimmy Cliff is a wonderful research tool but is at times dry and repetitive. The absence of more fulsome material on Cliff's personal life and way of being is a detriment, for a biography should give more of a sense of the person it is about. Cliff had many rivers to cross to get to the pinnacle he achieved and it would have been interesting to hear about his family life, if indeed he had one. You cannot tell from this text. Nevertheless, David Katz offers an invaluable aid to anyone wanting to learn about the music scene in Jamaica in the last half of the twentieth century.

Writing with meticulous passion for getting historical information in place, Katz offers insight into Jimmy Cliff's trajectory from the small rural village of Somerton to the world stage in the seventies and beyond. Born James Chambers, Jimmy Cliff took his name when he set out to become a music star despite his father's misgivings. He moved to Kingston where he lived with various people before winning a song competition that gave him his start in the music field. Katz remarks, "As Jimmy continued honing his skills at Beverley's, he quickly became an important feature of the live music scene, thanks in part to the patronage of Edward Seaga and Byron Lee".

The highlight of Katz's text is Cliff's involvement with Perry Henzell in the making of the cult classic The Harder They Come. Katz's text includes a wonderful photograph of a still from the movie, and we wish there were more photos of this calibre in the text. The convoluted story of Cliff's involvement with Chris Blackwell precedes this chapter and sets the stage for Cliff's success in the film media. Katz is particularly vivid in the writing about Cliff's music. For example, he says:

On this initial version of Hard Road to Travel, Jimmy's vocal recalled one of the emotive outpourings of Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, his restrained delivery relating the desolation and emptiness he faced in an alien land so unlike that of his birthplace. But the song's ultimate message, despite the allusion to faith, was one of self-determination, for whatever barriers might be in his way, he was certain that his goals were attainable.

In Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography by David Katz, published by Oxford: Macmillan Education, 2011, David Katz offers a chronicle of Jimmy Cliff's career with emphasis on his travels in South America and Africa. This text is an invaluable aid to music scholarship and a useful tool for research.

David Katz is originally from San Francisco and currently lives in London where he regularly deejays at select nightspots. He is also the author of People Funny Boy: the Genius of Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Solid Foundation: an Oral History of Reggae. He has written extensively on Jamaican culture. He is well known in the music scene.

- Mary Hanna



Getting the Boot [pic: getting boot]

By Orville Green

PULL QUOTE: Mama looked toward the paneless windows that were then wide open and saw, to her amazement, a man's hand manoeuvring a shirt on a clothes hanger from its hook in the open hanging press next to the window. She was dumbstruck as the hand and the shirt disappeared. But when the hand reappeared, she immediately regained her senses. "Thief! Thief!" she shouted, in her crispest Queen's English.

My father's younger brother, Charles ('Uncle P'), returned home from England in 1946, having "won the war". I lost no time in sharing with my friends that awesome fact told to me by Uncle P himself. I needed no details, reasons nor explanations. It was enough to know that my own uncle, who had left the family home to join the RAF when I was too young to remember, had returned a hero.

As if that were not heady enough for an impressionable young nephew, soon after his return Uncle P acquired a blue, 250 cc Francis-Barnett motorcycle. The arrival of that motorbike, which must have seen much better days, immediately relegated my father's once-admired Phillips bicycle to an also-ran status, in my estimation. Here was yet another feather in Uncle P's cap.

In the evenings, I stood at the gate and waited for the putt-putting sound signifying his arrival from work. As soon as I spotted him descending the grade that began in front of Mr Saunders' leather shop, toward Price Street, I ran to the backyard for the little wooden ramp he had made. I placed the ramp against the sidewalk and cotched the gate open with a stone to facilitate the bike's entry into the yard.

But first, Uncle P stopped at the gate for me to clamber on to the pillion, and we headed off for a short spin, towards Thompson Street, where he made a neat U-turn then returned to our home, with me hanging on for dear life. (Truth is, my life was not in much danger because, as someone once unkindly observed, the bike had only two speeds: dead slow, and stop.) When I had dismounted, Uncle P carefully negotiated the ramp and gingerly navigated the bike along the passageway to the backyard. As he raced the engine (to make it easier to start again in the morning, he explained), the acrid aroma of the gas-oil mixture in the exhaust fumes permeated the air. Then he switched off the engine and all was quiet, except for the ringing in my ears.

