Book Launch: Breadfruit Recipes, Sweet and Savoury at the Institute of Jamaica

Isle Bites Ltd. in collaboration with the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) invites you and staff to the book launch of Breadfruit Recipes: Sweet and Savoury by Andrea V. Whyte, on Monday, September 23, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. in the IOJ Lecture Hall, 10-16 East Street, Kingston.

Andrea Whyte is the founder of Isle Bites Ltd. where she manufactures breadfruit based products ideal for making healthy meals and treats that are gluten-free and packed with nutrition and flavour. The goal is for breadfruit to be used as a natural carbohydrate substitute that is more affordable and nutritious. This book seeks to educate and motivate as well as elevate the use of the breadfruit.

For further details and to RSVP please contact Eartha Cole, Education Outreach Officer at or Deputy Director, Mrs. Nicole Patrick Shaw at or via telephone at 922-0620-6 extension 302.

The 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Do you have a beautiful unpublished short story just waiting to be discovered? Then apply for the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize! Deadline is November 1, 2019.

Last year’s Caribbean winner was Alexia Tolas from the Bahamas for her story “Granma’s Porch.” In 2018, Trinidad’s Kevin Jared Hosein won with his story “Passage.” And have you read “The Dolphin Catcher,” a beautiful story by Jamaica’s Diana McCaulay, the Caribbean regional winner in 2012?

Entrants can submit in 11 languages for the chance to win international recognition and prize money.

Friday 13th September, London, United Kingdom: The 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize is accepting entries from 1 September to 1 November 2019. The competition is administered by Commonwealth Writers and is free to enter. 

The prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000–5,000 words). The five regional winners receive £2,500 each and the overall winner receives a total of £5,000. 

In addition to English, submissions are accepted in Bengali, Chinese, French, Greek, Kiswahili, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Tamil, and Turkish. Stories that have been translated into English from any language are also accepted. 

The prize is open to citizens of all Commonwealth countries and judged by an international panel, representing each of the five regions of the Commonwealth. The judges for the 2020 prize are: Nii Ayikwei Parkes (Chair), Mohale Mashigo (Africa), William Phuan (Asia), Heather O’Neill (Canada and Europe), Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw (Caribbean), and Nic Low (Pacific).

The five regional winning stories are published online by the literary magazine Granta. Past winners of the prize have gone on to win other literary competitions and secure book deals. 

The overall winner is announced at a ceremony which is held in a different region of the Commonwealth each year. All the regional winners are invited to attend this special event which provides opportunities to network with other writers and engage the media.

Janet Steel, Programme Manager of Commonwealth Writers, said:

‘The prize is at the heart of all the work we do at Commonwealth Writers. It’s a chance for new voices to shine from around the Commonwealth and be recognised on a global platform.’ 

Constantia Soteriou from Cyprus won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. (Photo: Commonwealth Writers)

Constantia Soteriou, Cypriot writer and overall winner of the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, said:

 ‘I feel honoured and happy to win this amazing prize; it feels like a reward for all the hard work I have been doing over the last eight years, writing about the perspectives of women on the political and historical events of Cyprus. 

‘This prize is a recognition for giving voice to those who did not have the chance to be heard before; those who were left behind.’

Those interested in applying can find out more about eligibility, rules, and the submission process at   

For further information

Please contact Emma D’Costa on or +44 (0) 20 7747 6328 or +44 (0) 77 7699 7902. 


1. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is a project of Commonwealth Writers, the cultural programme of the Commonwealth Foundation.

2. Commonwealth Writers is the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation. It inspires and connects writers and storytellers across the world, bringing personal stories to a global audience. Commonwealth Writers believes in the transformative power of creative expression in all its forms. It works with local and international partners to identify and deliver a wide range of cultural projects. The activities take place in Commonwealth countries, but its community is global. 
3. Commonwealth Foundation is a development organisation with an international remit and reach, uniquely situated at the interface between government and civil society. It develops the capacity of civil society to act together and learn from each other to engage with the institutions that shape people’s lives and to influence public discourse. It strives for more effective, responsive, and accountable governance with civil society participation, which contributes to improved development outcomes. 

Marcus Garvey Said…

Yesterday was the birthday of our first National Hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey. I wrote a few thoughts on the matter on my blog here. Many books have been written about this towering figure, short in stature but “tallawah,” who has influenced many a black consciousness movement and many an individual, too. The power of his words, and actions lit a spark for the Nation of Islam, the Harlem Renaissance, Pan-Africanists such as George Padmore, reggae artists such as Burning Spear and Bob Marley, and the civil rights movement in general. To name but a few!

