My Mom Was My Biggest Fan.

Today, in many parts of the world, we will show our love and appreciation to our mothers, in word, deed and action. We will have spent millions of dollars by the end of the day making sure that Mom has a day to remember. Some of us may not spend that much, if any at all, but just by a simple gesture and appreciation of the one who nurtured us from the day of our conception, will make Mom happy.

I will not have the opportunity to wish my mom, Vernice, (Ma Shaden) Happy Mother’s Day because almost five years ago she unexpectedly departed this world. It was a devastating loss to say the least, because just a few months before, I had told her that I would see her again-but that did not happen.

ImageBut I will still acknowledge her today; still say a prayer for the woman who untiringly cared for her brood of seven–a stay home mom all her life–who devoted her time and talent doing everything possible to make her family comfortable, well fed and well-mannered. She taught us to be prayerful and kind and to love family. She was talented in her own way too….crocheting, knitting, doily making, sewing, cooking and baking and entertaining friends and family. Yet, she was like a hawk watching over its young, making sure, to a fault maybe, that nothing happened to any of us.

I will always regard my Mom as my biggest supporter, in my role as an artist. If no one else appreciated what I did, I know she did. I remember the day when my first short story was published in the Star Newspaper, I proudly brought it to her and I know she too was proud of me when she read it. She proudly displayed my paintings on the walls of our home in St. Joseph alongside those of my uncle Ronald, who was my inspiration. She had them on the porch and inside as well and ensured that nothing happened to them.

My Mom always took great pride in my artistic endeavors although she was always concerned that my work did not have political undertones since she did not want us to have anything to do with politics. I remember her being very upset that I was staging a play with the Campeche Youth group entitled “The Hard Road’” that someone had hinted to her was written about the then Labor Party in Dominica. She sent my brother Simon to the Lower School Room to ask me to come home only to have to explain to her that it was my own version of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and nothing to do with the then Prime Minister Patrick John and his Labor Party Government. From then, all was well.

After I had immigrated to the United States, she would send me any newspaper clippings or a newspaper where my work was featured. On other occasions she would let me know when she heard a recording of me reading a poem or short story on DBS Radio or of a school child reading one of the poems at an event. I know that brought her joy. I would also be sure to get my birthday, anniversary, Christmas or Easter card without fail and every now and then a letter letting me on all those who said hello and all the past students of the SMA who asked if she was “Giftus’ mother?” and every now and then a family photograph of an event that I missed. I knew her unmistakable hand-writing and I was always glad to receive her mail.

When I had completed the draft of “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” I sent a copy for her feedback, not being aware that she would not get the opportunity to read it. She had read “Mesye Kwik! Kwak!” and she was very intrigued by what I had written. I can still hear her asking me…”Pa Gif (that’s how she fondly called me at times) where you getting all that from? She was always amazed that I remembered certain events that took place when I was a kid.

I visited Dominica in 2008 to see her and also to participate in the Senjo Reunion. It pained me that I could not share with her much about the book that her favorite writer was working on. It pained me that I never got to share my story of Ma William and her bunch of characters with her. I can imagine what she would have asked me then. But it was not meant to be. I didn’t get the chance to bring her a copy of the completed book that I launched two years later in St. Joseph but I know she was smiling down at me and saying…”Ou pa feb non, moushay Giftus!”

I know I am not alone on a day like today; there are many of us today who will just enjoy the memories and cherish them forever, including my own wife, Theresa (Mariel) who will be honored by the Dominica Emerald Organization of New Jersey as Mother of the Year, at a function at the Manor in Irvington, NJ. I know it is a most deserving accolade. She has worked hard to see our two children, Mandisa and Jamal, become the young adults they are today and achieve their goals and dreams. At the same time she has been quite involved in many social activities, helping out and being a true role model for the younger ones.

It is said that sometimes a man marries a woman who reflects his mother and every now and then I think I have. All I do then is shake Imagemy head and smile. I know I didn’t marry Theresa with that in mind, far from it, but I guess life’s course is already mapped out for us and all we have to do is follow it. I am a proud father and husband today because together we have traversed the valleys and potholes and though we have not yet fully arrived atop the mountain, we have the belief, like she’s fond of saying… “Things will get better!”

I salute all mothers today—and Mom, you too, though you’re watching from above and asking why I am writing this—and especially my dear wife, for all that you have done and continue to do, despite all the challenges, the difficulties, missteps and disappointments, but in the end you are the glue that keeps all your families together.

I think I mentioned this before but I believe it is worth repeating today. Some years ago, I was in the village of Calibishie as a member of the Somerset Sports Club playing a game of cricket against a team from that village. Some time in the afternoon, there was a Mothers’ Day function at the Calibishie Primary school. At some point during the function someone started to read a poem. I soon realized she was reading my poem, She which was originally published in “The Dawn” my first book of poems and later in “The Island Man Sings His Song.” I shivered—she was really reading my poem. I did not say anything nor identify myself to anyone from the village, though my teammates knew…I just listened and enjoyed the moment…a special moment for me and for all those who cheered when the young lady was finished reading the poem.

Before I end I want once again say to all Moms out there…and especially my Mom, my wife and my sisters, sisters-in-law, my aunt, and all my relatives all over…Happy Mothers’ Day. God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Let me end by sharing the poem that that young lady read some years ago in the school building in Calibishie…just for you Moms today!.

 

She

 

She is the Queen of my life,
The upholder of my life
The breath of my life
The water of my thirst
The food of my hunger.

Yes,
She who toiled and labored
She who washed and clothed
She who caressed and kissed
She’s my Queen
The Queen of My Life.

 She who stands behind me
She who gives me strength
She who gives me love and wisdom
She’s my Sun
The Sun that brightens my life,
The Sun that guides my life.

She who fed my hungry lips with milk
From her breasts,
She who soothed my pain
With her tender touch,
She who held me
With her safest hands.

She’s my Moon
That shows me the way
In the darkest hour
She who stays near while I am asleep.
She’s my Queen.

She who carried me
In her protected and comfortable womb
For nine careful months
She who smiled when she saw me
She who felt proud when she saw me
She who felt proud when she bore me
She’s My Queen, My Sun, My Moon, My Life.
She, whose love surpasses all others,

She’s my Mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author Interview: H Alan Day

I am honoured to host Amazon Kindle bestselling author H Alan Day on the virtual book tour in celebration of his book The Horse Lover: A H Alan DayCowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs. Enjoy this feature interview!

Thank you Giftus for hosting me on this virtual book tour. I look forward to engaging with your audience and answering their questions.

Your story is also one of entrepreneurship, as is the story of the main character in my latest novel. When you started ranching in the Sand Hills of South Dakota, you already owned a 200,000-acre ranch in the southwest and a 45,000-acre ranch in Nebraska. What prompted you to buy a third ranch?

By a strange quirk, I visited the ranch in SD and had a deja vu moment. I felt like I had been there in another life and had strong need to be associated with it. I had never then nor since had an experience like that. Logic told me I wouldn’t be able to handle a 35,000-acre third ranch. I was too busy, and had no idea what I would do with it. I already was running 2500 head of cattle. Yet, my heart told me I needed to be there on that ranch, so I made a bid on it and ended up buying it.

