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Jamaica Observer interview with Lorna Goodison

Posted: March 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

With extraordinarily good timing, the Jamaica Observer has started a new series of interviews between Jacqueline Bishop and Jamaica’s women writers. Goodison of course is the author of a number of books of poems and short fiction, and was made Jamaica’s Poet Laureate last year. The interview’s timing couldn’t have been better, as today Goodison was named one of the 2018 winners of the Windham-Campbell prizes, “informing them that they have each won a $165,000 (£119,000) award that is intended to give them the freedom to write, liberated from money worries”, said the UK Guardian.

The Bookends interview in the Jamaica Observer’s not available online but you can read it here: Lorna-Page-1

(Thanks to Jacqueline Bishop for sharing the PDF.)


Home Home

Posted: March 6th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

The manuscript I first wrote a decade ago and rewrote while in hell in an airport in Suriname in 2016 is now being published as Home Home by Papillote Press, after being named third place in the CODE Burt Awards for Caribbean Literature in 2017. We’re hoping to do a launch at the 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.


Hair to eternity

Posted: February 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

I’m 44 now, and my PCOS encourages the growth of facial hair, called hirsutism. While my right-thinking brain knows I don’t have a severe case of it, I can’t believe it to be true. In my mind, the light, fuzzy hair on my chin is the texture and consistency of an actual Brillo pad. I imagine people talking to me see this:

In my heart of hearts, I have always wished my body were as smooth and hairless as an egg. My mother, God rest her soul, had legs that looked freshly waxed all the time even though she didn’t shave. She didn’t have to; she naturally had zero hair on her arms and legs.

All the residual body hair that missed her generation hit me hard.

I don’t remember the hair on my legs when I was a girl; anyway I shaved it off as soon as I could. I must have been eight or nine the first time I did it. Our family was going to Tobago and my big sisters were all shaving their legs in preparation. Who was I not to? I remember the sound and feel of a disposable razor scoring the skin off my shin as I tried to shave dry. The only thing that painful lesson taught me was that I should next time shave with lubrication.

Women had hairless bodies. Anything else was not acceptable. I’m not the only one who has thought this; if you Google “woman legs” you’ll get this, with not a hair in sight:



I shaved everything. Even my feet. I was so desperately afraid of my own body hair, I thought the little tufts on my toes made me look like a Hobbit. I would not wear a skirt when my legs were unshaven. I wouldn’t go to the beach without shaving my pits—and of course the Devil’s Triangle had to be properly landscaped, it goes without saying. I  apologised to sexual partners about the state of my own pubic hair when it wasn’t perfectly coiffed, as if my shaving or clipping my pubic hair had one iota of impact on the experience we had.

When I was about 27, pregnant with my second daughter, my face started sprouting. I was at lunch with a friend when he pointed out three, long, straight strands sticking out from below my chin. I pulled them out immediately. But you know these hairs always come back and they bring friends. Women are told not to shave chin hair because it grows back thicker, or so the common misinformation goes. I tweezed mine, or had it ripped out by waxing or threading every month. When I couldn’t tweeze (make sure you pack your tweezers on vacay, guys) I shaved, making the hair on my chin appear even thicker and to my eye more masculine. The weeks between waxes were the worst, because you have to let your hair grow to a certain length or there’s nothing there for the wax to pull out. So for weeks I’d wait, anxious to be able to go tear my hair out again.

Over the past few years, inspired by my very feminist daughter, I let my leg hair grow out. To my surprise it’s not hard and scary to have hair on my legs. I wear skirts, even short ones. Nobody runs away screaming. (And if they did, so what? It’s my hair, and internalised sexism is the only reason I think it’s ugly. Most men do not care about it, in my experience; some even find it sexy. And women either get it–“Down with patriarchy!”–or ignore my hairy legs out of politeness.) Then I let my armpit hair grow out. Zero problem. But I made the joke that I was feminist from the neck down. The final frontier: my chin.

Now, after years of painful tweezing, expensive waxing and threading, suffering ingrown hairs and scarring from hair removal, I’ve tried to let my chin hair grow out. It is absolutely terrifying. But I’ve not only been out and about, I’ve done two public events where I’ve been photographed for media with my hairy chin. Scary stuff for me, but I’m doing it. Maybe next week I’ll give in and tweeze, or run screaming into the beauty shop and pay someone to have them paste hot wax on my face and rip it off with a small strip of cloth, pulling my hair out by the roots. Or I might not. I’m learning to love my hair, however slowly; or rather I am learning to love my body as it is, hair included.

