Three times (or three years in a row of applying) a charm! I am excited to be able to finally share this news. I have been selected as one of the presenting authors in the TD Canadian Children's Book Week in May 2019 organized by The Canadian Children's Book Centre. The theme is Readers are Dreamers and coincidentally my first book, Malaika's Costume, starts with a dream. I am excited for this opportunity to travel to a different province in Canada to share my books and stories with students, teachers, and community members. Will I be in Nanaimo? Iqualit? Saskatoon? Tuktoyaktuk? Winnipeg? Labrador? Chicoutimi? Rimouski? Who knows... colourful Canadian town names aside, I'll find out soon enough. Thank you so much for my excellent reference writers. Congratulations to the other touring creators. You know who you are!!! Stay tuned!!!!
This is the first installment of a series about elementary and secondary school teachers who write. Not only the retired teachers who now devote their lives to writing as there are many, but the teachers who actively still teach AND maintain a career as a writer; those who balance parent-teacher interviews, report cards, staff meetings, and marking with a writing schedule, deadlines, edits, grant applications, and book signings. Perhaps, this series will be for me more of a work-in-progress. Or perhaps, it will help other teachers who precariously balance two careers. I try to pick up whatever I can from those teachers who write, those author/teachers whose work I consult and run to including SK Ali, Caroline Pignat, and Uzma Jalaluddin and other forms disciplines such as filmmaking such as Laurie Townshend and spoken word such as Malik I.M. aka Sun Toucha. I will also include teachers who may have left the classroom, not entirely, but embarked on various unique and creative careers including spoken word artist/author Motion and Humble the Poet.
It's still book launch and festival season. I wish congratulations to my Halifax, N.S.- based AfroScotian (Black Nova Scotian) sister poet Shauntay Grant on joining the Groundwood Books family with the launch of her newest picture book, Africville. This event was held at A Different Booklist bookstore in Toronto on September 29, 2018. This new book was illustrated by Victoria, B.C.-based artist, Eva Campbell. The book is a poem about a historic Black community in Halifax, Nova Scotia that was destroyed in the late 1969s. It was so wonderful to see a lot of familiar faces (my Groundwood team and community members) and some new ones too (Shauntay's family). And another congratulations is in order for Shauntay, Eva, and the Groundwood Books team on the Governor General's Award 2018 nomination!. Yesterday, it was announced that Africville has received a Governor General's Award 2018 nomination.
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
I almost did not finish reading this book but I decided to continue to the end. Yes, this was an early example of a fantasy novel and I was impressed to learn that it was published as early as 1726 in England. I learned about the vocabulary, technology, and worldviews popular at the time. I found the audiobook reading long and tedious, monotonous and droning. Although the author Jonathan Swift was Irish, his story was written in the form of an account by Englishman-- full of pomp, self-righteousness, prejudice, and colonial attitudes. There were certain things described in this book that made me feel like it was an early anthropological, ethnographical, and eugenics study. It wreaked of privilege. Generally, wherever this man went, he was treated well, accepted, coddled, and catered to. Each time over the fifteen years, he left his wife, sometimes while pregnant, and children alone. His descriptions of languages, peoples, customs, and cultures were like racist colonial travel logs. The fictional peoples he described as barbarous and ignorant appearing as codes for the lands and peoples the English colonized. In fact, Gulliver's character indicates why he decided not to colonize these peoples but that the English may try to do so. My stomach turned. What were my ancestors doing in early 1700s? Being colonized, captured, enslavaed, or resisting. Aside for the privileges the narrator embodied based on race and gender, this book also described some things that sounded like a sexual fantasy or fetish being enacted. For example, the narrator's clothes are removed, he is examined, and then put to bed. In another, he is bathed, clothed, and put to bed. He describes women's breasts and genitalia as well as mentions that he copulated with a Yahoo. Then when he finally returns after five years, he cannot bare to be around his long-suffering wife and children who thought him dead (meaning he did not write them) and are happy to see him and seek his company. Stomach-turning.
Flying Lessons & Others edited by Ellen Oh
This was a cute little, quick little e-audiobook read. I appreciated that even though these were short stories, they felt very complete. I felt closure at the end of each, relieved to know that each story wrapped up in good time. There was a nice mixture of diversity. A few stories were about an African-American experience. One was about First Nations/Native American, another Latin American, East Asian, and South Asian. There were stories that seemed open to LGBTQ themes plus differently abled people. There is even a story that involves ESP. My favourite story of all was Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains which featured a humorous storytelling uncle/narrator. I loved this read. This was the first anthology related to the We Need Diverse Books mandate.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
I feel like this book wins for emotional intensity. Jacqueline Woodson is a gifted writer and one of my poets. I feel like this was an adult coming of age novel which is very different than Jacqueline's style of writing YA and middle grade. One thing that reminds the same is the quietly emotional nature of this book that reminds me of her other work like Feathers and If You Come Softly. I read this audiobook very quickly and I feel like there may have been things I missed, which I think upon a second read may seem crucial. The storytelling/narration from the perspective of August, a teenaged Black girl was very impressive, as she describes interwoven stories with the lives around her. It's a story about loss, acceptance, denial, and dreaming dreams especially when no one has them for you. In the inner city, there is a concept called "getting out of the hood" for the purpose of social advancement and that path is wrought with its own losses, violence, and isolation. Jacqueline Woodson paints another Brooklyn, set in the 1970s? 1980s? during the period of white flight. Her protagonist August is brave, reflective, thoughtful, and coming to grips with the loss of growing up without her mother but other mothers and friendships abound. It is a beautiful portrait and felt like a long short story.
