I have also received a few writers and theatre recommenders grants from the Ontario Arts Council. Collectively, these grants will help me to complete the research and writing of two book projects as well as a play adaptation. I will need all of the help I can get.
Each time I apply for an arts council grant, award, or contest, I am never sure which direction it will go. I have completed applications for several grants (specifically for my writing) since 2013 (and if you include my film festival days, since 2001). Sometimes getting them done means a sleepless night, burning the midnight oil after a long day of teaching... At other times, it means driving through rush hour traffic to make the cut off time or spending an exorbitant amount on postage at the post office. I have applied for several and often receive the "no"s and sometimes there are so many applications sent out that I lose track of them and then finally... tonight, my prayers have been answered. Thank you Canada Council for the Arts | Conseil des Arts du Canada for believing in my dreams. Happy tears.
I have also received a few writers and theatre recommenders grants from the Ontario Arts Council. Collectively, these grants will help me to complete the research and writing of two book projects as well as a play adaptation. I will need all of the help I can get.
I continue to apply for grants, residencies, awards, contests, and scholarships. It is something that I have been doing since I was a child and the results have paid off "big time".
Given that I read a lot of books, I will write this "What Am I Reading?" column as a monthly blog post of book reviews. Book reviews are an excellent way to support the work of authors. By posting a review and rating of books on Amazon and Expedia, you can help increase the visibility of an author's work and potential sales. I am paying it forward to all these authors and hope that you readers will do the same (for me as well). My goal this year is to read 50 books in 2018. Since January 1st, I have read 19 books. According to Goodreads, I have read 34% of my 2018 goal.
Since January 17 2018, I Have read the following books:
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Jaswal, Balli Kaur
American Street by Zoboi, Ibi
Known to Evil (Leonid McGill, #2) by Mosley, Walter
Home by Morrison, Toni
Piecing Me Together by Watson, Renée
The Golden Son by Gowda, Shilpi Somaya
The Jumbies (The Jumbies #1) by Baptiste, Tracey
Go Set a Watchman by Lee, Harper
A Brief History of Seven Killings by James, Marlon
Rise of the Jumbies (The Jumbies #2) by Baptiste, Tracey
Gone Crazy in Alabama (Gaither Sisters, #3) by Williams-Garcia, Rita
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Barnes, Derrick
Islandborn by Junot Diaz
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
These are the books I am currently reading 5 that I am actively reading at the moment:
- The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
- Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
- The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett
- The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake
I have found an efficient way to read more and in larger volumes. I am also hoping to participate in a reading circle/book club community in which I can discuss the books I read.
Reading books has added a lushness and vibrancy to my life and all the everyday things I do such as running on a treadmill or driving across town to errands and school visits. Reading certainly brings me a lot of joy and reminds me of one of the things that I loved to do as a child.
I hope you will check out some of these books I have reviewed below by many authors of colour. And please rate and write even a short review (e.g., a word, a phrase, a sentence, or more) about the book you have read. The authors will thank you.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Wow! This was a book that was begging to be read. Just look at the title. As a children's and young adult writer and a Christian, I couldn't help but think, what would my colleagues think if this pops up on my newsfeed? But in all truth, what a juicy story. It takes place mostly inside of a Gudhwara (a Sikh temple) in a corner of London inhabited by a predominantly Punjabi population. Nikki is a young protagonist, idealistic, reasonable, and bridging the gap between traditional Punjabi values and western expressions sensuality and romance. These Punjabi widows, her students in a literacy class, find voice in self-expression and weaving intimate tales of the erotic nature-- all tastefully done of course. The fundamentals are not liking it and neither are those who are trying to keep honour in the community by any means. I liked this story. It was very British. Perhaps, it was the accent of the narrator. However, it was a little predictable. I feel like this story could have been told in any immigrant community whether around the temple or the mosque or the church or the synagogue with a whole host of ethnicities trying to bridge the gaps between the first generation and the aging immigrant parents and grandparents, oscillating between the desire to please and the need to find one's voice. This story is fun and buoyant and although it has it's emotional tide, it does not leave you "cast at sea" for very long. I hope this will be a film directed by Gurinder Chadha and starring Parminder Nagra. Oh, please could one of her best friends be Jamaican. I do hope so.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Interesting and familiar... weaving of traditional Haitian spirituality with an American story of immigration. Tragic and whole and hopeful. This was a novel I had wanted to read since it's release. Fabiola is a young woman who has left Haiti with her mother to live with family in Detroit. Tragically along the way, her mother is detained for months. This is a rare tale of a teenage immigrant experience told through her eyes. This story is filled with many heartbreaking moments. First, Fabiola's very real loss of her mother is palpable. Secondly, the dream she had of an idealized America is extinguished with the reality of an economically-depressed and dangerous Detroit where one must fight (literally) to survive. Third, the losses Fabiola gave up especially in the wake of the Haitian earthquake to then experience it so many times in the new country. There are glimmers of hope as Fabiola navigates her own journey through this new land. I don't want to give anything more away so you're going to need to read it yourself.