I want to highlight one slim self-published book compiled and edited by a journalist, opinion maker, thinker and former head of the Farquharson Institute of Public Affairs. His name was Ken Jones. On Garvey’s birthday 17 years ago I purchased a copy at Liberty Hall, and Mr. Jones signed it.

Ken Jones, who passed away in July, 2015, was a passionate Garveyite. He was a man of strong beliefs and was not afraid to challenge the status quo or ruffle some feathers. He always wanted to make people think – really think. I believe these words of Marcus Garvey applied directly to Ken’s own beliefs:

I appeal to you to use your intelligence to work out the real things of life. The time you waste in levity, in non-essentials, if you use if properly you will be able to guarantee to your posterity a condition better than you inherited from your forefathers.

In an article I wrote in 2015, I described Mr. Jones as “one of my favorite Jamaicans: thoughtful, feisty, argumentative, and above all in love with his country and its people.” This could equally apply to Mr. Garvey.

Author Ken Jones, CD, JP, speaking at the Living Legacy Awards for the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP). (My photo)

This compilation by Ken Jones is divided, rather usefully, into sections on different topics. It is remarkable how many aspects of our lives Garveyism speaks to – from Capitalism to Labour, from Education to Religion, from Poverty and Power to Peace. There is also a section with the Manifesto of the People’s Political Party, founded by Garvey in 1929, much of it far-reaching.

As the author notes in his Introduction, some of Garvey’s words need to be read in the context of the times. His views on such personal issues as women, love, and the “loose morals” of young people seem somewhat reactionary. In some ways, he was “old-fashioned” and conservative in 21st century terms. In almost every other sense, however, he was a radical – and brutally honest, with it…

What we (Jamaicans) lack is self-help and self-reliance…We expect too much from the State. As a people we are always blaming someone else or the State for the lack of progress; but I swear it by God that it is the people who have kept back themselves.

Garvey spoke these words in 1915. Fast forward 104 years, and how apposite they seem! Garvey did not “sugar coat” his words. Why should he? Black people the world over needed a “wake-up call,” in his view. He wasn’t one to make excuses.

Publisher Latoya West Blackwood with Professor Rupert Lewis and his biography of Marcus Garvey, published by the University of the West Indies Press. (Photo: Twitter)

I also love the photos in Ken Jones’ book. There is Amy Jacques Garvey listening to the radio with her two sons, Julius and Marcus Jr. There is Amy again on horseback, on a sight-seeing tour with her husband in Colorado Springs, in 1922. There were some interesting comments yesterday from Latoya West-Blackwood (her Twitter handle is @garveygirl and that of distinguished Garvey scholar Rupert Lewis is @gbgandad) observed:

I feel personally connected to #AmyJacques the more I read. She attended my old school Wolmer’s Girls at a time when less than 2% of Black people in Jamaica had access to high school education. I’m also inspired by her work in publishing. There’s no shortage of material and we are still blessed with bright minds and Garvey scholars who can provide first hand accounts. The story of Amy Jacques is one I would be personally interested to tell via film with the help of @gbgandad. She is grossly underrated.

Please, someone take Latoya up on this offer!

Amy Jacques Garvey (1895 – 1873), Marcus Garvey’s second wife, published several books herself and continued as a writer and activist in the later years of her life. She died in Kingston, and I believe her grave is at St. Andrew Parish Church.

I will close with another quote from Ken Jones’ book. After all, Mr. Garvey must have the last word – this time, on Unity, in 1934:

The Jews have a code, the Mohammedans have a code, and every other group seemingly has a code, from which they seldom depart, so as to be able to achieve the greatest good, especially through united action. We need it in our business life, in our social life, in our political life, and as we have always said, in every phase of our activities.

The Booker Prize Longlist is Out

The Booker Prize Longlist was released on July 23, 2019. My first question was: Why has it lost its “Man”?

Well, it’s a question of money. The prize’s sponsor, an investment house called the Man Group, announced in January that it would be withdrawing its funding after eighteen years, leaving just the Booker part – which represents the Booker Prize Foundation’s other UK sponsor, a food wholesaler. Hope Booker doesn’t drop out now.