Solo by Kwame Alexander
SPOILER ALERT: Beautiful and poetic. I wanted to slow this book down. And so I did by dialing down the speed of this audiobook read by Kwame Alexander. I loved the vocalist and guitarist used for this reading that interspersed and gave life and music to Kwame's story. This story is about a boy with a broken heart and his journey to Ghana. Full disclosure, I have met Kwame and spoken at length with him in 2015 at SCBWI NYC and in 2017 in Dubai. This story seems like it is very close to his poetry style and who he is. I know Ghana is important to Kwame as he goes there each summer and works there. I felt that there was a lot happening in this story and at times, aspects of the story should be slowed down, for example the revelation that Blade was adopted (I am not sure if I missed when/how that was revealed) as well as what happens to Sia. I do love the music. As a musician and a writer largely influenced by music, I appreciated this book about a young musician. I loved the spoken word piece that is featured close to the end of the novel. I am looking forward to Swing, his new book about music, set to be released in October 2018.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Agonizing. Claustrophobic. Circuitous. Groundhog Day-like. During the span of a week, Georgie McCool is losing her mind. By the end of this book, I felt like I would lose my mind too. She played and replayed every scenario of her marriage and the pending separation/divorce that Georgie believes is inevitable. She has chosen to stay at home in California to work on tv show pilots with her best friend/work hubby, Seth. Neil is emotionally distant, even-keeled, and her reliable husband who has that type of wet blanket personality that draws in Georgie's fire. She is a comedy writer and struggles with her responsibilities of fulfilling her motherly, wifely duty but is racked with an insane amount of guilt because she skipped out on their family's Christmas trip to Neil's hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. This book was good but I am also reading We Are All Made of Molecules and both books feature one Black male in a relationship with a supporting character and another supporting character dealing with coming out. I decided to read this, my first Rainbow Rowell book, after having seen this author speak a few years ago at the SCBWI NYC conference as she has a few young adult titles. I am not sure if this was an early work but it felt too slow at times and too close to home. Nevertheless, the book is okay and really gets into the psychology of marriage, middle class white couples' relationships, and the many ways we can drive ourselves crazy and push people away when we don't have all of the answers, the whole picture, or read other people's minds. And there is a little scifi/magic too.
We Are All Made of Molecule by Susin Nielsen
Spoiler alert. Excellent. I am really proud of Susin Nielsen and loved this book. I must admit. I initially disliked Ashley, one of the principal characters of this book from whose perspective the story is told. She is a mean girl, judgemental, and self-righteous, through and through. The other is her "sort of" stepbrother Stuart. This was a novel that had me sitting on the edge of my seat until the very end. Stuart is a loveable nerd, thoughful, conscientious, and often socially clueless. The characters evolved... and I love how. This novel deals with a lot of issues... loss, blended families, homophobia, sexual assault, narcissistic personalities, cyberbullying, bullying, etc. But the book never feels heavy. I am still left with questions like how is Ashley dealing with the feeling of being violated? I know she channels it into something positive but I still felt that more could have been handled there. And I still wonder why the school system did not do more to protect students from someone like Jared. Lastly, I was reading Rainbow Rowell's Landline at the same time and noticed that both of these books had a supporting 1 Black male and 1 gay characters. I wondered if this was a "trend" which I will be following. Nevertheless, I love the power shifted and I think another title for this book is We Got the Power. Nevertheless, We Are All Made of Molecules is not bad either. I have also heard Susin Nielsen speak at CANSCAIP PYI as well as at a young adult author showcase at the North York Central Library. Way to go for this award-winning Canadian middle grade novel.
Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério
Picture books can be magical. They are experiences to be had. What a delightful worldess story told solely through illustrations-- colourful, vibrant, and blinding. Blue Rider is a horse that breaks the monotony of a grey conformist society. This book is a flash of genius. As a Groundwood book, Blue Rider shares my publisher.
Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten
Omg. This book was amazing. I do not normally read psychological thrillers but Teresa Toten, you have outdone yourself. This book was an e-audiobook and it had me gripped. Nine hours is a long time but the story moved along well and was chock full of twists, turns, and disgusting details to give you goosebumps. The timing of this book is relevant especially with the #metoo movement and allegations that have come forward. This book is aligned with a lot television shows that are popular right now (such as Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl) in regards to the ultra rich and private schoolgirls' lives. As a Canadian, I am proud that this book has come from a writer in my city (even though the book is set in New York City). What is even better, full disclosure, is that I know this author and she is someone who I can speak to at any time. This book is full of mysterious people who manipulate and scheme to get to the top. My only complaint was that it seemed a little too convenient that the two lead characters, Kate and Olivia, each lost a parent as well as teenage boy love interest Johnny, also did. And then there is the trauma that both lead characters experienced. Too coincidental? Or perhaps this is what brings them together. Great work, Teresa!
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Excellent read. Delightul! I loved this book about coincidences, life, embracing happiness, and relationships. The story is about two Will Graysons but there is a character who steals the show and that is Tiny Cooper. The story is told from two perspectives... each one unique and coming into their own. The depressed gay Gothic Will Grayson swears so much at the start of the novel but I felt a huge shift mid- to end-of-novel as he utters nary a swear word making it harder to distinguish him from the other characters. The other straight Will Grayson rejects all relationships and I am not quite sure why as the rules he holds to do not quite make logical sense. But, Tiny is unapologetic, bold, brass, and shiny. He is gay, he is large-bodied, and he is staging a huge musical about his life. Go big or go home is his modus operandi. There are quieter characters like Jane and the tenuous relationship he has with Will and other supporting ones but my favourite was Tiny who was laugh out loud funny, sweet, and reminded me of a friend of mine. I think everything that John Green touches is gold and this one sparkles. I also loved the audiobook read with the effective musical renditions from the reader. What a range to do a depressed Goth who swears a lot to the singers who belt like there's no tomorrow. Great work!
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
This book was okay. It isn't my favourite John Green book, by far, but okay. I notice a couple of recurring themes with his books. John Green likes 1) having multiple characters with the same name such as Katherine, Colin, and in the previous book, Will Grayson, 2) big questions (philosophical and/or religious), 3) unique/quirky kids who are smart, nerdy, or, in this case, prodigies, and 4) only children-- does anyone have siblings? Anyway, this book was about Colin Singleton finding himself among a series of broken relationships with Katherines along with his friend Hasan, a Sunni Muslim of Lebanese descent, Lindsay, a resident of Gutshot, Tennessee, and the town people of that town. After a break up, he and his friend Hasan embark on a road trip that lands them in this wayout town. I loved the local storytelling which sounded so authentic thanks to a great narration in the audiobook. The weaving local folklore and fact such as the odd things Colin obssesses about, the tomb of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the tampon string factory, and Katherine's douchebag of a boyfriend Colin, add colourfulness to the plot. But I did feel bored at some parts of the story and it didn't help that I had to skip several tracks due to damage on one of the discs.