If she can do it, I can too.

Moving on

Posted: January 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

I remember my first day working at the Trinidad Guardian, having just joined the staff from the Express. The main newsroom was a bull pen, there was one phone and I had been put to work on the slowest computers I’d ever worked with. I threw a tantrum in the office.

That was in 1998.

Nearly 20 years later I’ve moved on to a different paper. I was prostrate with grief that I had left an organisation that had been my touchstone for two decades. Even when I left the staff I stayed on as a freelancer. I’d joke that Guardian had “stay home” in the water. It’s been hard for me to move on.

(It’s been even hard for my computer to move on. The machine on which I’d written so much and edited so much for the Guardian over the past few years still autofills Trinidad Publishing Company, the former name of the Guardian’s parent company, when I type in Trinidad.)

But I’ve moved on. I’ve had three bylines at the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday so far. Read the stories here, here and here.

Here’s to 20 more years.



When you have the blues. All.The.Time.

Posted: August 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Column | 2 Comments »

Courtesy: Hyperbole and a Half

When you suffer with depression it sucks.

Don’t take my word for it. You can read about it here and here and here.

Mine often looks like this:

Day 1: (Snuggling in) Maybe I’ll just stay in bed today. Because life is so hard and the bed is so soft. I can read a book!

Day 2: (Wrapping myself in blanket, burrito-like) Bed. Because bed, dammit. Get this book away from me. I can’t actually concentrate long enough to read a paragraph. (Binge watches police procedurals on the InterWebs)

Day 3: (Sobbing) I wish I could get up and do things. But why? My life is meaningless anyway.

Day 4: (Googling suicide methods) Why am I even alive? I am a waste of God’s resources. I’ve ruined my children’s lives. Even my pets would be better off without me. I should be dead. I don’t even deserve this bed.

Ect etc.

It’s embarrassing to admit this aloud. In our society everyone’s expected to be alert, high-functioning, happy and excited about life. When you’re not, people tell you to snap out of it.

If I could have snapped out of it, I’d have done it when I was a child and drank insecticide hoping to kill myself. Or when I was in my 20s, doing everything I possibly could to either contract HIV, destroy my liver or get murdered in a hole somewhere by a random stranger.

At the government psychiatric clinic I attend (because a private psychiatrist costs upwards of $400/hour and antidepressant and antianxietal medication can cost more than $30/day) I met lady a few weeks ago. She was pretty and vivacious and eventually we got to talking about our mutual condition. Yet even she was telling me to get over it.

(Also, side note: Could we make T&T mental health clinics less like death, please? Sweating in a warm, crowded waiting area for three hours in order to see a doctor for five minutes isn’t exactly uplifting. And if the hospital or health centre is out of the medication—as it usually is—how is the depressed [or bipolar or psychotic, whatever] person going to bestir herself to get to a pharmacy to get the medication for herself? There should be a social worker in this equation.)

Look, if I could drag myself out of it, I would. Do you think I enjoy feeling hopeless, helpless and powerless? Do you think I like planning my own death, imagining my family members happening upon my lifeless body after I’ve done the deed? No, no I do not. I’m so much better when I’m happy and out of bed. When I’m not feeling depressed, I’m fabulously funny, smart, and cool. I am fantastically productive and work from sunup to sundown. Just ask my friends. (Wait. I haven’t seen them in months because I guess they’re tired of coming to my house to drag me out of bed.)

This is not one of those days when I’m fabulously funny, smart or cool. This is one of those days when I look back on last week’s terror and tears and wish earnestly for healing. I’m not Googling suicide today. Not at the moment, anyway. But there’s a police procedural on the Internet with my name on it…

Before you ask, yes, I take my meds. Yes, I meditate. Yes, I try to get in my green leafy veg, B vitamins and Omega-3s. (OKAY, I ADMIT I don’t exercise much—but if I can’t get out of bed, how likely is it I’ll get any exercise?)

I’m going back to bed.

Pass me the blanket and turn off the light on your way out.

After The 2017 BOCAS

Posted: May 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

Nathalie Taghaboni, the author of the very popular T&T contemporary lit novels called the Savanoy Series, follows up her first guest post on my blog with an after note about her experience as a festival author in the annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest, which came to a close on April 30 in Port-of-Spain.

