Join Robert and Linda, the editors of ArtsEtc, as they offer personal takes and twists on culture in Barbados and beyond... Stage Right, Stage Left continues a journey started seven years ago in ArtsEtc: The Premier Cultural Guide to Barbados, their groundbreaking print newsletter. Follow the rest of the adventure online at www.artsetcbarbados.com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Booklovers walk the talk on October 2

THE Barbados Association of Reading (BAR) is staging a WALK FOR LITERACY on Saturday, October 2. The start time is 7:30 a.m. outside the National Library in Independence Square, Bridgetown, and the walk route takes participants through Nelson Street, Bayville and Beckles Road, ending with breakfast, readings and games on Browne's Beach. The association has come up with the fun idea of inviting walkers to dress as characters from their favourite stories and novels.

ArtsEtc asked Cheryl Williams, BAR’s public relations officer, which fictional character she would dress as, and why? She also shared her views on literacy in Barbados:

ArtsEtc: So, who would you walk as?

Cheryl Williams: I'm thinking of Mary Poppins. I've always loved her, and of course there is always a teacher's fantasy of getting some of your naughtier pupils to behave. Ms Poppins is a nanny, but she sticks around for cool adventures where everyday experiences seem magical.

AE: What are the main objectives of the Literacy Walk on October 2?

CW: As an International Reading Association Caribbean affiliate, we are charged with raising literacy awareness within the community. The Barbados Association of Reading’s Literacy Walk is a community literacy initiative designed to highlight the importance of literacy within urban communities. It aims to mobilize BAR membership, writers, librarians, schools, churches, and community groups in the area to make a public statement on the importance of reading.

AE: The walk route covers areas that have been immortalised in print by some of our Barbadian writers. Will there be readings from such works at strategic points on the day?

CW: Yes, we will do our best to bring out Barbadian writers, particularly those who write for children or who are from the area, such as the immortal Kamau. The readings will be on Browne's Beach.

AE: What other ways would you suggest interested groups (writers, bookstores, teachers, communities, etc.) get involved in an ongoing basis to promote literacy in Barbados?

CW: Try a less traditional approach. Everyone wants to give remedial lessons, but many kids are reminded of the failures of school and go to these reluctantly. But the kid who likes football will probably read a book on Cristiano Ronaldo or one on the finer points of football. My sister who hated to read at school is now a deacon in her church; now in our house we fall over books by TD Jakes and on Christian theology. She will probably never read many of the “classics,” but she reads a great deal!

AE: Tell us briefly a bit more about BAR.

CW: The Barbados Association of Reading is a non-profit, charitable organisation established to promote literacy in Barbados. It is a Caribbean affiliate of the International Reading Association headquartered in the United States. Membership consists of literacy professionals and volunteers who meet monthly for educational sessions and discussions on literacy issues. The organisation also encourages and supports literacy projects in the classroom and community, and provides networking and training opportunities for literacy professionals.

AE: What is your major bugbear about literature in schools?

CW: Most reading is done outside of the English classroom, and a lot of subject teachers refuse to encourage good reading skills. They think it's not their issue.

Also, I am always incensed at what the powers-that-be choose for young people to read. One of my classes was up in arms because it felt that the poems in their poetry books were boring and macabre (my word). To keep their interest, I had to assign them the task of putting together an anthology for kids.

AE: What are you currently reading?

CW: Actually, I am reading several books. I'm relaxing with The Naked Baron, a Victorian bodice ripper. For work, I'm introducing the kids to The Silver Sword and A Kestrel for a Knave.

ArtsEtc encourages everyone to come out and support the Barbados Walk for Literacy on October 2. For more information, visit BAR’s website. – LMD

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Who would YOU come dressed as?

September is the month of Literacy Awareness; October is Education Month. ArtsEtc marks both with a series of blogs on literature and literacy, beginning with a fun idea from the Barbados Association of Reading.


COME dressed as a character from your favourite storybook or novel!

The invitation from the Barbados Association of Reading (BAR) regarding its Walk for Literacy, now being held on Saturday, October 2, is just too sweet to resist.