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
Wow! I finished e-audioreading my first Octavia Butler book which was also turned out to be the last one she wrote. I must admit that I was a little hesitant in reading her books because I thought they would be very challenging to get into as I often find is the case with science fiction novels. However, this was definitely not the case. Octavia's book was intriguing. I got into it right away. Fledgling is what I would like to call magic realism (?). It is Interview with a Vampire meets Black Panther meets Bladerunner meets Twilight series. Shori is a vampire known as an Ina. This is a community of sentient, almost human, human parasites that has coexisted with people for millennia. She emerges from the rubble of a battle in which her memory has been erased and she is the last remaining of her family. These vampires are conscientious, socially responisble, sophisticated, and for the most part, believe in coexisting with humans. There are allegories and parallels with true life galore including ageism, racism, and anti-miscegenation. This story feels very current with a lot of speculative fiction novels that I have been reading that showcase the Hero's Journey, one person/agent against their society, and through circumstances against their will become the centre of a major conflict. I enjoyed this book very much and felt that it sustained my interest throughout the almost 12 1/2 hours of audio. The actor, Tracey Leigh, was an amazing and versatile reader. I look forward to reading more books by the late Octavia Butler who is considered a pioneer in the afrofuturist subgenre of speculative fiction. This is also timely with a resurging popularity in her work as director Ava Duvernay adapts Butler's books for the small screen.
Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Good read about getting over traumas, guilt, and shame but done in a humorous way. I love how author Susin Nielsen does that. Petula De Wild is a teenager who has tragically lost her baby sister. She's crafty and goes to an art therapy support group for teens. She meets Jacob who also has a tragic secretive past. Petula is going through a very difficult time. Between her loss, PTSD/OCD/anxiety, and familial challenges, Petula is going through a tough time but her character evolves. If you liked The Fault In Their Stars by John Green, you will like this book. A quick and interesting read. This was an e-audiobook.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Spoiler alert: Today, I finished reading (by audiobook) my 100th book of 2018. Interestingly, this 100th book was published 93 years ago yet, it reads as timelessly and truly today. The story is about a self-made millionaire named Gatsby and his love of Daisy told through the narration of Nick (?) After hearing this story discussed and literary analysis completed in "Reading Lolita in Tehran", I felt compelled to read this book. Sure, I am familiar with the cultural references to 1920s fashion and flapper culture, lavish parties, French bob, and cigarettes. However, I did not know much the book other than it was on the list of possible selections for my OAC/Grade 13 English Novel study. (In the end, I believe that I selected The Color Purple.) This book was a much shorter read and simpler story than I anticipated. Sure it was full of symbolism and I hugely related to Gatsby (a highly ambitious, self-starter, trying to prove and improve himself, and make a mark in the world). In fact, Gatsby routine/regime referred to close to the end of the novel, totally reminded me of myself as did the unrequited love he experienced. Gatsby maintains an affair with Daisy and although she clearly loves him and he is infatuated with her, she stays put. Without giving away the ending, he protects her until the very end which is tragic. He is selfless and tries to entertain everybody, highly paranoid but he has morals, at times questionable, such as having an affair. The world and time he lives in, the company he so wishes to keep and keep up with, seems so superficial and unfeeling. It is a cold reality and one I have experienced. I grew to have a lot of empathy for Gatsby. This classic book will stick with me for a long time, I know. This audiobook also features letters that F. Scott Fitzgerald sent to his editor, agent, and others. I did not listen to all of them but they proved how much he believed in his work, his persistence, business-savvy, and publishing industry knowledge. He demanded $ 25, 000 for this book and indicated various ways that it could be published (e.g., in serial format) and by which publisher. Given that this was in the 1920s, just before the Great Depression in the US, Fitzgerald showed a lot of guts and kutzpah, a lot like the real life Gatsby.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
What an interesting book. I liked it very much. Aza is a teen, who along with her friend Daisy, is trying to solve the whereabouts of a billionaire in order to get an award. However falling for his son, Davis, was not a part of the plan. Aza also has mental health issues-- anxiety along with OCD and what seems like auditory hallucinations (voices in her head). She takes medication and sees a psychiatrist. John Green's writing of mental illness was very effective to the point where I felt like I was also inside of this character's head. Aza is reminiscent of other lead female characters also dealing with anxiety in such recent young adult novels as Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen and I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez. This book was okay and I love John Green's thoughful characters but sometimes I feel like they would all know each other somehow. They are usually reflective, super-intelligent, intellectual (sometimes heady), privileged somehow, quirky as in obsessed with something or the other, and have engaged, well-meaning parents. Nevertheless, they are refreshing, comforting, and I know what I'm getting when I pick up his book... or rather audiobook as was the case with this one.
1984 by George Orwell
Spoilers: What a world! I felt compelled to read 1984 as it is one of the classics in the speculative fiction genre, a type of book that I am currently in the process of writing. This was an audiobook and centres on the main character Winston and the ways he bucks the oppression of a totalitarian socialist regime under which he is heavily surveilled by Big Brother. Winston does this in several ways. He has an affair with Julia. He maintains his own personal thoughts. I voted okay for this book which is a psychological thriller as much as it is a textbook of some of the worst dictatorships of our time. I felt at times that it was to didactic and text-heavy as Winston read through texts, it felt like a textbook. Then when O'Brien finally does capture him and Julia in the act, he gets his piece too. I appreciated the story that is in this novel but felt like there was just too much theory being spewed... it lost me. The torture under which Winston went was extensive and detailed. I was shocked at the vocabulary, sexual references, cursing, and technologies described in this book which was published way back in 1948. I had not realized that so much had been predicted, that people could write so freely in this way back then. It was okay. The narrator was great overall.
On September 9, I went stargazing at Eden Mills Writers' Festival with fellow teacher author, Uzma Jalaluddin. Her debut novel Ayesha At Last was optioned recently to be made into a Hollywood film. It was my first time attending the Eden Mills Writers' Festival tucked away in Eden Mills in Guelph, Ontario. I had a cha
If you look really, really closely, you can see Canadian author, Esi Edugyan reading from her latest award-winning novel, Washington Black. I loved her previous award-winning book, Half-Blood Blues, which I hope will be made into a movie. I am hoping to meet this author of Ghanaian descent who is based in Victoria, BC one day and I am putting that out into the universe.
September and October are the seasons for festivals, book launches, and deadlines. September marks the start of a school year and as a teacher, I am at my busiest-- setting up a new classroom, establishing routines, registering for courses,...
I was able to get to one this week-- the launch of Kenneth Oppel's newest book, Inkling, illustrated by Sydney Smith. Like all book launches, this one was a #kidlit reunion. I took some photos with those in attendance such as the book's creators, ya author Melanie Fishbane, my mentor author Richard Scrimger, authors Teresa Toten, Caroline Pignat, Sharon Jennings, and award-winning illustrator Eric Fan who is one half of the Fan Brothers. I totally fanned out (pun intended) when I met Eric and was so honoured to learn that Eric knew who I was let alone is a fan of my work (pun unintended).
