Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Old-time Storytelling at Montego Bay Community College

Flyer for Ananse Sound Splash 2013

Amina Blackwood Meeks with her peas soup
An old-time Storytelling evening, mysteriously called “Gi Laugh fi Peas Soup”, was presented in the Montego Bay Community College Lecture Theatre on Friday, November 22nd, by the MBCC Performing Arts Society in association with Ntukuma (The Storytelling Foundation of Jamaica) and the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica. It was the 8th leg of Anansi Sound Splash 2013* - an Eight Legged Storytelling Conference and Festival.
     After opening remarks by the energetic Philip Clarke, Amina Blackwood Meeks got the evening off to a rollicking start with us all skipping around to the born-in-the-month song. The MBCC Band gave a lively rendition of “Evening Time”, Tashelle O’Connor entertained us with Rolling Calf, and the drama group gave us an Ananse story.
     I read an excerpt from “Flash”, my short story which won a silver medal in the JCDC Creative Writing Contest 2010. I picked out a quarter of it, which I hope gave the gist of the story about a boy inspired by Usain Bolt. If you want to read the whole story, you can download it free from Smashwords 
Marline Stephenson Daley
     With Marline Stephenson Dalley’s side-splitting jokes, we had our laugh and were rewarded with peas soup, made by Andrea Nelson. After Eric Daley recited Easton Lee’s poem “My Mother”, Amina took the stage again with “Her Story”, challenging the audience with questions about customs of bygone days. She also plied us with riddles: “Riddle me dis, riddle me dat, guess this riddle and perhaps not”, or “parrats snap”, as she heard it, as a child. I was reminded of hearing the same phrase on the radio, in an advertisement for Grace products, when I first came to Jamaica. I wondered at the time what a “parapsnat” was! Amina rewarded those who guessed riddles correctly with pens from one of the sponsors.           
     Then she introduced the guest of the evening, Kenyan storyteller Mara Menzies. Mara maintains that stories should not be read but be told, eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart. She supported her theory with demonstrations of how to tell stories, with energy, with mime and movement, with variation in facial expression, and in pitch and rhythm of her voice. In her first story, a noisy bird, a banana tree and a turtle met their demise, while the little bug was able to get a good night’s sleep. Her second story, about how the cat came to live in houses, was applauded by all the women in the audience.
Mara telling a story
The remainder of the programme consisted of more performances by the band, another poem Eric Daley, two pieces by the Performing Arts Society, and “Peep Inna Mi Pot” by the MBCC Choir.
This most enjoyable evening demonstrated that we don’t have to go to technology for entertainment. A similar activity could take place in our own homes and communities. Thanks to Philip Clarke for organizing the event.
In attendance were Dr. Angela Samuels Harris, Principal of MBCC with her husband, Glendon Harris, Mayor of Montego Bay, Dr. Maureen Nelson, Vice-Principal of the college and Mrs. Barbara Nelson, recently inducted as an Honorary Fellow of the college, for her years of service to MBCC.

Anansi Sound Splash 2013 was endorsed by JCDC and The Institute of Jamaica. Supporters included Scotiabank, First Global Bank, RBC, British High Commission, The Gleaner and Irie FM. Mara Menzies was sponsored by the British Council. 
Mara and Amina
A member of the band
The MBCC Choir

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Practical Reference Books for Writers - Part 1

All of us as writers try to find our voice, but at times this conflicts with what we learned, – and taught – in those dreaded English Grammar classes. I have found 3 books particularly helpful in releasing me from that straitjacket, and recommend them to writers of essays, short stories and novels.

It is easy to look things up in the timeless “The Elementsof Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White.  The first chapter, on ‘Elementary Rules of Usage’ includes reminders of when to use the singular verb form, and how to avoid dangling modifiers. Chapter 4, ‘Words and Expressions Commonly Misused’ includes examples such as ‘state’ which should be used in the sense of “expressing fully or clearly”, as in “He refused to state his objections”, and not simply to make a change from ‘say’ or ‘remark’. The fifth and final chapter, ‘An Approach to Style’ ends with the observation that “Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition.” All of us who write can find gems in this handy reference book.
It’s also available in a Kindle Edition.

“The laws of grammar come and go,” says Patricia T. O’Conner in her book “Woe is I - the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in PlainEnglish”, another favourite of mine. In a readable style, she takes a logical approach to the rules of grammar. She advises us, in chapter 9, which laws of grammar should be followed and which are passé, for example splitting the infinitive. I was trained never to put another word between ‘to’ and its related verb. Then came “To boldly go where no one had gone before”. Nothing wrong with that, says O’Conner – be guided more by the sound of your sentence than following a rule.

