Category Archives: Books for Youth

Uncovering Haiti: A Photo Exploration

When I first visited Ayiti/Haiti,  exactly a year after  the 2010 devastating earthquake I did not know what to expect, but I was deeply moved by the indomitable spirit of the people, by the immense artistry and beauty that they created everywhere and by the care and loving attention they obviously invested in their children.orangegirlAdisa2015

But we never see or hear this portrayal of Ayiti in the media, and even less about the historical wanton exploitation of the land and resources and the people’s labor by Europeans, Americans and even neighboring Caribbean islands.  All our hands are a little dirty.

However, what we are most guilty of is our negligence of thought that continue to speak of Ayiti as the “poorest” country in the western hemispher, and negates its foundational wealth, its unstoppable creativity and its undaunting determination to continue and thrive. This collective spirit is evident in the children I saw everywhere — their clean, clear eyes, their open curiosity, their keen sense of responsibility for themselves and their siblings and their innate, open beauty that was as welcoming and heart-stirring as the most beautiful flower, which of course they are, and to my delight, I felt many of them knew this, was shown and taught this, despite their immediate circumstances.

As I was driving by, I photographed this little girl squatting by the road, in charge of the two bags to her right and left.  goldenshowergirlAdisa2015There was something golden about her manner, some assurance of belonging, some assurance that life was not going to simply use her up then sit her out. She was already installed on her throne, hence the color and texture that I employed in amending the photo.

At a vodun ceremony, I was arrested by this other girl, who was probably no more than six years old. blueyellowgirlAdis2015It was her gesture, finger to mouth, angle of her upright arm, bold intensity of her eyes that I wanted to share. I am here and must be counted, her presence spoke to me.  I am here and have something to share.  I am here and will not be forgotten.  I am here…See me!

See these children, really see them and see their island, and help them and their island to live the freedom they so daringly seized that others have been trying to pull from their hands. They are truly methaphysicians.  They see beyond the immediate into a future where real freedom is a lived reality.

This is part of a larger photo/poetic project, in progress, entitled, Still: Ayiti’s Resoluteness

 

 

Jump and Make It Happen

You dream must be bigger than your fears.

Your reason must exceed your own limited world.

Do support: Ay-Ay: Junior Caribbean WriterPrint

My beloved California College of the Arts mentor, Opal Palmer Adisa, is creating a magazine for kids in her home of Jamaica. Even though she has made a full life as a writer and academic in the Bay Area and around the world, she constantly finds ways to give back to her home, her place of origin. She is a true inspiration! If you have any amount of money to donate, I assure you, it will be put to good use. Before I traveled anywhere beyond South East Texas or South West Louisiana, I traveled the world through books and stories. Putting a book in the hand of a kid gives them a key to the world. This is your chance to help make that happen.

Growing the Next Generation of Caribbean Writers and Improving Literacy | Crowdfunding is a democratic way to support the fundraising needs of your community. Make a contribution today!
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Force Ripe: A Painful Slice of Girlhood

Cindy McKenzie’s Force Ripe (2015) presents a poignant tale of parental neglect, community indifference, sexual abuse, isolation and ignorance of  Lee and her brother, Rally. Told through the eyes of Lee, who is not yet six years old when the books begins, and ends when she is in her teens, this story of Caribbean life in Grenada is not one you have likely read before. Honest and revealing, Force Ripe takes you on the journey with Lee, and you get to witness first hand, the uncertainty that is her life and world, replete with verbal and other abuses. It is sure to make you cry.  I recommend it to be included in Caribbean literature and sociology courses.

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OPA: This is your first book, what have you written before and where have you been published ?

CM:   Apart from a response to a letter published in Mslexia Women’s magazine and a star letter in Woman & Home Magazine- for which I won a hat box of lovely French Chocolates and allowed myself to bask (just a little bit) in the novelty of seeing my name in print – I had not been published before Force Ripe. Previous writings include bits of prose, some poetry and short stories prompted by various online Writing Courses.

OPA: Roughly speaking, how long did it take you to write?

CM:   It was a long process. I can’t remember how long, but I think I completed the first draft in a few months. I started writing – what I then titled “Celestial Shades,” back in 2001. I have a “registered to myself”, two hundred and ten pages, double-sided first draft, dated June 2005. So much has happened along this journey I have travelled with this book.  And what took me a few months to write, took me fourteen years to publication.

OPA: Can you share your process of writing this novel? What are some of the ranges of emotions you experienced?

CM: The process. Hm. Writers have so many theories and rules about what works, how it should be done, when it should be done. And I have tried some of them. For me, it was handwritten notes of memories, ideas and then I drafted the chapters. Next, I typed them onto the computer. I still do it this way.