Known to Evil by Walter Mosley
I did not particularly enjoy this book. I know that Walter Mosley wrote a novel which was turned into a Spike Lee-directed movie called "Devil in a Blue Dress." I never saw this movie although it was a big hit and my older brother had. So when I saw this audiobook, I said, I should definitely read it. If Spike Lee made a movie from a Walter Mosley book, then he should be great. I was wrong. Well, maybe it was THIS book or perhaps it was because of the arrogant cockiness of the lead character McGill or douchebaggery of it all. I did not have a liking for the lead character at all. I was bored. I wanted to hurry up and get through the story. I know it was a mystery and I usually don't read mystery but nothing interested in me and I did not care enough. I also don't know if it was the actor's voice I didn't like which sounded flat in some parts. I finished listening to the whole story though since I always like to give a story a chance. I did not feel any suspence in the story. The fight scenes were described with such arrogance it almost mocked the lead character. I didn't take any of the story seriously. And I wasn't sure if McGill had an open relationship with his wife or was everyone just straight up cheating on the others. The fact that McGill risked his life to save a girl and hence also the girlfriend of his son seemed a little cliche and a bit stereotypical when it comes to the roles of women. And speaking of cliches, this novel was full of them. Walter Mosley, I will give your books a second chance but not with this one.
Home by Toni Morrison
I listened to Home by Toni Morrison as an audiobook. One of the challenges I have with authors who read their own work is that they are not actors. Just as I found with Ray Bradbury the Fahrenheit 911 audiobook, I loved listening to Toni Morrison's voice. However, the tones and voice variations of the characters was limited and I had a difficult time following the story as well as who was talking. Something about a family with the last name Money and a Korean war vet haunted by trauma. There was a fight scene, some people killed, and a botched "gyneacologal" procedure. That is about all I gathered. Sorry.
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
This book is a masterpiece. It's treatment of class and the visibility of Black girls' bodies was one I have never seen before. In the wake of videos released showcasing brutality enacted on the bodies of young Black women, Piecing Me Together attempts to bring the pieces together-- literally. Jade is a young collage artist and this story is told through her eyes. As in This Side of Home, author Renee Watson has made Portland the main setting but also a character in this book of the changing demographics. This book is a great study of Black girl friendships within the community (Lee Lee and Jade's own neighbourhood), across communities (Sam is also poor and a white ally), and class (Maxine is a mentor). I love Renee's treatment of all of these issues in a gentle and moving way. Thumbs up.
The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
I think I am in love with books set in India or about India or the Indian diaspora. I found this book very romantic and dreamy, tragic and realistic. The Golden Son has been described as a coming of age book and I guess it technically is. Would it be qualified/classified as a new adult book? I found the tale and detail quite predictable as it is the "hero's journey" in every archetypal way in an Indian context but the details are so lush, rich,and full of angst. Set in a small village in Gujarat and at a Dallas hospital, this story incorporates a cast of varied characters and describes some difficult cultural issues including dowry crimes, domestic violence, hate crimes, and making your way as a young adult, sometimes against your parents' and communities wishes. Great book! It would make a lovely movie...
The Jumbies by Renee Watson
I realize now that I didn't write a review for this book. It was a great read and a nice introduction to Trinidad for children.
How many times could I tolerate narrator Reese Witherspoon saying the N-word? The word was quoted at least 4 dozen times. I understand it is set in the South (Macon, Alabama to be exact) and it takes place 20 years after the famous trial of Atticus Finch, described in To Kill A Mockingbird by his daughter, then 6-year old Scout. Now the narrator is an close omniscient one who knows all of the perspectives of a now 26-year old renamed heroine Jean Louise. This audiobook was far too much tell and less show. I really wanted to get more plot which was 70% of the book and the last 30% was dialogue. It is focused on the racial politics of the white working class and middle class souterners, descendants of the planting class/farmers of the enslavement period. Jean Louise has returned from years in New York City with "new fangled ideas" that collide with the racism and conservatism of her childhood community which has seemed to revert to the past. Words like mongrelize, NAACP, klansmen, and g*$#amn it are thrown around often to shape the audio landscape, preoccupations of this time period. Atticus, the town lawyer, his sister Alexandra, uncle Jim who is the retired town doctor, and the now retired housekeeper also make appearances in this version but everyone has aged and the thing seems outdated compared to the ideas of what Jean Louise feels she cannot live without. I felt this book was like an apologetic text to describe the psychology of the conservative white southern bigot in comparison to the liberal white southerner. Informative but I felt like the topic could have been adequately tackled in essay and in no way does this remind me of "To Kill A Mockingbird", the book upon which it was based. Harper Lee's second and final book "Go Set A Watchman", I felt, tried to answer the many questions the author accumulated over a lifetime. Lee died shortly after its publication.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Another name for this book might have been A Brief History of Jamaican Curse Words or A Brief History of the Multitude of Execution Styles. This book was difficult to read in the first 20 or so pages so I insisted on the audiobook. I loved the readings when a few of readers actually had authentic Jamaican accents. Unfortunately, some of the readers were either African-American or white-Americans obviously didn't get the Jamaican right. In fact, it was very laborious and painful to listen to at times. There were 2 other actors who had accents but they sounded like they were from another island. Anyway, jargon and language aside, this book had me but I began to feel quite lost. I originally thought it was about the Bob Marley assassination attempt and it was. Author Marlon James referred to him as "the singer" however these chapters were short in comparison with the devotion of this book to the crack/cocaine trade in the United States. It was an education of sorts and left the Kingston slums and jetsetted to Miami, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. There were even "name drops" of Mississauga, Toronto, and London. I was quite impressed. But, one of the things I felt challenged again is Jamaica being painted in a highly violent and scary light. I couldn't expect it to be any different. Come on! This book was about a drug war and described not just seven but MANY, MANY killings. Nevertheless, having finally had the chance to listen to this book by audio, meant I could put to rest my curiosity. I had seen Marlon James interviewed about this book, describe his process, purchased my own autographed copy, and cheered on his Booker Prize win, especially after he received almost 80 rejections of his manuscript. My complaints were really about the too harsh, realistic, vernacular used in the violent interactions between US (CIA agent and a New Yorker reporter), Jamaica (various gang members and an unsuspecting woman with changed identity), Cuba, and Colombia. This book was more about politics and the drug trade and how those worlds intertwined from the 1970s to early 1990s. How much is fictional or non-fictional, I am not too sure other than the references to "the Singer", the Jamaican politicians of the 1970s, Colombian drug trader Griselda Blanco, and a number of name droppings in between. Very good book if you like crime novels, music history, and mysteries. A challenge if you write for younger audiences like I do.
Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
This book was a nice compliment and continuation of the first. I like how it took a turn to integrated West African water goddess stories with the Jumbies plot. It took my mind out and gave me some closure about certain characters like Malik, Bouki, and Dru. The children are in danger and I admit through each suspenseful twist of the plot, I couldn't wait for resolution... for now. I also appreciate how author Tracey Baptiste introduces the African diaspora, transatlantic slave trade, and returnees/Ababyo to young readers. A great read!
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
Oh my gosh, Rita Wiliams-Garcia. Is there really any serious, heavy topic you can't write about for young audiences with levity and hope? Gone Crazy in Alabama felt like how I imagine life in the south might be... slower pace of life, familial, old-fashioned methods still maintained like homemade starched sheets and preferring homemade over store-bought items, families that stick together no matter what, and relations and "next of kin" in close proximity. Rita captured all of these and more. I felt it and then her plot took turns that I did not foresee. Since I do not want to give it away, I will say she explained mixed-race Black ancestry very well in a way that I had not seen in other books. (It's also a topic I am exploring in a manuscript.) Such a masterpiece Rita. I hope this will not be the last of the Gaither sister series.
Crown by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Great book! Really beautifully told and such an honour of Black manhood, humanity, and hairstyles. It was so lovely and touching. A perfect book to lift any boy's self-esteem. I took this as a library book but I am considering purchases for a couple young men that I know. Stunning illustrations. Natural.
Islandborn by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinoza
I enjoyed reading this picture book but it was very wordy. I know that editors and the publishing industry disagrees about the maximum number of words in a picture book. My own picture books hover around 1, 000 words. Word count aside, I loved Junot's reading of this story. It's quirky and has his humor woven through it's pages and hidden jokes that I know adults will understand but kids will get the innocence and insistence of its character Lola. The illustrations are dreamy and gorgeous. The metaphor of the giant bat/dictator was very clever and effective. Good work.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help is a novel set in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. After graduation from college, Eugenia aka Skeeter is a budding young writer who decides to write a book about "colored" domestics and their employers told in a series of interviews. Due to the controversial nature of this book, the author's name was anonymous and the interviewee's identifiers were also changed. The Help was amazing and compelling. I honestly did not want to like this book for two reasons. First, The Help was adapted to screen, in yet another movie in which Black women were/are portrayed as housekeepers and servants and often treated badly by their white employers. Secondly, I did not want to like it especially after learning that author Kathryn Stockett was being taken to court by the maid of her brother with allegations that the story was written about her. However this story was compelling and so interesting that it had me sitting in my car, parked, while the audiobook played for fifteen minutes at a time. The characters were so real and the plot so compelling. The actors in the audiobook were excellent including Octavia Spencer, the Oscar-winner who also starred in the film. I connected to this story in a few ways especially given my Jamaican background. So many women in my family and in the Caribbean migrated to North America to work as domestics in white homes. I once recalled seeing a photo of my grandmother with a smiling white child. I asked who that child was and she was one of her charges. I instantly felt envious of this child. There are so many touching and intense moments in this book and it makes me want to watch this movie a second time (the first time I did not quite finish). I really wish I knew what happened to these women who were interviewed as part of this book, as I already did for Skeeter, Minnie, and Aibileen.
Yesterday, I attended Pullitzer prize-winning author Junot Díaz's event in Toronto. In the past, I have read Junot's essays and listened to his talks online. Yesterday's talk and signing were in celebration of his first and new picture book called "Islandborn." I appreciate the media attention that this book received and hope it will bring more attention to the impact of immigration on children and the need for more #ownvoices #diversekidslit picture books. Junot is a gifted storyteller and actively engaged the children that were present. As a #diverse children's book author also of Caribbean descent, I had so many questions to ask him. The well-attended talk was hosted by Denise Balkisoon of the Globe and Mail newspaper. It was too bad that there was no time left for the audience to ask questions but, thankfully, Junot said to allow at least two questions by people of colour. I went to the front quickly and asked two of my questions but I didn't get to ask him the question about the illustration of the "big black bat" that caused the #kidlit contoversy weeks ago (it got changed to a more greenish bat in the final printed version, read more about it here https://socialjusticebooks.org/diaz-islandborn-before-and-after/) and wished the host did.
