Category Archives: women’s literature

Women Marching For Justice

womenstxIt has been a week since women and men and children all over the world took to the street demanding justice and equity. Reportedly , On January 21, there were 673 Sister Marches all over cities in the USA, the largest in Washington, DC,  as well as the rest of the World, including Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

I participated in the Women March in St Croix, USVI, led by a group of women with about 4 thousand participants. In good St Croix fashion, the participants were multicultural, and the event include blowing the Tutu  –the conch shell horn, music, dancing, singers, speeches, recitation of poetry reflecting the diverse range of this community.

womenempoweredadisaWhy were women marching?  What did they hope to achieve?

It was a call to action, a call to unify against the current US President who appears to want to turn back the clock.  It signals the forging of  alliances across lines of race, gender and sexual identification, and was a demonstration of the willingness of those individuals who want to ensure justice for all.

Above all it was a hopeful and positive event that made it clear that many people understand their self-agency and will not sit back and allow their rights nor the rights of others that many died for, be overridden.

frontwmarchingadisa17 At the end of this positive and moving event, several women took the mic and said what they were marching for, and central of course was for their grandchildren and the future generations so that they will have a voice, but also for able-bodied and physically challenged people, for Muslins and religious freedom, for the right of gays to marry, for women’s right to own their bodies, for democracy, for freedom. I was marching to say thanks to my ancestors for taking us this for and to end child abuse and domestic violence.

Although we were each marching for different causes , the common denominator was our humanity and the continuation of all our basic rights as people to live as we choose as long as we do no harm to others.

I am positive and optimistic that this movement has just begun world wide, and women who have held up and continue to hold up much more than half the sky/world, will truly rise up and take our rightful place in a feminist/womanist manner that will heal the world and bring compassion and mindfulness to all we do, and how we nurture the world.

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Sisterhood and Letters: That’s What the Association of Caribbean Women Writers & Scholars (ACWWS) Represents.

ACWWSSuriname2 we are wrought from salty foam

rising from the surface of the ocean

we are rocks and limbs

meeting the swell

like mountains pushing

back the storm

I had the fortunate pleasure to be among the 50 invited writers at the first international gathering of Caribbean Women Writers conference, held at Wellesley University, April 8-10, 1988, organized by Selwyn Cudjoe. My short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories, had been published January 1986, and was praised in the New York Times. That initial gathering changed how I thought about myself as a writer, and introduced me to a supportive community of women who, like me, were seeking to tell their unique stories of the Caribbean and share them with the world.

As a result of the above gathering, The Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS) was born, spearheaded by the late Helen Pyne Timothy, founder and inaugural President. I invite us to stand in a moment of silence to honor the passing of this sweet spirit. Pyne Timothy was at various times Dean and University Dean for the Faculty of Arts and General Studies at the University of the West Indies St Augustine ,Trinidad; also, she had been the inaugural Chair of the Department of Language and Linguistics at that institution. Pyne Timothy saw the need for a women to come together to celebrate the works of Caribbean writers and scholars so founded ACWWS.

Throughout the years, I made sure to attend almost all of those bi-annual conferences in order to see and share with my sisters and learn what was trending, gain insight about new works and theories, but also to experience the warm, comforting feeling of being in a community of brilliant women, who were about supporting, but also interrogating each other, probing and pushing one another to go further, dig deeper, write more, network, create space for new voices and growth and come together to share and expand our insights. And it was with this keen realization of this important mission, why I agreed to be president of ACWWS.

