Writing Down the Vision by Kei Miller

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Kei Miller‘s impressive repertoire in writing shows that he can make bold strides in both fiction and poetry: he’s got three published books in each of those genres. His newest book of poems, The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion, is set to hit bookstores in May this year. In this, his first book of essays, Miller’s wit, humour and discernment don’t vanish with the switch to non-fiction. On the contrary, Writing Down the Vision brings so many tributaries of thought to bear on the page that what emerges is an eighteen essay powerhouse.

Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2013, the collection has been longlisted for the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. The essays are workhorses in service of numerous purposes. In them, Miller demarcates the rise and fall of dub poetry (“A Smaller Sound, a Lesser Fury – A Eulogy For Dub Poetry”), laments the uncertain fates of same-gender lovers in Jamaica (“A Smaller Song”, which also functions as a letter of kinship to Thomas Glave) and hearkens to the writer’s religious fervour and disenchantment (“Riffing of Religion”).

Through each of the work’s essays, written in different years, countries and for audiences separated by geography and circumstance, the collection’s constant hallmark is that it is never, ever boring. Miller’s prose is by turns energetic, whimsical, elegiac and brave, but it steers clear of dry academic treatments and lethargic speculations. These are essays against which you can check your own biases, intellectual quarrels and best-laid opinions; everything Miller writes serves to propel the conversation forward, not to claim it as his sole province.

One might assert that a lifetime’s experience resides in Writing Down the Vision, or several commingled experiences over any number of lives. The essays reflect this multivalency, offering the reader glimpses (and long gazes) of Jamaica; the Caribbean, and the world around us.

An Evening of Tea and Readings, March 8th – Paper Based Turns 27!

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Our official event flyer, designed by Reynold Hackshaw.

Our official event flyer, designed by Reynold Hackshaw.

The beginning of 2014 saw our Tea and Readings series revitalized, with a successful event in February. Just one month later, we were equally excited to host March’s reading, for many reasons, including our celebration of Paper Based’s twenty-seventh birthday! In her opening remarks, Paper Based’s owner, Joan Dayal, expressed how grateful she was that our festivities shared a calendar page with International Women’s Day.

Joan Dayal says a few welcoming words to the gathering.

Joan Dayal says a few welcoming words to the gathering.

To commemorate the occasion, we assembled a lineup of writers with various literary backgrounds, whose works span several genres and formats: literary fiction; romance writing; poetry; short stories.

Nzingha Job reads from her journals of poetry.

Nzingha Job reads from her journals of poetry.

Nzingha Job’s poetry launched us into the evening. Job, a former TEDxPort of Spain speaker, read poems that tackled issues of both personal limitation and public confrontation. Her readings moved from a rapid-paced, self-professed “rant”, to what Job described as more inspirational fare. Speaking candidly and forthrightly about sexual policing of the individual; of creative growth and emotional turmoil, Job’s poems echoed with a triumphant, underlying message of positivity, even in times as uncertain as these.

Hugh Blanc shares an excerpt from his current work in progress.

Hugh Blanc shares an excerpt from his current work in progress.

Hugh Blanc took to the podium next, reading an excerpt from his second novel, which he’s in the process of writing. Blanc said he expects to have the sophomore offering completed later this year. The extracts he shared display the same dense description and sensitive character analysis that define Blanc’s first novel, the Kirkus Review-starred Between Bodies Lie. We were early fans of Between Bodies Lie, selecting it as our first-ever Book Club Pick last year. We’re excited to see what future signposts of success are in store for Blanc’s blossoming literary career.

Elspeth Duncan reads interlinked stories from her novel in vignettes, Daisy Chain.

Elspeth Duncan reads interlinked stories from her novel in vignettes, Daisy Chain.

Elspeth Duncan’s unusually-formatted novel, Daisy Chain, has won favour with those seeking nonconformist tales of women’s interior lives. When Duncan shared three of the stories from Daisy Chain, it was easy to see why: the prose is deceptively simple, packing an emotional punch in each examination of a single woman, whose life interlaps with many other females. The stories spellbind, whether they’re describing a woman’s desire to remove the clown makeup her husband so loves, or another’s consuming desire for the young girl who mows her lawn. One guest described Duncan’s style as bearing both “a creative imagination and a light touch”, which is a perspective we’re happy to second.