Nevertheless, I appreciated Junot's mix of activism, politics, storytelling, and children's books. Overall, the event was well done however I do have some challenges with "the talk" portion which I hope to share with the respective parties. I hope that this will not be the last time a bestselling award-winning children's book author includes Toronto on their book tour. We also need more immigration stories for kids.
In my imagination, Lola and Malaika are friends and they meet at a summer camp for Caribbean immigrant kids. Hey, I think this might make an amazing picture book. What do you say Junot Diaz, Namrata Tripathi, and Summer Edward?
At this point in my writing career, I feel that I am ready to venture into the unknown... to go where few Canadian children's literature writers have gone before... to embark on the final frontier. Ladies and gentlemen: It is time for me to find an agent. My American colleagues are probably thinking, "What? You don't have an agent?" And Canadian heavyweights like Tim Wynne-Jones and Teresa Toten are thinking, "What's the big deal?" While my Canadian colleagues are thinking, "$$$$$$$" because although in Canada, an agent is unnecessary for publication, an agent can demand higher advances for clients and negotiate better contract conditions for the author. Agents also help to retain and sell the rights for translations, theatrical adaptations, and film options. For a Canadian writer like me, an agent can mean the difference between writing as a side hustle to full-time writer income status (the ultimate goal here). This is because US publishers pay higher advances than Canadian publishers. Most US publishers do not accept "unagented" manuscripts, that is, those which are not represented by a literary agent. Since this is the case, it makes sense to find an agent.
It has been a long and difficult decision for me to find an agent. First, it required me to get over the fact, accept, and declare that I am a Writer. (Yes with a capital letter.) It also required me to quickly abandon all of my insecurities and "imposter syndrome" complexes and recognize that yes, I am an excellent writer and that yes, I can be successful at my craft. I had to learn to not fear future successes. I essentially needed to take my writing career very seriously.
Secondly, I realized that having an agent would help me to delegate and share the tasks of being an author/presenter... these include the roles that I have been taking on as I plan out my writing career, find publishers to submit manuscripts to, and negote contracts. An agent would do all of these as well as help me to decide which of my stories to prioritize, prepare a manuscript for submission, and negotiate the terms of a contract. Although, I have employed a literary lawyer and consultant for the latter, an agent does this job as well which would free up my time more so I can focus on promoting myself, youtube videos, social media, appearances, and most importantly, writing.
Thirdly, I have been a full-time teacher since I begun this writing journey (and since 2003). My schedule is increasingly busy-- between my work responsibilities, presentation and promotional schedule, grant applications, manuscript submissions, writing, and life. It is a gruelling schedule that I have been able to maintain but in the long run, I will need to think about sustainability. I realize now that delegation and changes need to be made to achieve more balance in my life and longevity.
Also, my stories celebrate diversity. I know that the United States has a larger market for diverse stories and books. I know both Canada and the United States have a need for these stories. I hope to continue to publish stories in Canada but also the United States and the world. My first American published book will be "Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter" by Harper Collins Children's Books.
Lastly, I had an "aha moment" that when I think of all of my favourite authors, such as this group of my 15 favourite women's authors, they all have agents. I aspire to be like them and get my many stories out in the world. Hence, an agent will be indispensable.
In conclusion, I realize that things in Canada are very different than in the United States when it comes to the publishing industry. I believe that I am blessed. My hard work has resulted in my ability to write and attain four books published and 2 new ones under contract (2019) and 2 more close to signing (2020). (And still there are others I am working on.) As I see the wonderful Black films such as Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, my colleagues to the south releasing bestselling and award-winning novels such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, and The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, it makes me realize that the TIME IS RIPE for Black stories and the TIME IS NOW for telling my own. And for this, I will need help to do so. So, I have taken my goal from vision board 2017 and my action word for 2018 to reACTIVATEthis my goal of finding an agent. I am so excited, nervous, and ready. I thank everyone who has given me ideas, shared, and taken an interest so far. I will keep you updated!!!
From January 25 to February 23, I delivered 24 events ranging from "Snuggle Up and Read" to "Literacy Week" events to "Black History Month" presentations to storytimes to book signings in Montreal, New York City, Toronto, Kingston, Richmond Hill, Markham, Vaughan, Brampton, and Mississauga.