In this issue…
Greeting. I admit it. This newsletter is a little late in getting to you but I hope you are doing well and in good health. It has been a busy summer. Thank you for your supportive comments over the years. It has been a blessing to be a writer and have my words in a published format on the written page. I still balance this with the life of being a teacher. This school year, I will be in a new position teaching music and French to students in Toronto. This is quite a transition for me. Hence, I will continue this Nadia’s Notables Newsletter in the seasonal format. Best wishes.
Nadia L. Hohn
2018 ETFO Writing Award
This year, I received the 2018 Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) award for the manuscript of my upcoming book about the late Jamaican poet, Louise Bennett-Coverley better known as Miss Lou. ETFO represents 85, 000 educators in the province of Ontario. I am pleased and honoured that this work, which will be my sixth published book and seventh if you include my contribution to the T-DOT GRIOTS anthology, has already received such a positive response. As we approach what would have been Miss Lou’s 99th birthday on September 7, 2018, I also accept this award is a tribute to my work but also to Miss Lou’s dedication to the education of Jamaica’s young people. Please read here for the media release.
In July 2018, I spent an amazing and transformative three weeks in Brazil. I spent my first week travelling solo and researching in Salvador da Bahia, the capital of the Brazilian state where the highest number of Africans were brought during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I then spent two weeks with American teachers through a program called Brazil Summer Teacher Institute through the Consortium on Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP). With this group of fourteen educators, over ten days, I toured Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Lastly, I spent my last week in Sao Paulo solo and thanks to Denise, Colleen, and Ben, especially my tour guides Alissar and Sayuri for organizing such an amazing experience.
Authors Booking Service: Welcome Caroline
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Caroline as the new president of Authors Booking Service (ABS). ABS has been a one-stop shop to connect authors and illustrators to readers since 2006. I have been a member and presenter since 2017. Please check out their website and my presentation page in order to book me at your school.
SCBWI LA 2018
In August 2018, I had the pleasure of attending my very first Los Angeles conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI has two annual conferences that take place in two cities— LA and New York City. Previously, I have attended the NYC SCBWI Conference in 2015 and 2016. This is an expensive event but well worth it. Picture 1, 500 pre-, self- and traditionally published writers and illustrators with the “rockstars” of the children’s literature world spending 3 to 4 days in workshops, networking, schmoozing, and being inspired. That is what this event was for me. Please check out the highlight reel here. You will see a familiar face at 10:06/10:07
Back to School: Graduate Diploma
I have been working on a young adult novel that I have been calling Number 8 for the last seven years. During this time, it has taken on a few manifestations as I work on it and I realized that the research for this novel would require a trip to Brazil. Through aggressive grant applications, I received the funding to make this possible in July 2018. I have also completed three one-on-one critiques this year for this novel and based on all of my feedback, I need some help in pulling it together. Enter: Cherie Dimaline. Cherie is the author of a Canadian best-selling 2017 novel called The Marrow Thieves, a young adult indigenous futurist/science fiction. I read the book earlier this year and it was a Canada Reads finalist in 2018. I also attended a Toronto Public Library workshop a few years ago and Cherie was a panelist. Recently, I saw Cherie speaking at the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in 2018. Feeling that I needed a mentor to tell my story, I had the feeling that Cherie might be that person. Coincidentally this summer, I learned that Cherie would be on the faculty for Humber College School of Writers Fall 2018. By then, it was already August 2018. I contacted both the school and Cherie and asked if there was any way that I could work with her as my mentor. After a few weeks, I received some wonderful news. I will be working with my first choice. (I have completed this program in 2015 on a middle grade manuscript that I worked on with mentor/author Richard Scrimger. This was my first finished novel manuscript ever.) As I juggle full-time teaching at a new school, writing projects, and other commitments, I know this will be a very intense, busy 20 weeks but it can be done. I am determined to learn all I can in this process and get this manuscript ready for submissions to agents and publishers in 2019.
Malaika Number Three and Play
Great news! There will be a sequel to Malaika’s Winter Carnival (#2), the sequel to Malaika’s Costume (#1). I am calling it Malaika #3 (or, Book #7) and it has been a story that I have had for the past few years so I sat down and wrote it. Malaika #3 is still in development and I have been given a greenlight from Groundwood Books for a release in 2020. I have also been working on a Malaika play manuscript through playwriting courses and now a mentor who will help me complete it. Stay tuned!
Summer 2018 Events and Appearances
It was a busy summer for me with presentations and booksignings. Here is where I was:
Malaika's Carnival Storytime
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 2-3pm
High Park Library
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Book Signing
Sunday, July 29, 2018 11am-2pm
Brampton, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Storytime and Book Signing
Friday, July 27, 2018 11am-3pm
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Carnival Presentation
Friday, June 8, 2018 10am-12pm
School Presentation in Stouffville, ON
Words of Advice
Find a mentor. We can’t know everything. A mentor can help us eliminate the guess work. They also have experience, perspective, and advice. A mentorship may come at a cost but can be quite valuable. I am currently working with two mentors to help me bring out my stories.
Writers at the Toronto
Reference Library as part of
In this month's edition of What Am I Reading, I broke a record. I have read and reviewed a total of 18 books and in addition to this number, 13 other mostly picture books. I surpassed my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge of 50 books. I originally set a goal of 25 but raised it to 50 when I was getting close. Now, I am at 81 books which is 162% of my reading goal. I have discovered a new way to "read" which I have added to my other ways and that is the e-audiobooks that I borrowed online through the Toronto Public Library. These audio mP3s are awesome because they go wherever my laptop goes. I can listen to them while I cook, towel off after a shower, clean, etc. September was a record-breaking month for reading books. I'm learning a lot about craft, storytelling, and recurring themes. I am also learning what works for me and what doesn't in terms of the types and styles of stories I wish to tell.
At the time of last revision of this posting on September 28, I am in the midst of reading The Boat People by Sharon Bala (slow reading in a physical book), Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (on my Kindle), Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (on audiobook in my car), and Flying Lessons & other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (on e-audiobok on my laptop). Please read my reviews below. Happy reading!!!
