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Heading Down the Homestretch






It's a joy to be featured in the latest issue of Interviewing the Caribbean, a wonderful journal published by The University of the West Indies Press. The two latest issues (Winter 2019 and Spring 2020) of the journal are dedicated to the theme 'Caribbean Childhood: Traumas and Triumphs.' Editors Opal Palmer Adisa and Juleus Ghunta have done an incredible job curating a rich gathering of voices bearing witness to a sacred part of our lives that⁠—as Floella Benjamin always says⁠—lasts forever: our childhoods.



A collective stock-taking of Caribbean childhoods like this is timely and overdue. In many places in the Caribbean, we don't talk about our childhoods nearly enough, yet we carry our childhoods within us always. At a moment in history when an unprecedented threat to humankind has plunged a lot of us into the interior life, repressed childhood traumas may be resurfacing for many. I'm not a psychologist (my bachelor's degree in psychology wasn't enough to convince me I could handle the pieties of the field) but as I share in my featured essay in Interviewing the Caribbean, "The Nature of Belonging: Making a Home for Children’s Literature in the Caribbean’s Literary Landscape," I know from personal experience that there's tremendous healing adults can access just from reading children's books. If you aren't the type of adult who reads children's books, now is a good time to change that.

In my essay I open up about the psychological homelessness (a term coined by social scientists to describe feelings of not belonging in one's home country) I experienced as a child/teen growing up in Trinidad and during my early years as a young immigrant in America. I reflect on how I discovered a healing sense of identity and belonging in (what at the time seemed like) unlikely places—nature and children's books. I also write about returning to Trinidad with a newfound understanding of what 'home' means and using this insight, through work with children's books, to help young people establish a sense of home in the world. The issue also includes an open "Letter to a Child Leaving Trinidad" that I wrote giving them the kind of advice I wish I'd been given when I was younger and about to take that big step.

Some of my most difficult life experiences are what motivate me to advocate for Caribbean children and youth and their need to see themselves reflected in all kinds of stories, whether it's books or movies or even songs. I think it's important though, that young people in the Caribbean know that they can't wait for 'those people/adults out there' to acknowledge them to start feeling seen; feeling seen and heard is something they can cultivate for and within themselves by telling their own stories and helping others do the same.

This is my last post on the Anansesem website for the foreseeable future. Later this month, on Anansesem's tenth anniversary (May 24), I'll be stepping down as editor-in-chief (as previously announced), but the privilege of helping Caribbean children and youth find their way home will always be a prime concern for me. When we think of our priorities as adults, nothing is more important than making sure the young people who look to us for guidance grow up with an expanded sense of possibility when it comes to their identities, dreams and thinking. No child should have to grow up feeling unseen, stifled, unworthy or like they don't belong. As adults we have to do the work to heal these traumas in ourselves so we can help the current generation of Caribbean children and youth do and feel better.



About the Author

Summer Edward is Anansesem's founder and editor-in-chief emeritus. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her first children's book will be published by HarperCollins UK in 2020. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.




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9 Picture Book Biographies About Caribbean Women






With all that's happened in our global community in the past few days, we've had to hit pause on our Great Ladies of Caribbean Children's Literature essay series that we started publishing in celebration of Women's History Month; understandably, most people's minds, including those of our Great Ladies, are occupied with other things at the moment. We'll publish the rest of the essays in April. 

In the midst of our recent collective shock, Women's History Month still matters. I think about how my grandmothers (one of whom is still very much alive at age 103) lived through the Spanish flu pandemic that started in 1918 and two World Wars as well. I think of my maternal great-grandmother, the illegitimate daughter of a Venezuelan dictator, who fled to Trinidad in search of freedom and had to build a new life from nothing. I think of all of my great-great-grandmothers who survived the horrors of slavery. As we process the current difficult moment, their lives and stories call to me across time as reminders of the strength and wisdom we can draw from those who came before us.

In troubled times, I'm always drawn to, and always draw on, the lessons and triumphs of women's history, which are also, in part, the lessons and triumphs of feminine wisdom. In a pandemic I think we're already beginning to relearn feminine wisdom: the value of mothering and domesticity, and of the feminine traits of gentleness, empathy, humility, receptivity, and sensitivity, attributes that all of us, both female and male, may have lost sight of or neglected to cultivate.

Before the 'storm' hit, I wrote an annotated bibliography for EBSCOhost Novelist in observance of Women's History Month titled '9 Picture Book Biographies About Caribbean Women' (at the end, I mention 2 picture books that will be published later this year as well as 2 picture books that are fictional tributes to notable Caribbean women, as opposed to biographies, bringing the list to 13); you can access that bibliography here if you (or your institution) have a subscription: https://tinyurl.com/vjf4a78, or alternatively search for it in the NoveList Plus or NoveList K-8 Plus databases by entering UI 449635 in the search bar.