Carnival/Black History/African Liberation Month 2018 events
Friday, February 2 10:30-11:30am Malton Library, Mississauga, ON, Canada
Saturday, February 3 11am-12pm Richmond Hill Library, Richmond Hill, ON, Canada
Saturday, February 3 2-4pm Totsapalooza in Toronto, ON, Canada
Sunday, February 4 2-4pm Chapters Brampton in Brampton, ON, Canada
Friday, February 9 10:30am Storytime Bank Street Book Store in New York, NY, USA
Saturday, February 10 11am Featured Story Time Author Books of Wonder (18th street location) in New York, NY, USA
Saturday, February 11 1:30pm Storytime Greenlight Bookstore (Prospect Gardens location) in Brooklyn, NY, USA
Sunday, February 11 11:30am Featured Story Time Author Books of Wonder (84th street location) in New York, NY, USA
Friday, February 16 Black History School presentation, Markham, ON, Canada
Saturday, February 17 2-5pm Booksigning at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo bookstore, Toronto, ON, Canada
Tuesday, February 20 1-2pm Malaika's Winter Carnival Storytime at Parkdale Public Library in Toronto, ON, Canada
Wednesday, February 21 1-2pm Malaika's Winter Carnival Storytime at Barbara Frum Public Library in Toronto, ON, Canada
Thursday, February 22 and Friday, February 23 Malaika's Winter Carnival at School Presentation, Mississauga, ON, Canada (four presentations each day)
Saturday, February 24 CANCELLED 11:15am Malaika's Winter Carnival Storytime at High Park Public Library in Toronto, ON, Canada
Malaika's Carnival Story Time Quebec
Montreal, QC, Canada
January 27, 2018
La Petite Librairie Drawn & Quarterly
176 Rue Bernard Ouest
Montreal, QC, Canada
January 28, 2018
Babar Books bookstore
Pointe-Claire (Montreal west island), QC, Canada
January 2018 Literacy Week
Thursday, January 25 School presentation, Thornhill, ON
Friday, January 26 School presentation, Kingston, ON
I worked through many challenges in this period. I was (and still am) teaching full-time Core French to Grade 6-8 and Grade 8 Language. I have a very accommodating principal at my school this year. On the half days I presented, I realized that I needed the other half of these days to do the other sides of my writing career-- the administrative stuff, respond to e-mails, the meetings, the deadlines, follow-up, confirm bookings... that was during the week that I did not teach at the school I worked at. In addition to teaching and presenting and travelling, I also marked assignments, completed report cards, and parent-teacher interviews. It was quite a juggling act and it wasn't perfect. I didn't get my hair professionally done into a "trademark style" as I had done for my past book events nor did I get the time to do my beauty maintenance. There was the weekend in New York City when all of the public transit was wonky and routes changed and travel times increased... There were days where I had two presentations in two different locations. Or the time in Montreal when the bus driver told me to get off her bus and go on to the wrong bus. And, I haven't posted monthly youtube videos in 2018 as I had hoped. Nor, the one presentation that I showed up for that didn't happen because in the end the library changed its mind but I didn't change my calendar.
But there have been successes... many. One of these successes was maintaining my workout schedule through it all. I promised myself in 2018 that I would be consistent with my physical health and I am nearing the end of my 13-week training for a 10 kilometre run. I received a lot of positive feedback about my presentation and made changes along the way. I feel my presentations are now more informative, entertaining, and high-energy. I continue to receive more invitations to present and have engaged more people in conversations around my books and the issues discussed. I travelled a lot and connected with family and friends I have not seen in a long time. I have also received the notification of receiving a few Writer's Reserve and a Theatre Creator's Reserve grants through the Ontario Arts Council. Thank you very much Young People's Theatre, Groundwood Books, Lorimer, and Wolsak & Wynn for believing in my projects.
What's next? March Break is around the corner. I am looking forward to more self-care and reconnecting with my family and friends. I am also doing the final edits for a picture book manuscript that I had been working on for six years. (My announcement shall go out soon.) I am seeking an agent and putting more time and energy into the process. I am also making some adjustments on my teaching career. In addition, I continue to work toward making my research trips in Brazil and Jamaica a reality. I also look forward to more book signings, appearances, presentations, and school visits over the next several months. And of course, I will keep you posted through this blog, my newsletters, and social media.
This morning, I watched the Black Panther movie. I am inspired, motivated, and simply in awe. Something about seeing the richness of Africa on-screen... not to mention the dark-skinned melinated ensemble, the special effects, fight scenes, and the futuristic revisioning of an uncolonized African nation and I practically floated home. I got re-inspired and a renewed fire to write and tell Black stories unapologetically.
The film takes place in Wakanda, a fictional technologically-advanced nation in east Africa. Wakanda was named in the Marvel comics when the superhero Black Panther was first introduced in the mid-1960s. The Blak Panther comic book emerged amidst the Civil Rights movement and its leaders, Black Panther Party, and independence of several African and Caribbean nations. So much has changed since then. In 2018, we have the technology to create a pretty believable landscape and there is sufficient researchers, linguists, costume designers, and cultural experts who pooled their expertise to create a believable population and Afrofuturistic nation. Like the comic book, the Black Panther film has emerged in a climate of more openly statements of racism, police brutality, school to prison pipeline, and injustice. It's the film we need right now.
I love that everything that made Wakanda an authentic African country was real, coming from real tribes and ethnic groups on the continent. Tweets from Waris @diasporicblues show numerous links between the Black Panther film and African continental cultures. For example,, the languages are connected For example, the language spoken in Wakanda is Xhosa from South Africa which was Nelson Mandela's mother tongue. Another example is when Lupita Nyongo's character goes on a mission to free Hausa-speaking girls in Nigeria. The clothing had many links with the continent. Queen Ramonda played by Angela Bassett's character wears flared hats reminiscent of the Zulu "isicholos". Killmonger's raised chest tattoo scars resemble those of tribes in Ethiopia. There are so many more examples that you can check on Twitter.
The casting of this film was epic, truly a pan-African cast. Each actor represented their communities of the United States, Guyana, United Kingdom, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Canada, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, Ghana, and more. No wonder, people across the African diaspora were and are so excited. The film revives the notion that Marcus Garvey first proposed that Black people all over the world can be united.
