We made the news!!!! In Dubai!!! On Page 16 of the Khaleej Times' Friday, February 24, 2017 edition to be exact. Thank you Purva Grover for writing such an amazing article and to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (EAFOL) for helping me bring Malaika's Costume to the UAE. See you on March 11 10-11:30am at my presentation, Caribbean Playground, at EAFOL in Dubai. Don't forget to purchase your tickets. Read it here, too.
I feel like I have entered a new world and I like it. The Emirates Air Festival of Literature (EAFOL) Press Conference took place on Monday, February 20, 2017 at the Intercontinental Dubai in Festival City. The event started with a press conference at 10:00am filled with authors, writers, journalists, and notaries. The panel featured Isobel Abulhoul (OBE, CEO and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation and Director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature who I had the pleasure of having lunch with at Fratelli La Bufala restaurant in Festival City) and Ibrahim Khadim (newly-appointed Deputy Festival Director of the Emirates Airline Festival Literature and Business Development Director of the Emirates Literature Foundation.) Afterward, authors and participants were invited to Festival City to the EAFOL Art Exhibition featuring various two- and three-dimensional work by student artists. Participants, authors, and notaries posed for photos and even Lina Litfest, the turtle mascot of the festival, joined us. We
Being in Abu Dhabi for the last several months makes me no writing scene expert. However being a writer who has continued to further my writing career in the early mornings, late nights, and weekends around my teaching job in a new city (Abu Dhabi) and country (United Arab Emirates or UAE) the same year my first three books were released means I've been keeping my ear to the ground about what's going on here, writerly speaking of course. I have looked for ways to cut my literary teeth in my new home. I found such folks in some of the following places in Abu Dhabi. Many of these places are filled with professionals, like myself, by day who moonlight as writers, too. I have found my tribe!
Founded by Dorian Paul Rogers, Rooftop Rhythms is a home of artists and a touch of the Nuyorican Poets cafe and Apollo Theater both creative fixtures in Harlem, New York here on the artistic hub that is becoming Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. A monthly series of spoken word artists, Rooftop Rhythms usually gathers at the New York University at Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) spitting rhymes, spilling souls, and flowing English, Arabic, or a combination of the two. The event takes place "poetry slam"-style with the cheers and "oooos" proceeding each poet.
Abu Dhabi Writers' Cafe
Abu Dhabi Writers' Cafe is a weekly MeetUp of people who gather to do something called "Shut up and Write"-- 25 minutes of solid writing, 5 minutes to talk and debrief, repeat. Certainly imperatives aside, what you get is an opportunity to develop something that you are already working on in the company of others, hence taking away the social isolation that often happens in writing. Once a month there is a critique session of participants' work as well as workshop on how to improve one's craft. I've gone a couple of times and it's the perfect time and place to get your project done.
Abu Dhabi International Book Fair
The annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is apparently a big deal and hasn't occurred as of yet. I've heard there are a lot of books, discussion, and media present. The dates for this large event are April 26 to May 2, 2017.
Abu Dhabi Writers' Workshop
Abu Dhabi Writers' Workshop is a weekly Meetup who gather under the guidance of writer/author Janet Olearski. Each week Janet provides resources, readings, contest deadlines, and mini-lectures on craft. What she also does amazingly well is provide writing prompts which have certainly got me writing outside of my comfort zone, all kind of genres like spoken word poetry, historical fiction, personal essay, and short story. This group is my equivalent of a writing critique group, workshop, and class all rolled into one and the awesome thing is you get to share your work each week.
Photo credit: Janet Olearski from the Helbing Readers website
Wanna Read? is an organization that creates rooms and spaces for children to engage with reading in hospitals. I learned about this organization through Abu Dhabi-based Book Fabulous blogger, Rana Asfour. Wanna Read? organizes reading awareness and literacy initiatives in a variety of spaces including the one in Marina Mall which I participated this past November (pictured below). There, local children's authors, like myself, read our books or shared other favourite books with children.