The Booker Prize has had to rebrand itself. Sigh!

So, don’t be confused. It is now The Booker Prize for Fiction. In 2016 the International Booker Prize was established, for a book translated into English and published in the UK. Now, as of June 1, 2019, the Booker Prize is supported by Crankstart, the charitable foundation of Sir Michael Moritz and his wife, Harriet Heyman. However, it’s not going to be called the “Crankstart Booker Prize.” Hmm.

Having cleared that up…The shortlist will be out on September 3, and the winners will be announced on October 14. Who are you betting on? Because it is as much about “who” as it is “what.”

The thirteen Booker Prize Longlist titles, stacked rather like those in my bedroom at home.

So, here is the list of 13, or Booker’s (Baker’s) Dozen:

  • Margaret Atwood (Canada), The Testaments (Vintage, Chatto & Windus)
  • Kevin Barry (Ireland), Night Boat to Tangier (Canongate Books)
  • Oyinkan Braithwaite (UK/Nigeria), My Sister, The Serial Killer (Atlantic Books)
  • Lucy Ellmann (USA/UK), Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar Press)
  • Bernardine Evaristo (UK), Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton)
  • John Lanchester (UK), The Wall (Faber & Faber)
  • Deborah Levy (UK), The Man Who Saw Everything (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Valeria Luiselli (Mexico/Italy), Lost Children Archive (4th Estate)
  • Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria), An Orchestra of Minorities (Little Brown)
  • Max Porter (UK), Lanny (Faber & Faber)
  • Salman Rushdie (UK/India), Quichotte (Jonathan Cape)
  • Elif Shafak (UK/Turkey), 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Viking)
  • Jeanette Winterson (UK), Frankissstein (Jonathan Cape)

The list was chosen from 151 novels published in the UK or Ireland between 1 October 2018 and 30 September 2019.

So, what do we know about these 13 Booker hopefuls? Two authors have won before, and they are two of my personal favourites: Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale, a very slim volume that has morphed into a very long television series); and Salman Rushdie (whose 1998 novel The Satanic Verses sparked a fatwa and numerous death threats for alleged blasphemy). Atwood won the Prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin and Rushdie in 1981 for his second, powerful novel Midnight’s Children.

Novelist Elif Shafak is currently under investigation by Turkish prosecutors for writing about women’s and children’s rights. (Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian)

These two might be the favourites, but there are some other interesting titles. Elif Shafak (@Elif_Safak) is an alluring author, activist and political scientist, who was put on trial back in 2006 for “insulting Turkishness” (whatever that means) because of comments made by a character in one of her novels. She’s not too popular with the Erdogan regime, either. The ruthless Turkish leader has banned many thousands of books and shut down 29 publishing houses since the attempted coup there exactly three years ago.

Then there is Valeria Luiselli’s “autofiction” – that is, fictionalized autobiography – on a topical issue, the plight of immigrants from Mexico at the U.S. border. Lost Children Archive has had mixed reviews. Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities sounds political too, but is more of a mystical story about a Nigerian farmer’s journey spurred by love. It sounds Famished Road-ish and so has been added to The List mentioned below.

Well, this is a little confusing, but the winner of the MAN Booker International Prize 2019 was Jokha Aharthi, an Omani novelist. She shared the prize with her translator, U.S. professor at the University of Oxford Marilyn Booth.

By the way, the International Booker Prize 2019 winner was announced on May 21. It is Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth – a story of three sisters and their families, living in Oman. It’s on my “to-read” list (which is terrifyingly long).

The list is enticing, and diverse as usual. I am playing it safe and putting my money on the Canadian. Let’s wait and see who the survivors are on September 3.

The Health and Wellness Minister Has a Book to be Launched!

Our Health and Wellness Minister is an interesting man. Dr. Christopher Tufton has written a book about politics, which I am looking forward to delving into. Why? Because I always find his views and approach to politics refreshing, clear and practical. I like the way he seems to attack problems and issues head-on. For this he is sometimes criticized, but I understand this approach. I am good at jumping in feet first myself!

With an academic/management background, Dr. Tufton’s political career has had its “ups and downs,” but in his current role I feel he has something that he can really get his teeth into, so to speak. I think he relishes it. Dr. Tufton’s “Jamaica Moves” programme, for example, aimed at curbing obesity and getting us off our butts, has resulted in the Minister himself (and many other Jamaicans) getting enthused about wellness, exercise – and losing a few pounds, too. Please stay tuned for my review of his book on this blog.