Black people have been going to see this movie all over the world, slaying with their outfits, and performing dance routines. This morning, I went to Wakanda...
And now, I have a celebrity crush on Chadwick Boseman.
As I reflected on the setting of Wakanda, an idealistic pan-African afrofuturistic land, I thought about my decision to not name the country from which Malaika's Costume and Malaika's Winter Carnival is set.
One of the most common question that I get about my picture books is: "[On] which island does this story take place?" My common answer is: "A non-descript anglophone Caribbean island halfway between Jamaica and Trinidad". When I first wrote Malaika's Costume in 2010, I purposefully decided not to name the island in an attempt to create a pan-Caribbean setting. There were a few reasons behind that decision.
First, I felt that Caribbean-descended readers would be less receptive to the storyline if it was not taking place on their island. I thought the reader might be choosy and discriminating. As a Canadian born of Jamaican parents, I have been a witness to the fierce patriotism displayed by anyone [myself included] who came from the land of my ancestors. I thought readers might not like my book if their island was not represented. In retrospect, I realize now that I was probably wrong about that one and it underestimates my audience to a degree.
Write What You Know
Secondly, I knew that Trinidad Carnival was a huge influence behind Caribana however I had never been there up to 2010 and I felt odd about writing about a country that I had never visited (until then, it was Cuba and Jamaica having visited). Yet, I grew up with a love of Carnival. While growing up, my father took my sister and I to the annual Caribana, Toronto Caribbean Carnival, parade each year. Although Carnival tradition is not native to Jamaica and relatively new there, this Jamaican-Canadian I loved the festive atmosphere, the anticipation, dancing to the music, and the beloved Black community of my city coming together at Caribana.
Halfway between Jamaica and Trinidad
When I wrote Malaika's Costume, I envisioned the small communities in the rural, lush Harbour Mountains in St. Ann parish from where my parents hail. (Of course, the illustrator has a different perspective.) Yet in Malaika's Costume, I refer to such Carnival staples as Moko Jumbies, Pierrot, Jab Molassie, and saris which are all commonplace there in Trinidad. After Trinidadians read my book, they say it is Trinidad. Between Jamaica and Trinidad, there are several island countries. How difficult to choose just one.
Geography of the Caribbean
There are several islands in the Caribbean that are part of a country. For example, the Bahamas is a country which is composed of over 700 islands. Monsterrat is an island country which is about 11 x 16 kilometres in dimensions with a population of 5, 000. At the same time, it is an absolute necessity that the residents of these island countries travel between for resources such as schools and jobs, just to survive. Hence, many islands in the Caribbean have a local culture, a lot is shared.
Lastly, I have long since known about the late United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) St. Ann, Jamaica-born leader Marcus Garvey and late first president of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah as well as the concept of pan-Africanism. Pan-Caribbean is a rarer topic of discussion. Not naming the country in my Malaika books allowed me to pick and draw from island cultures which would be the very best that the Caribbean has to offer. I wanted Malaika's world to possiblly be any Caribbean island that the story could be moulded. I wanted my reader to see a bit of themselves and their culture in reading the story. Ironically when it came to time to print the French version, I deliberately wanted the Malaika books to have a Haitian flavour. Any time it could be used, I would make the request to include Creole words in the French-language version of the books. (Ultimately, Scholastic would decide to make small changes in the French translation.)
Since the signing and publication of Malaika's Costume, my first picture book, I have visited 5 more Caribbean nations in addition to the original 2-- Bahamas, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Barbados, and Trinidad. So my knowledge of Caribbeanness has evolved too. Today, I am okay that there is no island country mentioned. I continue to be intrigued by the beauty and warmth that is the Caribbean. However, seeing Black Panther also reminds me of the simplicity and inspiration which could be found in having a place name, even if it is a fictional name. A name like Wakanda inspires imagination and has millions pledging to want to live there, a city that features "the best" of what Africa offiers, one to make all Africans proud. Would a Caribbean island name, even ficitionalized, do the same for Malaika readers?
Now, as I type this out and ask myself this question. Would naming a place for Malaika, even a fictional one, enhance the telling of my story? Legitimize or authenticate my story? I have only considered this after thinking about Wakanda. Ironically, in Malaika's Winter Carnival, I also indicate that Malaika is going specifically to Quebec City but still her island is unnamed. Or perhaps, I enjoy the mystery of having my readers trying to guess from where Malaika hails. I realize that the existence of pan-African or pan-Caribbean entity has been essential to bring together countries facing several social and economic challenges. As I work on a third Malaika book and now a play, perhaps the answers really do not matter for what the story offers readers-- an opportunity to see more similarities between nations than differences. Perhaps there will be a nation named in the future.
2017, you were filled with some great moments but also deep losses and challenges. If this list is any foreshadowing of 2018, then this year to come is #blessed and #affirming.
I feel so truly humbled and honoured to be placed on this list and the only children's literature author at that. Often, I don't feel like literature for young people gets its due credit so I am glad that CBC Books made the effort.