Nathalie Taghaboni reads from her second novel in the Savanoy series, Santimanitay.

Nathalie Taghaboni reads from her second novel in the Savanoy series, Santimanitay.

For Nathalie Taghaboni, this reading marked another event in her homecoming tour. Taghaboni launched two novels in the romance series, The Savanoys, at NALIS on Friday 7th, March. Paper Based was proud to be that event’s official bookseller, and equally happy to invite the writer of Across From Lapeyrouse and Santimanitay to our birthday reading. Taghaboni shared scintillating moments from both novels, her readings proving that the books have a fiercely colourful, Carnival-inspired heart.

Monique Roffey shares selections from her forthcoming novel, House of Ashes.

Monique Roffey shares selections from her forthcoming novel, House of Ashes.

The evening’s feature reader, Monique Roffey, is no stranger to Paper Based: she’s been a tireless supporter of the shop, and she launched her last novel, Archipelago, here. In addition to Archipelago (winner of the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature), Roffey’s novels have been consistent prizewinners, shortlistees and recipients of other honours. We were especially thrilled to hear Roffey read from her brand new novel, House of Ashes, forthcoming in June 2014. This was the first time that any excerpt from House of Ashes was shared in a public forum, and from Roffey’s first word, the audience was hooked. The novel focuses on the events surrounding the 1990 coup in Trinidad, and is conducted from dual points of view: that of a hostage victim, and a gunman.

Roffey treated the evening’s guests to perspectives from both sets of narration, and it’s difficult to decide which was more entrancing. This new novel already promises to be a gripping affair, in its stark, vivid depictions of desperate civil unrest, and of the emotional tour de force that such scenarios inevitably represent.

Ruth Osman Rose performs, with Raf Robertson accompanying her on keyboard.

Ruth Osman Rose performs, with Raf Robertson accompanying her on keyboard.

Jazz musician Ruth Osman Rose set the audience’s feet to tapping, and even got a lively refrain echoing through the Normandie’s marketplace foyer, as she performed her set. Such was the abundant, affirmative energy radiated by Osman Rose, that she sent patrons scampering right to our register, to purchase her debut CD, Letting Go. 

Trinidad’s next major literary event is, of course, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest! In case you haven’t already marked the dates firmly in your planners, this year’s festival takes place from the 23rd to the 27th of April. Paper Based will be a fixture during Bocas, as we’ve been proud to be since the festival’s inception in 2011.

In the run-up to #bocas2014, we’ll be highlighting several of the books and authors on this year’s soon-to-be-released programme. Our next official newsletter, slated for release in the first week of April, will focus exclusively on Bocas Lit Fest content!

Two of Paper Based's youngest readers share a moment after all the evening's formalities!

Two of Paper Based’s youngest readers share a moment after all the evening’s formalities!

We’re grateful to each of you who came out to partake in our birthday revels, and to everyone who continues to support Paper Based. Whether we see you as regularly as clockwork each week, or on your annual visits back to Trinidad, we appreciate your commitment and loyalty to our shop. In your company, we look forward to many, many more birthdays in service of independent, literary Caribbean bookselling!

All photographs by Desiree Seebaran.

A Rada Community in Trinidad by Andrew Carr

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Rada

Certain books exist as unfading snapshots of Trinidad and Tobago’s yesteryear, presenting historical and social structures as they were, without the gloss of nostalgia. We’re thrilled to have recently restocked some original copies of one such book: Andrew Carr’s A Rada Community in Trinidad. Issued by Paria Publishing in 1989, the work documents Carr’s research and findings, during time spent with the Antoine family, at their Belmont Valley compound. Carr’s documentation principally takes the form of well-structured, factual narrative, and the text is favourably augmented with some pictoral data. (Most stunning among these is the author’s full-colour sketch of the Rada Compound, indicating the positions of buildings, shrines and a private cemetery.)

Belmont’s Rada community is still in existence — online forays are useful in learning more about the close-knit familial civilization’s customs. Carr’s work, originally published in 1955, is a blueprint denoting some of the earliest, formally-recorded insights into Rada compound life. The book is subdivided into categories on the settlement’s geographical layout; Rada religion; ceremonies; musical instruments; dancers and other elements that are certain to captivate the interest of historians and anthropologists.