How difficult was it to persuade the government to sponsor a wild horse sanctuary?

Not too difficult. The Bureau of Land Management was getting a lot of criticism for how they were managing the wild horses. A sanctuary that could care for 1500 horses that the government owned by no private citizen wanted to adopt seemed like a good alternative to keep those horses penned up in feed lots (otherwise known as horse prison).

After the government approved the sanctuary, how did you feel knowing that you soon would be the recipient of and caregiver for 1500 wild horses?

A bit overwhelmed but excited. I had been riding ranch horses since before I could walk, but I had never worked with or been close to wild horses. I had no idea how they would respond to me and my crew of cowboys. I knew that one way or another we needed to make friends with them. Not train or gently them, but get them to trust us. We needed to be able to move them from pasture to pasture in order to overgraze any piece of land. In order to move them, we had to train them, and in order to train them, the horses had to trust us. I knew that I was facing one of the biggest challenges and adventures of my ranching career. DSC_0493

What did your South Dakota neighbors think of your plan?

Before we received the horses, my ranch foreman would go to the bar and the patrons would be talking about the crazy Arizonan who was bringing in a bunch of wild horses. They thought the horses would be scattered around the county before I could say “Whoa!” And winters? What did a desert cowboy know about winters? They chalked me up as being totally nuts.

Did you have to prepare Mustang Meadows Ranch before you received the horses?
The ranch was quite run down and not suited for horses when I bought it. So we had a ton of work to do before the horses came. We had to bolster corral fences so the horses couldn’t jump over them or knock them over. We had to dig more wells for water out on the pasture. We worked our tails off for a good ten months before the horses came.

Given the opportunity to manage a wild horse sanctuary, would you do it again?

I loved the horses but hated the bureaucracy. If I could manage sanctuary without dealing with the bureaucracy, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

What made you decide to write a book about your experiences?
It was just such an interesting time in my life that I was driven to share that with other people. As I got to writing the book, it occurred to me that my perspective might help today’s wild horse situation. The BLM is saddled with upward of 50,000 unadoptable mustangs that are sentenced to life in holding pens. If we could get the mustang baby factory under control out on the range, we might be able to bring those numbers way down. The training program that I used on the sanitary would be very useful to the BLM right now. And that program and the results of it are described in the book.

What was the hardest part of your author’s journey?
Lack of a background in writing put me behind the curve. My first manuscript caught the attention of some agents and editors but it was never good enough to be purchased. I decided to hire a professional writer to help me. Lynn Wiese Sneyd and I ended up co-authoring the book. What had been a terribly frustrating experience became a really positive one.

Any advice for people interested in writing a memoir?
My advice my sister gave me was settle in with a yellow legal pad and #2 pencil and just write. But you have to know what to write and how to write. It’s critical to be able to bring readers into a scene and make them feel the surroundings and the attendant emotions.

H Alan Day - Virtual Book Tour for The Horse Lover

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H. Alan Day

Alan Day’s upbringing branded him a cowboy from the day he was born. He was part of the third generation to grow up on the 200,000-acre Lazy B cattle ranch straddling the high deserts of southern Arizona and New Mexico. The ranching and cowboyCover - THl lifestyle appealed to him so greatly that after graduating from the University of Arizona, he returned to manage Lazy B for the next 40 years. During his career, he received numerous awards for his dedicated stewardship of the land.  In the 1980’s, Alan purchased a cattle ranch in Nebraska and soon after, a ranch in South Dakota. The latter became the first government-sponsored sanctuary for unadoptable wild horses. He developed and successfully used a herd modification-training program for his 2000 head of cattle and 1500 wild mustangs.

Alan and his sister, Sandra Day O’Connor, co-authored the New York Times bestselling memoir, Lazy B, which chronicles the story of the Day family and growing up on a harsh yet beautiful southwestern ranch. Alan is a member of Western Writers of America. Now retired, he divides his time between Tucson and Pinetop, AZ.

An Introspective Look at Self, Emotion, Spirituality and Talent of an Artist.

(I originally wrote this post without a heading because I was not sure what title I should use. As I usually do, I gave my wife, Theresa, to review what I had written and also asked her for her suggestion as to what I should use as a title. Two days later, I went ahead without her knowledge and created my own heading-as above- and when we got back home that night I asked her if she had come up with a heading. Well. I guess we are one for a reason….Need I say more? You may not believe it, but she came up with the same heading  though not as lengthy as mine. I was amazed. I thus believed the message that I wanted to share in this blog, had indeed been sent….I hope it does the same with you.)

Some of you may have noticed that I have been posting messages and mini-blogs on Facebook and wondering what may have come across Giftus because what you read sometimes does not seem to mirror the person you have known. I, too, have somewhat taken note-surprising?-but usually things happen, as many of you may know, as we go through changes in life. These changes sometimes bring out our true personalities that have been dormant or on the low side, for a while, whether good or bad.

At the beginning of 2012 I had to deal with some unfortunate situations that somewhat forced me to take a look at my own religious, emotional, spiritual and physical self. Four years before that, I was laid off from a job that I had been at for 21 years and I found myself having to join the list of unemployed looking for work.

It was a mind-boggling experience, not because of the fact that I had lost my job, but I was appalled at the manner in which those searching for jobs were being treated by employees at those job centers. Sometimes, I felt they were glad at our plight because it ensured that they had a job. To me the saying…”There is money in confusion,” did not seem more real than I experienced then. But I had to get into a program to get some benefits, so I became somewhat more of a statistic than a human being. That situation forced me to look deeper into whom I was and where I was headed. It all depended on me regardless of how those employees behaved and how frustrated and angry I had become. I was the one who had to make the decision about my life. What did it matter to them to mass us like cattle? I guess nothing at all.  Though I pray no one goes through this, and I pray I don’t go through this again, we all know it is a revolving door and nothing has changed. In fact it seems to be getting worse.

After those two life changing experiences, I decided to have a bigger view, as we say in photography, “an ultra-wide fisheye view rather than a telephoto view,” of life and what is important. I know this is relative, but it is real and unless we deal with it, with what lies at our own doorsteps, we may fall and may never get the opportunity to rise up. I know that as an artist, I have a responsibility to myself to use the God-given talents that I have been blessed with: writing, The Garden - Copyphotography and painting, because if I don’t, it will be a wasted journey. I have been given a second wind and I am setting sail on the open seas.

I realized that as an artist I have to share my talents with those whom I interact and share my joys, and my sorrows, too; my high points and low points, with them. I was somewhat embarrassed when my two children, Mandisa and Jamal, felt disappointed that I had somewhat robbed them from seeing me work on an easel and canvas. They knew I wrote books but had never seen me sitting before an easel. However, I feel good that at least, they can now share the moments with me, though I know that I can never make up the time that we lost.

I try not to be vain or boastful about my abilities, but I get a lot of satisfaction, knowing that I can do what I am capable of doing. I am in no way a “maestro,” at any of those artistic disciplines, but I feel good enough that others can admire what I do. I don’t take those gifts for-granted.

