Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta delivered “a most inspiring day”, according to a very satisfied member of the audience. Well-known and new Jamaican writers brought life to their own work on the grounds of Two Seasons Guest House (www.2seasonsguesthouse.com),
, St. Elizabeth, on Saturday,
February 25. Treasure Beach
Tallawah Magazine (www.tallawahmagazine.com) editor, Tyrone Reid, declared that the Fiesta “featured a host of strong presentations”, and named writer-playwright-Anglican priest Easton Lee as the “bonafide highlight”. Before launching into hilarious tales, Lee explained that “None of what I write, I invent. It’s out of my experience, what I hear, what I see. Sometimes you combine two stories and make one.”
“It was their regular Friday night spree where they shared stories as they consumed round after round of their favourite white rum. For the past hour they were at it until the talk got around to horses,” were some of the lines of his final tale which was about a race at the now defunct Gillnock race course in St Elizabeth.
Newer voices were also well received. Melanie Schwapp read from her first novel, Dew Angels, which follows the protagonist, Nola Chambers, through her life’s journey. The excerpt gave the lead up to the moment where a child lost trust in a parent who should have been caring and protective of her.
After opening with a haiku type poem, Monique Morrison did a clear delivery of her poem, The Poetry Eater. “The poet does not know that some eat his poems from white plates with elaborate blue patterns with knife and fork, dabbing the clean corners of their mouths while their tongues dance with energy and appreciation…Some tear his poems like Boston Jerk Pork, letting the spice burn the fingers, the tongue, the stomach and burn all the way back out.” Then she moved easily into love poems.
An insightful discussion on writing for children gave panelists Diane Brown, Jean Forbes, Sharon Martini, Kellie Magnus and moderator Suzanne Francis-Brown, herself a writer for children, the opportunity to share their different experiences of how they came to be writing in the genre and their experiences and approaches to publishing. Writer of Max and Me, Sharon Martini, a resident of Treasure Beach, said that her writing for small children aimed to create fun and whimsical stories featuring black children. Martini ended her contribution to the discussion with a song, self-accompanied on guitar.
Multi award-winning author, Jean Forbes, writes for ages 8 to 12 “when the parents stop buying books if they ever did buy them”, she remarked. Several of her stories are included in books and audio tapes available only in government-funded primary schools. Her encouragement to writers is, “With the new media, the power is shifting. We have to be a little bit more entrepreneurial. We cannot wait on publishers, we have to take the material and get it out ourselves.”
She also spoke to the value of comics. “Boys will read a comic in preference to what is a chapter book or story book. Comics are fine but you have to promote your material. You have to go into the schools, you have to read to them. You have to ask some of the agencies that when you are giving books it would be so nice if you could give them ours, but you cannot convince them if you do not go with them and read for them.”
Kellie Magnus, who writes for age 8 and under and has her own children’s media company, Jackmandora, also repeated the importance of reading to audiences as a way to promote your material. Magnus showed how she had overturned popular wisdom on the limitations of local publishing. She remarked that before she started publishing, “I was appalled at how few [local books for children] there were and how badly they compared in terms of production values with the English and American books on the shelves.” According to Magnus, if she followed popular wisdom, her first Little Lion book should have sold 3,000 copies over five years. However she happily reported that, “We put the first Little Lion out, it sold 5,000 copies in six months. It is now in its fourth printing. We have done two books since then that have continued to do well.”
She reads in one school per week all through the academic year and said that she listens to the children, notes that they do not want to be babied, and incorporates that feedback in further work. She also said that that today even the rural children are very urbane and, as a publisher, she has banned “donkey stories” as the children do not relate to that. She wants more Manning Cup and Champs stories. She later read from her work, Billy Bully.
After writing for age groups 12 and under, Diane Brown now writes for an older age group. Her route to publishing also started with a Ministry of Education project for primary schools. Brown related a bit of the recent history of publishing for children in Jamaica which included the writers’ group, the Children’s Writers’ Circle, and the Pebbles Series from Carlong Publishers. Brown has written time travel books which is fun but helps to introduce history to children. She read from Island Princess in Brooklyn, featuring the feisty 13-year old barrel child, Princess McQueen, who wants to live with her grandmother in
instead of migrating to Brooklyn. It involves
emotions children do feel in those environments.
Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta did have a children’s programme managed by Ingrid Blackwood. The children came on stage towards the end of the day to deliver a skit that they had rehearsed during the day. Effie Mills from
closed the children’s segment. Treasure Beach
JAMCOPY (www.jamcopy.com), the Jamaican copyright licensing agency, was a special partner for the literary stage. The opportunity was used to urge writers to become a member to protect their copyright.