Uncle P's return home from England necessitated some changes in our living accommodations. With my grandmother, two aunts, my parents and four young children occupying the house, we were already somewhat crowded into three bedrooms, although there was adequate sleeping space for all of us. Another bedroom was added at the back of the house, on the western side that was flush with the boundary line of our neighbours at number 34. My parents moved into the new bedroom and Uncle P moved into their old room at the other corner of the house, where the passageway from the front gate opened into the backyard. And so we were all cosily ensconced.

One night, when everyone had long retired, my mother was awakened by a persistent, squeaky sound of metal chafing against metal. She listened carefully until she realised that the sound originated near the bedroom window that opened onto the backyard.

The outward-opening double windows were awaiting panes of glass that the builder had promised to install soon. Mama looked toward the paneless windows that were then wide open and saw, to her amazement, a man's hand manoeuvring a shirt on a clothes hanger from its hook in the open hanging press next to the window. She was dumbstruck as the hand and the shirt disappeared. But when the hand reappeared, she immediately regained her senses. "Thief! Thief!" she shouted, in her crispest Queen's English. She continued raising the alarm as the hand disappeared and the household began to come awake.

The escape route from the window to the street was by way of the backyard, around the corner of Uncle P's bedroom, and along the passageway (runway, in this instance) to the front gate. The thief was just rounding the corner when Uncle P flung open his bedroom window that overlooked the escape route. (I learned later that he thought the Francis-Barnett was the object of the thief's interest, which explained his quick reaction to Mama's alarm.)

As the thief hotfooted past the open window, my Uncle P - winner of the war, and daredevil motorcyclist - instinctively sprang into action with a reflex that I convinced myself had been sharpened in combat. (When I was older, I learned he really had been a radio operator during the war; also, that his friends admired him as a storyteller.) Reaching down into the darkened room for something, anything, to stop the intruder, his hand fell on one foot of his prized RAF boots. Grabbing the boot, he deftly hurled it at the burglar, who maintained his grasp on the purloined clothes as he fled towards the front gate.

The boot found its mark in the rascal's back when he was about halfway to the street. In the instant that it took for Uncle P to contemplate what he should do next, the wily fellow stopped, turned back and snatched the missile from the ground, then made a clean escape. I often wondered what he did with that boot, as Uncle P himself was never able to find a useful purpose for the one remaining.

Orville Green grew up in Jones Town during the 1940s and '50s.


Point of View:


By Opal Palmer Adisa

PULL QUOTE: I love to read Rumi and Neruda's poetry with a lover, pile books on the floor in the living room as décor, or use them to accentuate plants. Books are magical; they can elicit laughter or prompt tears...

I don't suppose there is anything writers hoard more than books. I had over 2000 books and I have had the arduous task to release at least 1000, which I just completed, a process that began two years ago. Although I still have 20 boxes, more than I had intended to keep, I am proud of myself, and feel confident that I will be able to whittle those down.

I was not always a book junkie, to which my mother will readily testify. In fact, it is ironic that I am the writer in the family because I was not a reader as a child; I could not sit still, and no book sustained my interest beyond the first few pages.

My mother was, and still is, an avid reader; she consumes books like water. My sister and I shared a bedroom as children and she was often to be found in bed, sheet to her neck and a book in her hand; books provided visage to the outside world for her. I, on the other hand, loved the outdoors and eavesdropping.

My mother was constantly after me to read. We had a large library; ours was one of the few homes with a four-shelf bookcase that took up one entire living room wall. My mother's dear friend, Mrs Powell, owned Ricketts Book on Tower Street near King Street, and almost every Saturday my mother and I visited her store after we went shopping and purchased a book.

Often, I would browse the shelves of the small bookstore, my fingers tracing the letters on the cover. Although I don't recall the title now, or even what it was about, I remember there was a particular book I liked and asked my mother to buy for me. The fire was lit then for me. I was probably no more than eight years old. Mrs Powell gifted me many books over the years. Also, I was given books for birthdays and Christmases and for Sunday School attendance. My mother always purchased these books as she was the church secretary and all children were given books.