Published by Ian Randle Publishers, Dr. Tufton’s book, “State of Mind: Politics, Uncertainty and the Search for the Jamaican Dream,” will be launched on Sunday, July 28, 2019, at 1:00 p.m., at the Institute of Jamaica, 10-12 East Street, Kingston. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to

Boonoonoonous: Something That is Nice to Have

“Boonoonoonous” (in this book, an adjective) is a happy word. For non-Jamaicans, it is also quite difficult to translate. It can mean “something special” (or perhaps someone special) and at the same time plentiful. Deepak Chopra and other meditation gurus would call it “abundance.” A term first coined by Jamaica’s cultural hero, Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou), it is in the title of Olive Senior‘s new children’s book, “Boonoonoonous Hair!”

As I arrived at Kozy Korner Books, literally in the corner of a small but attractive shopping plaza off Constant Spring Road, there was a mood of celebration (note: there are more than one “Central Avenues” in Kingston, as we found out!) . A group of children was playing a sort of overture to the launch of Ms. Senior’s book, on percussion – conducted by what the author herself called a “Pied Piper,” poet and musician Mbala. Meanwhile, publisher Tanya Batson-Savage, founder of Blue Banyan Books (resplendent in a snow-white shift dress) and the author herself (in burnt sienna) were busy preparing for the book launch. Bookstore owner Farah was already selling books (and this is important!)

Ms. Batson-Savage introduced herself, and her “publishing hut” as she once described it – a “wattle and daub hut,” entirely local in content. Blue Banyan Books is a hut no more, but a blossoming Jamaican publishing house. She described the whirlwind tour for the book (Mandeville Parish Library, Montego Bay and back to Kingston). This happened despite Ms. Senior’s mild protests that she is “not so young any more.” Children’s books – whether publishing or writing – require a little extra energy, it seems.

Ms. Senior then sat down alongside the children, and directed her reading at them. The children had a few things to say – some of them eliciting gales of laughter from those present (mothers, aunties and friends – and Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica, Laurie Peters). The younger ones browsed the bright shelves of books and provided “noises off.”

I greatly enjoyed the launch: The quiet rattles and rumbles and at times energetic pattering and ringing sounds from Mbala and his young cohort; the bunches of colour and well-arranged books in the store (yes, I was once in the book business myself!) with a focus on diversity; and the activities. Most importantly, the children were not bored (or necessarily “on their best behaviour”), engaging in a competition that involved balloon heads and fake “hair.” But nothing was forced. No one cried or threw a tantrum.

It was, in fact, a Boonoonoonous book launch. Smiles and fun in abundance.

Kozy Korner Books n’ More is an award-winning children-only bookstore in Kingston. The main focus is the children. It is an interactive bookstore, hosting “Story Play Saturday” (a story reading and an activity to go along with the theme of the book) and “Ready, Set, Play” (circle time for the younger ones). Additionally they offer the service of sourcing of textbooks and stationery; delivery service island-wide; book wrapping; and labels for books and supplies. Email: Tel: 876-669-6813. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Toni Morrison: A Literary Giant With Flashing Eyes – and a Jamaican Ex-Husband

We woke up this Independence Day morning to the news that Nobel Prize-winning author and literary icon Toni Morrison had died at the age of 88, from complications of pneumonia.

Toni Morrison holds an orchid at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in April, 1994. (Photo: AP/ Kathy Willens, File)

I used to “binge-read” authors and genres – although Ms. Morrison is really a genre by herself – and for a year or two I read her novels alongside titles by Alice Walker, and other African American writers, mostly women. Interestingly, Oprah Winfrey made movies out of Morrison’s and Walker’s two most famous novels (“Beloved” and “The Color Purple” respectively) and I was very disappointed in both films. They seemed off key.

The first Toni Morrison I read was “The Bluest Eye.” It was also her first novel, published in 1970, when the author was 39 years old and teaching at Howard University. This is still my favorite, although it is not a comfortable read and brought me to tears (yes, I do cry over books sometimes!) The young protagonist, growing up in Lorain, Ohio (where the author herself was born) is a tragic young African American girl – longing for blue eyes. No happy endings. My old paperback fell apart years ago – the tropics are not kind to paperbacks. I should get another copy.

