Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival: the lineup

If you’ve been following my blog and Instagram feed, then you know that this September is a very special month for Caribbean literature. Come 6-8 September 2019, Brooklyn will host its first ever Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival.

Festival highlights will include:

  • “An Evening with Jamaica Kincaid” hosted jointly with the Brooklyn Historical Society. At this event, fans can get up, close, and personal with the accomplished Antigua-born author whose works include A Small Place, Lucy, and Annie John.
  • A lunchtime conversation with acclaimed Trinidadian author Barbara Jenkins whose works include De Rightest Place and Sic Transit Wagon.
  • “Laureates of the Caribbean,” an evening of poetry and spoken word performances.
  • The announcement of the winning entry of the first ever Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writer’s Award.
  • A Children’s Programme featuring storytelling, wirebending, craft-making, and dancing!
  • “The Gayelle,” an all-day, open-air market with lots of literary events and stalls.

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My Summer Reading List

On the heels of this June’s #ReadCaribbean challenge, I decided to keep up with my Caribbean literature. Reading about so many Caribbean writers in June made me thirst for them and by July, I was deeply immersed in several books. I realized how much I missed the cadences of my home country and region and the only tangible way I could transport myself back was through reading Caribbean literature. With that said, here are some of my favorite reads for summer 2019.

1. Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn

This was on my radar a while ago when travel writer Bani Amor mentioned it in her book club series but it took me over two years to actually get my hands on it and finish it. Dennis Benn’s work captivated me from the beginning with memorable though amoral characters and its unmistakable Jamaican setting. The author delves beneath the surface impression so many tourists have of the island as a pleasure-seeking place of weed-smoking locals, lovely beaches, and guilt-free hook-ups. She pulls back the shiny veneer of the tourism industry and shows what some people really have to do to get by in Jamaica.

2. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Kincaid starts hitting them hard from the get-go in this one. Even though A Small Place was published in 1988, I think the author’s sentiments about how Caribbean islands are perceived by tourists as playgrounds for their personal pleasure rather than real places still stands today. This is a must-read for anyone eager to travel to the Caribbean and is a great companion read to Nicole Dennis Benn’s Here Comes The Sun.

3. Golden Child by Claire Adam

This debut novel by Trinidadian but British-based writer Claire Adam was a slow burn for me. It starts off in the bush, as we Trinis like to say, but peels back the layers to reveal the tragic story behind a working-class Indo-Trinidadian family. This family is blessed with twins, bright boy Peter and maladjusted Paul, but as the saying goes, “Peter pay for Paul, Paul pay for all.” Adam’s story definitely shows how this happens in crime-afflicted societies like Trinidad’s.

4. Augustown by Kei Miller

Miller’s work soared from the beginning for me. I loved his documentary-writing style, especially how he pinpoints the exact location of Augustown and talks about its social and economic circumstances. The reader gets into the heads of several of Augustown’s inhabitants as well as peripheral characters who get mixed up in the melee when they intrude in how things are done in this largely Rasta community.

5. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

This was my second time reading Lucy and I was able to pick up on Kincaid’s signature style having devoured Annie John and A Small Place earlier. Lucy is a character I am ambivalent about, particularly in her relationship with her mother and how she handles relationships with those close to her. As always, there are echoes of anti-colonial sentiment in this work, a theme that runs rampant through Kincaid’s body of work.

6. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

What a sweet collection of stories! I loved how the author focused on characters at home in Jamaica and in the diaspora, particularly in the US. Even though it’s written as a love letter to Jamaicans everywhere, as a Caribbean reader, I was able to connect with many of the stories. My favorite story was “Shirley from A Small Place” which seems to be based loosely on Rihanna’s rise to stardom.

Which ones have you read? Share in the comments below!

On the Radar: Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival

If you’re a Caribbean lit lover and in Brooklyn this September, you’re in for a real treat.

This year, the New York City borough will host the first-ever Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival (BCLF).

Why Brooklyn? Brooklyn has always been a major stomping ground for Caribbean people, with one of the largest Caribbean diasporas in the world. It’s also the home of the famous West Indian Day Parade that takes place every Labor Day.

From September 6 – 8, 2019, Caribbean writers, poets, and artists from the city and the diaspora will come together to explore the theme, “Caribbean beyond Carnival.” There will be readings, workshops, and talks introducing Caribbean literature and exploring what it really means to be a Caribbean person.

BCLF is spearheaded by The Idea Room Corp., in partnership with Community Revitalization Partnership and MAP Media International. I’m also happy to announce that this year, I will be partnering with this awesome literary festival. Best of all, the event is free to the public.

