It is with the greatest pleasure that I introduce you to Joanne C. Hillhouse who has agreed to guestblog for the next four weeks for me. I am so very appreciative – and I’m sure you will be, too:
Thanks to Elaine for sharing some of her space on the web with me and for being a 2012 patron of my writing programme Wadadli Pen. Speaking of which come to http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com to check us out, and check out my page http://jhohadli.wordpress.com too when you get a chance. Bless. Joanne C. Hillhouse.
First, if you’ll indulge me I’d like to talk a bit about my book, Oh Gad! Its release was the highlight of a very busy 2012, one filled with other literary milestones like publications in two other books – For Woman: In Tribute to Nina Simone and In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, and the literary journals Womanspeak and the Caribbean Writer; participation in the Callaloo Writers Workshop held by Texas A & M at Brown University over the summer, getting the opportunity to read at Brown as a result; readings and presentations in other places like Suriname, Dominica, and, of course, New York where the Friends of Antigua Public Library hosted the launch of Oh Gad! – which I describe as a modern Caribbean tale of love, politics, family and personal discovery.
I’ll share, to begin, snippets of responses given by me in response to questions posed during the Q & A at the New York event.
On painting scenes
“I try to give a great sense of atmosphere, and just to make it come alive for the reader so they can see it and feel it and smell it and touch it so that whatever it is, (they) can connect with it. That’s what I try to do because that’s how I think I interact with the world. I always have a notebook with me, and things strike me; it might be the way the sun feels on (my) skin or the way the colours are bleeding across the sky at sunset, whatever it is, it’s a moment and (I) can use that moment at some other point in (my) writing and so I tend to capture it. I steal moments.”
Excerpt: “On landing at V. C. Bird International airport, she immediately felt the Antigua heat rush up to greet her like an old, barely remembered, but over-enthusiastic friend.”
On keeping it fresh
“Because Nikki was experiencing Antigua, not for the first time but anew, it was an opportunity for me as a writer to come into it in a fresh way. So that when I’m writing for instance the Carnival scene – I’ve played mas so many times, I haven’t tried to describe the process before, but – how would Nikki who had never played mas and who reluctantly agreed to play mas, how would she kind of get caught up in the experience and what music would be playing and how would the rain feel on her skin and how would she feel in the middle of that experience, so all of that I was able to experience fresh through her.”
Excerpt: “She kissed him then, amidst the sweltering, gyrating bodies and the rain.”
On writing from a Caribbean perspective
“As a writer, my thing is always to be true to my characters; to their voice, their experience, their truth. So when I’m writing it, that’s how I write it and I’m kind of happy that I got with an editor who respected that.”
Excerpt: “When money ah change hand and big people ah flex dem muscle, laka smadee na exist. Smadee come laka masquita, dem clap dem han’ together so, and out you lights, and you na even see de blow ah come. Me jus’ ah wait and see.”
My publisher, by the way, is Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster. It’s my first time with a U.S. publisher. The response to the book has so far been encouraging…
Review excerpt: “Oh Gad! is one of the most important fiction books to come out of Antigua & Barbuda. I would call it fact fiction and I would suggest that Ms. Hillhouse is extremely brave to tackle many of the issues raised in this story which could be regarded as provocative by some. Nevertheless those issues are true and offer an excellent written portrait of elements of our society in the twenty-first century.”
…and I’m hoping that that positive response will attract greater readership. Not just because I hope to get paid; obviously, I do but that’s not what motivates me to write. Rather, as a now grown woman who remembers curling up with books and her imagination as a girl coming of age in Ottos, Antigua, who didn’t dare believe that someone would someday be curled up with her book as well, seeing that, experiencing that, among readers who have no reason to like the book is surreal and exciting and deeply, deeply humbling.
My poem, Ah Write! ends with these lines:
“Ah don’(t) write for you
Ah write ‘cause my Muse direc’ me too
And she tell me
And all the people will feel it too.”
And that’s about the sum of it.