About the Author

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.




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Great Ladies of Caribbean Children's Literature: Jessica Huntley






The essay below is a part of our 'Great Ladies of Caribbean Children's Literature' series. During Women's History Month, and in celebration of Anansesem's 10th anniversary, we're publishing essays by or about 10 female trailblazers whose labors, writings, editorial work and foundational research created the growing field of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.


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My late mother, Jessica Huntley (1927-1913), was a co-founder of one of the UK’s first Black publishing houses. Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications (named after two Caribbean heroes, Paul Bogle and Toussaint L’Ouverture) was born when the radical Guyanese historian Walter Rodney, a friend of my parents, was banned from re-entering Jamaica to resume his lectureship at the University of the West Indies in 1968. The company’s first publications were two books for adult audiences: Walter Rodney’s seminal work, The Groundings with My Brothers was published in 1969 and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, also by Rodney, followed a few years later in 1972.

Bust of Jessica Huntley, sculpted for her 70th birthday by
Jamaican-born African artist, Fowokan (George Kelly). A bronze
replica of the bust can be seen in the Huntley Room at the
London Metropolitan Museum.
At first, these books and others related to the stories of African, Caribbean and Latin American people were sold alongside posters, greeting cards and crafts, from my parents’ living room in West Ealing, London. In 1974, they moved their activities to business premises nearby, opening the Bogle L’Ouverture Bookshop (in 1980 it was renamed the Walter Rodney Bookshop) in Chignell Place. The bookshop was not just a place where books were sold. It became a meeting hub for like-minded people where my mother listened to, advised and supported those who visited.

Bogle-L’Overture Publications’s existence depended heavily on the enthusiasm and drive of my mother for whom, to paraphrase the title of her and my father’s joint biography, Doing Nothing Is Not An Option. This mantra played out in her lifelong work as a publisher, bookseller and activist, greatly benefiting the lives of Black children and young adults in the UK.

Jessica’s strong social conscience was planted in her as a child growing up in Guyana. Her father passed away when she was very young and she was raised alongside three brothers by her strict God-fearing mother. My grandmother instilled in my mother a sense of pride, loyalty, and independence. As she became aware of the class and racial divisions resulting from colonial rule, Jessica was motivated to act when she encountered unjust policies. Financial constraints meant that she didn’t finish high school, but she had no qualms supporting the drive to close the gender pay gap at the Briana Shirt Factory in Georgetown. In 1953, she co-founded the Women’s Progressive Organisation to advocate for women’s issues in the People’s Progressive Party’s fight for independence.

When she joined my father in the UK in 1958, it became apparent to my mother and others of the Windrush generation that the racist policies of the day negatively impacted young people of African and Caribbean descent. One such policy was the so-called ‘sus’ law. This was a stop-and-search law that permitted police officers to stop, search and potentially arrest people suspected of frequenting or loitering in public places with criminal intent. In the 1970s and 1980s, this law targeted young Black men, a large number of whom were arrested for no good reason. Many young people and their parents sought the counsel of my mother, who was a founding member of the Black Parents Movement, established circa 1974/5. Jessica tapped into the social networks she formed at the Walter Rodney Bookshop to co-ordinate legal representation, protests and information campaigns in support of affected families.

The Black Parents Movement not only contested wrongful arrests of Black juveniles, but also challenged deportation orders, school suspensions/exclusions, and housing injustices. Its members also established Supplementary Saturday Schools. In the 1960s, the Supplementary School Movement was a grassroots effort by parents and teachers across the UK to counter the miseducation of Black youth. At the supplementary schools, Black children and youth were taught the ‘Three Rs’ (reading, writing and arithmetic) and given resources that reflected their own lives and racial/cultural heritage.

Jessica was painfully aware that many Caribbean and African children in the UK were labelled as ‘educationally subnormal’ and that the school curriculum provided them with very little knowledge of their history and heritage. She believed these problems could be remedied through culturally relevant education, particularly by providing Black children with access to books that reflected their experiences. In 1972, Bogle-L’Overture Publications published their first children’s book: Getting to Know Ourselves by a Grenadian couple, Phyllis and Bernard Coard. This coloring storybook, published by Jessica, introduces the concept of slavery by explaining why two children born in Jamaica look similar to two children born in Africa. It was one of the first children’s books published in the UK that enabled Black children to learn about their history.

Another children’s book, Rain Falling Sun Shining by Odette Thomas, was published in 1975. It presents a modern take on traditional Caribbean nursery rhymes, playground chants and folk songs, setting them to new melodies to engage pre-schoolers and their carers with memories of life ‘back home.’ Like so many of Bogle-L’Overture Publications’s titles, it was illustrated by the Jamaican-born artist, Errol Lloyd. Ackee, Breadfruit, Callaloo: An Edible Alphabet (1999) by Jamaican-born children’s author Valerie Bloom was another book that targeted primary school-aged children. Its bold and colourful pages introduce the reader to the fruits and vegetables of Jamaica, using poetry as the medium.