Nathalie Taghaboni signs her book Santimanitay for writer and elder Eintou Springer, at the launch of Nathalie’s newest book in the Savanoy Series, Side by Side we Stand, at Big Black Box, Woodbrook, on April 23. Photo courtesy: EJ McKenzie.


I survived my first Bocas Lit Fest! Not only did I survive, I thrived. Not only did I thrive, I want to do it again. Oh my goodness, I had a time!

Letting a writer loose in an event like this is comparable to … let me think. A child let loose in Disney? A liar let loose in Washington? There were books and authors and presentations and books and workshops and books and performances and literary giants and, did I mention, BOOKS?

At one (several) point I considered cashing in my retirement savings and pawning my dentures so that I could sweep all those books off the booksellers’ tables and pack a barrel to ship up to my home address.

I giggled like a fool to stand next to Earl Lovelace—who probably never realised I was there. I recognized faces I’d only ever seen on the back of a well-read novel. I gaped and gawked and sidled up to people. On Friday, April 28, the day of my panel presentation, I just wanted to sit on the stage and stare back at people who actually came to hear us talk about our passion for writing and the stories that came out of it.

The next day I hurried back down to NALIS, the main festival venue, where the irrepressible Lisa Allen-Agostini invited me to take in a workshop led by Rosamond S King on “How to Witness Your Own Writing”. In that workshop were brand spanking new poets coming into their own and seasoned veterans honing their craft and me. How could I help but learn and broaden my horizons?

My hat is off to the management of Bocas for being able to pull this off these past seven years. The amount of scheduling and corralling of talent and mind boggling logistics that must go on behind the scenes makes my head spin and I can only see this event growing and becoming a must-attend for everyone.

I hope more people locally not just attend but participate. The vision of the founders is on point and I advise all, new writers especially, to learn more about the event. While it is only a few days long in April, it provides a lifetime of learning and a lifeline to us all.

For me, reading brings life and consciousness, and writing gives breath and scope and provides a language to express ourselves and share experiences.

To borrow a phrase from one of my readers, Bocas is “literally lit”!

My Bocas 2017

Posted: May 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Awards, Books, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

#bocas2017 CODE Org Burt Award ceremony: Puerto Rican writer Viviana Prado-Núñez scooped the first prize for her self-published novel The Art of White Roses. Here she is receiving her award from Chief Justice Ivor Archie, ORTT. Photo courtesy: Marlon James/ NGC Bocas Lit Fest. (Caption taken from the Bocas Facebook page.)

This year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest was amazing. I mean, I say that every year; the festival is such a boon to the public and the writers of Trinidad and Tobago. This year I had the pleasure and privilege of not only being a prize-winner at the festival, but I got to give a talk to secondary school students about writing; I got to judge a spoken word competition (the First Citizens National Poetry Slam), and to meet and interact with authors from around the world.

There were the regulars, with whom I have communed here and in Jamaica—the Kei Millers, Carolyn Coopers, Eddie Baughs, Monique Roffeys and Philip Nantons—they’re here at Bocas regularly, if not annually. Seeing them in the corridors of the National Library of Port-of-Spain is reassuring and delightful. They bring their grace and talent to us here and I never take them for granted.

Kei Miller giving his acceptance speech after winning the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Well deserved. Photo: Marlon James/ NGC Bocas Lit Fest

This year I also got to meet new Caribbean writers like Safiya Sinclair, author of the OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry for her new collection Cannibal; and international stars like the gifted essayist Eliot Weinberger, whose essay on the stars made me hold my breath when he read it at the festival. (It’s at the seven-minute mark on the video, or thereabouts.)

One-on-One with Eliot Weinberger

The eminent American writer and translator talks to Nicholas Laughlin about his explorations in the art of the essay, from history to natural science to politics.

Posted by Bocas Lit Fest on Saturday, April 29, 2017

I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Trinidad Noir: The Classics celebrated in a pre-launch event where its co-editor Earl Lovelace read his indeed classic story “Jobell and America”, and where host elisha efua bartels read from her story “Woman is Boss” from the original Trinidad Noir.

I had the thrilling opportunity to meet the extraordinary young writer from Puerto Rico, Viviana Prado Nunez, whose novel The Art of White Roses won the Young Adult literature prize CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (I came third in the contest with my manuscript Waiting for the Bus, and my fellow Trini Kevin Jared Hosein came second with his dark tale The Beast of Kukuyo). And the pleasure of hearing Kenyan journalist and fiction writer Peter Kimani, author of the new international hit novel Dance of the Jakaranda, read—and sing!—from this glorious, textured work.