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
I admit it. I gave this book 5 stars because I can relate to the character described... Stargirl. She walks to the beat of her own drum. She is oblivious to the comments and stares of those around her. Not really caring what others think. She is not afraid to go out on a limb. She wears long flowing dresses and sunflowers, plays the ukulele, and sings happy birthday and distributes cookies to everyone. She names herself whenever she feels like it. She goes to the desert, meditates, and finds her happy place. She sounds like some of my picture book author colleagues who I call friends. Narrated by the late John Ritter (of Three's Company series, How to Date My Teenage Daughter), I thought this actor was an odd choice for this audiobook. However, two chapters in, I realized that John Ritter was a natural as it becomes evident that the story is told from the perspective of Stargirl's former boyfriend looking back on his high school years. This does not give the story a dated quality as might be expected but it rings true and clear and very current in that hippy, dreamy, west kind of way. Stargirl sounds really fun and like someone who would be fun to hang out with. The experiences that the narrator described reminded me of the time I tried to "go natural" in high school in the 1990s and again fully, this time, 20 years ago, still way before it was popular. Today, the natural hair movement is a multi-billion dollar industry. It reminded me of the many times I dressed up on Halloween in high school regardless of anyone else dressing up. It reminded me of the best friends that I had in high school that did not "fit" in any particular group (immigrant kids- Indian gothic into heavy metal and vampires who played classical piano, Trinidadian gifted student who sings musicals and had a show on cable TV and political aspirations). And there was me, kid of Jamaican immigrants who loved acid jazz, wrote for the school paper, directed plays, played piano and saxophone, reading African American novels, drawing, and vintage clothing. We all had been on student council too. The first friend and I would make up stories involving the boys we had crushes on. Maybe this wouldn't seem odd in certain contexts but certainly it did in my high school. "Stargirl" is an age-old story, archetypal about popularity and true selves. I can relate to the shunning that Stargirl experienced in her high school. Yet, what rings true with Stargirl is a message of being true to who you are no matter who is watching. You may lose a few friends, even in Stargirl's case, a boyfriend, but what is all of that when you can look yourself in the mirror and appreciate who you are. I loved it and it made the sequel (which I read first a few months ago) that much more clear. Stargirl was so different but she is the type of girl who I see growing up and being a really successful artist or entrepreneur... she thinks outside of the box and unfortunately, her Arizona high school students just could not appreciate or keep up with her. I hope to see a movie of this one soon.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I remember hearing about the popularity/household name-nature of this book years ago and the film adaptation but I did not know why its reputation gave it quite the name. Now I know. The Fault in Our Stars was an audiobook for me narrated by sixteen year old Hazel Grace, a sixteen-year old terminal lung cancer survivor. In her circle are her parents, her cancer surviving boyfriend Augustus Watters, his parents, and their cancer support group members. This book was raw, honest, and so very real as I am also a cancer survivor. This book also dealt with the heavy themes of death, mortality, illness, and loss. It is also probably the first audiobook that had me crying at the wheel as re-processed the loss of my brother. This book is sincere. It sounds like a very intellectual, existential, and authentic sixteen year old who has an obsession with an author, one in which she used a dying wish to fulfill a visit. Filled with disappointments and heartache throughout, there is a sense of hope that despite the pain and "shittyness of cancer", there are pockets of beauty, hope, and a bright future. This was a wonderful read. I am looking forward to watching the film.
Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older
This book continues the Daniel José Older "ShadowShaper" series and story of Sierra Santiago in Brooklyn. I read this book on my Kindle. I enjoyed this book and its live action scenes. I think its action scenes are strong, as are the interweaving of social issues affecting Black people such as police brutality, carding, and wrongful imprisonment. I like how Older included allies as well as other characters. At times, I found there to be too many and it was a little confusing however all together, I felt the fullness of Sierra's circle, a symphony, a community really. The representation of Brooklyn was true through the Jamaican accent of Desmond and the Haitian Creole dialogue of Robbie. There is also a tenuous love story/triangle involving Sierra in the mix. I gave this book a 4 stars. I found it to be confusing at times which may be because of the number of characters as well as the fantasy elements. Nevertheless, this is an excellent read for those who love urban fantasy with AfroLatin and indigenous cultures.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
I read The Belles and gave it four stars for world building. In author Dhonielle Clayton's first novel, I read about a French/New Orleans-inspired society called Orléans. It is rich in details and ornate, sooo much vocabulary and very desrciptive. Sometimes it was gustatory as the words flowed... at times I felt that the descriptions and story could have been tighter. This novel was a very slow read for me. I began it in February and finished it in September. I realize that The Belles has a sequel which will be published soon. I am curious to see how it develops. Full disclosure, I met Dhonielle Clayton on two occasions and we are part of 2 online groups for writers of colour.
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
What a delightful little book! It was short, sweet, funny, and cute. This was a middle grade audiobook. The narrator is known as Jeanie and his brother Ernie. They are ten and fourteen years old respectively. The adults in these books are funny and I love the vibrant and diverse portrayal of black men, manhood, and a complex father-son relationship. Some may think that blindness, hypochondriac, death, and divorce too harsh topics to be dealt with in children's books but not the case for Jason Reynolds. His characters breathe life and humour and a pluckiness and colour. Jeanie and Ernie are visiting their grandparents in Alabama while his parents have some things to "work out" in Jamaica. I loved this little book which was a short and light read coated with the love and toughness that is family. At first I wasn't sure if I would like it, but it's use of voice, vernacular, and character developments are strong. I liked discovering the quirks of each personality and found myself excited to learn more. This was the first book I had read in its entirety by award-winning author, Jason Reynolds. I look forward to reading many more.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
This was an irresistible audiobook. I listened to it over 3 days. I came to a few conclusions about the author John Green. First, between the last of his books I read The Fault in his Stars and this one Looking for Alaska, I see themes running through-- angsty upper middle class white teenagers, existential questions, and mortality. I could not relate to the characters' upbringing or the private Alabama boarding school where this high school is set as my own. However, I love the smart questions they ask. The narrator is Miles/Pudge who talks about his final year of high school in which he transferred from Florida to a boarding school in Alabama. There he befriends his roommate the Colonel/Chip, a Japanese hiphop loving exchange student named Takumi, a subdued sometimes girlfriend Lara, and the moody manic chain smoking alcoholic, Alaska, with whom Myles is obsessed. These are not your typical slacking teens. They remind me of the stereotypes of kids I would expect to see at a private school-- entitled, self-centred, know-it-alls, cocky who abuse substances but still manage to get straight As and call in favours when needed. I know this is a stereotype and very far-removed from my own experience but I sensed in this book. On the other hand, John Green is an amazing storyteller and this book had me hooked. At some points, I sat in my parked car, listening to the CD, as my poor battery worked over time. I can't wait to read more of John Green's books including the most recent one that came out with the cool cover. I also appreciate that he gets to speak after the reading on the recording is complete.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
This book was meh. I remember when it was made into a movie. I remember wanting to see it. But, I wasn't really invested in this e-audiobook nor its characters. I didn't get their world. I didn't get the stakes. There was a lot of cursing and a very permissive environment. Perhaps my teenage upbringing was very sheltered or strict or both but it felt like rich people problems. I liked the musical references but I was expecting a little more. It is not badly written. It's just that I did not feel invested with this one. However, I will definitely do e-audiobook reads more often. I can play them in the background as I get ready for work, wash the dishes, or another activity. I still want to see the movie.
