We are here – Ah We Yah!
Introduction to the special Antigua and Barbuda issue 2014
This idea that your story is too small to matter is something you have to overcome when you’re writing from a small place, a place considered small even within our Caribbean space where ‘small island’ can be both descriptor and dismissal. But our calypso artistes—and calypso writers like Marcus Christopher and Shelly Tobitt—reinforced for generations of Antiguan working people, and provided a model to emerging writers, that our stories do matter.
Given the role of calypso in laying the foundation for modern Antiguan and Barbudan literature, its presence in this issue was inevitable. But the use of the word modern there is deliberate, as when I embraced the opportunity to present this issue of writings from Antigua and Barbuda, I wanted a strong mix of fresh voices alongside some of the more established ones. I wanted this issue to be an affirmation of the vibrancy, the now-ness of Antiguan and Barbudan literature.
Putting this issue together, I had to make some tough decisions, and endure some disappointments, to achieve the desired mix, but one that absolutely had to make the cut, and the writer did not disappoint, is an article by new PhD, Hazra Medica. I’m delighted to include this because of her unprecedented research into Antiguan and Barbudan literature at the doctoral level. I, also, on the point of freshness, wanted to include some of the voices that have emerged from the programme that I run to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, a programme 10 years old as of 2014, the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize.
I wanted art! I love art. And in including art in this issue I tried to look for visual artists somehow linked to the literary arts. The roundtable that emerged from that convergence is one of my favourite parts of this issue. In that discussion, we see artistes moving beyond the outsider gaze, an inevitability of creating in a country where tourism trumps everything perhaps, to some necessary self-reflection. It leaves the artist vulnerable to speculation but also gives more insight to the layers upon layers of reality and meaning even on a small island marked by the seamlessness of its seasons and landscapes. As our artists experiment, there is a sense of fun born of the freedom to play with technique and point of view; there is also clear appreciation for the beauty and rich tones of the familiar landscape, poetry in their rendering of it but there is also a sad sense of capturing something—something of the character of the country—that’s disappearing as fast as they paint it, a conscious decision on the part of the artists to time-capsule it. Antigua and Barbuda like her artists is maturing; a beautiful but not always a pretty thing. Not surprisingly this means that the art is also in transition, which would explain why the virtual art roundtable emerged with the header ‘what aesthetic’ meant not to disparage but to capture that sense of something still evolving, and, as such, still un-definable.
As the various pieces selected for this collection suggest, there is a sense of the literary scene, also, discovering itself; daring, tackling a range of genres, reinventing the familiar, and jumping into themes relevant to life in modern Antigua and Barbuda. There is room for growth in terms of craft, always, which programmes like the Just Write Writers Retreat founded by Brenda Lee Browne, and my Wadadli Pen and Jhohadli Writing programme are trying to address, but there’s also a pulsing vibrancy as evidenced by programmes like August Rush’s Expressions Open Mic series. The literary community may be still young as far as the arc of literature is concerned, and fairly fluid (non-formal) but it is there. The quality of the output is mixed as you would find in such a comparatively young phase but it’s good to see so many embracing their literary voice, no doubt some distinctive voices will emerge from the crowd.
Those now-voices are now challenged to step out beyond our shores, grasp the opportunities to grow as individual writers and artists, and also insert ourselves into this wider Caribbean artistic space, claim our right to be part of the discourse. I chose to take up the opportunity to take on this project of editing a special Antigua and Barbuda edition of tongues of the ocean for the latter reason; also because I believe there is room for growth, a need to challenge ourselves more—reach for those opportunities, and open ourselves to the critical assessment that can aid in our growth.
On the point of critical assessment, there is, perhaps since the days of Tim Hector’s famed Fan the Flame, a decided void on the ground here when it comes to art and cultural criticism, a void the still young Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books edited by native son and Brown University professor, Dr. Paget Henry, is working to fill. This annual collection is itself a reminder to ourselves and the people who pay attention to scholarship, an area in which Antiguan and Barbudan literature has been underserved, in my view, that we are here—ah we yah!
Joanne C. Hillhouse
tongues of the ocean
•••This special issue is edited by Antiguan and Barbudan author Joanne C. Hillhouse – author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad! She was second placed in 2014 for the inaugural Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean Literature with Musical Youth, a book that will soon hit the marketplace. Her writing has been widely anthologized and she’s benefited from awards and fellowships to writing programmes in the Caribbean and beyond. Hillhouse freelances as a writer, editor, writing coach and instructor. Her online homes are http://jhohadli.wordpress.com and http://www.facebook.com/JoanneCHillhouse and the online home for the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize which she founded and manages is http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com. While there be sure to view the lists of compiled writings by Antiguans and Barbudans. We are here—ah we yah!