The publishing company also catered to the needs of teens; several young adult novels written by Andrew Salkey, the renowned Jamaican-Panamanian broadcaster and lecturer, were donated to Bogle-L’Overture Publications in its early days, including Danny Jones (1980), The River that Disappeared (1979) and Anancy’s Score (1973). Salkey also served as an editor of some of the publishing house’s books for young readers, such as Caribbean Folk Tales and Legends (1992), a collection of short stories by authors from the diaspora, some of which were written in dialect.

Click on book covers to zoom in.









My mother recognised that there was a gap in the market for a children’s series on important Caribbean historical figures, and so she and my father published three biographies for young readers written by my father, Eric Huntley: Two Lives: Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole (1993), Marcus Garvey: A Biography (1987) and The Life and Times of Cheddi Jagan (1994).

Jessica Huntley at her bookshop in the 1980s
During the 1980s, Jessica thrived as manager of the bookshop. Long before it was commonplace for bookstores to host events, she ensured that the Walter Rodney Bookshop acted as a venue for book launches, school workshops and meetings. It became a welcoming place where teachers brought their students to meet the musicians, poets and storytellers of the Black diaspora, from Louise “Miss Lou” Bennet-Coverly to Sam Selvon, and Ellen Kuzwayo to Ntozake Shange. Black children and youth were able to participate in discussions, hear perspectives never broadcast in the mainstream, and see positive representations of people who looked like them. Sometimes they came for relationship advice, sometimes to gather information. Librarians came regularly seeking to buy multicultural books for their young patrons. There were times when more books were loaned rather than sold; Jessica believed she was providing a community service.

Jessica supported young people’s endeavours, particularly when it came to their self-expression. Dread Beat and Blood, published by Bogle-L’Overture Publications in 1975, is a seminal work by Linton Kwesi Johnson; a collection of ‘dub-poetry,’ it gave voice to children of the Windrush-era West Indian migrants. Thanks in large part to the vision and encouragement of Jessica, many other Caribbean-UK writers of works for children and young adults got their publishing break.

Jessica Huntley speaking to young women at the Walter Rodney Bookshop in the 1980s

It is incredible to think that despite her humble beginnings growing up in a tenement yard in Guyana, her unfinished secondary school education, and her complete lack of experience in publishing, my mother was able to establish a small but widely influential self-funded publishing company. Due to financial difficulties, the Walter Rodney Bookshop was forced to close in 1990. For a woman like Jessica who thrived on face-to-face personal contact this was a great loss. However, the publishing aspect of the business continues today. Jessica’s contributions to literature for children and youth of the Black diaspora are considerable and have been documented in total at the Huntley Archives, the first major deposit of records from London's Black Caribbean community at the London Metropolitan Archives.



About the Author

Accabre Rutlin is a biology/psychology teacher, poet and artist based in London. She is the daughter of the pioneering Guyanese-British publishers and activists Jessica and Eric Huntley and the author of two books of poetry for young readers: At School Today (1977) and Easter Monday Blues (1992). Her children's poems have appeared in Spotlight on Poetry: Poems Around the World 1 (1999) and The New Oxford Treasury of Children's Poems (1995). She serves on the board of trustees of the Friends of the Huntley Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives (FHALMA). Her portrait was part of the No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990 exhibition at The Guildhall.


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Great Ladies of Caribbean Children's Literature: Dr. Margarita Luciano López






The essay below is a part of our 'Great Ladies of Caribbean Children's Literature' series. During Women's History Month, and in celebration of Anansesem's 10th anniversary, we're publishing essays by or about 10 female trailblazers whose labors, writings, editorial work and foundational research created the growing field of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.


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I was born in San José de las Matas, Santiago province, in the northern part of the Dominican Republic. I come from a family of eight siblings: five brothers and three sisters. During my childhood my parents and teachers fostered in me a love of reading and writing. Thus began my love of literature and my first experiments in writing poetry and then stories.

I completed my primary school education and part of my secondary school studies in my hometown. When I was a teenager, my family moved to Santo Domingo, the capital city. There, I finished high school and began my university career at La Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD). I double majored in education with a concentration in mathematics and education with a concentration in modern languages (Spanish, English and French). Subsequently, I completed a master’s degree in higher education at La Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo and a doctorate in pedagogical sciences at La Universidad Enrique José Varona de La Haban. For my dissertation, I conducted research on strategies for using children’s literature with primary school children within the context of their reading, cognitive and emotional development. I was then awarded a scholarship by the Organization of American States to travel to Venezuela where I completed a postgraduate degree in preparation of printed educational material for basic education.