Steering clear of a sentimental treatment, A Rada Community in Trinidad showcases Carr’s sensitive interpretation of his findings, highlighting the late cultural icon’s concerns for the compound’s sustainability. “No longer does the Elegba shrine exist as earth mound and effigy,” Carr writes. “The impact of western ideas, and misunderstandings by a growing population alien to African customs have been responsible for its disappearance.”

The book contains two forewords, one by the author’s daughter, Joslynne Carr Sealey, the other by Paria Publishing chairman, Gerard Besson, who opines that the Rada “as they have existed in Trinidad have contributed significantly to our overall character and heritage.” Every estimation of Carr’s bears this exact conclusion out, in readable and cogent prose, making A Rada Community in Trinidad indispensable to the library of any local historian or cultural researcher.

Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Truth be told, we’ve been having a spot of bother, keeping Mr. Loverman (Penguin UK, 2013) firmly planted on our shelves. Already on our second shipment of this, Bernardine Evaristo’s seventh book, it’s easy to see what makes it a surefire seller. For one thing, it’s got a storyline you can’t shake a stick at, so swiftly do the pages fly by in its bacchanal-infused telling. Barrington Jedidiah Walker, Esq., Barry to his friends, is perpetually sharp-suited and smooth-witted. He’s a veritable dandy who walks the streets of his Hackney neighbourhood with equal parts panache and well monied élan. Barry has held a secret close to his chest for most of his life, keeping it under wraps from his wife Carmel, a long-suffering religious zealot, and their two daughters. He hides it from everyone who forms a part of his immediate and extended society, save one Morris Courtney de la Roux. This is because Morris himself is the secret. He has been the object of Barry’s private ardour ever since, as the latter puts it, “we was both high-pitched, smooth-cheeked mischief makers waiting for we balls to drop.”

Ian Thomson, in his review of the novel for The Spectator (UK), concludes his glowing assessment by declaring, “It is to be hoped that Bounty Killer will read and enjoy this tender, even trailblazing novel (in or out of tight trousers).” Thomson’s reference to the Jamaican dancehall artist (and longtime anti-gay advocate) isn’t accidental: Mr. Loverman confronts hot-button issues of gender, sexuality and identity politics with unflinching commitment. From flashbacks of forbidding Antiguan village life, to present-day gay club scenes and domestic confrontations, readers have a front row seat to the unfurling drama that envelops Barry, and the big decision he must make.

Mr. Loverman isn’t afraid to wear the brightest colours in the public square, declaring to all and sundry that it’s well worth your time, your laughter, and the hours of animated chatter it’s sure to prompt in its (frankly, fabulous) wake.

An Evening of Tea and Readings, February 8th

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Dear Book Lovers,

We were eager for our Tea and Readings series to resume this year, and it gave us joy to see that your enthusiasm matched our own! Last Saturday, we held our first literary evening of 2014 before a capacity crowd, at which we welcomed three uniquely engaging writers to the podium.

Our official event flyer, designed by Reynold Hackshaw.

Our official event flyer, designed by Reynold Hackshaw.

The evening’s first reader was Kim Johnson, one of Trinidad’s steelpan connoisseurs and foremost cultural academics. Johnson shared extensively from one of his most popular titles, The Illustrated Story of Pan, frequently interspersing his reading with colourful sideline commentary. Scarcely needing to rely on his own written reportage, Johnson regaled the appreciative crowd with anecdotes both revealing and whimsical. Avid collectors eager to acquire The Illustrated Story of Pan may have some waiting ahead of them: the book is currently out of print. (It’s been recommissioned for re-release, official date pending confirmation.) In the interim, though, we’ve several of Johnson’s other titles in stock, including Tinpan to TASPO: Origins of the Steelband Movement 1939-1951 (2011) and Descendants of the Dragon (2007).

Steelpan scholar Kim Johnson shares passages from his publication The Illustrated Story of Pan.

Steelpan scholar Kim Johnson shares passages from his publication The Illustrated Story of Pan.