When I turned nine years old, my mother intensified her resolve to rid me of my tomboyish ways, and make a lady of me. She wanted to get me invested in books other than those for school. So the summer before I turned 10, she insisted that I go through our library, find a book and read it. I stumbled on Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, a novel by Margaret George. I selected this title because on scanning it I discovered it was about her experiences in Africa, and by then, I had been schooled by my uncle, Lloyd Walcott, about the glory of Africa, and he and I talked about going there. The story of Africa and Africans captivated me. While I am sure George's portrayal of Africa was inaccurate, I remember not being able to put the book down. My mother was most pleased.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is the book that completely changed my mind about reading and what this activity had to offer. I fell in love with Jo and saw some of myself in her. Then, a few years later, I discovered Jane Austin and loved her language and attention to details. However, Austin's books were among those given away to a school partly because they are so readily available.

My venture into purchasing books from my own money didn't begin until I went to New York to attend college and discovered for the first time some of the writers from the Harlem Renaissance, including Jamaica's Claude McKay, Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer, especially his multi-genre collection, Cane. I fell in love with this darling collection because the stories were about people like me, and I was determined to own it. I was directed to Liberation Book Store in Harlem, and my own library began, as well as my keen desire to be a poet.

I still love the outdoors and I eavesdrop more actively today, but now I am seldom caught without a book. I love the smell of books, old and musty, pages yellowed with age. I love new ones smelling as fresh as the earth after a shower of rain, with such clean pages, I almost feel as if I need to wear white gloves to touch the pages. I love to trace my fingers over the cover images, to press them to my bosom, to tuck them under my arms, to sling a few in my bag, reach for one at the beach, sand smarting the pages, and to roll over in bed and find one like a lover, slightly warped, but no worse for the wear and tear.

I enjoy arranging books on my centre table, having a few meditative or humorous titles in the bathroom, a stack of poetry books always on my desk, cookbooks in the kitchen, novels or short stories handy to take out on the verandah or climb into the hammock with, and philosophical, life-supporting books to share with my young adult children. I love to read Rumi and Neruda's poetry with a lover, pile books on the floor in the living room as décor, or use them to accentuate plants. Books are magical; they can elicit laughter or prompt tears, and even get me so frustrated I sometimes have to toss them across the room.

As a writer, I get asked about books a lot, but often the questions are asinine. Don't ask me which books donated or why, and please don't ask me - and most writers I know feel the same way and are downright bored with the question: Who is your favourite author? Favourite is transient and changes over time. It certainly has for me, although a few writers such as Pablo Neruda remain high on my list. But I am also delighted that I keep discovering new and exciting voices such as novelists, Chimamanda Adichie (Nigeria) - her Half of a Yellow Sun is provocative, as is her latest short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck- and Holly Payne (USA), an ex-colleague, whose Kingdom of Simplicity is hauntingly insightful and full of grace; and Mahmoud Darwish (Egypt) and Khaled Mattawa (Libya), both of whose poetry continuously surprises and pleases.

I cannot imagine my life without books. If I am without a book while waiting in a queue at the bank, post-office or someplace else with unexpected delay, I feel as if the spotlights have been turned on me, exposing my nakedness. I need a book to cover up myself, to render me complete.

Now that I have released a thousand books does this mean I will not purchase any more? Absolutely not, but I will try to limit my purchases. Still, it is important that I buy the works of writers since I want others to purchase my books. So I continue to buy books but now I gladly trade or give them away, much to chagrin of several of my writer friends who had autographed their books for me. But recycling is the future, so while I urge everyone to buy and support writers so they can continue to write, remember, there is a joyful release that comes with passing on a great book for someone else to read.

Opal Palmer Adisa is originally from Jamaica but divides her time between the Caribbean and the California Bay Area where she teaches at California College of the Arts. She is editor of the literary journal The Caribbean Writer and the author of 11 books.



Talking Trees Lit Fest [pic: cathedral]

On February 25, the Two Seasons Guest House in Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth will host the second staging of Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta. The line-up of presenters this year is expected to be a mix of well-known and new Jamaican writers, who include Aston Cooke, Michael Abrahams, Malachi Smith, Easton Lee, Christine Craig, Kalilah Enriquez, Fabian Thomas, Fern Luecke, Melanie Schwapp and Mark Thomas. Roland Watson-Grant, a former English teacher and current ad agency copywriter, is one of the featured writers scheduled to take the stage. He shares a sneak peek of his work with Bookends readers, ahead of the festival, with the following short story.


By Roland Watson-Grant

PULL QUOTE: Sister Bernadette did not appear, but somehow I could feel her suffocating presence. She was waiting me out, playing with her prey and watching from every moth-occupied corner.