I have also become a lot more at peace, so to say, with my own spirituality and I don’t mean, religion. I am Catholic, been involved quite a bit, but I am speaking about the way I feel about my connection with the Most High. I am no evangelist or preacher and do not force my beliefs on anyone, but having come to grips with that aspect of my life and seeing it as an everyday part of my personal life, has helped me to appreciate my role as a husband and father, most of all. It has helped me focus more on what matters; what is priority. I don’t step on anyone’s toes, so I do not need anyone to do that to me in their quest to derail me.

We all have a mission to accomplish on this planet; some we chose; some were handed down to us; some were forced upon us. But it is how we carry out that mission that matters in the end. How we use the creative talents that we have to bring change; bring a sense of belonging; create a sense of pride, is what we will have to answer some time down the road. I have had time to stop and smell the paint on the canvas before I lost that ability and though what forced me to that point was a heart-wrenching event; what it forced me to do has been a life changer in many respects. I had allowed a job to take away my personal joy while trying to pursue that joy in another way. My daughter once asked me as I was about to leave for work one night. (I still can’t understand what caused her to ask that question.) “Daddy, what do you prefer? Your job, or your family?” I was surprised at the question and tried to answer it the best I could, but was this a time to stop and re-evaluate myself? Maybe it was, but we’ll never know. So I move on and thank God for the opportunity to turn things around.

I know that being an artist does not give me a license to slander or demean or degrade anyone through my art. What it does is it gives me the opportunity to share what I love and helps me create art that is enjoyable or art that evokes certain emotions and feelings in my audience, young or old, rich or poor.

I recently met one of my former students, whom I taught at the St. Mary’s Academy, at an event in New York. He indicated to me that images of paintings that I posted on Facebook were therapeutic to him. I could not understand where he was coming from until he told me that he had experienced a life threatening medical condition and the artwork was helping him in his recovery. I became very emotional when he explained what he had gone through and his process of rehab. What better than hearing this from someone like him? Someone whom I know personally. If I do nothing else but having helped him that way, I feel glad that I have done this and I will never forget that moment. This came from someone who identified with what I do because it became personal to him.

Book ClubI recently met with the Phenomenal Women Book Club of New City, NY. My greatest eye-opener was the manner in which almost every member of the club loved the book because they identified with Ma William-the shopkeeper. They were able to re-live their younger days through the characters since a number of them had had interaction with a shopkeeper either directly, or indirectly. Some indicated that they remembered doing some of the tasks that Bamboo did in the shop in their own shops. Some also expressed their fondness for the troublemaker…well, not surprising. When I created the characters, I never imagined how he (Bamboo) would have been able to weave himself into the readers’ hearts; but he has. Another reader told me she was sad that the story came to an end because she would not get to read about Bamboo anymore. Well, with his way of being slick, sly and very witty, he was smart, though not too intelligent, yet he got to have things his way in his village.

I may not have written a bestseller, but I am very happy that I have written a book that has brought a smiles to peoples’ faces. Isn’t this priceless? I think it is. All this makes my literary journey what it has become and what it is. Extremely worthwhile. Extremely self-satisfying so far…well not financially profitable yet…The old saying…artists die poor, still resonates loudly, but I do pray that someday I will be rewarded financially and will not die poor. I have bills to pay, I should say. Artists usually have to spend before we see results of the work we create.

However, to accomplish the goals I have set for myself, and to continue being the person that I should be, I need to have my spiritual, physical, talented and emotional self, all synched together or it may be a wasted journey; a fruitless journey. That is not an acceptable or desirable option.

It is left to me to stay the course and use my talent, not as show, but to show my audience the beauty of what I capture on canvas, on paper and on “film” well now replaced by disks. If I can do that then I will feel satisfied in my quest to achieve the best for this guy from St. Joseph.

Looking Back-Yet Moving Forward

 

ma-william-book-cover-x-small2.jpgThe last leg of my artistic and literary journey for 2013 has come to an end and I am now standing in the doorway of 2014, waiting expectantly to enter the different rooms and see what is in store for me. Hopefully, it will be a year of continued growth based on the seeds that were planted and nurtured throughout the year.

I entered 2013 with some skepticism since I was trying to get back on course after a few health issues that derailed some of my plans the prior year, yet I was able to achieve a few of the set goals, but not close to what I had envisioned.

My main effort of concentration in 2013 was working on promoting my book, “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” and I put a lot of effort and time–long, late hours–finding creative ways to reach out to the Dominican public and share the story of Ma William-a shopkeeper in the village of St. Joseph, or, of any village in the island and possibly the Caribbean. I had to find innovative ways to do so on Facebook and online generally, while at the same time working a full-time job. But nonetheless, I gave it my all and throughout the year I participated in a number of events by Dominican organizations, where I displayed my work. At the same time, I have been working on two new projects and also trying to keep this blog current and trying to remain sane while all other things circled around me.

I stepped down as a member of the Dominican Poetic Circle (DPC) after unwarranted attacks of my work and my ability, made by a member of the group on the DPC Facebook site. That gave me the incentive to push on alone to achieve goals that I had set for myself. I became more focused on my own pages on Facebook; Ma William and Her Circle of Friends and Mesye Kwik! Kwak! as well as my personal page, and went on promoting my work much more than I had done previously and gained personal satisfaction from so doing. However, none of that would have been possible without the support of a number of individuals, most of whom I met on Facebook and DPC, but have never met personally, who rallied behind me and supported me through it all.  Les Li, Jenny James, Joszann St. John, Eunice Nisbett, Delia Cuffy-Weekes, Kalinago Woryi, Paula John, Gloreen Vigilant, Rhona Lawrence and Marva Paul Loblack, among others.

I also had the opportunity to assist and work with some other Dominican authors throughout the year. I was extremely pleased and gratified that I could assist in their projects and honored for the trust and confidence they placed in me by seeking my help and advice: Catherine Pierre, Joszann St. John and Gweneth Jules-Moorhouse, most notably.

As a self-published author, it has not been an easy task to get the work in the hands of the public, but it is a challenge that I have embraced and appreciated and I do not spare any available opportunity to promote my work. If I don’t then who will…Well, some will, I should say, like Jenny James, an individual I have met only on Facebook, who has wholeheartedly given me her  support by promoting all aspects of my work. I thank Jenny for her unselfish act and I cannot be more humbled by it all. The literary journey that began over 40 years ago at the St. Mary’s Academy, has given me the opportunity to reach many individuals both in Dominica and overseas, and I have gained a lot of satisfaction and personal growth along that journey.

At the beginning of 2013, I decided to devote more time than I previously had to my paintings and that, too, turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise. I have been amazed by the feedback that I have received about my paintings and I have been left to wonder if my painting is beginning to overshadow my writing. It has been refreshing the manner in which many have gravitated to my paintings and this was very apparent when I was working on my latest piece which I entitled The Village. There were daily comments made on my Facebook page by those who were rather impressed with the piece. And all this after I had gone into hiding for over 25 years…well to my daughter’s angst, I must say. But all is well now.

Jenny2

2013 also saw a new perspective in terms of my photography. I devoted much more time in order to push myself and do more; create more and showcase my capabilities behind the camera. I recently joined the Newark Camera Club based in Springfield, NJ and the rewards have been instantaneous. I have the opportunity to see other photographers at work and get insights and ideas from them.

I have not been more energized than I have been these past three months and I am enjoying it all. God-given talents are not to be left stored away, I learnt, so I am more invigorated than ever before.