Our middle presenter isn’t a stranger to the Paper Based reading stage: in late October last year, Paper Based was privileged to host Debbie Jacob’s book launch of Wishing for Wings, a true account of her experiences teaching English Language to incarcerated young men at the Youth Training Centre. Critical and personal response to Wishing for Wings has been effusively widespread: people agree that this is an indispensable book, an asset to every secondary school student, no matter their circumstances. Jacob spoke candidly of the horrors that can be found behind prison walls, both juvenile and adult, and of the enormous dedication it takes to imagine a better life while in remand. By the time she soberly wound her reflections to a close, there was barely a dry eye or unmoved expression in the house.

Debbie Jacob shares excerpts from her students' writing, many examples of which appear in Wishing for Wings (Ian Randle Publishers, 2013).

Debbie Jacob shares excerpts from her students’ writing, many examples of which appear in Wishing for Wings (Ian Randle Publishers, 2013).

Bringing the readings to a close, historian Angelo Bissessarsingh (who, like Debbie, is a Trinidad Guardian columnist), will have his first book, Walking with the Ancestors, on our shelves soon. While that book is poised to present a fascinating study of local cemeteries, Bissessarsingh wore the hat of fiction last Saturday, as opposed to the historical non-fiction for which he is perhaps best recognized. Sharing a short story, adapted from a novel in progress, the Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago founder had the audience in stitches from the first paragraph of ribald stream of consciousness onwards. In the wake of such a side-splitting rendition, which also served to highlight many facets of Trinidad’s post-war society, we’re just as keen to read Angelo’s novel as we are his non-fiction!

Angelo Bissessarsingh tickles the crowd's collective funny bone with his short story, "Lady Maudie".

Angelo Bissessarsingh tickles the crowd’s collective funny bone with his short story, “Lady Maudie”.

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautifully balanced triad of readers, whose offerings ran the gamut from historical introspection, to present-day societal study, to creative fiction of mirth and merriment. We’d like to thank Kim, Debbie and Angelo for their time and generosity — and we’re deeply appreciative to each of our patrons, both first-timers and familiar returning faces. Your unflagging support keeps our Tea and Reading series alive, and we look forward to many similar celebrations in your company.

Speaking of celebrations, our upcoming reading, on March 8th, will be a special one: in addition to showcasing a promising lineup of writers, we’ll also be ringing in Paper Based’s 27th birthday! We’re happy to announce that one of our March readers will be Nathalie Taghaboni, author of Across From Lapeyrouse and its sequel, Santimanitay. Stay tuned for our full list of readers, to be announced by the end of February.

Among the Bloodpeople by Thomas Glave

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Akashic Books, 2013.

In his introduction to this new book of essays, Pulitzer prizewinning poet Yusef Komunyakaa says, “… Glave’s voice resonates in the plucked string holding each sentence together, an echo of James Baldwin and Jean Genet; his language carries the full freight of witness.” You might choose to describe the prevailing quality that drives this collection as “fearless”. It’s even more telling to consider that Glave operates boldly in the interests of the stigmatized and disenfranchised, despite potential fear of reprisals.

Glave, whose previous works include the anthology Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Gay and Lesbian Writing from the Antilles (2008), is unshy on the page, regarding the bloody tide of anti-gay sentiment that so typifies popular Jamaican culture. He vigorously decries not just the dancehall culture, but the (in)actions of “the bloodpeople” themselves: fellow Jamaican and Caribbean peoples, of shared genealogy and social circumstance. All of this surfaces in Glave’s first essay of the collection: “This Jamaican Family: The Word, and Dreams.”

Several of the collection’s essays smartly dismantle easy preconceptions about LGBT-culture consumption in the Caribbean; about the realities of what it means to be “othered” on the fronts of colour; of geographical roots; of sexual orientation. Other essays excavate family histories with equal parts nostalgia and a kind of regretful optimism. In “The Bloodpeople in Language,” Glave situates himself in the third person. Musing on his deceased sister, he is “…sundered and surprised that, on particular mornings and afternoons and evenings on the green island of his people’s origin and history, he finds himself listening [...] for the sound of her in the language.”

