Sunday, March 4, 2012

Talking Trees

Easton Lee
Talking Trees Fiesta at 2-Seasons Guest House, on Saturday, February 25, was a showcase of Jamaican talent in writing, poetry and music—enough to keep us captivated for more than the one day programmed.

My main focus is on the Panel Discussion—Writing for Children, in keeping with my blog theme, but I couldn’t write this post without mentioning some of the other contributors. The fiesta opened with Monique Morrison’s poems, and Melanie Schwapp reading from her recently launched novel Dew Angels. They were followed by master story teller Easton Lee, who read some of his poems interspersed with vivid descriptions of his childhood, slipping with ease from standard English to patois and back.

A representative from JAMCOPY spoke to us about the importance of registering one’s creations with them.

The panel discussion followed, moderated by Suzanne Francis-Brown. First to speak was Sharon Martini, whom I’d heard sing at Mountambrin. Surprise! She’s also a writer and illustrator of children’s books, which she uses to speak about racism and equality. Her book Max and Me was inspired by a little girl at her sons’ school, who asked if she could touch Sharon’s skin. When she touched Sharon’s skin with eyes closed, she discovered that skin is skin. Read more about her at Dotty Beetle Books .
Jean Forbes, who writes for 8-12 year-olds, has worked for the Ministry of Education but regrets that the stories she has written are available only in primary schools, not prep schools. She made several points which I heartily endorse: go for self-publishing and marketing, and e-books; comics are good for boys; when we are giving a gift, give our books; and read to children. She read from her story about a little drum, with the refrain “I have the right to be me”.

Kellie Magnus, author of the Little Lion Books, spoke from the viewpoint of a publisher as well as a writer. She took up the challenge of writing for children after finding out that there were no titles by Jamaican authors on display in the bookshops. At the time she was a strategy consultant for Price Waterhouse, so did her due diligence. She was told not to print more that 3000 copies and that they would take five years to sell. She sold 5000 copies in six months! She has been energetic in marketing. She goes to a school one day a week and listens to the children. What authors submit is not what they want. Few submissions reflect life as children have it today.

Diane Browne has a long and illustrious career in writing for children. She has been published by Heinemann Caribbean, Carlong, Arawak Publications, Ministry of Education, Ginn UK, Harcourt and Friendship Press. She has received many awards including a bronze Musgrave Medal. She started writing for the same reason as Kelly and Sharon. She wanted to see black people portrayed as being ordinary people. Her early writing is for children 12 and under. Then she transitioned to time travel, to portray how ordinary people in Jamaica lived at the time of the 1907 Earthquake and Hurricane Charley (1951), but at the same time writing an exciting adventure story. Her most recent book is Island Princess in Brooklyn, a title in Carlong’s Sand Pebble series, will find empathizers among thousands of Jamaicans who made the same journey as Princess, and is a must read for all teenagers who are waiting for their mothers to send for them. You can read more on Diane's blog

Sharon Martini, Kellie Magnus, Jean Forbes, Diane Browne, and Suzanne Francis-Browne

The lessons I learnt from this panel discussion—the importance of indigenous literature, the importance of persistence, the importance of marketing, the importance of using current technology—are not new, but serve to  energize me. Perhaps most important of all—we need to work together.
The programme continued with Fern Luecke, folklorist and Christine Craig, poet, followed by the Open Mic. Then we had a sneak peek at Aston Cooke’s play Jonkanoo Jamboree. Other presenters were Roland Watson-Grant, Kalialah Enriquez, Marc Thomas, A. Igoni Barrett (from Nigeria), Fabian Thomas, Micahel Abrahams and Malachi Smith.

I would have liked time to meet and talk to the presenters. Perhaps this suggestion can be factored into what I hope will become and annual event.

Actors taking part in Jonkanoo Jamboree

You can read more in the following Gleaner Articles: Talking Trees Does Close Double and


JAMbooks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JAMbooks said...

Too many errors in the previous comment so here goes again

Just to pick up on this statement in the post
"She (Kellie Magnus)goes to a school one day a week and listens to the children. What authors submit is not what they want. Few submissions reflect life as children have it today."

A good point for older writers for children like myself. I have been fortunate to be in direct,regular contact with grandchildren spanning various ages, and certainly the life of a child today is very different from mine as a child.
As an example, just the other day, I was observing that my granddaughter who is preparing for the CXC exams seemed to be spending too much time on the computer and cell phone. Her mom explained that this is how home work is mostly done now. In fact, some teachers set and correct assignments via the Internet connection. I guess the distractions available via the computer and the cellphone are no worse than comic books or telephone conversations or the romance novels which used to captivate and distract me at that age.