One would not expect a book on punctuation to be entertaining, but I enjoyed “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. In her enlightening chapter “That’ll Do, Comma”, she quotes Sir Ernest Gowers, “The use of commas cannot be learned by rule”. 
She also gives examples of the effect of changing the position of the comma. “Go, get him surgeons”, and “Go get him, surgeons” have different meanings; as do “Verily I say unto you, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise”, and “Verily I say unto you this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise”.

A final note to writers, it’s easy to be so taken up with rules of grammar that creativity is stifled. To prevent that happening, when writing your first draft, turn off your inner editor and let your writing flow. After writing that, you can turn the inner editor back on. Then you can battle out with a critique group partner, or an editor, your interpretation of rules of grammar.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

JCDC Creative Writing Contest Awards Ceremony 2013

"Gold Anthology" Writers
 This year the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission celebrated 50 years of the Creative Writing Contest. To commemorate this milestone, they have published a “Gold Anthology” containing Gold-Medal-Winning short stories from 1999-2006.  The writers are Rudolph Wallace, Verone Johnston, Michael Reckford, Claudette Beckford-Brady, A-Dziko Simba, Nadine Tomlinson, Charmaine Morris, Rhonda Harrison, Carroll Edwards and Dionne Jackson-Miller.
The Gold Anthology was unveiled at the JCDC Creative Writing Contest Awards Ceremony 2013, held in the Grand Caribbean Suite at the Knutsford Court Hotel, on Tuesday, November 5. There to witness the unveiling were this year’s awardees and their families and friends, who were entertained by a programme of exceptional quality. Mr. Roy Rayon took us back through the years with his Suite of Festival Songs and had us singing along. 
Dr. Erna Brodber
Dr. Erna Brodber, the guest speaker, explained to us how she, as a sociologist, worked to collect the oral histories and the stories of elders in rural communities of Jamaica. She sensed that the way she had to present her findings failed to capture the stories she heard. The novel, she realized, was a better medium.  Hence her four novels: Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home (1980), Myal (1988), Louisiana (1994) and The Rainmaker's Mistake (2007). She won the Caribbean and Canadian regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1989 for Myal. In 1999 she received the Jamaican Musgrave Gold Award for Literature and Orature. She encouraged us to continue to tell Jamaicans’ stories.

Then followed the presentation of over 50 awards - Certificates of Merit, Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals, Class and Category awards and Overall Awards,  interspersed with poetry readings by Chadwick Foster, Mrs. Gloria Malcolm-Foster and Ms. Ambrozene Simpson, and a attention-grabbing dramatization of a scene from Omaall Wright’s silver-medal-winning play “Belly Woman”.
I was happy to be among the awardees, with a silver medal and Best Intermediate Novelist for “The Last of the Marogs”, sequel to “Delroy and the Marog Princess” (bronze medal, 2011) and Delroy in the Marog Kingdom (published by MacmillanCaribbean 2009).  

The overall winners were:
1st place - Best Overall Writer - Gloria Malcolm-Foster, (Trelawny), for 3 poems (1 gold, 1 silver and 1 merit) and her play “GSAT!!” (Certificate of Merit)
2nd place - Outstanding Writer - Ava-Gay Bennett, Best Intermediate Poet, for her poems “Di Blackberry” (gold) and “Georgie Porgie” (silver). Ava-Gay hails from St. James, so I’m looking forward to meeting her at JCDC events staged in our parish.
3rd place - Special Writer - Ambrozene Simpson, (Kingston & St. Andrew) Best Adult Poet, for her poem “Constant Companion” (gold).
4th place - Choice Writer - Nattalie Gordon, (St. Catherine), Best Junior Poet, for her poem “New Shoes Blues”, (gold).
Nattalie Gordon delighted with her award

5th place - Noteworthy writer - was shared between Chadwick Foster (Trelawny) for his poem “Monster Maid”, (gold)  and Malachi Smith (Kingston & St. Andrew) for his poem “Cotton Piece”.

The work of all awardees is on display in the Jamaica Creative Writing Exhibition Tour 2013, currently at The National Library of Jamaica until November 22. Between then and July 15, the Exhibition will move from parish library to parish library in a clockwise journey starting in Kingston and St. Andrew. I urge anyone who writes to enter the 2014 contest (final date for entries - last Friday in June), and to read work exhibited to get an idea of the standard of the award-winning entries. 

Here are some links to other articles about the Awards Ceremony: