Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Horace Ove: Walking Proud

Walking Proud (c. 1971) by the Trinidadian photographer and film-maker Horace Ove is one of five hundred photographs in How We Are: Photographing Britain, a new exhibition opening on 22 May at the Tate Britain (which also includes work by Jamaica-born Vanley Burke). "It takes a unique look at the journey of British photography," says the Tate website, "from the pioneers of the early medium to today’s photographers who use new technology to make and display their imagery." (The UK Guardian has posted a slideshow of ten images from the show here; read Blake Morrison's review of the show here.)

The Tate has also invited members of the public to contribute images via a "How We Are Now" Flickr group--part of what looks like a growing trend in using Flickr to host online galleries and exhibitions.

"Caribbean-Americans and the American Dream"

To celebrate Caribbean-American Heritage Month, Geoffrey Philp is hosting a mini-essay competition, with the support of Akashic Books and Jamaicans.com. (I'm one of the judges, along with Preston Allen and Geoffrey himself). More information here.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Stefan Falke: Moko Jumbies

The Brooklyn-based German photographer Stefan Falke has been visiting Trinidad and photographing Carnival for well over a decade. In 2004 he published Moko Jumbies: The Dancing Spirits of Trinidad, a beautifully designed and printed book documenting the young stilt-walkers of the Keylemanjahro Scool of Arts and Culture. (Read Keith Smith's review in the February 2005 CRB.) More recently, Falke posted a series of spreads from Moko Jumbies as a Flickr photoset--an excellent way to give possible readers a sense of the book's gorgeousness.

More bedside books

It's Friday, dear readers, which means we have another list of bedside books from a CRB contributor (I got the "bedside books" theme going myself, and last Friday Jonathan Ali shared his). Judy Raymond last reviewed V.S. Naipaul's Magic Seeds in the November 2004 CRB, but we hope to have her writing for the magazine again very soon. Her book Barbara Jardine: Goldsmith was published in 2006.

The current stacks of books by my bed demonstrate two enduring principles in my choice of reading matter: serendipity and cheapness.

There’s a pile I bought at the Living Water Family Fiesta [ed. note: an excellent place to buy used books in Trinidad] a couple of weeks ago, having gone there in the hope of finding cheap and interesting second-hand books as well as amusing my daughter.

For between $5 and $3 each I got:

- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, which I read decades ago, but having more recently been accused of being Mme Bovary, I thought I should refresh my memory of her failings.
- About the Author by John Colapinto: a literary thriller I bought because of the title. A bit predictable but at least that means for once I can follow the plot.
- Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner, which the cover blurb tells me was a controversial bestseller in 1966: I’m reading a lot of lives these days in the hope of learning the secret of writing them.
- Digging to America by Anne Tyler: she can be nauseatingly cute but a lot of writers say her work makes you want to write.
- Thank God for the Atom Bomb by Paul Fussell: some writers, such as George Steiner, strike one as profoundly wrong about almost everything, but in an interesting way that makes you want to puzzle out why, and I’m hoping Fussell is one of those.

Then there are the gifts:

- Better by Atul Gawande, a Mother’s Day gift because I have a morbid interest in medical writings despite being physically ridiculously healthy
- From a Trini friend in England, Foul by Andrew Jennings, which spilled the beans on Fifa, though by about page 27 I was so dizzy with intrigue I’d forgotten which villain did what.
- From my mother, the first of a year’s subscription to Granta, "The Best of Young American Novelists"—a triple handicap as far as I’m concerned right now.
- The Tenderness of Wolves, also a gift: bogus-sounding title, and I don’t like reading prizewinning books. Clearly this one’s time has not yet come.
- There’s a review of a memoir from the Literary Review reflecting on the awful things families do to children and the effects they have on writers.
- Thence to Jean Rhys, who I’m reading about in the hope of being able to write about her: Carole Angier’s tortuous biography, which makes her life seem unbearably miserable; Stet, for the wonderful Diana Athill’s honest but compassionate memoir of Rhys; and Rhys's own letters, in which she puts a brave face on things and is often gallant and funny.
- Odds and Ends: Reporting by David Remnick, actually a collection of profiles from the New Yorker. His aren’t altogether to my taste, but I approve of the title: reporting is what journalism is all about.
- Allen Shawn’s Wish I Could Be There, a dispassionate and charmless examination of his agoraphobia that is unsympathetic to those of us phobics who don’t suffer his particular tortures.
- A Big Book of Daily Telegraph Crosswords: good, proper cryptic crosswords. After limbering up for several weeks I can usually finish them. But they are an intermittent obsession.
- At Day’s Close by A. Roger Ekirch: wonderful idea but rather stodgy history of what people did after dark before they invented electricity. If you were set upon by midnight thieves and vagabonds in the 17th century, better to shout “Fire!” than “Murder!”--that way people were more likely to come out to help.
- Michael Morpurgo’s The White Horse of Zennor, recommended by my daughter, because I’m touched by her desire, aged eight, to share a literary pleasure. Can’t wait for her to be big enough to read His Dark Materials.