I began teaching while studying at the university. Over the years, I have taught at all levels: pre-k, primary, secondary and tertiary. I also worked at the Ministry of Education in the Dominican Republic and directed two private educational institutions on the island: Mi Colegio and Centro Educativo Creciendo. I taught a course on children's literature at the Inter-American University for students pursuing a career in Early Childhood Education. I have enjoyed mentoring students at different universities around the island and have served as an advisor to those conducting research related to children's literature.

Books written by Dr. Margarita Luciano López

I have written and published books in the areas of mathematics, didactics, and children's and youth literature. My first children’s book El día en que llevaron la electricidad al paraje de la ciénaga (1988) was illustrated by Miguel Sánchez Tió and published by RADECO under the direction of Altagracia Díaz de de Jesús. My other picture storybooks include Senderos de paz: Cuentos para niños (Centro Caribeño de Investigación y Capacitación (CICAP), 1997), El día en que dos ciudades contrarias descubrieron que eran hermanas (Ediciones Unión, 1999) which debuted at the International Book Fair of Santo Domingo as part of the Domincan-Cuban edition of the Dienteleche collection, Quién se robó el verde (Trinitaria, 2000) which won the 1998/1999 National Aurora Tavárez Belliard Prize for Children's and Youth Literature, El carrito trepador (Editorial Santillana, 2001) illustrated by Kilia Llano, and De islas, mares y leyendas (Editora Unión de La Habana), co-written with Eleanor Grimaldi Silié. My novels for young readers include De escuela, tesoros y amigos (Opus, 2014), Por los caminos del monte (Editorial Santuario, 2011) and El patio encantado (Alfaguara, 2014).

Dr. Margarita Luciano López with her brothers, Joaquín Luciano and Johnny Luciano, at the launch of her children's novel, De escuela, tesoros y amigos, Carlos Guillot Building, Dominican Republic, 2014

I have also published poetry books for children including De Ronda por mi país: Poesía para niños (Centro Caribeño de Investigación y Capacitación (CICAP), 1997), Corazón de mermelada (Ediciones CP, 2015) illustrated by Víctor Manuel, and Arroz con mango (Centro Caribeño de Investigación y Capacitación (CICAP), 1996). Additionally, Eleanor Grimaldi Silié and I co-authored Literatura Infantil y Desarrollo Creativo (Editorial Grialibros, 1998; Gráfica Javier, 2007), a book on theory and practice for teaching children’s literature.


When I first started out, I had much to learn about writing, editing, and the children’s/YA book market. In working with different publishers over the years, I learned openness of thought, and different ways of structuring a book; I also learned a lot about young readers’ tastes.

SLIDESHOW

Locally and internationally, I have delivered numerous workshops and presentations on the topic of children’s and youth literature at various venues and events including at the congresses organized by Action for Basic Education (EDUCA), the Children's and Youth Library of the Dominican Republic, and the International Book Fair of Santo Domingo. I have enjoyed visits with children and young people from different primary and secondary schools, and have served on juries for various school writing competitions, as well as on the judging panel for the National Aurora Tavárez Belliard Prize for Children's and Youth Literature. For about two years, I wrote a series of articles on children's and youth literature in the “Isla Abierta” supplement of the Hoy newspaper and the “Biblioteca” supplement of the Listín Diario newspaper. I have been a member of two local writing communities: the "Pedro Henríquez Ureña" children’s and youth literature group and the Circle of Writers for Children and Young People.

Over the years, I have been honored to have my work in the field of youth literature recognized by the various institutions in which I have worked, by the Junior Chamber International, and most importantly, by the outstanding young people of the Dominican Republic. I am currently finalizing my fourth children’s novel and a scholarly text on how to teach children's and YA literature.

Dr. Margarita Luciano López being honored with a street named after her at the XIV International Book Fair of Santo Domingo in 2011. From left: General Director of the Book Fair, Alejandro Arvelo; Dr. Margarita Luciano López; Minister of Culture, José Rafael Lantigua; and the Vice Minister of Culture, Bernarda Jorge

I consider San José de las Matas (Sajoma), where I have lived all my life, a paradise full of beautiful landscapes and people; the nature of my hometown, my family and friends have been, and continue to be, the chief inspirations for my writing.



About the Author

Dr. Margarita Luciano López is the author of over ten books for children and youth. Born and based in the Dominican Republic, she is also an educator, textbook author and the current director of the Centro Educativo Creciendo y del Centro Caribeño de Investigación y Capacitación (CICAP). In 2011, the International Book Fair of Santo Domingo recognized her longstanding contributions to Dominican children's and youth literature by designating one of the streets of the Fair with her name. She is married to Rafael Sang, is the mother of Guillermo and Rafael Enrique Sang Luciano, and the grandmother of Isaac Enrique Sang Vallejo.



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