I am also proud of the work that I have done to become a published author in Canada and since moving back to this country in July 2017 and I will continue to write, work, and promote diverse children's literature as much as I am able. I also wish to give credit to all of the Black Canadian writers for young people upon whose shoulders I stand-- Adwoa Badoe, Itah Sadu, Dirk McLean, Rosemary Sadlier, Shauntay Grant, Tololwa Mollel, Pamela Mordecai, Jodi Nyasha-Warner, Adrienne Shadd, Bonnie Farmer, my fellow diverse children's author artivists (arts activist) colleagues Natasha Henry, Jael Richardson, and Zetta Elliott who fight to ensure that our histories and words are represented in publishing for young people, and the many, many self-published African-Canadian children's book authors who do it all for themselves. This is for us. I hope that I can continue to further the much-needed work that we do for young people.
Does my name being on this list mean pressure? Yes. And, also motivation to finish and "activate" (my 2018 word) the stories that I started years ago. I would also love to meet the other names that appear on this list. Although we are all writers, our paths have not crossed as children's literature is "its own world" but I may have met Canisia Lubrin at some point.
Nevertheless, I am truly thrilled to be on this list. Did I tell you how pleased I am to be on this list?
For the complete article, visit http://www.cbc.ca/…/6-black-canadian-writers-to-watch-in-20…
Yesterday was Bob Marley's birthday. He was born on February 6, 1945 in Nine Mile, St. Ann parish, Jamaica. If he were alive today, he would be 73 years old. I am particularly partial to Bob Marley and his birthplace. Not only because I used to wear my hair in dreadlocks, played keyboards and sang back up in a reggae band having performed some of Bob Marley's songs. Or the fact that I was married to a musician and we have performed reggae songs together or that Bob Marley's birthday was declared a Toronto holiday by former mayor David Miller (see here), or that Redemption song is the only song I can play on the guitar or that it was inspired by a St. Ann's-native the late Honourable Marcus Garvey and a famous speech he made in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Or the fact that my father went to one of Bob Marley's final concerts at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1979 which you can listen to here. These are plenty reasons to be partial but first and foremost my parents and family are from St. Ann parish, not far from Bob Marley was born. In fact several years ago, I visited the Bob Marley Museum in Nine Mile, set in the Harbour Mountains. There, I was asked if I was a cousin to the family. I graciously said "no" but you never know.
Happy birthday, "Uncle" Bob Marley! Here are some picture books that celebrate Bob Marley's birthday.
1. One Love
Written by Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (2011, Chronicle Books)
I love a book like this, one that is based on a well-loved song. This book is a favourite in the kindergarten and primary classrooms. The language is playful and the pictures are by one of my favourite illustrators and colleagues, Vanessa Brantley-Newton. This book is pure joy and love, diverse and lovely. Written by Bob Marley's daughter, you can find the book trailer
2. Every Little Thing
Written by Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (2012, Chronicle Books)
This is a lovely book that speaks to children. Created by the same team as One Love, it shows how the fears that a child may have can be overcome by many reminders. Very comforting and vibrant and joyfully "boyful". Here is a link to a book traler.
3. I and I
Written by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (2009, Lee & Low Books)
This book is a personal favourite. It is full of luscious, scrumptious, gorgeous poetry and the illustrations are lifelike, rich, and "give life" . I have had copies of this book in my classroom and they are so popular that I take them out for special displays so they don't end up in tatters. The children love this book too.
4. Greetings, Leroy
Written by Itah Sadu, illustrated by Alix Delinois (2016, Groundwood Books)
This is an immigration story which chronicles the experience of a young Jamaican boy coming to Canada. Through letters, Leroy shares his very earliest experiences and attachment to things from home like his love of Bob Marley's music.
Nadia’s Notables Newsletter (abridged)
In this issue…
Happy New Year! 2017 was an eventful year full of challenges and triumphs. I now enter a new year with the anticipation of wonderful things to come. I have chosen ACTIVATION as my word for this year but I also wish to add FINISH, LOVE, and REPAY as well. I am in the midst of FINISHing projects that I have begun in the last two years. What are you planning to do this year? I also wish to include balance. I look forward to sharing some exciting developments with you my readers as well. Hopefully the winter will not freeze out motivation and initiative.
1. Book Tour
I am currently in the process of gearing up for a very busy next few months. I will be doing author visits, book signings, and story times in the following cities this January and February: Brampton, Kingston, Montreal, Mississauga (Malton), Toronto, Manhattan, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, and Brooklyn. Plans are also in the works to visit Bolton. Please stay tuned for details. You can find tour dates here or listed below.
2. Malaika #3 in the works
I am excited to share that I am working on a Malaika… sequel. I first began writing Malaika’s Costume first as a course project and than as a stand alone book that was published in 2016. However, the story of this Caribbean little girl developed into what would become Malaika’s Winter Carnival and eventually there will be a third. Please stay tuned for details.
3. Malaika… the Play and OAC Recommenders Theatre Creators from YPT
My goal for 2017 and 2018 was and is to finish a full draft of Malaika: A Carnival Play. I began it in 2015. Although I haven't finished my complete first draft yet, I'm almost there. This week, I reached two milestones. 1) I received a letter from Young People's Theatre (YPT) announcing that I'll be a recipient of a Recommender Grant for Theatre Creators. This will help me with my goals with the manuscript. My second time receiving this grant from YPT (2016). Thank you. 2) Yesterday, I had my first workshopping of this almost completed full first draft of this manuscript on the last day of my Playwriting class at the Tarragon Theatre. It's my second time taking this class with Paula Wing. I laughed, trembled, and even shed a few tears. My very talented classmates, most of whom are actors or theatre professionals, did an amazing read and I received wonderful and helpful feedback. Thank you. Thank you. Dreams do come true. Stay tuned!