I’m reading about four of these books. Every book has its time and you can’t force it; that’s why you need to keep a pile of them at hand.

Beyond my bedside table, on the floor, is a basket of fashion magazines, partly because I want the pictures to use for decoupage or as inspiration for decorating; partly as background reading for writing about Meiling, the fashion designer--I try to figure out how she might see them, though usually I’m fatally distracted by the handbag ads--and partly because every month without fail they promise on the cover to tell you the secrets of being thin and beautiful and sexy, and I fall for them every time. Every time.


Thursday, 17 May 2007


The British bookshop chain Waterstone's has just turned 25, and to celebrate this anniversary, they've released a list of "25 authors for the future". "This is a list for the ordinary reader who goes into our shops, not for those who follow literary trends," says the chairman of the selection panel, and the Granta "Best of Young British Novelists" it isn't. It is a commercial list, to put it bluntly--a list of 25 writers Waterstone's expects to make a lot of money from in coming decades--but it isn't devoid of literary merit. It includes--alongside authors of children's books, genre fiction, and food books--writers who have been nominated for and won prestigious literary prizes, and attracted critical acclaim. (Here are notes on all 25 from the Independent.)

Commentators in the British literary press are already working up a sweat about the whole exercise, but what I find most interesting are the Caribbean connections of one--maybe two--of the writers on the list. Nick Stone, a writer of crime fiction, appears to be half Haitian, descended on his mother's side from "one of Haiti’s oldest families, the Aubrys", and he spent part of his childhood in Haiti; his novel Mr Clarinet is set there. And Jon McGregor--whose first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, was long-listed for the Booker Prize five years ago--was born in Bermuda. The last Bermudan writer I spoke to said she certainly thought of herself as Caribbean, but I'm not sure the sentiment is widespread. Anyway, I hadn't heard of McGregor before, but I'm fascinated by what I've been reading today about his fiction, and I'll probably grab one of his books next time I see it in a shop. So, in at least one small instance, the Waterstone's list is having the intended effect....

From the Caribbean Beat archive

Many CRB readers, I suspect, are also readers of the CRB's "sister" magazine, Caribbean Beat. Over the years, Beat has run hundreds of short book reviews and dozens of in-depth profiles of Caribbean writers, from eminences like Derek Walcott, Wilson Harris, and V.S. Naipaul, to the brightest talents of the current literary generation. And many of these pieces are online, in the ever-expanding Caribbean Beat archive. So here, dear readers, are some possibilities for Thursday morning reading: a selection of profiles from the last four years of Caribbean Beat:

"The view from Coyaba"--a profile of Peter Abraham by Jane Bryce (May/June 2003)

"Finding her way home"--a profile of Edwidge Danticat by Mariel Brown

"The man who loved to have fun"--a profile of Frank Collymore by Philip Nanton (January/February 2004)

"Looking back in anger"--a profile of Jamaica Kincaid by Jeremy Taylor (May/June 2004)

"Missing in action"--a profile of Albert Gomes by Jeremy Taylor (July/August 2004)

"Voyager in the dark"--a profile of Jean Rhys by Jeremy Taylor (November/December 2004)

"Writing is believing"--a profile of Nalo Hopkinson by Kellie Magnus (May/June 2005)

"Guyana don"--a profile of David Dabydeen by John Mair (September/October 2005)

"Speaking back to home"--a profile of Olive Senior by Martin Mordecai (July/August 2006)

A young Olive Senior (left) and a friend, in school uniform

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

More Naipauliana

It's nearly a month since V.S. Naipaul left Trinidad, but his high profile, high-controversy visit is still a topic of avid conversation (and disagreement). Just yesterday, the Trinidad Guardian published a letter from Ferdie Ferreira headlined "Much contempt from Naipauls", arguing that "in spite of our love and obsession with Sir Vidia, there is no reciprocity".

In the May issue of the online magazine Caribbean Writing Today, editor Wayne Brown writes a note on "Naipaul in Trinidad". Naipaul's largely friendly reception, Brown says, is thanks to "the Trinidadian’s peculiar and exceptional capacity for irony and the tolerance it enables". He also reproduces two detailed reports of Naipaul's main public events by an anonymous CWT reader.

At the so-called "Evening of Appreciation" organised by VSN's UWI hosts, the great man was asked by a member of the audience what advice he'd give to young writers. He neatly deflected the question on that occasion, but at least once in the past he was more obliging. On one of my bookshelves is a fascinating little book called The Humour and the Pity: Essays on V.S. Naipaul, edited by Amitava Kumar and published in 2002. These essays are mostly by Indian writers, though Caryl Phillips and J.M. Coetzee are also included. In his introduction, Kumar recalls visiting the offices of the Indian weekly newspaper Tehelka--Naipaul is a trustee and a vocal supporter of the paper, and a friend of its editor, Tarun Tejpal. Kumar writes:

It was while I was being shown round that I saw on the wall, high above someone's computer, a sheet of paper that said "V.S. Naipaul's Rules for Beginners". These were rules for writing. It was explained to me that Naipaul had been asked by the Tehelka writers if he could give them some basic suggestions for improving their writing. Naipaul had come up with some rules. He had fussed over their formulation, corrected them, and then faxed back the corrections.

So here, dear readers, are "V.S. Naipaul's Rules for Beginners":

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it's training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.


Now: before you complain about these prescriptions, dear readers, please read at random any article from any of the English-speaking Caribbean's leading newspapers. Perhaps you'll be inclined to post a copy of the rules to the relevant newsroom instead.

Caribbean lit links roundup

• Geoffrey Philp posts a review of Kamau Brathwaite's new book of poems, DS (2), by Vijay Seshadri:

The radical Brathwaite page is an invention born out of necessity; and its success in rendering a painful history is a testimony to both the poet’s substantial powers and to the strange, revivifying surprises that literature can offer.

• He also posts links to two clips from the documentary film Miss Lou Then and Now, which will be screened at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida on Thursday night; and a podcast of himself reading Dennis Scott's poem "Uncle Time".

• Raymond Ramcharitar writes a typically trenchant report, titled "Rapso, Romanticism and the Realpolitik", on a rapso conference at the National Museum in Port of Spain:

Art and scholarship are certainly vehicles for politics and other agendas, but it’s gotten to the point where the other agendas are primary, and art and learning are mere tropes....

• In the Jamaica Gleaner, Hugh Schultz reviews Deportee, a new play with a Jamaican theme produced by the UK-based Blue Mountain Theatre company.

• And thanks to Caribbean Free Radio for this nice link!

From the CRB scrapbook


Stuart Hall isn't the only one who likes to relax with the CRB. Delphine with the May 2004 issue; photo by Georgia Popplewell

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

One more for your calendar

Here's something I missed when I posted that list of upcoming Caribbean literary events yesterday: on Saturday 2 June, Derek Walcott will read from his work and participate in a conversation with William Sieghart, as part of the programme of the 2007 Hay Festival (which runs from 24 May to 3 June in Hay-on-Wye, Wales).

Maxence Denis: Kwa Bawon

Kwa Bawon (2003), video installation, by Maxence Denis, one of the artists participating in Haiti Now!: Art, Film, Literature, which opened today at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies. Denis will perform his music and video piece Mutation X 34 on Wednesday 16 May at 7 p.m., with Trinidadian musician Robert "Robbie Styles" Persad. See the Haiti Now! website for more information.

Monday, 14 May 2007

"A blog comes closest to the feel of a novel"

I started off writing as a poet, and I’ve learned not everything can or should be a poem. As I’ve often said to my students in my creative writing workshops, a poem is that bok! of when the ball meets the bat and it shakes you up. A short story is about bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, both teams are tied, and the pitcher begins his motion. A novel is the whole shebang--what Henry James called the “loose, baggy, monster.” A blog comes closest to the feel of a novel--it can be anything. This is why I’ve given myself such strict limits about what my blog should be and what it shouldn’t be. By setting such narrow parameters, my writing doesn’t end up all over the place and I know exactly what my subject matter will be.

-- Geoffrey Philp, from an interview I did with him recently, posted today at Global Voices, in which he talks about why he started his weblog, what makes good writing in any medium or genre, and what Caribbean writers should be using blogs for.

Mark your calendar

Events on the Caribbean literary calendar over the next fortnight.

Haiti on the mind: From 15 to 17 May, the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies is hosting Haiti Now!: Art, Film, Literature, a major conference on contemporary Haitian culture. Participants include Haitian artists and writers, and scholars from several countries. All events are open to the public, and admission is free.

Miss Lou in Miami: On Thursday 17 May, at 6.30 pm, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida will host a "Tribute to Miss Lou", celebrating the life and work of the late Louise Bennett-Coverly. After a screening of the film Miss Lou Then and Now, writers Malachi Smith, Donna Weir-Soley, Andrea Smith, and Geoffrey Philp will perform some of the Jamaican icon's works. Admission is free. [Read Garnette Cadogan's tribute to Miss Lou from the November 2006 CRB.]

Louise Bennett-Coverly

The Calabash International Literary Festival, which has become one of the major events in the Caribbean's literary year, runs from 25 to 27 May, in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. The long weekend of readings, music, and conversation between readers and writers--participants are supposed to include Maryse Condé, Caryl Phillips, Kendel Hippolyte, and Michael Ondaatje--will this year also feature the announcement of the Commonwealth Writers' Prizes.

Nettleford speaks: Rex Nettleford, Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies, will deliver the 21st Eric Williams Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, on 25 May. The lecture is titled "Slavery and Education in the Caribbean: Mask, Myth, and Metaphor". Admission is free, but tickets are required. Contact the Central Bank for more information. (On his way to Trinidad, Nettleford will deliver a lecture in St Kitts--"The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: The Psychic Inheritance"--on 23 May, as part of a series organised by the St Kitts and Nevis National Commission for UNESCO.)

Celebrating books: The theme of the 2007 St Martin Book Fair, which runs from 31 May to 2 June, is "Writing Justice". Events include a keynote address by Earl Lovelace, an evening of readings and recitations, and book sales and signings. A detailed schedule is posted on the Caribbean Beat blog.

Staging a classic: The Caribbean American Repertory Theatre (CART), based in New York, presents Errol John's classic play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, directed by Michael Rogers, in six performances, 30 May to 3 June, and 9 June. More information and a full schedule are posted at the Caribbean Beat blog. Later in June, CART will present a staged reading of Currying Favour, by Al Hendricks.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Sunday papers roundup

Links to some interesting reviews, columns, and features from newspapers in Jamaica, Guyana, and Antigua:

- The "Arts and Leisure" section of the Jamaica Gleaner includes Barbara Nelson's review of C. Everard Palmer's short novel A Time to Say Goodbye; as well as two short stories: "Street Boy", by Karlene Morgan, and "Relative Strangers", by Corinne Smith.

- The Gleaner also runs two art reviews by Anthea McGibbon, of Seven, a group show hosted by the Jamaica Guild of Artists; and of a show (and book) by photographer Peter Ferguson, collecting portraits of 101 "prominent male changemakers in Jamaica's history".

- In the Jamaica Observer, Herbie Miller looks back at the career of Don Drummond, who died 38 years ago, and tries to distinguish the reality of the doomed musician's talent from the myths that have sprung up around his memory. The Observer also reports that the first ever Caribbean Fashion Week Design Award will be presented to Trinidadian artist Peter Minshall in June.

- In the Stabroek News, in his weekly "Arts on Sunday" column, Al Creighton continues from where he left off last week, describing the "very rich" tradition of Indian music and dance in the Caribbean, focusing on the Nadira and Indranie Shah Dance Troupe's annual Nrityageet production, which "has earned its place as a tradition in Guyanese theatre".

- The weekend edition of the Antigua Sun reports on "Off the Shelf", a new literary programme launched by the radio station WINN FM in St. Kitts, in which actress Clare Yearwood reads "popular books and classics". First on the reading list is Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy, to be followed by Alice in Wonderland.

- And Agence France-Press reports on a press conference with Derek Walcott, who is visiting Venezuela, where he will participate in a discussion with Nobel laureate Mohamed Yunus:

The Caribbean's history is a very tragic one, but we live in a place of extreme beauty. The New World is optimistic and heroic.... The character of the Caribbean is a tragicomedy basically, it is not completely tragic.

Reminder: take the CRB reader survey

A quick reminder, dear readers, that the CRB reader survey is still ongoing. Whether you're a subscriber or an online reader, if you haven't participated yet, do tell us what you like and dislike about the magazine by clicking here.