Brother by David Chariandy
This was a shorter novel. I loved how it allowed me to dive deep into a world... one that was not my own but familiar. I read this as an e-book on my Kindle. There were place names and intersections that I vaguely new as I taught for 1.5 years close to the intersection named, Markham and Lawrence. I felt the edginess of the descriptions used, the grittiness, the constant agitation that was very palpable, that something was about to go absolutely wrong, the sadness constantly lingering. Chariandy's Scarborough is mixed with sadness and beauty, dashed dreams and potent masculinities, discrimination and bottled anger, and explosive resentments with insanities and losses, racism and police brutality, violence with no where else to go, ricocheting off the intersections and in the neighbourhood blocks, all within a small area as the narrator Michael and the other characters (his mother, Francis, Jelly, Aisha, her father) rarely leave their neighbourhood. This book was well-written. My only dissatisfaction was the end. I felt it almost trite and very different than the tone of the rest of the book. I am not sure what the ending would be but I felt it abrupt. Nevertheless, this was a good read. Can't wait for this book to be made into a film directed by Jamaican-Canadian Clement Virgo (Rude, Planet of Junior Brown, Book of Negroes, Love Come Down, Lie With Me, Greenleaf).
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Oh my gosh. This book was breathtaking, a masterpiece. Deep, moving, emotive, intense,... Just wow. It shocked me and went in directions that I did not expect. I know it's on the NYT Bestselling list, I searched to find out and was pleased that it will be made into a movie, but the deep issues-- mental health, migration, immigration, family secrets, poverty, feminism, coming of age,... This was an audiobook for me and is written in the first person voice of teenager Julia Reyes. The book takes place in modern day Chicago. She is a teen with a strong sense of voice-- she's rude, she doesn't like people, she's anxious, and direct. In the wake of the death of her older sister Olga, so much ground is covered here as Julia begins to dig into her sister's past. This book, I add to titles which have me so awestruck that I long to write something so captivating and perfect (Brown Girl Dreaming, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Piecing Me Together, and other titles). I look forward to the movie and think it will inspire and speak to so many teens, especially first generation children of immigrants. The characters and situations are so real, too real. Way to go with this groundbreaking novel, Erika Sánchez. I would give 6 stars if I could. Cannot wait for the film!
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
This book was amazing. Jennifer Donnelly wrote such a compelling book that felt modern in its relevance and accessibility. Mathilde "Mat" Gauthier (Gokey) was such an interesting character. Like Julia in "I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter", Maude in "Maude", and other books, she wants to be a writer. She is fighting against forces such as poverty and the conservatism of a woman's role at the Turn of the Century as she contemplates marriage and domestic duties versus a career of university studies and writing. Mat is present, reflective, smart, and creative. She is industrious, reliable, and responsible having to take the lead in a household as the eldest of four girls and a widowed father. As an oldest sister, I related to Mat. Her sense of loss for her mother is palpable. This was also an audiobook and a very important read. I loved the equally-brilliant character of Weaver, a Black boy who escaped a Jim Crow south and memories of the murder of his father, with his mother to make it to this upstate New York town. Mat and Weaver are college bound and the prized pupils of teacher Emily W____. I loved the ending and it felt right to me. I long to read more of Jennifer Donnelly's work.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This was a good e-audiobook. Short and sweet. It was written in verse but when Jason Reynolds (author and narrator) read it, it sounded more like prose. The book also felt familiar to me. It felt like the Christmas Carol and Boyz in the Hood, as Jason described in the interview after the reading. I liked this book. It was okay. I liked that it offered several perspectives and insights into the mind of someone who just lost their brother to gun violence. I also liked his contemplation in relation to the three rules: 1) don't cry, 2) don't snitch, and 3) always get revenge.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
I love this story of redemption. This was an e-audiobook. I thought wow! Six hours? How will I get through this and before I knew it. I spent the last 1.5 hours of this book, listening at my bedside, and getting ready for sleep, way past my bedtime. I love this story of family-- father-son, brother-brother, sister-brother, and so on. Being my third Jason Reynolds book in a week, I realize that family is an important topic for this young writer. I liked the characters "Ali" and Needles and Jazz and Delores who embody integrity and I love how dad and Noodles are working towards that. I love how this story explores black manhood in all of its facets. I also love how he integrates other issues, the "hard stuff", such as gun violence, drugs, prostitution, single-parent households, and poverty into this story, in the background but also "other mothers", Black manhood, and gentrification. The book is narrated in the voice of the main character. I feel his innocence. There is the potential for this book to be heavy but it still retains humour and growth in all of its main characters. Well done!
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
As I listened to this book, it felt very familiar. I think this was because I listened to this e-audiobook two years ago driving to or from Montreal. I remembered the toady frogs and the whoop-sloop or perhaps that was also in Christopher Paul Curtis' other book, Elijah of Buxton. I really liked this book. There is a certain magic about Curtis' book that brings a modern freshness to a historical story. This one takes place in Michigan during the Great Depression. Bud, not Buddy is an orphan looking for his father. His search takes him on a few adventures and he uses his wit and smarts to land him just where he needs to be. Bud is a lovable character and I just want to pinch his cheeks or adopt him, whichever comes first. Readers would also love Rita Williams-Garcia's book Clayton Bird Goes Underground. I hope that I will read and audio e-read more Curtis' titles in the future.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
Amazing book! Told from the perspective of a white South Carolina thirteen year old sharecropper, the Journey of Little Charlie different perspective on the Underground Railroad and early Black settlement in Canada. I loved the fresh voice and the onomatopeia used, "Char-lie Bo-bo." The narrator for this audiobook was excellent especially with his reading for the villain of the story. This book would also make an excellent movie and a perfect edition to Curtis' other work.
