Charlene Pemberton, is a retired teacher who taught for 30 years in St Croix, at the middle school and high school level. Although she hails from St Thomas, her place of birth, St Croix is now her home, where she has just launched, her first book, but most certainly not her last.
Teacher Pemberton worked for seven years researching and editing this ABC text that is not a primer. “After writing it, I left it on my desk for years until my daughter pushed and propelled me to publish it, October, 2015.” Similar to many established and emerging writer, Pemberton’s process begins with brainstorming. She adds, “Then I write continuously without correcting errors. Usually, I put my writing away for a day or two and begin with a fresh eye. Here is when I complete my revising and editing. Also, writing and reading groups offered ideas and encouragement throughout the process.”
The kernel for this book began many years ago as Charlene narrates its impetus. “One day I brought benye treats for my high school English classes. To my surprise, this local name was unfamiliar to them. However, after tasting the treats, the class responded saying, “We’ve had this before. But we just didn’t know the name.” Pemberton asserts that it was this event that “planted the seed for my cultural book that informs, and at the same time it highlights culture. I dedicated my book to my grandson because I want him to know about his culture and to pass it on to future generations.”
Donning the roles of teacher, mother and grandmother contributed enormously to the writing of the book, Charlene Pemberton notes. Even though her targeted audiences are middle school students and their parents and teachers, the book is also for visitors to the US Virgin Islands. “These groups, I believe, would appreciate the essence of our culture and history.” Reflecting more, Charlene adds, “I would like my book to reach different cultures. Virgin Islanders have a unique heritage and through my books I hope to share my culture with the world.”
Inspired by her community, Pemberton pays homage to the late Crucian poet, Marvin Williams, whom she knew. “One of his [Williams] first published poems is my favorite. I believe it was about Milo and the Kings, a musical icon on the island of St Thomas. I loved this particular poem because it depicted Virgin Islands musical pride.”
Be is for Benye is the first of many to come. Charlene Pemberton is currently researching Virgin Islanders “who were members of the Tuskegee Airmen. This type of information is usually not found in history books.” Like so much of the Virgin Islands rich history that has been omitted, Charlene Pemberton believes firmly that the history and culture “must be written about and celebrated by its own so our children and future generation will know the foundation of their culture.
Support local writers such as Charlene Pemberton by buying her book, and insist that local schools purchase copies. In additiona, by purchasing and sending copies for family and friends who live abroad, as well as the children who are here, you help to support the continuity of the culture.
Happy that her book is finally out, Charlene Pemberton says, “I would like to give a warm Virgin Islands shout out to all my former students!”
Below is an excerpt from B is for Benye.
B is for Benye: A Virgin Islands Historical and Cultural A-Z Book begins with a Virgin Islands family, the Penns, living In Orlando Florida. The grandparents, Clarice and Vincent, who live on the island of St. Croix, want to pass down and share their Virgin Islands heritage with their grandchildren, Madelyn and Joah who have visited St. Croix only one time. So, both grandparents decided to send the children a very special present.
Can you guess what present the Penns sent their grandchildren?
Well, come along and find out.
Available at stores in St Croix and St Thomas