The last Toni Morrison book I read was “Home,” a rather bleak story about a Korean War veteran and his sister. It’s one of those “picking up the pieces” stories (literally). Published in 2012, it is also the penultimate of Ms. Morrison’s eleven novels.

I was reminded on Twitter today that Ms. Morrison was married to a Jamaican, Harold Morrison, an architect. They were married for six years from 1958 to 1964 and had two sons: Harold Ford Morrison and Slade Morrison.

H. Ford Morrison is a highly successful architect, following in his father’s footsteps. Slade Morrison, an artist and musician, died of pancreatic cancer in 2010 at age 45. Ms. Morrison dedicated “Home” to him.

I never knew this, but she also co-wrote eight children’s books with Slade. They should still be available on Amazon.

Ms. Morrison was disparaging about her marriage, suggesting that Jamaican wives were more “subservient” and she could not fill that expectation of her. Indeed that was probably true back in the late 1950s and early sixties, but certainly not in the modern era.

Toni Morrison with her two sons, Harold Ford Morrison (left) and Slade. (Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

In a 2015 interview, looking back on that period in her life, Ms. Morrison is quite blunt:

I remember everything as a mistake, and I regret everything.

Among all the commentary, opinion pieces and social media posts about Toni Morrison throughout the day, a recorded television interview caught my attention. The interviewer, a white woman, asked the distinguished author when she was going to write about white people “substantially.”

Ms. Morrison’s eyes flashed, for just a second or two, before she sipped from a glass of water. While the interviewer finished her question, she fixed a steady gaze over the top of the glass at her, and in a soft voice confirmed that no, as an African American writer she did not feel “obliged” to write about white people, at all.

In another interview, with National Public Radio in 2015 at age 84, Ms. Morrison calls herself an “irritable old lady.” She also described writing thus:

Writing is the place where I live; it’s where I have control; it’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing. It is dangerous because I am thinking up dangerous, difficult things, but it is also extremely safe for me to be in that place.

Toni Morrison receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at the White House in 2012. (Photo: Ren Schild/

My New Normal: Reflections of a Stroke Survivor by Hilary Wehby

The cover is designed by the author’s mother, Elizabeth Moss-Solomon. The graceful open hand perhaps symbolizes the offering, or acceptance of, a new life. (My photo)

We all have our own versions of what is “normal” for ourselves. Essentially, though, we could say it means that nothing changes very much in our lives. “The norm” is nothing unusual. And we take it for granted.

“The new normal” comes into force when one’s life, one’s expectations, one’s current experience have changed. Often, the “new normal” isn’t normal at all – it keeps on changing. One’s future existence will likely go through changes, and one has to be prepared. One has to accept that a departure from one’s previous life has occurred, and there is no going back.

Acceptance. Patience. Humility. Faith. Resilience. Love. These are all threads running through this remarkable book. It is part memoir, part testimonial (including several moving ones from family members), part inspirational – and also a helpful handbook of advice and information – all rolled into one.

The transition to a new normal happened almost imperceptibly for Hilary Wehby. Over the space of a few minutes, while chatting with her children in the kitchen at the end of a “normal” working day in November, 2015, it all changed.

Ms. Wehby had an ischaemic stroke in the right hemisphere of her brain. This occurs when there is something obstructing the flow of blood to the brain, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients.

Ms. Hilary Wehby (left) and Marsha McCooty at the book reading event in May. (My photo)

On a sultry evening in May, I attended a reading and signing session with Ms. Wehby, sponsored by the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP). The author looked at ease and comfortable, with flawless makeup and wearing a bright, flowered dress. She sat at a table with her publisher, Glynis Salmon of Bala Press; and her editor, Berl Francis, who “believed I had a story to tell,” as Ms. Wehby put it. A key member of what she called her “support system,” Marsha “Marsh” McCooty, sat beside her, looking rather inscrutable. Ms. Wehby describes her former nurse and home caregiver as funny, but no-nonsense. She is now running her own home-care nursing agency.

Hilary Wehby autographs a copy of her book, with a little help from Marsha McCooty. (My photo)

The author describes the challenging journey after her stroke – a long road, fraught with obstacles large and small to be overcome. Her language is unsentimental and the tone is not at all self-pitying (although there must have been those moments. We are all human). In fact, Ms. Wehby’s self-deprecating humour is a delight. When she first looked at her face in a mirror, she notes wryly, “all my vanity just went through the window.” The narrative never gets weighed down; as her parents observe in their testimonial, “Her glass is always half full.” Buoyed by her strong Christian faith, Ms. Wehby is not only resilient and resolute – but her account is also tempered with humility and gratitude.