I organized an exhibition of all my works as part of Dominica’s Independence celebrations on the 3rd of November at the Knights of Columbus in my hometown, Union, NJ. To say the least, I was disappointed with the response from those whom I had invited, but I cannot in any way discount the appreciation I had for those who attended; some coming from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Besides, I was proud to display my work and feel a sense of accomplishment regardless of the turnout. I saw this as a foundation to build on and an opportunity to feel the response of those who attended and share a little bit of me with them.

But, besides the few hiccups that I experienced during the year, there were a few bright spots added to those of my artistic journey. There were some family accomplishments that helped lift my spirit. My son, Jamal, graduated from Temple University with a Civil Engineering degree and soon after that was able to get employment; my daughter, Mandisa, returned to the University of Pennsylvania to do a Master’s Degree in Education, and me, I worked on getting myself healthy again, while having to deal with one of the low points of the year…my wife being laid off from her job. Although this has given us the opportunity to share a lot of time together, it was not the way we had envisioned things. It however, allowed her the time to critique my work as I produced my pieces. The situation is out of our control so we will work together to make it better.

But, as I stand in the doorway of 2014, I am very optimistic of what lies ahead. I don’t know what to expect, but I am determined to build on what I laid down in 2013. Getting the time to build on it will be at times difficult, I know, but the results will be what I focus on. I have not been fortunate to attend The Dominica Literary Festival…will this be the year? I am still not sure. I also want to take all aspects of my work to another level and with the support of my family, both here and in Dominica, and all the Jennys out there, I will be able, I pray, to do so. I will continue to participate in activities where I can meet fellow Dominicans, and God willing, financing available, I look forThe Garden - Copyward to being able to get another project completed and published this year. It will be a tough mountain to climb, but each journey begins with a single step…I have made that step.

I am very excited about what I will find in the various rooms as I walk through, but whatever, I am ready. I also look forward to continuing to work with other authors and writers with whom I have partnered during the past year and I hope that together we can turn the tide about the literary development in Dominica and by Dominicans. I will continue to use the social networks to my fullest advantage and expose to, not only my Facebook friends, but anyone who cares, my work as an artist and the creations produced from such abilities. Hopefully, that can translate into some financial rewards, also. Don’t want to be a starving artist, you know.

So, let me say a sincere Thank You to all who have been on that journey with me during 2013. It was indeed a pleasure and a wonderful journey. I invite you to come along with me again this year as I journey through the various rooms, chapters,the hills, mountains, plains, on the seas and rivers, as 2014 rolls along.

God’s richest blessings to all.

Women’s Perspective During the Twentieth Century

Joszann St. John, a Dominican author, has embarked on a virtual book tour and is making a stop at my site today. Joszann is the author of Wounded No More and her latest publication  Sonnets in Waking Moments is the story of life during the Great Depression. I have the pleasure of having Joszann as a host-blogger on my site. Welcome Joszann.

Thank you Giftus for hosting me on this virtual book tour celebration for Sonnets in Waking Moments. I look forward to interacting with your audience and welcome their comments or questions. 

In this post I look at women’s perspective during the twentieth century.

The domestic arena consisting of family and household systems has long been associated with woman’s work. As society progresses, women are constantly redefining many aspects of womanhood, however we are shaped by previous experiences. Women’s lives were impacted in major ways during the twentieth century, and it is through the eyes of ‘Anna Agnelli’ and ‘Ma William’, that we look back at two defining periods, in two different parts of the world. “Ma William” is a novel written by Giftus John, a Dominican author living in the United States. The novel depicts life in the Dominican village of St. Joseph. Its many themes include family, women’s work, and the transition away from traditional society into the modern era of Westernized Culture. Anna Agnelli on the other hand, is an Italian immigrant and a woman who lives through the Great Depression. Joszann St. John captures Anna’s story in “Sonnets in Waking Moments”, a novel largely set in Toronto and New York City. For every woman who has accomplished a dream, she has had to rely on the efforts of others. Let’s examine women’s work, family and culture, in relation to these two characters.

Ma William Ma William owns and operates a small shop in the village; but she provides more than customer service. As some village men congregate in her shop almost every evening, it is a place where the men hangout, a place to socialize and share drinks. Ma William enjoys the interaction immensely. John does a great job of exploring the dynamics of the many personalities as they interact with each other, and the vivacious shop-keeper. To Ma William, family is important, and the men become extensions of an expanded network of familiar connections. William is a married woman and the mother of two children, Shirley and Jason.  Her husband has his own business, he is a tailor. Mr. William does not interfere with his wife’s endeavor, allowing her free rein to make her own decisions concerning the operation of her business. For Ma William, work and family are intertwined. They validate who she is. In the novel we are told, “She had been in the shop since at 6 o’clock this morning … took a two-hour break to return home to prepare lunch for her family” (Ma William). For Ma William and many other women who work outside the home, they take pride in serving family and community at the same time. Ma William is a figure of confidence, she knows who she is and is comfortable in her many roles.

Anna Agnelli migrates to Canada at the turn of the century. Tough economic times had necessitated her leaving the old country, and Anna leaves a piece of her soul behind, in Italy.  She comes on the scene, when American and Canadian industries were expanding and needed workers to drive growth. Many people came from impoverished nations, and then invited other family members to join them. Anna met and married Ralph, a fellow Italian, on Canadian shores. When the Great Depression hits, their marriage also suffers turbulence. The worsening economic crisis, impacts Ralph in unique ways. Anna is a tower of strength for her family though, and like Ma William, she also works outside the home. During the onset of the Depression, Ralph is often out of work. Anna juggles Virtual Book Tour Poster - Joszannmotherhood, (she has a young daughter Viola) and a demanding job as a domestic, to a wealthy family.  Impoverished women have often held traditional roles as nannies to wealthier families.  An interesting dichotomy is highlighted, when Anna must leave her sick daughter to go to work, her job in essence, to see to the welfare of the Ackerlys children. Anna acknowledges the difference between her world, and the world of the Ackerlys when she concludes: ”It was nice not to have to worry about where your next meal or money for necessities was coming from.  She had come to the realization sometime ago that the world was not a fair place.” (Sonnets in Waking Moments).

From the lenses of Ma William and her friends we see transition at work in the Caribbean and on Dominica’s shores. Culture clashes, between the men whose lives have been moored on the island, compared to those who’ve had a chance to migrate. Blackouts, or interruption in the island electric system, angered the man who had spent years in Britain, as he was used to a different standard of living. Two other characters, Bamboo and Paul, also have an exchange, where we see American influence impacting the lives of the islanders.  Bamboo gets jealous of Paul’s yellow raincoat, questioning whether or not, he had received a barrel from someone in America. Dominicans are largely descended from the culture and heritage of slavery. When Ma William says, “I have to struggle to make a little livin” (John).  Her sentiment has double meaning, for it has been extremely challenging for islanders, largely descendants of slavery. Struggle and lack has often been the experience of many Dominicans. As the modern world is expanding its borders, the islands are also coming into their own. Ma William’s story is one about change, as the old ways erode. Case in point, her daughter Shirley has been given an opportunity to study abroad solidifying the new paths  being forged.