I knew nothing about rules or the fundamentals of writing at the time [I began the novel.]. What I had was this story. And I was very determined to tell it my way. I learned along the way –from the first terribly written draft– which I sent to Ian Randle Publishers, to the creative writing classes taken after the first draft, to revising, dealing with critique etc. And the learning continues.

Writing Force Ripe was therapeutic for me. I had to make that journey, all the way back and step inside Lee’s head- see through her eyes, listen with her ears, feel what she felt, talk the way she talked, walk with her again, so readers could also make that journey with her. And this journey evoked every kind of emotion in me. These emotions changed with every corner I turned, and every chapter I wrote.

OPA: This is not an easy subject, what prompted you to write this novel?

CM: This story has lived in me for as long as I have lived with it. And for a long time it has been nagging me, begging to be voiced. So I listened.

OPA: Force ripe is a Caribbean term that I heard it growing up in Jamaica.  How would you describe that term for non-Caribbean people, in particular as it relates to Lee, the protagonist?

CM: To Force ripe something, for example a fruit, is to ripen it prematurely, before it is fully matured and ready. In the Caribbean, the term Force Ripe is used to refer to girls who try to be mature, who act like grown ups, too early. In many instances, as was the case with Lee, the child has been forced ripe, having to grow up too quickly, not by her own doing or choosing, but because of circumstances, choices made by the adults in her life and because of neglect. Perhaps unintended, but neglect all the same. Lee was forced to do adult things, have adult experiences, look after herself way before she was ready, before she was mature enough.

OPA: Who do you see as the audience?

CM: Because of the language, and topics presented, I see Force Ripe as suitable reading for a wide audience – from the young adult, to the very senior. I believe Force Ripe has a little bit for everyone, especially our Caribbean audience, who will be able resonate with the scenes, characters, the places, the culture and the language. I want readers to want to read this book and want to share it with others. Selective parts can even be read to the very young audience.

Cindy McKenzie reading from Force Ripe

OPA: Are you inspired by other writers from the Caribbean, especially Merle Collins, a fellow Grenadian?

CM :I am not as widely read as I would like, however, I am inspired by writers who are bold and brave enough to step outside of conformity and write the truth, write about the taboo stuff which are unspoken and frown upon. I admire those who are not afraid to use our “Nation language” and to quote you on that, “… there are just some things that don’t have the same sense of intimacy or color if not said in Nation language…. I use nation language… to say what I mean from the center of my navel… to jolt readers to listen and read more carefully, to glean from the language the Caribbean sensibilities that I am always pushing, sometimes subtly, other times more forcefully. Nation language allows me to infuse the poem with all of the smells and colors of home…” I too believe this to be true. I thoroughly enjoyed Bake Face & other Guava Stories and Merle Collins’ Callaloo poem. When I was writing this someone very close said to me, “enough bakes and cocoa tea stories.” Am glad I didn’t listen, because bakes and cocoa tea to me is like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to him! And I still Love my bakes and cocoa tea.

OPA: Are you currently writing or thinking about writing  another novel?

CM: I have to. I already have a few chapters, which I had cut from Force Ripe, so I have a start. I would like to get right to it now, but life happens in between.

OPA: What are you hopes for this novel — in other words who do you want it to reach, which in my mind is different from audience, what place do you hope it will have?

CM: I would like to see Force Ripe in the schools, especially the secondary schools. It would be great to have it on the school curriculum, and not just in our local Grenadian schools, but as far as it can reach, throughout the Caribbean. I really hope it will find a place on the shelf of book stores, in-spite of the self published taboo which hangs over it. And I would love to see Force Ripe as a movie.

OPA: Your children certainly were involved in the production of the book, how does being a mother inform the writing of this book?

CM: Being a mother has made me look at the characters with different eyes, especially the main character Lee. As I wrote about Lee’s experiences, I was able to compare her with my own daughter at different stages in her life, particularly at the age of 10. Being a mother has made me look at myself and where my children would have been had I make different choices, like my own parents did.

An excerpts from Force Ripe

“The convent girls gather up the front gate and line up the steps like a firing squad when they hear the Rastaman daughter coming. Me legs tremble. Me chest get heavy with fright. So I pull meself inside me like a soldier crab. I could do it real good now. And sometimes, I does even forget to come back out (p.272)”

Website:http://cindymac.info

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cindy-McKenzie-Author-295573863938027/timeline/

 

B is for Benye, a VI Book from New Writer

PembertonPhoto_72dpiCharlene 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.

Cover

Available at stores in St Croix and St Thomas