My daughter wants to go as Ruby – the smart, fun-loving heroine of the popular children’s series Ruby and the Booker Boys. Her cousin was planning to go as Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz. The spokesperson for the reading association fancies herself as Mary Poppins!

Me — I’m still deciding. I’ve always thought that Timothy Callender’s novel How Music Came to the Ainchan People would make an excellent theme for a costume band (back in the day when more bandleaders did stuff like that.) Certainly would be a great way to promote homegrown literature. (Maybe the folks at Diasporic Arts could tackle Ainchan on stage after they get through with The It So Happen Suite which is also based on Callender’s writing.) On October 2, though, I might walk as Armienne—Callender’s no-nonsense, turtle shell-stringed instrument of Ainchan harmony. We shall see...

But who would YOU dress up and walk as, given the chance? A character from the books you enjoyed as a child or from something you’ve read lately?

Meanwhile, please make a note of the Walk. It starts opposite the Public Library, Independence Square, Bridgetown, at 7:30 a.m. Walkers will travel through Nelson Street, Bayville and Beckles Road ending up on Browne’s Beach for breakfast, readings and games. It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness about reading, the love of books and the need to promote and protect this aspect of our cultural heritage. ArtsEtc will be walking...


Something is happening with the Bajan novel...

ArtsEtc co-editor Robert Edison Sandiford and Redemption in Indigo author Karen Lord at her book launch in August. (Launch photograph courtesy Days Books.)

OVER the last decade in Barbados, we’ve seen the publication of novels by Thomas Armstrong, Nicole Blades, Austin Clarke, Alvin Cummins, Nailah Folami Imojah, Margaret Knight, Glenville Lovell, Arnold Ward, to name a few of our more familiar writers in this form. This summer, Karen Lord’s name was added to that not-so-short list. Something, it seems, is happening again with the Barbadian novel, and her Redemption in Indigo, recently released from Small Beer Press, is very much part of that event.

What the books by these writers have in common is an attempt to reinterpret the situation of a people, namely Caribbean, and remind them of the significance of their experience, of its value and currency, to them and their wider community. Where Redemption in Indigo stands somewhat apart is in its use of fantasy to tell its tale, and, to a lesser extent, in its own preoccupations with the nature of choice, free will, fate, and chance.

One of the many pleasures of Lord’s debut novel is its protagonists: we watch both Paama (the girl married to a fatally licorish husband) and the indigo lord (the man with the magic coucou stick) grow in strength and humility and understanding of their humanity. Karen’s commitment to the redemptive powers of storytelling, and to the hope our stories can inspire, is uncompromising, fierce. This is from the end of the book:

“…there are those who utterly, utterly fear the dreaded Moral of a Story. They consider it an affront to their sensibilities and a painful presumption on the part of the storyteller. They are put off by the idea that a story might have anything useful to say and, as a result, all the other joys a tale has to offer them are immediately soured. I save my most scathing remarks for them. Do you go through life with your eyes blindfolded and your ears stopped? Everything teaches, everyone preaches, all have a gospel to sell! Better the one who is honest and open in declaring an agenda than the one who fools you into believing that they are only spinning a pretty fancy for beauty’s sake.”

Let me repeat: there is something happening in Barbadian arts. It’s as if our writers—on the page, stage and in film—are attempting to reboot our literature. Lamming’s last novel was Natives of My Person in 1972. Austin Clarke’s been producing, but there has been a sense of overworking old themes in recent, award-winning novels. In-between, Timothy Callender gave us How Music Came to the Ainchan People; that was in 1979…. The markers are a little arbitrary, but you get the drift.

Whatever’s happening, it’s easy to be part of it: by buying Redemption in Indigo, reading it, talking about it, passing it on, and then checking out all the other authors mentioned above (and those not) from our canon. There’s a vision our writers have of us, or for us, that’s once more emerging: one that encompasses Barbados yesterday, today and especially tomorrow.

Robert Edison Sandiford (Adapted from opening remarks made at the launch of Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo at Ocean Spray, Barbados, August 6, 2010. This blog entry is part of ArtsEtc’s series on literature and literacy for September, Literacy Awareness Month.)