Anna Agnelli too, was forever changed by the decade of the 1930’s. Her family dynamic would no longer be the same. She was already a working woman, so the new culture that emerged from the 1930’s was one she celebrated. It meant that women were now able to occupy roles which formerly belonged to the men. Fascism and its ideology had dominated periods of the decade and subsequent war. Anna as an Italian Canadian had experienced racism. After the war, society attitudes were changing, and the future looked promising. The late 1940 and the 1950’s was a time of great change. Society was rebuilding after the economic collapse and new foundations were being laid, for all that would transpire in the following decades. Viola, Anna’s daughter, would eventually grow up to be a transformational figure, a bridge connecting the past and the future. The younger woman’s role as nun, and later wife, solidifies the woman’s place in the shifting culture of the twentieth century. Both stories capture the essence of great change at work in women’s lives. Women have arrived in the 21st century with a smorgasbord of choices. Where they go, and what they do with these choices is still being worked out.

Keeping the Dominican Culture and Heritage Alive

 

The 2013 New Jersey Madam Wob Dwiyet is behind us and after all the work and preparation involved and things to be taken care of, the anxieties and nervousness; the exhausted organizers and participants can now take a break…well a little, because the winner will travel to Dominica and the others will participate in a few Dominican functions being held as part of Dominica’s 35th Independence celebrations. Soon the motion will be set in place to have another function in 2014 and the cycle will continue…

I want, through this medium, to applaud all those who have been at the forefront of keeping Dominica’s culture alive in the Diaspora (I hate to use this word because of its negative connotation back in Dominica but that is what we are—the people of the Diaspora.)  During the staging of the events like the one just held in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, the Madam Wob Dwiyet USA -2013, it was remarkable to see so many Dominicans and non-Dominicans alike come out to witness, participate, and support their village or town girl; cheer the young ladies; cheer their Dominican friends on; and have a good time.

Mandisa

All those who believe that our cultural heritage is not important, think again. All those who think that politics and culture go hand in hand, think again—politicians come and go but our culture and heritage stay with us. For all those who think that the young people do not appreciate their culture, think again. For those who think that our culture is dead, well maybe it has been resurrected in North America.

It was indeed a spectacular display by young Dominican ladies, some who were born in the US of Dominican parentage. It was refreshing the way they performed and the pride and dedication they displayed. They all were winners, in my book, although only three of them could place, but in the end our island’s culture and heritage was the biggest winner. It was indeed appropriate that the government representative who was present at the function this year, is a villager from the cultural capital of Dominica, (Gwan Bay) Grand Bay, Mrs. Justina Charles, Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports and wife of the late Prime Minister, Pierre Charles, who himself was involved in the cultural activities in Gwan Bay. I am sure she was very proud of what she saw and elated to see such talent among the young people of the Diaspora (that word again!)

The young ladies are examples to the younger ones who hope to participate in the event in the future and it was refreshing to see the Ti-Matadors perform on stage…oh weren’t they sweet? They could have had their own show if they were allowed to and they were very well received by the audience.  They carried themselves very well and didn’t want to be outdone by the older ladies….Good job by Vadshire Dupuis and Daisy Grant Timothy who got them ready for the show.Girls

A look at the bios of the Wob contestants tell us, that besides being so talented, they are all very educated and on a path to doing great things for themselves. Among them:- a school teacher/girls’ high school basketball coach and doing a Master’s degree in education; a BET Young Stars nominee and TV actress, a legal assistant; a law student; one studying to be a physical therapist;  and one who works as a quality coordinator with a major US airline. Good role models for our young girls in the US and in Dominica too, I dare say. So I wish them all the best as they journey forth. They have their future ahead and hopefully they will reap great success in all they do. They deserve it and I am sure their families are very proud of them.

One of the contestants in the show was my own daughter, Mandisa, however, she did not place. I would not be talking the truth if I say that I wasn’t rooting for her to win or at least place as a runner-up, but I was just a parent and not a judge. All I can say is I felt very proud of what she was doing on stage and the way she did it. I doubt she would have done this a few years ago and to see her do what she did, I was extremely proud. I had to restrain myself at some points since I was photographing the event and I am also a member of the DEONJ-the show organizers. Didn’t want to influence the judges, you know!

I never saw my late  grandmother, Ma Salanie, (Salanie Louis) from the village of Salisbury, dance, but I am told she was one of the persons who loved dancing and loved the culture of Dominica and I know she must have been proud of her great grand-daughter doing her thing on stage. I can hear her… “Dansay zenfan mwin! Dansay!”

SONY DSCHowever, all this would not have been possible without the dedication of some of the persons who have sacrificed a lot to keep our culture alive in a foreign country and to do it so well. I know that a lot of what they do may not be known of in Dominica, but those of us up here see it portrayed quite a lot at various events. The very uplifting thing about it, is that they are all doing it voluntarily and not looking for any payment for what they are doing.

I refer here to Angela Sylvester and the Dominica Emerald Organization of New Jersey who stage the Wob Dwiyet Show annually; Sabeniah George-Mingo who started the Know Your Culture group in NJ; Justina Henderson-(Madam Wob Dwiyet USA-2009 and Madam Wob Dwiyet-North America-2012,) of Nous Wive Dance Troupe in New York and a former member of the Grand Bay Group “ Tradibelle;” Rosalind Severin-McClean of Rosa Dancin’ Belé in New York; the Boston Cultural Group among whose membership is the daughter of Dominica’s “Lady of Song”-Ophelia, Terri-Anne  Olivaccé-Marie, carrying on her mom’s tradition and love for the music and culture (and who says we are not our parents children?) Mrs. Lorna Phillips and DARDA who host their annual cultural gala and give all of those who attend an opportunity to display their national wear and parade gleefully for all to see, dancing and waving, proud to wear their wob and chemise. There are a few sprinklings of other groups throughout the US and Canada but I am not too well acquainted with them.

Angela, Sabeniah, Justina, Lorna, Rosalind and the groups and the individuals who support them, have forged to the forefront and created a new form of respect and love for our island’s culture and they should be applauded for all their efforts, time and energy in putting nation before self in many respects. They “have brought the mountain to Mohammed,” so to speak, so that we can reflect and participate in things Dominican during the Independence celebrations, even when we are not home.Boston

No longer are we strangers and in awe at what we can do when we visit Dominica or participate in these events or feel out of place, because we now have a new respect and appreciation for what we have; for what we cherish close to our hearts because it is ours and no one else’s. Darcor!

Before I end, I want to acknowledge the contribution to Dominica’s cultural development by Mr. Raymond Lawrence who will retire as the Chief Cultural Officer next year. I was privileged to have worked in the same building, as a Youth Officer, with stalwarts of the Cultural Division before moving to the US – Alwin, Ray and Pearle – and I saw firsthand how much they loved what they did. Raymond, like the others–and their staffs, has done quite a lot during his time as a dance leader, creator and choreographer and as cultural officer and I want through this medium to say, “Well Done Raymond! Blessings during your retirement…and I know you’ve retired as a public servant but you will surely continue to serve the public in your own unique way.  Congrats bro!!!

MY ARTISTIC EXPRESSIONS

On Sunday, November 3rd I will be staging Geejay’s Artistic Expressions, an exhibition of my work: published books, oil paintings and photography. The event will take place at the Knights of Columbus, 1034 Jeanette Avenue, Union, NJ (yes I am a Knight) from noon to 6:00p.m.