For more deets, follow the BCLF on Facebook and  Instagram.

It’s a wrap – #ReadCaribbean challenge

I must say that June was definitely one of the more rewarding months I have experienced this year. Thanks to Book of Cinz, I hopped on board a project to promote Caribbean literature to the masses on the ‘gram.

And what a success it was! So many people reached out and shared their recommendations. So with that, here’s a wrap up of the Caribbean books I featured for Caribbean Heritage Month 2019.

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"Gita can't believe she's in Kolkata. All she knew of the city was that her great-great grandmother got on the ship here for Chinidad, the land of sugar. She had no records, no photographs, only the bare bones of stories her father told her." Homecoming by Suzanne Bhagan For Day 23 of this June's #ReadCaribbean challenge, I am featuring We Mark Your Memory, a collection published by both the University of London (2018) and Peekash Press (2019). In collaboration with Commonwealth Writers, this collection of new writing from across the Commonwealth explores Indian indentured heritage in the 21st century. When slavery was abolished in the 19th century in the Caribbean, the first Indian indentured laborers came to the then British colonies to plug the gap. These workers from the subcontinent entered into/were often coerced into signing contracts to work on the sugar plantations there. We Mark Your Memory features a host of authors of Caribbean heritage – David Dabydeen, Kevin Jared Hosein, Gabrielle Jamela Hosein, Anita Sethi, Stella Chong Sing, Jennifer Rahim, Patti-Anne Ali, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming, Gaiutra Bahadur, Fawzia Muradali Kane, Arnold Thomas, and myself. My debut short story "Homecoming" explores the experiences of a young Indo-Trinidadian couple who visit India for the first time and face instant culture shock in their attempts to make a connection with their "long-lost homeland." What debut Caribbean author are you reading today?

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#ReadCaribbean Challenge

Together with a group of handpicked Caribbean bookstagrammers, this June, I am getting involved with a #ReadCaribbean challenge on Instagram to encourage more readers to discover Caribbean literature.

June 2019 is recognized as Caribbean Heritage Month so to celebrate, we’re encouraging you to:

  1. read books by Caribbean nationals
  2. read books about the Caribbean
  3. read books set in the Caribbean

Here are some prompts to get you inspired! Are you on board?

Review: A Kitchen in the Corner

I really didn’t know anything about Ambai before I read A Kitchen in the Corner of the House but now, I am truly enlightened. I have read a lot of literature written in English by Indian writers but Ambai’s work was a first for me to read Indian, specifically Tamil literature, in translation.

Ambai’s work translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom can be considered feminist literature as many of her stories examine what’s it’s like to be a woman in India, particularly regarding how the female body is portrayed and treated in Indian society. In one story, adults regard one woman’s body as one that never “blossomed” because she never bore children even though children see her differently. The author also explores the traditionally female space of the kitchen as one where women think they hold power. She also re-examines the story of Sita, Rama’s wife, whose faithfulness to her husband came into question after she was rescued from her kidnapper.

Sometimes, I found Ambai’s stories difficult to follow because they were peppered with local references but overall, her work carries a somber tone and is sure to resonate with female readers.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Bells of Old Tokyo

As a fairly new expat living in the land of the rising sun, it’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of seasoned expats who have called this place home for several years.

Anna Sherman moved to Asia in 2001 and The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations of Time and a City is her first book. In this part-memoir/ part travelogue, Sherman retraces the steps taken by composer Yoshimura Hiroshi in his book, Edo’s Bells of Time, listening for the chime of the old city’s bells in the silent spaces of her loud, 21st century metropolis. Her prose is both lyrical and clipped, as she meditates on seasonal time-keeping in old Edo and contrasts it with digital time-keeping in modern-day Tokyo.

She shows how the traditional Japanese conception of time as non-linear is constantly at odds with Japan’s adoption of progressive, mechanical Western time, a push and pull struggle that mirrors Japan’s juggling between its slick, contemporary image as a postmodern mecca and its ancient Eastern roots. This conflict is also evident in Tokyo’s constant reinvention of itself, forever destroying and rebuilding its spaces so that nothing ever remains permanent, even the author’s beloved coffee shop in the bowels of the enigmatic capital city.

Overall, The Bells of Old Tokyo is a fresh take on a much-admired and much-misunderstood city and highly recommended for anyone who wants to probe into what really makes the Japanese capital tick.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy (ARC) from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.