4. Words of Advice
Take care of your health. To be a successful writer, I feel that this is your number one priority. When you are healthy, you have more energy to do things like writing. Get health insurance. If you are fully self-employed, find a cost effective plan. If you are a member of the Writers Union of Canada or CANSCAIP, you can access a health plan for writers. You want to be writing for a long time and many books at that so take care.
5. Presentation dates in January to May 2018 (Book me! email@example.com)
See event link here for details, times, and addresses
Thursday, January 25, 2018 Literacy Week school presentation, Thornhill, ON
Friday, January 26, 2018 Literacy Week school presentation, Kingston, ON
Saturday, January 27, 2018 Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal, QU
Sunday, January 28, 2018 Babar Books, Montreal, QU
Friday, February 2, 2018 Malton Library, Mississauga, ON
Saturday, February 3, 2018 11am-12pm Richmond Hill Library, Richmond Hill, ON
Saturday, February 3, 2018 Totsapalooza in Toronto, ON
Sunday, February 4, 2018 Chapters Brampton in Brampton, ON
Friday, February 9 Bank Street Book Store, New York, NY
Saturday, February 10 Books of Wonder (location, time TBA)
Saturday, Febraury 10 Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY
Sunday, February 11, 2018 Books of Wonder (location, time TBA)
Friday, February 16 School presentation, Markham, ON
Saturday, February 17 2-5pm Yonge & Eglinton Indigo bookstore
Tuesday, Febraury 20, 2018 1-2pm Parkdale Public Library in Toronto, ON
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 1-2pm Barbara Frum Public Library in Toronto, ON
Thursday, February 22 and Friday, February 23 School Presentation, Brampton, ON
Saturday, February 24 High Park Public Library in Toronto, ON
Sunday, March 18 Vaughan Chapter’s Bookstore in Vaughan, ON
May (date, time TBA) Eric Carle Museum, Amherst, MA
I tend to read a lot even though I am very busy. Between being a full-time teacher, published-author, writer, and part-time student, I find creative ways to get books into my literary diet. Mostly, I get my "books on" through audiobooks and Kindle-on-a-treadmill.
I listen to audiobooks in my car. Audiobooks are books narrated onto compact discs (CDs). I read during my drives to work, class, and everywhere I go. I live in Toronto which has an amazing public library system with over 100 branches. Wherever I find myself in the city, I visit the local library. (I love visiting my local branch too.) There, I borrow several audiobooks. Of course this means my selection is restricted to what is available at the branch. Also, not every novel becomes an audio book but that is part of the fun. I get to read things that I normally do not read like The Grapes of Wrath (I rated 5 stars on Goodreads) and Pride and Prejudice (2 stars).
Another way I get books into my busy schedule is my Kindle. The Kindle is a brand of e-reader which one can read electronic books. I find it useful for reading novels due to its portability and its size. I purchased my Kindle before taking my first international trip to Europe in December 2016. Since then, I use my Kindle when I go to the gym. I put it on the treadmill, increase the font size to one that is large enough to see, and then start running (I am currently training for a 10km). I love doing this because it actually makes running fun for me. Instead of staring out the window, the minutes I have left, or some dessert-making reality show on the Food network (yes, the Food network at a gym), I get to inhabit the world of my characters, read work by my favourite writers, and get more inspiration for my own books.
All that said, I do read regular books. I have quite the collection and it always seems to keep growing. However, I read real books much more slowly (much, much more slowly).
I love to write reviews of what I read on Goodreads and I have written several and share them on my Facebook page. (Check out my Goodreads page.) I am a little slow with technology, it dawned on me that I could put these reviews on my Goodreads blog. So I started doing that. And then, this morning, it dawned on me, I can write reviews of What I am Reading? on my blog. So today will be the first official day I do that.
What Am I Reading? 1. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
I read Clayton Byrd Goes Underground on my Kindle while on my treadmill mostly and the last couple pages in my bed, under the covers (the best place to read). Author Rita Williams-Garcia books are so catchy. I have read almost all of them. I truly felt the music in Clayton Byrd Goes Underground-- the blues, the tunes from Clayton's blues harp (his harmonica), and Cool Papa's guitar Wah-Wah-nita. This book took me on an emotional journey. It felt like one continuous thread as the reader follows one day in the life of Clayton Byrd that changed everything for him. Having dealt with my own grief over the past six months (sudden deaths of my younger brother passed in July and my publisher passed away in November), I completely related to Clayton's desire to hold on to what little physical reminders he had left of the man who had the most influence in his life, Cool Papa. I felt Clayton's pain and his desire to run away from it all when those around him did not understand the losses he experienced, his emotions, or even his narcolepsy. Like all of Rita's books, there is this realism and sadness but also tons of hope and humour. I don't want to give it all away here either so I will stop describing here. I was so happy to learn this week that Clayton Byrd Goes Underground also won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Young Adult and Middle Grade Literature. Congratulations, Ms. Rita! Lastly, I really loved the afterword as well that gave the background, research, and inspiration for this story as well as history of hip hop and the blues.