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
This book was impressive in terms of the research the author did and the way he told the story. Andre Alexis was both the author of Fifteen Dogs as well as the narrator of this e-audiobook. His dog barks, growls, and ruffs were quite impressive. I also loved how local this book was as I recognized street names in and around High Park as well as the actual park itself. These are places where I have been. The book felt very Toronto as he also described the areas close to the beach. Fifteen Dogs follows the lives of particular dogs who originally called High Park home. The dogs live in a violent world in which one is dominated by getting mounted or becomes the alpha. Dogs develop intense relationships with their master's which most often is a strategic union but can also result in abuse, abandonment, and envy. There are conversations between the Greek gods about the fates of the dogs as well as their master's. The humans can be bumbling, absent-minded, and emotional. This book was interesting and made me think a lot about the Mexican movie "Life's A Bitch/Amores Perros". It literally is like the Disney animated film "All Dogs Go To Heaven" or "Lady and the Tramp", except much more literary and with adult humans. Fifteen Dogs was also the winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers Trust Prize which are Canada's largest cash prizes in literature. I think it is great study of storytelling in a unique way. It seems that it was written in free verse as indicated in the afterward however I could not detect this with the audiobook.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
This book was okay. Full disclosure, I know this author. I also know that Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Award in 2015 for his previous book, The Crossover, which was also written in verse about basketball. Booked was about a boy in eighth grade named Nick who goes through average everyday stuff-- a crush, parental issues, school, and commitment to sports. I thought this book would be more about soccer but it's never too far away. I look forward to reading other titles by Kwame.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
This audiobook felt a bit heavy at first. I was not sure if I was ready to dive into that mood. The Iranian Revolution and the meeting of an intellectual literary club. This book was well-written and very lengthy to read, about eighteen hours in length. I appreciated the analysis of the literary masterpieces-- Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, and the Great Gatsby-- in the context of a war. The author's voice is strong, confident, and full of presence. I enjoyed the stories of the lives of the women featured and how they were able to connect the characters in these novels to their own while living in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The price that professors and students paid was heavy and the losses great. I think this book served as a good introduction to life in Iran during the 1980s and 1990s. At times, I wondered about the privilege, almost aristocrat, feel of the narration.
Patina by Jason Reynolds
I enjoyed reading this much anticipated title by Jason Reynolds. I recall hearing and seeing about Patina on social media and Twitter. I enjoyed the perspective of a female athlete who runs track. In Patina, I learned about the tragedy and joys regardless, she reflects a resilience deemed Black Girl magic. Although Patina had some real challenges in her life, I wonder if they could have been captialized on more as I felt that the story could use more tension at some points, that the stakes could have been raised higher. Nevertheless, Reynolds is a gifted writer and he effectively conveys the voice of a pre-teen girl who has to mother her sister (something to which I completely relate).
I love, love, love books and I admit that I do not have the most time in the world to read. Also, being an avid writer, it it is also important that I am an avid reader as well. There are some excellent authors "killing the game" and I want to read their work some more. In fact, I find that my life style is very "on the go" so my reading approaches reflect this, e.g. reading on the treadmill, listening to audiobooks as I drive. These creative approaches to reading have helped me to surpass my Goodreads reading goal of fifty books in 2018. I have been travelling (the busy kind of travel for research and learning and not the on a beach laying at a resort travel) so I did not read a lot at these times. However, at home, I am currently reading #53, #54, and #55 all using techniques that I listed. And I have a ton of books on my TO-READ lists that i have purchased or received through conferences, festivals, launches, and workshops. Here are the latest books I have read as follows in this third/latest installment of What Am I Reading?:
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
I attempted reading this reading a book in a course called Literature in Adolescence. Perhaps it was a season of the time (1999?) or the fact that my professor did not know about ya, so he included Frankentein by Mary Shelley on the grounds that it was about a "monster" that exhibited many of the hallmarks of adolescence-- moodiness, self-loathing, self-pity, and emotions. He couldn't be farther from the truth. In Frankenstein's monster, I found an articulate, persuasive, and thoughtful beast of a creation. This book is definitely of its time. The writing is very longwinded, flowery, and full of soliloquys. Often I said to myself, "Get on with it! Please..." Parts were drawn out when discussing intentions and thoughts and feelings but when the actions and murders happen, there was no build-up, nor climax, and it just flowed with way to much background, foresight, and afterthought. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read this book as it is part of the "canon" on English Literature and I believe Mary wrote it to entertain her friends who then saw that it was ripe for publication. As a woman writer in the 1800s, she had a bestseller on her hands. Okay book, helped me understand that Frankenstein was in fact the name of the creator and not the monster, but the book wreaked of privilege and was not that entertaining until closer to the end.
Freshwater by Amaeke Emezi
Wow! This audiobook had me gasping, ooing, and awing in the first CD. Immediately captivating and intriguing. Strong sense of voice. Author Akwaeke Emezi read her book and as far as author reads go, this one was outstanding. I can't say enough about this book. It reminds me of Americanah with maybe the Bluest Eye meets a Roman or Greek play in which the gods discuss the outcome of its characters. Wasn't there a Shakespearean play like that? Was it Taming of the Shrew? I am not sure. Except, of course, these gods weren't of European but of African origin. It is told in the first person narrative from a few different perspectives but mostly through the voice of one in particular. They discuss the main character Ada/Diada like she is a puppet and they are pulling the strings. I gasped when they had conversations with Yeshua/Jesus as one of the characters who they competed with for Ada's heart. I have never seen anything like this in a book, this competition for a character's will, body, and mind. The conflicts that happened, the shapeshifting, possession, trauma, abuse, shifting orientations, and multiple personalities. This book is so unlike anything I have read in the past and was engaging, had me clutching my seat until the very end.
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
Now, I enjoyed this book. It had a strong sense of voice and the main character, Neru, reminded me very much of people I know. This is a coming of age, coming out story. Neru is a Harvard-bound track star. His parents are Igbo Nigerian immigrant professionals who subscribe to a fundamentalist Pentacostal faith. The standards are high and the stakes even higher. Meredith is white and Neru's best friend. This book had me frustrated. It is told first through Neru's perspective and then from Meredith's. I was frustrated with Meredith but I do not wish to give away any spoilers and I also think what happened in the end is a very realistic scenario. Having said that, please go out and read this book. Four stars because it was a good book but did not have me "falling out of my chair" or anything. It is also a quieter read. It also turns out that Uzodinma is friends with Amaeka. Of course they are. Haunting.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This was a great book with a spectacular and cliffhanger of an end. I read it on my kindle over three months which is a long time to read a book. Partly this was a result of being "out of sync" with my gym routine since I tend to read on my treadmill. Perhaps this lack of continuity was a contributing factor (or not) why I wasn't completely captivated by it. What I do appreciate is the adventure and change of scenery as you move through the story. I love the connection between Zelie and Inan. Tomi's use of Yoruba words, religious terms, and mythology is interpretive and words are used from this tradition and Brazilian culture. As I am also writing a young adult novel influenced by African-Brazilian culture and history, I am curious about the author's process. I do know however that she lived in Brazil for a short-term to conduct research. I also enjoyed reading Tomi Adeyemi's afterword which connected this very young adult fantasy novel influenced by Yoruba and Afro-Brazilian to modern day police brutality and violence towards African-American. I would definitely recommend this read. I can't wait for the sequel and the movie.