A sensitive, sharp set of intelligences — intellectual, to be sure, but prevailingly emotional, too — reside in the makeup of these essays. Whether Glave is musing on his original founder’s role in Jamaica’s J-FLAG, providing a frank, poetic meditation on “barebacking”, or paying homage to his chief literary influences, these pieces are moulded in resistance, bolstered by history, suffused in poetry: each of them is a delight.

Our Book Club Pick: As Flies to Whatless Boys by Robert Antoni

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Published by Akashic Books, 2013

“… there was something gentle & easy & comforting in the island’s mere presence before us: its hazy solidity. The indisputable fact of its simply being there — only a stone’s throw away — despite its dreamlike appearance. And those of us still leaning up against the rail, still gazing through the descending dark, found it difficult, almost painful, to turn we backs to it.”

The year is 1845, and the utopianist visionary, John Adolphus Etzler, is setting sail for Trinidad, along with his fantastical invention, the Satellite, and the members of his Tropical Emigration Society. Among their rank and file is young William “Willy” Tucker and his family, seeking a better life away from their low-class, East End London existence.  Willy, truth be told, is transfixed by the mute beauty Marguerite, also on board the Rosalind — he and Marguerite are from different worlds in England, but he hopes that in this brave new world, he and his sweetheart might tread the same path.

Life holds stark revelations when the Tropical Emigration Society docks in Port-Spain, and Etzler’s machines are put to the test, with drastically useless results. How will these beached migrants fare in the island’s jungle morasses, especially when the “Black Vomit” (yellow fever) begins to snare the travellers, one by one?

Non-fiction category winner of the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize, Edwidge Danticat, praises Antoni’s novel as “a marvel, layered in histories… an unforgettable and matchless work of fiction.” We couldn’t agree with her more: Antoni’s prose pushes linguistic and traditional text-format boundaries in the best way. As Flies to Whatless Boys was Paper Based’s final official book launch of 2013, a fact of which we’re especially proud. Held on December 14th, the event boasted a capacity audience, each of whom listened, rapt, while Antoni read segments of his book — of particular delight was his rendition of the infamous Miss Ramsol character. (Readers who’ve enjoyed Antoni’s story, “How to Make Photocopies in the Trinidad & Tobago National Archives”, from the Trinidad Noir anthology, will recognize the boisterous, colourful character immediately.)

The novel’s immense range; its clarity and depth; its irrepressible sense of humour despite bleak circumstances; the way it tackles historical documentation with a neo-archivist’s repurposing zeal: these and other reasons are why we’re thrilled to proclaim As Flies to Whatless Boys our January Book Club pick! Have a look at our reading circle questions below — if you’ve read the book, do share your thoughts with us, and feel free to add questions of your own in our Comments section.

Discussion Questions for As Flies to Whatless Boys:

  • The novel is opened with two epigraphs: one from William Shakespeare’s King Lear, and one from “The Schooner’s Flight” by Derek Walcott. Which of these do you find ties in more directly to the heart of the book?
  • Many of the people and events in the novel have their basis in historical fact. What do you think of this marriage of fiction to reality? Do you think some historical figures and happenings ought never be creatively interpreted, or do you think everything that’s happened in History is worth exploring imaginatively?
  • Miss Ramsol, director of the Trinidad & Tobago National Archives, has been described as “the best thing about the book” — do you agree? What do you think her letters add to the novel (or would you have preferred the book without them?)
  • Willy and Marguerite share an unconventional romance, most of which unfurls aboard the Rosalind. Do you think their relationship would have been possible in nineteenth century London? What other unconventional relationships exist in the book?
  • John Adolphus Etzler could be said to be both a charlatan and a visionary: are there any Etzler-esque, larger than life con artists in today’s world? Do you think you would have been tempted to sign up for the Tropical Emigration Society?
  • The bond between Willy Tucker and his father is a moving one, explored in the novel in a variety of ways. Which interaction between the two Tuckers most moved you, and which piece of advice given from father to son, did you find most meaningful?
  • Does your favourite moment of the novel take place on the sea, or on the land; in England, or in Trinidad; in the nineteenth century, or in 2010? Do you feel, by novel’s end, that Willy has made the right choices — and how would you choose, were you in his shoes?

Previous Book Club Picks:

Wishing for Wings by Debbie Jacob
Between Bodies Lie by H. M. Blanc