ACWWS is still needed as an organization, and still provides a vital platform for Caribbean women writers and scholars. We need young scholars to step forward and grow this association so that we can continue to host bi-annual conferences that focuses on the work of Caribbean women writers at home and throughout the Diaspora.

  words fill our handbags

heavy as any fisherman’s net

each an endless puzzle

we shuffle to stitch meaning

ACWWSOpal2010 copy

we are women of the same

mother who jumped ship

but did not sink instead

held firmly to yemoja

 

scrap paper from magazines

wall paper our walls telling

a story not our own yet one

as familiar as our own life

 

no more will we be invisible

our voices roam freely and loudly

we are the architects of our future

moving beyond glass confinement

 

color us multi ethnic   name us

madonna and jezebel we are twins

who have run through fields and found

the other side  a place of our own making

 

If you are a Caribbean writer and/or scholar I urge you to become a member of ACWWS -http://www.acwws.org/

Tribute to Jamaican-American author, Michelle Cliff (11/2/1946-6/12/ 2016

mcliff copy 

Color ain’t no faucet

You can’t turn it off and on

I say, color ain’t no faucet

You can’t turn it off and on

Tell the world who you are

Or you might as well be gone

(Excerpt from Within the Veil) by Michelle Cliff 

Michelle Cliff’s Abeng came out in 1984. Browsing a book store in Berkeley, I saw the title and wanted to know who was this person writing about my Jamaican culture. The Abeng horn was connected to freedom and liberation in Jamaica, especially among the Maroons. It announced, called the people to action and was a signal to unite and fight the enemy. I bought and devoured Cliff’s first novel, in the bildungsroma genre, and could well empathize  with the young Clare Savage, the protagonist of that novel that is set in colonial Jamaica. I wanted to meet this Michelle Cliff.

When my short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories, was being published I asked my publisher to reach out to Cliff for a blurb, and she very generously wrote:

“I greet this collection of writing by Opal Palmer Adisa with enthusiam and joy, and a touch of awe…Adisa’s stories chart the experience of island-women with a deep understanding and compassion, and a true sense of their terror and pride, the ghosts that dog their tracks…Adisa makes Jamaica and her women live for us as few before her have done.” Michelle Cliff

I was blown away by this endorsement as we had not yet met or had contact, but I was determined that this would happen.

I sought out Cliff, and we became friends, especially after she moved to California in 1999, where I had been living. Cliff always encouraged and supported me and my work. When I was working on my doctorate on Caribbean Women Writers at UC Berkeley in 1987, Cliff was one of the first writers I interviewed, and after I completed my degree an excerpt of the interview was published

Journey into Speech-A Writer between Two Worlds: An Interview with …

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.2307/3041999.pdf Among the subjects Jamaican born writer Michelle Cliff ex- … The following text is based on two separate interviews: one … 01994 Opal Palmer Adisa .

The Michelle Cliff I knew was shy and soft spoken, a gentle soul, who wanted to lead a very private life, despite being the partner of the very famous and late poet, Adrienne Rich. Although she felt estranged from Jamaica, and refused to return because of Jamaica’s homophobia and violence, Cliff was nonetheless deeply in love with Jamaica and researched its culture which is the setting of both Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven, her first two novels.These works, like her other works explore the very thorny issue of race and class in identity formation, and the impacts and residual effects of post-colonialism.

I spoke with Michelle Cliff about a month ago. She said she was not feeling or doing well, but thanked me for the call, and like always asked about my children. I promised that I would visit with her in the fall when I will be in California, and perhaps do another interview, a continuation of the first. Michelle Cliff’s works are important contributions to the Caribbean canon, and her death will leave a void. Her poetry/prose collection, Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise, 1980 is an important work that I have taught, along with her other novels.

I hope you are rocking in the arms of peace and the cool breeze from the Blue Mountains, our island home, enfolds. Be well my sister in letters and friendship –Michelle Cliff, you will not be forgotten.

Michelle Cliff is the author of the following books:

  • 1998:The Store of a Million Items (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company). Short stories
  • 1993:Free Enterprise: A Novel of Mary Ellen Pleasant (New York: Dutton). Novel
  • 1990:Bodies of Water (New York: Dutton). Short stories
  • 1987:No Telephone to Heaven (New York: Dutton). Novel (sequel to Abeng)
  • 1985:Abeng (New York: Penguin). Novel

Prose poetrymcliff2 copy

  • 1985:The Land of Look Behind and Claiming (Firebrand Books).
  • 1980:Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise (Persephone Press).