One-on-One with Peter Kimani

The Kenyan author of Dance of the Jakaranda talks to Johnny Temple about his transition from journalism to fiction-writing, and the literary scene in East Africa.

Posted by Bocas Lit Fest on Saturday, April 29, 2017

One of the unexpected highlights for me was judging the Slam. (I was a last-minute replacement for a judge who was unable to make it to the show.) Here were some undeniably talented young people, competing for the mindblowing prize of TT $50,000. They went all out and gave their blood, sweat and tears to the packed audience at NAPA. Happily, the audience agreed with the judges’ decision! (Head judge was the dazzling poet Anthony Joseph, with Philip Nanton, Safiya Sinclair, and UWI, St Augustine, head of the MFA programme Muli Amaye and I also on the panel.)

Congratulations to Camryn L. Bruno, winner of the Grand Slam: 2017 First Citizens National Poetry Slam Finals! Here she is, holding her $50,000 cheque, flanked by second and third place finalists Alex Stewart and Idrees Jali Saleem.
Bruno, Stewart, Saleem and their fellow finalists performed to a legion of fans, community members in the arts, and #bocas2017 attendees: the NGC Bocas Lit Fest salutes the #FCNPS2017 competitors for their bravery, talent and dedication to sharing their all on the Caribbean’s largest spoken word stage.
Photo by Marlon James, official Bocas Lit Fest photographer.
(Caption taken from the Bocas Facebook page)

Bocas is a gift. I am thankful.

Before the Bocas: A guest post by Nathalie Taghaboni

Posted: April 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Trinidad-born Nathalie Taghaboni is the author of the Savanoy series: Across From Lapeyrouse, Santimanitay and Side By Side We Stand.  She very generously agreed to do a guest post on my blog in anticipation of the 2017 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port-of-Spain, which she’s taking part in.


Perhaps if I had to find one word to describe these weeks and days leading up to the 2017 Bocas Lit Fest, I would probably chose “unreal”. Everything, even the very real and necessary planning took on a dreamlike quality.

I think it was back in 2012 when I first heard of Bocas. When I left the country, there was no such thing and I was no author. My first formally published work started in 2001 with a weekly column in a Toronto newspaper called SHARE. I was writing social commentary á la picong with all the Trinidad Nation Language you could shake a stick at. A book was a vague something-something in the back room of my mind. Even after I self-published a collection of those columns, the book idea was only slightly less nebulous.

My first novel started taking shape in my head before I was aware of it. This might sound crazy but I never protest not to be. I wrote the novel, printed a few hundred copies and figured most of them would end up in my basement as a condo for mice. So imagine my surprise when the book that had eschewed the formal writing style, opting for a storytelling style, sold out and demand made it imperative to reprint. The story was good and folks wanted more.

It was after the book was out that I heard about Bocas. I nervously sent in my poorly edited book to the New York judge on the same day that the US east coast was flooded by a storm. He emailed to say the book was destroyed. It took that Act of God for me to become determined. I sent another book to him but never made it to the long list. The story was poorly presented, I knew that, but rather than give up, I dug in my heels and wrote the sequel. A far, far better work.

But a self-publishing stint is expensive and with the second novel, part two in my unexpected series, I simply could not afford to enter the Bocas Lit Fest. I spent the next few years saving and writing until July 2016 when the third and final installment was published. I submitted the book and sat on pins and needles awaiting the list announcement.

During my wait something else was happening, slowly, surely. All along, folks were reading, supporting, encouraging me and my style of storytelling. I received an invitation to speak on a panel at Bocas.

If you know me at all, you know I am never short for words. The email invitation left me speechless. It cushioned the blow of not making the long list of 2017 Bocas Lit Fest Prize authors.

Yet, this ex-pat, writing all alone in arguably the most culturally bereft state of the Disunited States of Twitler, is coming home with her humble offering to talk with and listen to other Caribbean authors. I am looking forward to the opportunity and honour.

Can’t wait to tell you how it went!

Nathalie Taghaboni will speak on the panel Family Ties (along with Aliyyah Eniath, author of The Yard), April 28, 3- 4 pm, Old Fire Station, during the Bocas Lit Fest.



I’m shortlisted for the CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature… and it’s not a joke

Posted: April 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Awards, Publications | No Comments »

Last June I was stranded in the Suriname Airport. That was an adventure in itself. But sweet are the uses of adversity, as Willy S used to say. One of the things I did while I was stuck there for two days was update an old manuscript I’d written nearly a decade ago called Waiting for the Bus.