I have chosen the 3rd to celebrate, with my country and countrymen, Dominica’s 35th anniversary of Independence from England; not for being discovered by Columbus since we have come to know that the Kalinago people discovered and lived on Dominica. Even though I have been residing in the US for 27 years, I still base my work on life in Dominica. I am enthralled by all that Dominica has to offer me as an artist and I make no apologies to having based my work on experiences in Dominica. Some people were amazed that I could remember the lingo as well as I wrote it in “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” but I wasn’t. I am a Dominican.

The period from September through November, has been one of the most active cultural times in Dominica for many years with all the various competitions taking place around the island in dance, music, literature and art. It is the time that many Dominicans bring out their creativity and talents that they inhibit and they share those with their fellow countrymen. The conte, the bele, quadrille, the folk songs, the poetry and short story competitions and much more come alive. It is a time we take pride in being Dominicans and a multi-talented nation with superstars such as Ophelia, Brumant, the DuBlanc Group, Siffleur Montagne Chorale and Jean Lawrence of years gone by, the late Cissie Mable Cauderion, the late Premier E.O.LeBlanc, Alwin Bully, Raymond Lawrence, Earl Ettienne and the many who continue to keep our cultural heritage alive and kicking.

I must, however, point out that the love and appreciation for our art and culture must not be a seasonal thing, but a daily occurrence, just like speaking kweyol….make it something we feel proud about every day…not just one day of the year. Dacor!

First book published in the US.

First book published in the US.

Just recently, I came across a page from a 1975 edition of the Star Newspaper and on that page was an article about my having won both the short story and poetry competitions during the National Day Celebrations, as it was called then. It was somewhat nostalgic for me (I remember being stunned to hear I had won both  competitions) and I felt good about myself and where I am today in terms of my artistic contribution to Dominica. The poem I won with was “For I am A Dominican,” later published in The Dawn, my first published book of poems and later republished in The Island Man Sings His Song, and with the short Story  “Converted,” which was published in Mesye Kwik! Kwak! a collection of short stories.

I always seem to have to convince many people that I have had no formal training in any of these art principles. Every aspect of my writing, painting and photography, have been completely self-taught. Honestly, I too, am surprised at what I have been able to accomplish with no formal training. But then, who knows! So let it be. However, I believe that though I gained my inspiration for my art from all aspects of life in Dominica…the rain, the forests, the lakes, the people, the land, the politics, the lingo, the religion…everything. I have also been inspired by some individuals who helped me achieve what I have achieved thus far.

When I wrote For I am a Dominican, I showed it to the late Desmond “Dan” Shillingford and he persuaded me to enter it in the National Day Poetry contest. I had already decided to compete in the short story contest and was not too inclined on submitting the poem. But Dan insisted that I did. Well, the eventual result spoke for itself. The days and nights I had spent typing and retyping (pounding I should say) did pay off. From 1974-1976, I was a student at the Sixth Form College (Sifocol) and among my tutors were Mrs. Dorothy Leevy and Mr. Alwin Bully whom I had never met, yet admired for his creativity with the plays like “Streak” and “Nite Box.” These two individuals helped in molding the little bit of what I knew about writing and expressing myself in their own unique style of teaching.

One of Ronald's Paintings

One of Ronald’s Paintings

My uncles, Ronald and the late Frank Julien may not be well-known artists…Frank was a tailor in Mahaut and Ronald, an auto-body repair man in Roseau. But in St. Joseph, Mahaut and Massacre, Frank was also known as the photographer who every Sunday, rode his bicycle to photograph events and people in those villages. Ronald was known as the artist in St. Joseph whom the kids and adults, too, flocked around while he painted using just regular oil paint or creating and printing T-shirts for carnival groups in the village and in Roseau. Ronald, who now resides in Canada, still continues to paint. It is a joy when we meet and speak about what each of us does and share our experiences. He, too, was self-taught. I know I may be gifted, (is this why I am called Giftus?) but then the commitment to do what I have been doing is what has prevailed.

I somewhat lost touch with part of it when I entered the workforce in the US in 1987, (much to my children’s chagrin and disappointment, later on) but after being laid off in 2008, I found solace in what I once loved doing and had a passion for. Yes, there is a passion involved when one sits or stands for hours and feels fulfilled to see a painting come alive on canvas; a book held aloft by a fan in a bookstore or a poem read by a child in a classroom. That, more than the value in terms of money, is what turns the cogs of my engine. The same, I am sure, is what drives the various artists and groups to come out year after year and participate, share and perform during the Independence celebrations. It is the same passion and love for what they do, as well as love for their country, that has kept people like Alwin Bully, Kelo, Raymond Lawrence, Glenford John, Alex Bruno, Fr. Jolly, Steve Hyacinth, Justina Henderson, Lennox Honeychurch, Ras Mo, Earl Ettienne and Ronald Deschamps among others, involved the way they have been throughout all these years. It is the same passion that is inspiring a new crop of young artists like Sabina Mingo with “Know Your Culture,” Joszann St. John, Lionel Leevy, Lola Louis, Catherine Pierre, Justina John, Paula John, Delroy Williams and others who will one day step in to be the guides for our younger generation.

Senjo Bay Front

Senjo Bay Front

Dominica may not be rich in terms of money and the like, but we can be proud that we, as a people, have a rich heritage and culture. We can stand among many throughout the world and feel proud of what we are able to do. I know I do. Yes, when my Mom (God bless her soul) would proudly let me know when my work was read on the radio; when Jenny James proudly displays a photo of herself holding a copy of Ma William and Her Circle of Friends on Facebook for all to see; when Delia Cuffy-Weekes reads from that same book to kids at the public library in Roseau. And when Vinna Royer reads chapters of the same book to the seniors in my home village of St. Joseph and they ask for the sequel, I feel rich, proud and honored. I will always remember those moments. I pray that the event on the 3rd will portray some of that inspiration that I have gained throughout the years and though I may have been away, nothing has been able to erase the smells, sounds, and tastes of Dominica from my memory.  I hope to see you and share some of my thoughts and opinions with you.

Thank you, Dominica, for allowing me to be your son and thank you for all the inspiration that you continue to give to those of us who crave for it and accept it;  use it and mold it the way we do and bring joy and satisfaction to artist and supporter alike. Happy Independence Dominica and my fellow Dominicans. God bless Dominica.

Growing Up With My Grandmother

I am honoured to have as Guest Blogger SomerEmpress as she shares with us a few nuggets from her grandmother. Welcome SomerEmpress.

Friends called her Ma’ Sue; to others, she was known by her married name, Ma’ Nibbs. Rarely was she ever called by her first name, Susan. To me, she was larger than life itself. She was my Granny. My first female and maternal influence, she was the woman that I came to know as mom growing up on the island of Dominica, from an infant until about ten years old. She bore only sons, but cared for several granddaughters, including me.