This is all for now and really the only examples of the Abu Dhabi Writing scene I could thing of for the time being. Hopefully, there will be more to share about the Abu Dhabi writing scene very soon!
I have got a special announcement.
And it has to do with a discovery announced in this month of February.
It's also a conversation I am going to have with my alter-ego or MAE.
February commemorates Black history month in Canada and the United States. (In Britain, Black history month is in October. Also, the month is celebrated throughout the African diaspora.) Since 1926, 91 years ago, American Carter G. Woodson began "Negro History Week" to commemorate the histories and contributions of Black people to the United States. In 1970, the celebration was turned into Black History Month at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. In 1978, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) first petitioned the City of Toronto recognize Black History Month in Canada. In 1995, the House of Commons in Canada officially recognized Black history month after a motion was proposed by politician Jean Augustine.
MAE: Okay, we get it. February is Black History Month... what is the big announcement?
Have you heard of Harriet Tubman? She was a slave, "Black Moses", an abolitionist, and many, many other things. I first learned about her when I was a student in fifth grade from one of the many public library books on Black (mostly African-American) history I had read. I was fascinated with her story and the Underground Railroad. I also think this was around the time I read or attempted to read two novels by Canadian authors about this topic-- Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker and Harriet's Daughter by Marlene Nourbese Phillip. (Most recently, I read The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat which was my first book review in a magazine, Canadian Children's Book News, as well as a winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for young adult literature in 2015.)
Anyway, back to the announcement.
MAE: Yes. The announcement.
We know that Harriet Tubman was a real person because of the many writings and accounts that describe her, her own biography, and the few photographs that exist thanks to the technology which developed in the 1800s. She was born into slavery around 1822 and died in 1913, a free woman. Imagine, a woman who could not read not only escaped from slavery in the southern United States to her own freedom. Harriet Tubman led 300 enslaved people to do the same including some of her family members to the northern United States as well as Canada. She is a woman who has been celebrated and commemorated in many different ways. Most recently, Tubman will appear on the American twenty dollar bill.
Harriet Tubman's life will be depicted soon in two biopics (movies) about her life. One of them is an HBO film series starring Viola Davis as Harriet Tubman.
Another has been recently announced-- Nigerian-British actress Cynthia Erivo will play Harriet Tubman in another biopic.
MAE: So was that the announcement? Or announcements?
No. But that was pretty cool information to know right?
MAE: Yeah. I guess you're right. On with the announcement, etcetera...
The big announcement this past week that has got me excited was the new discovery-- a photograph of Harriet Tubman. Only a few photographs of Tubman exist and most of them show her as an older woman. However the newly discovered photo is unique because it is the one to show Tubman at her youngest (believed to be in her forties). This photo is also believed to be taken after the Civil War in which Harriet Tubman served as a cook, a nurse, an armed scout, and a spy.
MAE: Wow! Harriet Tubman was not only a phenomenal woman but she is... what Americans would call "bad ass" and what Jamaicans would call "bad gyal". In the most respectful terms of course.
Of course. Yes, it's true. Harriet Tubman has led an amazing and inspiring life. And that's not all. I have another announcement to make.
MAE: Now I wonder what that could be?
I've been sitting on this news for a while. Drum roll, please!
I am writing a beginning reader on Harriet Tubman slated for Winter 2019 with Harper Collins Publishers.
MAE: Very good news indeed! Go on with your bad self!
Thank you. It's come full circle because in 2009 I taught Grade 1 at the Africentric Alternative School, I wrote and bound readers for my own students about figures in Black history because I could not find the books that were age-appropriate and reading levels of my students.
MAE: So I guess you got a lot of work to do now, huh.
Indeed. Writing and research to do.
Now it's grind time!
The Blogs that Blogged Me
I began my first blog about 10 years ago. I had a desk job with little to do and I was terribly bored so it was something to do. I must admit that this first attempt failed miserably. My post was filled with self-loathing and misery. I have always been an avid journaler but I hadn't spent much time reading other people's blogs.