The city grew fat and gobbled up the church of our childhood. Old St Helena's was now hidden from our eyes and was losing its place on our mental maps. We might have lost our way had it not been for the leaves. Dry, fallen lignum vitae leaves, tossed by the breeze over the red brick wall and left in a line at the side of the road like a trail of bitter breadcrumbs, leading us back through the steel and stone forest to St Helen's Church... and to the witch. That witch, Sister Bernadette, self-appointed accuser and volunteer killjoy at St Helena's. When we were children, I was sure there was thunder in the sky every time she spoke. When she would appear among us in Sunday School, her presence sucked all the sound from the room and the oxygen from the lungs. Then she would tap the table with the 12-inch rule and scan the pews, measuring one terrified soul at a time, her bifocals magnifying the simplest of sins. In the bags under her eyes, she packed our iniquities, keeping them close for quick reference and swift retribution. Sister Bernadette was tall but each year her back bent a millimetre or two, like one of the ancient, arthritic trees that stood brooding in the churchyard. Her roots went way down. Some say she was there right after 'Let there be Light'. Church members feared her next to the Most High and I used to imagine that even terrible angels sucked in their bellies or shifted to one side when Sister Bernadette came barrelling down the creaking mahogany corridors. Not that the angels feared to tread in her path, but they probably just couldn't be bothered with the stress. Lord, forgive me for calling your servant a witch. But Lord, you alone know the suffering from Sister Bernadette that we went through for all those years. You alone know that I did not mean to call her Sister 'BernaDeath' to her face when I was five. It was an accident. Actually it was Seymour's fault, Lord. And you know that that is why she tek set pon me since then, Lord. Lord, you alone know that when I was six I was always nervous to talk in front of people, and that is why I was chewing my tongue that day in Sunday school class. You know that in Sunday School class I was speakin' the truth when I said that I did not have any chewing gum in my mouth, Lord. And that lady, Sister Bernadette, she called me a liar, Lord and squeeeezed open my mouth and stuck her crack up crack up finger into Miss Vera pickney mouth looking for bubble gum, Lord. You know that now I am 32 and I am still tasting knuckles, Lord... knuckles.

Last year, my heart raced ahead of my footsteps as we approached the ominous, jet-black, wrought-iron gates of old St Helena's. I caught my breath and swallowed at the first glimpse of the chapel. The red brick construction made the whole building look as if it was rusting. My joints creaked. The heart was not willing and the knees were quite wobbly. But my wife and I pressed on out of my conviction that I should take my newborn son back to St Helena's for baptism, as is the proud tradition in my family. Another time-honoured tradition is what we St Helena's alumni (meaning backsliders) call the 'graveyard check'. We all do it... and we are not very proud of this tradition, I might add, but see, when you return to St Helena's after long periods of apostasy, it is prudent that as soon as you enter through the wrought-iron gates and hail the saints, you proceed directly to the cemetery and look good if Sister Bernadette name deh pon one a de marble headstone dem. There, I said it. Then you could BB all your childhood friends and let them know it's safe to return. Now, look, it might sound callous but you can't judge me unless you were there. If you knew the years of torture you would probably come to regard it as crucial to both our personal safeties to help me check through the old marblestone catalogue before we go to mass.

Well, my son's baptism happened without a hitch. Of course, during the praying and the bowing of heads, I kept one eye open looking around for that bulk of blue and white cloth even as my wife delivered pinch after pinch to keep me focused heavenward. Sister Bernadette did not appear, but somehow I could feel her suffocating presence. She was waiting me out, playing with her prey and watching from every moth-occupied corner. The biblical confrontation was imminent so during the prayer I asked for strength, because perhaps facing a childhood fear would allow me once and for all to come away from those dark places inside my soul. After the service had ended, members of the 'Alumni' were admiring the baby when a boxy shadow fell over my family. I looked up and into the eyes of death. BernaDeath. She cocked her head to one side, furrowed her brow, pushed her glasses up the length of her nose (which always made me think of Sisyphus), then leaned forward and peered over the spectacles. "But waaait. Michael, is you? Me think you turn gunman by now! Or one a dem cash for gold guys dat say: 'gol' a buy, gol' a buy, gol' a buy'". She grabbed me by the shoulder and turned to my wife. "This likkle bwoy used to bad you see! Him and Seymour and another likkle one, always a chew dem cud in ma class. How is Seymour? Him turn out betta than you?" She peered over at the baby. "Oh, this is your son? Hi. Poor ting. Hello likkle baby! I hope you don't come give this old lady as much trouble as you father give me, you know." Then she proceeded to na-na-na and kootchie-koo and pinch his cheeks. The baby got nervous and started chewing his tongue. When I thought that Sister Bernadette's finger was getting much too close to his mouth, I was about to yell Nooooo, and grab the child from my wife in slow motion and run out of the churchyard in fast-forward. But in walked Steven Harris, who I hadn't seen since we were 10. He was back at St Helena's for mass and a bit of horror. Perhaps someone had sent him an erroneous BlackBerry message. As I greeted Steven I could sense that he was checking the ol' marblestone catalogue over my shoulder. But Sister Bernadette turned around, live and in living terror, and her shadow fell on him and his wife.