Unlike grandparents who spoiled their grandbabies rotten, then turned them loose on their parents, Granny was not particularly doting and did not seem to be innately affectionate. This isn’t to say that she did not have a maternal instinct, but rather that her tough love had more to do with having raised six strong-willed, rowdy boys, and then having to later care for many of her grandchildren as her own.  When it came to discipline, she was guided by the Bible verse, Train up a child in the way he should go, 
and when he is old he will not depart from it” and that wasn’t always a good thing, as it left little room for error on the part of the child. In hindsight, I now understand; but as a child, God’s wrath was enough to scare what little righteousness I had right out of me!

giftus004av2Though it has been a little over six years since my grandmother passed, both her voice and presence are with me as I raise and nurture my own children and attend to matters of our home. Granny brought swift order to the home and tended to all of our most basic needs. Her skillfulness in handling any and all who were not aligned with her own mission–especially as it pertained to faith or anything else for that matter, made an indelible impression on me till this day. When I think about it, Granny averted many a danger and kept us safe at all costs, though we could not fully understand or appreciate it at the time.

One memory, which stands out for me, was when a certain visitor called for my grandmother from outside our home on the lane where we lived.

“Ma Nibbs!”, she shouted, though she could clearly see from her vantage point, that my grandmother was nowhere close to where she stood.

My grandmother didn’t take kindly to this. Off with her apron, then down came her spoon, just before she reluctantly shuffled her feet, and then hastened to the front of the yard.

“You see, they have bad ways”, she reinforced to both my sister and me, eyeing the two of us to remain where she left us.
“Yes, Granny.” We were in agreement that not only did they have bad ways, but we would stay put as well. What else were we to say or do?

While our home was modest, built almost entirely by my grandfather, my grandmother guarded it like she was manning a royal collection at Buckingham Palace.  Instead of tall wrought iron gates, a simple wooden gate–reinforced by a galvanized steel panel on the front, cut into a cement wall–was all that separated us from the lane, and those who frequented it. In this home, my grandmother reigned as Queen.

My grandmother also had a characteristic way about her when she was asked for advice. She used the word “friend” loosely and did not welcome all who came knocking. Whether it was a “friend”, a member of our local congregation, or a neighbor stopping by on their way home, she spared no one what she saw as truth, garnered largely from her own experience. If she felt that she could not freely share this truth without escalation into an argument, she would simply remain quiet and return to whatever she was doing before her visitor arrived; however, by my observation, it appeared that her quietness made her guests very uncomfortable.  She was not a fan of small talk. Visitors who encountered this deafening silence generally did not return to seek counsel, at least not until the truth­–according to Ma Nibbs, turned out to be their truth as well.

As a child, the whole exchange, or lack thereof, seemed awkward. While my sister and I knew better than to be seen at these times, we remained within earshot of what was now an odd coupling, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Instead, what we heard was the squeaky opening of the gate in the front yard, followed by an abrupt drop onto its latch, indicating that our “company” was now gone. Of course, we knew better than to comment – why, that would let the cat out the bag that we had been listening all along–because we knew our place as children in her household, but it sure would have been nice to know whether she would perhaps consider an alternate view.  I am now certain that my grandmother knew we were privy to all of this, as she herself was once a child.

There was a time to be still and a time to talk, she reiterated, and the discernment to know the difference was the true measure of real intelligence and good character. Furthermore, though through more implicit instruction, from my Granny I learned to be authentically me.  Though I did not unpack this gem of wisdom until I was much older, more poignantly with my own children, I learned the importance of standing for something–even if it is only for the credibility of my own convictions about what I believe is right or just, and being unafraid of the response and isolation that doing so might bring.

While I am sure that I romanticize these days growing up with my grandmother, mostly because she filled in as mother during a very formative time of my life, I am keenly aware of the explicit ways in which she loved me, and did more than just tend to my needs. It is true that no two accounts will be the same. While my sister, and many of my cousins, were brought up in the same household for varying lengths of time, I can say, inarguably, that my grandmother raised us.

She took special care in presenting us clean, respectable, and worthy­–first to ourselves, then to the world, and emphasized that we should do the same, whether we were going to the grocery store just two blocks away, or getting on an airplane for our final move to the United States. I can only imagine the gymnastics she would do in her grave if I were to suddenly appear unkempt or uncouth at the local market with pajamas and bedroom slippers! Some people say “WWJD”; I say “WWGD” as in “What Would Granny Do?” not because she has become a lesser god to me, but because she made pure and simple sense when it came to matters of the heart, and provided a firm foundation for doing so.

I’ve learned so much from my granny, but these are just a few of the nuggets that I’ve chosen to share in this post. I will share more at Life As An Art, my blog home, as Spirit inspires. Stay tuned. 🙂

 

SomerEmpress defines herself as a woman, writer, wife, mother, activist, educator, small business woman, and part-time fitness instructor. She claims many interests, few hobbies, and a passion for Life that is probably unparalleled. 

Follow her blog Life As an Art.

On the Move Again

It’s been a while since I have added anything to this site. A few events that occurred recently somewhat threw a wrench in my routine and  slowed or stopped some of my activities. This edition is hopefully the start of getting back to doing what I have been enjoying lately.

However in the midst of life’s turmoil, there is usually a shining light. We celebrated our son’s graduation from Temple University with a Civil Engineering Degree. We look forward to him doing what Bill Cosby asked the graduating class to do that day at the Commencement Ceremony … Get a job! And with God’s guidance we know he will. But things have somewhat settled down and I am getting back to allowing the creative juices to flow once again.

As the warm months approach, (I confess, I don’t enjoy the cold) I am looking forward to embarking on the 2013 Geejay Arts and Photo Road Tour which, in effect, is my attendance and participation in a number of activities from now till December, especially those with a Dominican flavor. No, I am not getting on a bus with all my stuff although I really wished I could and have the opportunity to tour other states. But my car will do, with all my work crammed on the back seat and in the trunk; sometimes solo and other times accompanied by my wife or my son or daughter.

So far I have tentatively planned to be at CODIA’s Father’s Day Dinner and Dance in the Bronx; Tropical Hawaiian Party with Patorah in Mt. Vernon; the Dominica United Cricket Club’s picnic in Somerset, NJ; DOTSAC’s Flag Raising Ceremony and show in CT, DEONJ’s Madam Wob Dwiyet in N.J.and one of my favorites, DARDA’s Independence Gala in NY.  I am also looking forward to once again participating in the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, NJ which I attended for the first time last year. There are a few that I have heard about but no confirmation yet.

These events give me the opportunity to showcase and sell my work while interacting with other artists who are present, especially one like the Collingswood Book Festival which gives you the opportunity to see others like you trying to reach out to the public offering what we’ve created and hoping to get their support. My first experience was a good one and I look forward to be there once again on October, 6th.

I am working on plans to have an exhibition later this year in my hometown of Union, NJ. Plans are still being worked out as to venue, date, and time, and I am hoping that this is not just a dream, but becomes a reality. I had previously held such an event a few years ago, but I want to make this one much better and possibly a little grander. I will see how things fall into place as we move along.

This month marks two years since the publication of Ma William and Her Circle of Friends and I can say that I have been extremely pleased with the feedback and support I have received though, like many self–published authors I would have hoped for more support in terms of sales of the book However it is a work in progress and all one has to do is keep stoking the fire. My other two books continue to find their way into people’s homes and I am pleased about that…Mesye Kwik! Kwak! a collection of stories based on life in St. Joseph and, The Island Man Sings His Song, a collection of poems.