I submitted the update to a competition, the CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, and waited.

The manuscript is pretty interesting, I think. I haven’t seen anything like it out of the Caribbean before, but I may be wrong. There actually might be another YA novel about a depressed teen girl whose attempted suicide is instrumental in her moving to Canada with her LGBTQ aunt… but I’m pretty doubtful there’s any Caribbean YA novel treating with these themes right now.

Anyway, I’ve been shortlisted for the award along with my fellow Trinidadian writer Kevin Jared Hosein. (He’s on a winning streak, that one. Book published by Peepal Tree Press, longlisted for the Bocas Prize in Fiction, and now this… he’s on fire! We also both have short fiction in the Lightspeed Special Issue People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction, co-edited by Nalo Hopkinson.)

Wish us luck!

Rum and date rape

Posted: July 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »
“In the majority of rapes on college campuses, both parties involved had been drinking—often to excess. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can often heighten the desire for sexual activity. Those who expect sex after they have been drinking may use force if they encounter resistance.” —University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire Web site counselling page.
When the rum rebranding happened last year I was kind of horrified. The new tagline for the rum’s advertisements was “When it pours, you reign.” My brain exploded. Really? Show images of soaking wet, drunk-looking women, in a campaign that explicitly gives complete domination to the “you” to whom the ads appeal? What on earth were you thinking? Who thought it was a good idea to create a campaign that basically advertises date rape?
“Fifty-five per cent of the college men who acknowledged committing sexual assault on a date reported being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault,” says the above-quoted Web site. “In the same study, 53 per cent of the college women who experienced sexual aggression on a date reported that they were under the influence at the time of the assault.” Clearly, there is a link between alcohol abuse and date rape; but does the campaign exploit that link or is it just an unhappy molehill that I, as a rabid feminist, am making a mountain of?
There’s no doubt that my feminist ideology colours my interpretation of the campaign. However, anyone with a basic understanding of advertising psychology can see I have a point. It is a fact that rum (like most spirituous liquor) is pitched mostly to male consumers. This rebranding is meant to widen the consumer base for this brand (as I have read on the behance.net Web page of Sophie Charles, who seems to be one of the people involved in creating the campaign)[UPDATE: THAT PAGE HAS SINCE BEEN MADE PRIVATE]. However, the ads seem still mostly pitched at males. I can tell this because the majority of the shots in the TV commercials, and the majority of the images in the print and billboard campaigns feature scantily-clad women in various poses of ecstatic rapture—in other words, they look like they’ve been drinking and have lost their inhibitions. There are few men in the billboard and print ads; whereas the TV commercial shows a party scene, the billboards in particular tend to isolate the females and show them wet from head to toe, reminiscent of a wet T-shirt contest in which the female participants are put on show for the sexual titillation of the audience—who are mostly men.
The word “reign” has a specific connotation of dominance, ruling over, being in charge of. A monarch reigns over subjects, and although it can be a beneficent relationship, one always knows who holds the power. “Reign” is not a word that invites negotiation. Juxtapose this word with the sexually objectified, drunk-looking girls, and what do you get? In my opinion, an ad for date rape. More than half the rapes reported in T&T are date or acquaintance rapes, according to the Rape Crisis Society in a 2005 newspaper story by Suzanne Sheppard. This is hardly unusual, as most rapes reported anywhere are committed by people known to the victim. Though you might hear of “date rape drugs” that a rapist slips into the victim’s drink to knock the victim out, it is in fact far more common for the danger to lie in the drink itself, rather than any exotic chemical added to it.
When drunk people get into sexual situations, it’s not unusual for them to have sex. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, the perfect cocktail for poor choices. To quote the same University of Wisconsin Web site, “It is hard enough to communicate about sex when sober. Trying to communicate and make good decisions when drinking is impossible for most people.” I’m not a habitual rum drinker, though I’ll drink the occasional mojito faster than you can say “Cuba libre.” I have nothing against the brand, or its parent company. What I do have a problem with is irresponsible, thoughtless advertising. You may say, “Well, that’s life. Everybody knows people feel sexy when they drink. You can’t blame the liquor for date rape.” My response: Remember “Rum is smasho”? We didn’t blame rum for car crashes before that, either.
[This column appeared in the Trinidad Guardian on July 17, 2012]