For example, the author repeatedly acknowledges her privilege. Due to her social and financial circumstances, she lacked for nothing during her recovery. She has a strong, supportive family, including her beloved husband “Donny” and three children. Her previous employers (GraceKennedy) were equally supportive. She was able to access the best possible medical treatment in Jamaica as well as a rehabilitation session in Florida.

Hilary Wehby records the lessons she has learned – some of them quite difficult – over the past three years or so. Among those that she quickly learned was that, while she had the benefit of tremendous assistance throughout, other stroke survivors were not as fortunate. She realized that Jamaica’s provision for people with disabilities is lacking in many areas, compared to the United States. Moreover, many Jamaicans do not have the resources, financial or otherwise, to access better treatment.

(Left to right): Hilary Wehby, Marsha McCooty, Berl Francis and Glynis Salmon enjoy a good laugh at the book event in May. (My photo)

It is when Ms. Wehby looks back at her life before her stroke that we understand more of the tough lessons she learned. She was always busy. Her calendar was full, her cell phone pinging all day. She enjoyed life, making plans for her family, work, travel. She loved to be involved, organized, on top of things. None of this was possible in her new dispensation. None of it.

How did she adjust, not only to her strangely uncooperative body but also to the mental and emotional “puppalick” (somersault) that must have occurred? The comment on the fly leaf says it all:

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.

The wind has changed, but this stroke survivor sails on. She has advice for fellow stroke survivors and caregivers – again, lessons learned – including the need for plenty of sleep; calming the mind through prayer and meditation (the benefits of “quiet, unhurried moments,” too); exercising the brain; and pushing yourself to work on weakened limbs through therapy. By the way, a useful medical perspective is provided as a Preface by Dr. Carl Bruce, Cerebrovascular and Consultant Neurosurgeon and Medical Chief of Staff at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

Quotations flow from every chapter of this honest and heartfelt book. Carefully and not at all randomly selected, they enhance the narrative with every turn of the page. About half the quotes are from the Bible, beginning with possibly my favorite of all – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…

Her final chapter (Brawta) is a collection of quotes. “God’s Words to Live By” express strength, fortitude, and “giving thanks.” Among the other quotes, I particularly love this one by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It seems most appropriate, for Ms. Wehby and for us all:

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

On Pause

Due to circumstances that I wish I could control, but cannot, I am on a short but essential break. My computer will be in repair for a few days.

Meanwhile, I have been absorbed in the book “Call Me American” by Abdi Nor Iftin is an intimate and at the same time high octane refugee story – highly recommended – photographed below in a cozy spot in Negril. Thank you, Sunset at the Palms – it was beautiful.

Soon come!

Books Will Never Die

So! What better way to start a book blog than with a post headlined thus! Albeit not my original article, but one shared recently on the website of the Trinidad NewsDay. The topic is of particular interest to me personally, however, since Ian Randle was my first employer in Jamaica some thirty years ago, in the days of the publisher Heinemann Caribbean (I often say he was “my boss” but that always annoys him. OK, then, “Colleague”!) I was excited to be in the book business in Jamaica, and for eight years thereafter I worked at Heinemann and then with the now-defunct West Indies Publishers as a buyer for their chain of bookstores, The Bookshop Limited.

A few years later, Ian went on to found Ian Randle Publishers in 1991. This truly Caribbean publishing house has built a substantial catalogue of books – academic and scholarly texts (history, sociology and more) as well as more general interest publications. Now here is a nice tribute to Ian and his unstinting (even heroic!) work in the field, and a well-deserved award he received recently at the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad. A link to the article is embedded above.

By the way, IRP is launching a new book in three days’ time (Wednesday, July 3): Truth Be Told: Michael Manley in Conversation – three years of candid “nothing but the truth” interviews recorded by his wife Glynne Manley from 1993 to 1996. Manley passed away in 1997. Look out for a review from me on this blog.

I feel compelled to extend my personal, heartfelt appreciation to Ian for his inspiration over the years. He helped to confirm and restrengthen my lifelong passion for books, reading, writing – and now, a “book blog”! Thank you, Ian.