"But waaaait... Steven? Is you? Me tink you turn gunman by now. Or one a dem guys dat say: 'gol' a buy, gol' a buy. Likkle bwoy used to bad you see! Him and Seymour and dat other one, always chewin' dem cud in ma class..." And she walked around the yard greeting 'Alumni' after 'Alumni', remembering every 30-year-old transgression in detail and then, with equal measure, celebrating each person's most recent triumph.

Then, as she continued to speak... there was thunder in the heavens. Not dark thunder but a sweet sound, like amazing grace. Like a mother patting a newborn back to sleep, firmly but gently. The sky boiled and the clouds ran over and the sprinkling came down and we all huddled on St Helena's porch for an extended entertainment package, courtesy of Sister Bernadette. She spoke life and death and youth and age and the beauty in between them, and after. And the laughter made the fear fall away like scales from my eyes, so that for the first time in forever, I was able to see her clearly. As we left the old church and walked beside the red brick wall, I saw that the bitter breadcrumbs had been carried away. The sun was out, and it was that time of year, so the lignum vitae trees were no longer weeping caterpillars on the sleeping, but were tossing up butterfly confetti, celebrating those who were awake. And I sent a BB message to all St Helena's alumni: "come back, come back, all those of you who know the taste of knuckles. For the witch is dead. And in her place is a wonderful old nun who simply has a bad, bad habit of giving a damn."

[INSET PIC OF ROLAND HERE] In October 2011, Roland Watson-Grant's story, Sketcher, was short-listed among Lightship International Literary Prize Winners. Lightship Publishing is based in the UK and seeks the best new voices in literary fiction from across the globe. One of his short story entries, Home Run, was included in Lightship's 2011 Top 10 best stories worldwide.



World Bank Acquires Phillip Thomas's 'Carousel' [pic: carousel]

Carousel, a mammoth 6' 5" high x 14' 6" wide oil on canvas by rising star artist Phillip Thomas has been acquired by the World Bank for its permanent collection.

The painting, which had been on display for six months in Washington, DC, in the "Contemporary Jamaican Artists," section of the About Change series of exhibitions, a project implemented by the World Bank Art Program in conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to showcase Latin American and Caribbean art at DC venues throughout 2011.

Described as a "moody, somewhat traditional work with its indistinct riders, straining horses and muted colors that become more disquieting the more you gaze at them, an eerie ride populated by what the artist calls 'cultural reliquaries, artifacts and social curiosities,'" by Washington critic Gary Tischler, the work demonstrates Phillip's intent to "manufacture cultural reliquaries, artefacts and social curiosities that represent the cultural tapestry of the Caribbean and the wider "new world," using mediums and other agents of the old world".

Phillip Thomas was born in Kingston, received his BFA in 2003 from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where he earned the Albert Huie Award for Painting at the end of his four-year study after which he pursued his Master of Fine Arts from New York Academy of Art. In 2010, for his contribution to the Jamaica National Biennial, at the National Gallery of Jamaica, he was given the Aaron Matalon award. He is now represented by the Richard Demato Gallery in New York.

CAP: Phillip Thomas, Carousel, (2009) oil on canvas, 6'4"x 14'2" (198.1x442cm). Collection: The World Bank


Clonmel Potters exhibit at Harmony Hall [2 pics: pieces by belva & donald]

Clonmel, St Mary is the birthplace of Donald Johnson, a graduate of the Jamaica School of Art, where he took over from Cecil Baugh as head of the ceramics department. He returned to Clonmel in 1976 with his wife Belva, and they have worked together as the 'Clonmel Potters' ever since. They will be opening an exhibition of their latest collection at Harmony Hall, Tower Isle today, February 5, 2012, at noon.

They received a Musgrave Medal in 1994, and an award for innovation and creativity from the Jamaica Society of Scientists and Technologists in 1989. Donald's research into Jamaican raw materials has yielded such successes as casting slips and a porcelain body, the design and construction of kilns, and a burner to vaporise both kerosene and diesel. Current plans include the building/modification of kilns to improve energy efficiency.

Meanwhile Belva, from Falmouth, also studied at the Jamaica School of Art under Cecil Baugh, receiving a diploma with honours. Her work was presented to the president of Columbia, toured the USA in 1974, and she has had solo exhibitions in Kingston. She has exhibited extensively with Donald, including a major show in New York in 1995 and recently at Harmony Hall in 2010.

This exhibition will feature a variety of techniques and a range of imagery for which they are well known with most of the pieces being fired in an oil-fired kiln which they built in 2004. Opening remarks will be made by Jason Sharp, director of Coffee Industries Ltd.


Book/Publishing News:

Jamaican novel selected for international humanities conference

Award-winning Jamaican-born Canadian author Horane Smith's novel, Lover's Leap: Based on the Jamaican Legend, will be the subject of one of dozens of papers on cultural and social issues that will be presented at the 10th International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities, which will be held in Montreal, Canada, in June, this year.

Noha Faisal Mohamed, Associate Professor of English Language and English Literature at Ain-Shams University, Cairo, Egypt, has selected Lover's Leap as one of two novels she proposes to discuss the subject of mixed/fixed relations. The other novel is Forbidden Quest by American writer Dar Tomlinson.

Professor Faisal Mohamed, whose proposal is presented on the conference's website, notes that, "in Lover's Leap, Horane Smith, drawn by his Jamaican tradition, revives the legend of Lover's Leap. He presents Jerome, the Jamaican slave, who is secretly in love with Anita, his master's daughter. At the same time Alice, another slave, is in love with him. He has to choose between Anita and Alice. Is he going to choose Anita or Alice, wealth or poverty, freedom or slavery? In short, is he going to choose a mixed or a fixed relationship with the other/coloniser?"

On the other hand, Dar Tomlinson's Forbidden Quest is about Paul Michael Quest, a handsome immigrant from Jamaica. He meets Carolyna Sinclair who belongs to a wealthy, prejudiced family. Both Paul and Carolyna are faced with the same choice of mixed/fixed relationships with the different other. Will the protagonists of both novels, though belonging to different races, different cultures, and have different values, succeed in breaking and crossing the boundaries separating them to reach harmonious grounds and a common territory, thereby achieving the interconnection of two different nations?

According to the professor, "This paper will focus on interracial relationships and cross-cultural issues. Driven by the differences in the cultural and gender identities of both authors, the paper will also investigate the points of view of both writers _ as apparent in their works _ towards discrimination, racism, prejudice, stereotypes, and the possibilities of overcoming such obstacles to cross the social, political, and cultural frontiers."

It's not the first time that Smith's novel Lover's Leap, which has just been re-released as an e-Book, has received international attention. Shortly after its publication in 1999, the late British best-selling author John Prebble picked up the novel at a bookstore in London, describing Smith as "one of our best emerging writers." In 2006, the sequel to Lover's Leap - Dawn at Lover's Leap - was a finalist in the USA Booknews Bestbook Award for Historical Fiction.

Speaking from Toronto, where he lives, Smith said he was "thrilled with the selection. This is my small gift to Jamaica on the 50th anniversary of its independence. Lover's Leap is bigger outside of Jamaica than it is back home, so the selection doesn't surprise me. This novel has appealed to all races and cultures, hence the reason for its inclusion in this paper". The 1999 novel tells the story of the legend of Lover's Leap, in StElizabeth, where forbidden love ended in tragedy on the 1700 ft-cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Professor Faisal Mohamed will make a virtual presentation in English. She has conducted research focusing on interdisciplinary studies, feminism, ecology and sociology.

The Humanities Conference is held annually in different locations around the world. Over the past eight years, it has established a reputation as a focal point for new ideas and new practices in humanities research and teaching.