I recently heard from Mrs.Vinna Royer of St. Joseph, my home village in Dominica and the setting for “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends”–who told me that she reads chapters of Ma William and Her Circle of Friends to the seniors who meet at the Matthew’s Hall in St. Joseph and they have enjoyed it so much that they would like to know what happened to Ma William and her gang. Needless to say, I was very happy to hear about it. Another friend, Dominica’s grand lady of song, Ophelia, sent to let me know that she was present at one of those sessions and she was proud to tell the seniors present that she knows the author. Hopefully, one day I can grace the gathering and read a chapter to them.

But, oh, oh! Do I hear a call for a sequel? I have heard that call before though, however, at this time, I am working on two projects so the sequel is some time in the future.

It is said that variety is the spice of life and hopefully some variety will add some spice to my site…though I pray not too spicy…and I have invited three fellow bloggers and writers to be my guests on subsequent editions. If all goes according to plan, the next edition will be by one of those individuals. Something interesting that we can look forward to.

Finally, as we approach Fathers’ Day, I want to take this opportunity to salute my dad, Mr. Shaden John. Daddy recently celebrated his 84th birthday and we’re hoping that he can celebrate many more still with us, God willing. I did not pick up my artistic skills from him; that came from my mom’s side—painting influenced by my uncle Ronald Julien, and photography, by my late uncle, Frank Julien. I don’t know where the writing came from—I guess a God-given talent, though I wished I had dad’s penmanship. He writes very well. It would have saved me a caning from Br. Sullivan when I was in First Form at the SMA…yes…believe it…my handwriting was not up to snuff on three occasions, so I paid the ultimate price. Never got caned again though!!!

But what my dad has left imprinted within me and which I have admired and respected over the years, are: his love for his family, his hard work and dedication, his easy-going attitude, and his friendliness. Yes, he was a strict dad and made sure I did what was right, as did my late mom, but I don’t hold it against them. My dad has had a strong commitment to his community; to his church and God—dad has been singing on the St. Joseph church choir for over 50 years. I am proud when so many see him in me, especially my wife, who thinks the older I get the more I am like him. I’ll take that compliment.

My annual backyard garden is a tribute to him and what he instilled in me in terms of agriculture and gardening from an early age, although I have to confess I was not fond of going to the “garden,” except when I was going to have fun. Banana reception days were not my favorite. I rather stayed in Senjo and be out on the playing field with my friends. But as I became my own man, I saw what drove him and I am now guilty of being like that sometimes.

So Daddy, this is for you. Happy Father’s Day and though we have not spent one together in over 27 years, the respect, love and appreciation for all you are and have been, have not waned and the older I get the more I believe I am truly my Father’s son. God’s richest blessings, Daddy!

Dominican Literature and Self-Publishing

My last posting back in February, dealt with the growth of Dominican Literature and the strides that writers of Dominica – not Dominican Republic I will be quick to point out – have been making over the past years. Soon after I posted that blog I discovered two new authors who have joined the ranks of self-published authors in Dominica, or Dominican authors based overseas.

First, is a young lady from my home village of St. Joseph, Catherine Pierre who recently published Mindy Genie, in England where she lived for a while. Mindy Genie is the story of a young genie and its teenage master. The other is Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, who published Love Across the Atlantic in the USA, while she was based in Florida. Gweneth’s book is a story of romance between the author and her husband.

I recently finished reading Mindy Genie, I Lost My Cathedral, by Henry Johnson from Roseau and Love Across the Atlantic. These are the books in my little collection that I have recently purchased including Sonnets in the Waking Moments by Joszann St. John and Behind Closed Doors, which I am presently reading, by Augustina Rolle who is from Trafalgar.

Another development that has recently taken place, is the collaboration between the Domnichen Poetic Circle—a Facebook group of poets started by Dominican artist Ronald “Baba” Deschamps—and Dominica News Online. Every Friday, DNO will publish a poem by a member of the DPC. This collaboration started after one of the DPC members submitted a copy of one of her poems to DNO and it was published, paving the way for what is a good means of exposing the work of unpublished and even published writers both within and outside of Dominica.

I believe we are rapidly creating our very own niche within the Caribbean circles and hopefully as technology opens new avenues, we will get the room to develop further and our local writers will have the opportunity of having more of their works published. There are many established writers in the Caribbean and if we hope to be counted among them, we have to step up our game, so to speak.

With that said, I am aware of the numerous hurdles that many of the local writers are faced with in getting their work published, promoted and sold: the lack of a publishing house; the size of the local market; proficient editors and proofreaders, to name a few. These are some of the aspects of the publishing industry that will limit how well our writers can compete on a local, regional and international market with already established writers, many who have agents and publishing houses at their call.

Those of us who live in the United States, Canada or Europe have an advantage in that we are in a larger market and we have more resources available to us. We are not faced with issues such as the currency exchange, cost of mailing and there is a wide range of personnel that we can choose from to do some of the ground work for us, though some of us by-pass or ignore some of these resources for one reason or another.

Nowadays, many writers are not prepared to wait as long as was done in the past for a Publishing House to give an answer on a submitted manuscript and therefore, many are having their work published even if the work may not be to the standard that makes the book stand out. As I once mentioned, I had tried to get my latest book published by a Caribbean publisher, but after the initial response and a promise to contact later, I am still waiting 3 years later, which actually is not long based on publishing conditions.

I was recently asked by a budding author for some guidelines re self-publishing since she was interested in knowing what was involved. I don’t believe that I can claim to be an authority or expert on self-publishing, but after 18 years and three self-published works I believe I can share my experiences and give some advice. After what turned out to be a 3-part series on my Facebook page, I was surprised by the amount of work that is really involved in the process, and so too was the person who had sought my advice.

Many new or inexperienced authors are unaware of the ups and downs of self-publishing and that is the reason why sometimes what is supposed to be a wonderful and exhilarating experience turns out to be a harrowing experience. It is not just a matter of climbing atop Morne Diablotin to announce the publication of your book. What matters is the quality, content, and appearance so that you will be able to compete within the literary sphere. We can make the decision to self-publish or not, but it is extremely important that if we choose to go that route, we have a plan to execute that process.

I don’t know how practical it will be someday to see a publishing house in Dominica or a company geared towards publishing books and providing all the resources needed including conversion to e-books and having books available on line. I know that we have Pont Casse Press under the direction of Dr. Irving Andre and Gabriel Christian and most of their work is published under that trademark. It would be nice to see the company evolve into one that would help in the publication of works of local writers, both in Dominica and overseas.

Self-published authors need to be aware that once a proof has been signed-off the author is culpable. One has to make certain that whatever enhances the book’s quality such as the plot, cover blurb, a foreword or introduction are error free.  No one is going to blame the publisher. All blame will fall on you. We all get excited about seeing our book in print, but we must not compromise, when it comes to producing a good book.

I pray that our budding writers will get some inspiration from those among us who have stepped up to the crease (if I may use a cricket term here) and that they too can one day fall in line behind Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, Joszann St. John, Catherine Pierre, Henry Johnson and Elsa Rolle who have had the belief and confidence that they can lend their voices or hands in the continued growth of Dominica’s Literature; watering it with their thoughts, emotions and long-lasting devotion to the art form.