Here is the Trinidad NewsDay article:

IN the world of Caribbean publishing, Ian Randle commands respect. For nearly 30 years, he has provided a voice for the Caribbean with his Kingston-based publishing firm Ian Randle Publishers, renowned for its academic and non-fiction publishing.

Randle’s journey has been exciting, rewarding and sometimes frustrating. Now, at nearly 70, he reflects on that rollercoaster ride. “The message is, you don’t have to be certain about your career early in life, because I never was reconciled to what I was doing until I was past 45,” said Randle. “At that point I figured I had better stick to publishing, so it was a period of reconciliation.”

While in Trinidad for the Bocas Lit Fest, Randle added the 2019 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for distinguished service to Caribbean letters to his accolades and awards, which also include an honorary PhD from the University of the West Indies.

“There have been so many highlights and scary moments,” he says.

Ironically, a combination of the two came from a 1995 Jamaican cookbook, his all-time bestseller.

“I had originally printed it in China, and I wanted to change printers, but I wasn’t hearing from the printer. I stayed up until 2 am to call him in China, told him I wanted back the book – and he said, ‘I refuse to obey you.’ There was an utter feeling of terror that I had lost my most valuable asset.”

Randle smiles at the “great irony” of his all-time bestseller being a Jamaican cookbook.

“I’m supposed to be a scholarly and academic publisher, but I have learned that you have to be all things to everyone. We have published fiction and poetry. It all depends on what really strikes us as extraordinary.”

Some books combined scholarly thought with entertainment, like Chanting Down Babylon, a collection of academic essays about Rastafarianism, and Pig Tails ‘n’ Breadfruit: A Culinary Memoir, by Barbadian writer Austin Clarke, whom Randle remembers as “…a blessed memory and a real character.”

One of his fondest memories is of being at a book conference in St Kitts. At the end of the day, someone asked Randle to recommend a book and he said Pig Tails ’n Breadfruit.

“The guy made a face. He didn’t think the title sounded appealing. I said, ‘Just take it. If you like it, you can pay me tomorrow; if not, you can return it.’ The next day I was walking down this long corridor. He was walking towards me, and I saw him reach into his pocket to give me the money,” Randle laughs.

But his biggest frustration over the years still persists: “How do I get people to pick up the books I love when I know if they just pick them up, they will love them?” – like Tito, a translation of a Chilean children’s book about a boy obsessed with football. [Here’s my review of this delightful book.]

“It’s still my one regret I can’t get more people to read.” Still, Randle is optimistic.

“I don’t think books will ever die. Everybody’s collection is very personal. No two collections are the same. Human beings are essentially collectors.”

Currently, his most exciting project is a collection of interviews with the late Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley, Truth Be Told: Michael Manley in Conversation.

“The interviews were done by his wife Glynne Manley, when he was aware of his impending mortality.”

The book package will include a redacted version of those interviews as audiotapes (some information is so sensitive, it will be housed in the Jamaican national library under embargo for 25 years).

Randle is also excited about another non-fiction book, Another Mother by Ross Kenneth Urken, the story of a Jewish boy raised by a Jamaican nanny.

After all these years he’s still excited by a new discovery.

“It never gets old,” he says. “I’m still in the phase that if someone offers me a manuscript in an envelope, by the time I get to my car, I’m going to rip open the envelope to see what’s in it.

“I think you get that feeling of excitement often in fiction, but it’s harder to come by in non-fiction.”

His number one wish is still to do a book on masman Peter Minshall, and he dreams of other important projects. When he asked readers what three books everyone in the Caribbean should read, the top ones were Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams, Beyond a Boundary by CLR James and In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming. So Randle thought he would reproduce a box set and get them into as many households as possible.

“I got permission for the first two books. Lamming agreed to the project, but the publishing house that owns Castle would not permit it,” he says.

It was yet another sobering lesson.

“This symbolises what happens in the Caribbean. Our best stories are told by others. It is important to reclaim our own stories. If not they (the outside world) define us and tell us who we are in their own terms.”

With all his excitement, Randle claims to be “tired and worn out… But we started and can’t stop. We have to start trusting and believing in ourselves and we mustn’t let people define us. “I’ve been fighting for almost 50 years and in many ways, I feel my life work has been done.

“What now drives me is the writing I do on my website. After 40 years of doing other people’s work, I am enjoying myself, which makes me wonder about the other career I never had: journalism.”

But while Randle imagines what might have been, it is impossible to imagine a Caribbean voice without Ian Randle Publishers.