Horane Smith is also the author of Port Royal, Reggae Silver, Underground to Freedom, The Lynching Stream, Seven Days in Jamaica and his latest Marooned in Nova Scotia - A story of the Jamaican Maroons in Canada. He's the first recipient of the BURLA Award for outstanding contribution to African-Canadian and Caribbean literature, and has also been recognised among the top 100 outstanding Jamaicans by the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation Canada, for his contribution to local literature. More information on his books is available at

Kwame Dawes to receive award [pic: kwame]

The Jamaica-reared poet and editor Kwame Dawes has been named the 2012 recipient of the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award by Poets & Writers, the bi-monthly US magazine serving poets, fiction and non-fiction writers.

The award recognises writers who have given generously of time and expertise to other writers or to the broader literary community.

Dawes, who is currently the Glenna Luschei editor of the Prairie Schooner and professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will be honoured on March 29 at a swanky $500-per-plate dinner in New York. He will speak at the event about why he has chosen to help other writers and how other writers are benefiting from the work he does.

English author Andrew Miller wins Costa Book of the Year [pic: pure]

Pure, Andrew Miller's novel of 18th century Paris and revolving around the city's oldest cemetery, has won the 30,000-pound 2011 Costa Book of the Year Award, beating four other category winners after what the chair of judges described as "fierce debate".

Set just four years before the French Revolution, Miller's novel is a historical thriller involving seduction, murder and suicide. A young engineer is tasked with cleaning out the congested medieval cemetery of Les Innocents, the stink of which taints the air of the surrounding neighbourhood. Before long, he begins to suspect that the cemetery's destruction might be a prelude to his own.

The other shortlisted works were best debut novel Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson, best poetry award The Bees by British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and best children's book Blood Red Road by Moira Young. These finalists were announced earlier last month.

"It really was a fierce debate and there was quite bitter dissent and argument," said London Evening Standard editor Geordie Greig, who led the eight-member panel to select the overall winner. "The debate was prolonged." The panel, it was revealed, was sharply divided between awarding Pure the overall award and Now All Roads Lead to France, an account of the final years of poet Edward Thomas's life.

Greig described Pure as "a rich and brilliant historical novel.

"It's a morality tale which engrosses with its vivid invocation of pre-revolutionary France".

Miller had beaten Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending for best novel, worth 5,000 pounds.

The Costa Book Awards aim to name the "most enjoyable books of the year" by writers living in the UK or Ireland. Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won 10 times by a novel, four times by a debut novel, five times by a biography, seven times by a collection of poetry and once by a children's book.

John Burnside wins TS Eliot poetry prize

LONDON (AP) - Scottish poet John Burnside has won the TS Eliot Prize for poetry.

The poet picked up the 15,000 pounds for his collection, Black Cat Bone, at a ceremony in central London last month.

Burnside beat out a shortlist of peers, including Britain's poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and British writer Sean O'Brien.

Gillian Clarke, chair of the judging panel, called Burnside's winning work a "haunting book of great beauty, powered by love, childhood memory, human longing and loneliness".

Burnside, who also has written short stories and memoirs, teaches at the University of St Andrews and is a former writer in residence at Dundee University.

The prize is awarded annually by the Poetry Book Society to the best collection published in the UK and Ireland. The award began in 1993 to celebrate the society's 40th birthday and honour its founding poet.

Brooklyn man wins Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award

CLAREMONT, Calif (AP) - A Brooklyn, NY, man has been named the winner of the annual $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, one of the largest monetary poetry prizes in the US, Claremont Graduate University announced last Wednesday.

Timothy Donnelly received the award for his book The Cloud Corporation.

Donnelly has been poetry editor of the Boston Review since 1996 and is on the permanent faculty of the Writing Programme at Columbia University's School of the Arts. His poems have appeared in such periodicals as A Public Space, Fence, Harper's, The Iowa Review, jubilat, Lana Turner, The Nation, The New Republic, and The Paris Review.

The Cloud Corporation is Donnelly's second book. The first, Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit was published in 2003.

The Kingsley Tufts award was established at Claremont Graduate University by Kate Tufts to honour the memory of her husband, an executive who wrote poetry as a hobby.

Katherine Larson, a research scientist and field ecologist from Tucson, Ariz, won the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award for her book of poetry, Radial Symmetry. The Kate Tufts Discovery Award is given annually for a first book by a poet of genuine promise.

A ceremony for the winners will be held on the Claremont Graduate University campus on April 19.

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