Fast-forward to today and four blogs later (including the one I am writing now), I am becoming somewhat of a blog connoisseur. I also realize that the blog is a dying art form becoming more of an archival online relic of tester year, replaced by Instagram, tweets, and Pinterest. It seems that we simply do not have enough time anymore to actually read someone's thoughts expressed on a page. We are slowly becoming used to abbreviations and emojis and less accompanied to blogs.
This is partly why I love the following two blogs who have not only dedicated themselves to promoting children's books by authors and illustrators of colour, they give us space (the word count and megabytes) to do so. I was interviewed by each of these blogs so.
The Brown Bookshelf: 28 Days Later
The Brown Bookshelf is a blog focused on pushing "the awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers". What is really cool about this site is that it is operated by young adult and children's book illustrators and authors like Don Tate, Tracey Baptiste, Varian Johnson, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. (FAIBAI: For authors & illustrators, By authors & illustrators) Every February , during Black history month, the website highlights the work of authors and illustrators of African descent. Although this is not my first time on the site (check out last year's selfie interview here), I was excited to be included in this year's 28 Days Later list for New Voices Younger. Author Crystal Allen contacted me to say that I had "been selected for an author spotlight during the Brown Bookshelf's Tenth 28 Days Later campaign because of [my] amazing contributions to children's literature! We are so proud of your accomplishments, and all of the wonderful things about you." (I was extremely flattered. She had me at "selected".)
Also included in this list are some of my children and young adult writing sheroes (some of whom I read while in elementary and high school) like Rita Williams Garcia, Rosa Guy, Jacqueline Woodson, Eloise Greenfield, and Vanessa Brantley Newton. They are all scheduled for the last few days of the month. And I can't wait!
Anansesem: News, ideas, arts, & letters from the world of Caribbean children's publishing
Kiss me neck! Me mumma! Blouse and skirt! Brown cow! Wow! It does not get better than this. A whole blog dedicated to Caribbean children's books! Anansesem is not only amazing since it highlights authors and illustrators in the Caribbean but also those of Caribbean descent (like me). Naturally, Malaika's Costume found a home here. What is also cool about this site is you can buy books, too, no matter where you are in the Caribbean or another part of world. Summer Edwards, the sites' founder, invited me to write something for the December 2016 issue and gave me an idea-- collaborate with Itah Sadu, a fellow Groundwood Books children's book author as well as co-owner of A Different Booklist bookstore. (Itah's book "Greetings Leroy" is coming out very soon.) The result-- an author-to-author interview entitled "Author to Author: A Conversation Between Nadia L. Hohn and Itah Sadu".
I have known Itah Sadu for a long time. I have seen A Different Booklist book displays at numerous events over the years. I have attended workshops there. Itah Sadu even did a school visit to my classroom and school on numerous occasions. I have read her books Christopher Cleans His Room, Christopher Changes His Name, and Mathieu Da Costa: First to Arrive to my students over the years. I have attended various events she has organized in the Black community. So the interview was my opportunity to ask Itah all of the questions I have ever wanted to ask.
Back to the Anansesem blog, there are some really cool features like finding books by Caribbean country. Since the island in Malaika's Costume is not named, there is much interpretation about where the book is based. Many Trinidadians and other island people believe it is Trinidad. I am okay with this although I feel its weird to write about and name a place that I have not been. I have been to Jamaica, Cuba, Bahamas, and briefly to the Dominican Republic but I am most familiar with Jamaica. This is what I imagined when I wrote story but the Carnival traditions I use are Trinidadian. As long as we can agree that it's an island in the Caribbean, it's all good.
It's cover reveal time... may I have a drum roll please? (No, just kidding.) I present to you the cover for Malaika's Winter Carnival, the sequel to my first picture book Malaika's Costume. The book will be in stores on September 1, 2017. I am blessed to have illustrator Irene Luxbacher contribute to this book and its cover. (You can almost feel the shivery, haunting beauty of winter!) Thank you also to my online writing group and early readers of the first drafts.