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
This was an audio book and in all honesty, it wasn't my favourite. Rebecca Stone is a poet who is also a white mother of two kids-- one biologically hers Jacob and the other Black, Andrew, the adopted son of her late nanny(?), Priscilla, who passed away at birth. This book was more of a "slice of life", hum drum. There was no major climactic arc-- it wasn't the adoption, it wasn't the divorce, was it finding out who is the father of Andrew? Or was it her burgeoning career as a writer and academic? Or finding her way as a mother? I am not sure. But I plowed through to the end. I think the voice also sounded authentic. The writing is well-done but the story is just not my cup of tea, I guess.
Mermaid School by Joanne Stewart Wentzel, illustrated by Julianna Swaney
This is a fun rhyming picture book. I read it with my five year old niece. I think the rhymes and fun, the pace worked. I loved the diversity of the little mermaids in the illustrations however both the teacher Miss Marina and music teacher Miss Lorelei were portrayed as white mermaids. I thought this might have been a great opportunity to show diverse mentors in this community.
The Case of the Love Commandos (Vishi Puri #4) by Tarquin Hall
An audiobook... this narrator was amazing. He was of I am guessing Indian descent but with a British accent. He effectively read the dialogue, changed his voice for different characters making it really easy to follow. I was not sure if I would like this book but I actually enjoyed it very much. The mystery-solving and discovery were very satisfying. I loved how the aspects of Indian culture, language, and heritage were interwoven especially facts around politics, the caste system, and scientific genetic studies. I would recommend this book. I loved the mission of the Love Commandos which protects the love matches between couples of different castes. I chose 4 stars because it left me wanting for more a bit.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Wow! I really needed this book. What a powerful novel. It made me love Black men even more and showed the depth, conflicts, struggles, and injustices they go through and the lives of the women who love them. These characters felt very real. Roy is from Louisiana, a small town boy, who met his wife Celestial at Morehouse College through "the boy next door" Andre. Their lives turn upside down when Roy is accused of a crime he did not commit and winds up in prison. This audiobook is a study of love, family dynamics, loyalties, and psychology. It is deep, raw, and gut-wrenching at times. I am also so happy that Tayari Jones did an epilogue. I hate when cliffhanging endings leave you awake at night. I can rest assured that there were no loose ends at the end of this story. Full disclosure: I met Tayari Jones while she was on faculty at VONA Voices 2016 in Miami. I was a student in the workshop of travel writer, Faith Adiele. I remember Tayari's readings were always soul-stirring and now having read this book, I can see why. I will also admit that I was dually curious about this novel because it was an Oprah's Book Club pick and it got selected for a summer reading list by former US president elect, Barack Obama. Well done, Tayari!
I am so excited to share the news that I will be doing my very first freakin' writing residency in 2019 at the Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
I have been sitting on this news for a few months now. And a writing residency is something that I have always wanted to do but felt too scared to project far enough into the future, afraid to get rejected, afraid to have my work and career compared to others who have published more than I have. I've applied for other writing residencies and not get in. I also saw that there are literally a dizzying number of writing residencies that exist worldwide, in the far reaches of the globe for months, perched on the side of mountains, smack in the middle of an ancient ruin, and arctic tundra, up to a year at a time. It seemed a little too reclusive and hermit-ish which made it a bit intimidating for my tastes. What if I "lose it" while writing alone without human contact? And as ridiculous as this may sound, I need to remind myself that a writing residency or retreat mind you is not an isolation chamber. There are often opportunities to interact with other writers and communities. Some writing residencies very little, having me wonder if the potential income could cover my expenses and debts and others nothing, and others had me scratching my head. Complicated by the fact that I am a full-time teacher during the school year, it is challenging to take off six months or eight months at a time for a huge income cut. It's one of the dilemmas that I experience when I have to choose between my writing career and my teaching career. Nevertheless, I decided to apply to the Joy Kogawa House Writing Residency. Partly because I have had an interest in trying out life in Vancouver (for a few years now) and the fact that a shorter residency of three months was offered, I thought I would give it the "old college try".
Well, it worked!
I am proud to have been selected to be a writer in residence at the childhood home of one of Canada's well-loved children's book authors, Joy Kogawa.
The Joy Kogawa team did me one better and offered me a two-month residency over what would have been my summer holidays from teaching in 2019. Plus, I get the change of scenery that I need to work on my writing projects while getting involved with the Vancouver writing community and run events and workshops. It helps that I already have a few contacts on the West Coast which I will surely be hitting up once I am there plus getting some serious writing in.
Just think of it. The salty Pacific air and the damp humid rainforest, long summer days and mountains, and the creak of wooden floors in a cozy cottage. I will be drinking a mug of tea, the warm glow of a lamp, and a circle of writers clutching notepads and laptops. The grey sky and beads of rain on the windowpanes... I close my laptop and ride my bicycle to buy a righteous organic locally-grown and sourced rice bowl with steamed tofu and nori and lots of vegetarian fare (because I'm vegetarian.) Sigh! The west coast. I digress...
I am especially honoured to be the writer in residence at a site where the values of social justice are ones that are held dear-- by Joy Kogawa, the Joy Kogawa House Selection team, and me. Born in Vancouver, BC in 1935 to first-generation Japanese Canadians, Joy Kogawa was a survivor of the evacuation, persecution, and internment of thousands during World War II. Her award-winning novel, Obasan, tells the story of a young Japanese-Canadian girl who survived this period. And now, I get to connect my own stories of being also a first-generation Black child of Jamaican Canadians, a writer, and an advocate for social justice. (My Master of Education degree started in Social Justice & Cultural Studies which was moved to the department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education which is now since been changed to Social Justice Education, y'all. I have an MEd in SESE, y'all.) I first learned about Obasan because of my younger sister having to read it in her gifted program. Although I have not yet read this book, I know that is a book that has been adapted to theatre. I am trying to adapt my book Malaika's Costume to theatre as well. I also write diverse stories in which social justice is an underlying theme.
I am looking forward to this exciting opportunity.
It's predestined y'all!