“Women, too, are universal.” – A Conversation with Jacqueline Bishop & Jamaica Creates

Ashly Cork
March 8, 2021

Cover Page of ‘The Gift of Music and Song’ by Jacqueline Bishop

AC: Jacqueline, it’s lovely to meet you and thank you for taking the time to talk with me. So, I want to talk about your most recent publication, ‘The Gift of Music and Song’ which, of course, is a compilation of interviews you’ve done over the years with Jamaican women writers. I really enjoyed getting to hear the backstory of these writers and getting a little sneak peek into what inspires them not just in their daily life but what inspires them in their literature. So my first question is, in the midst of issues facing women locally and globally, such as gender-based violence, abortion dialogues, the #MeToo Movement, the Black Lives Matter Movement – and all these things happening within the broader context of this global pandemic – why do you think it was important to create this book and highlight the experience and work of Jamaican women writers?

JB: Well firstly, I want to thank you Ashly for having me on your programme. I think that the work that you’re doing is very important and I want to salute you for doing this, one Jamaican woman to another. I think you might be slightly, slightly.. just ever so slightly younger than me [laughs] and so it fills my heart with a great deal of joy and love to see a younger generation doing the work that you’re doing so thank you.

AC: Thank you.

JB: I think that all the movements that you named and touched upon, one way or another, intersect the lives of women. Certainly Black Lives Matter intersect our lives and calls to the movement of #SayHerName, definitely the #MeToo Movement. All these issues and movements move through and impact the lives of women and I think that in one way or another the women that are in The Gift of Music and Song speak to, speak through, and speak about these movements. So, even when they do not name them as such, they’re speaking about the issues that generate these movements. I believe one of the main issues that Jamaica and certainly Jamaican women face is the whole issue of misogyny; and misogyny takes various forms – the numbers of girls and women in Jamaica being impacted by violence, you know, at the hands of men and at the hands of other women. We are very good at touting the female managers and whatnot that the island has produced – and we should rightfully tout that – but violence, misogyny, sexism and the willingness to uphold males who uphold those behaviours and to promote males that are doing whatever behaviour impacts directly on women’s lives and all the women in the book talked about this.

AC: In this book you make reference to how “submerged women’s voices actually are in Caribbean Literature.” It is interesting the common thread of migration and that definition of ‘home’ when you were speaking to these writers of which many are a part of the diaspora. Do you think in compiling these stories of these writers within the diaspora you’re sending a message that to be taken seriously as a woman writer in the Caribbean you must leave to another country? And what would you say to women writers, or writers in general, who may feel discouraged by that? 

JB: I think it’s a very important dialogue to have, whether to have a life as a writer you need to leave [laughs]. You know, to have a life as any kind of artist you need to leave Jamaica. I think that’s a critical and important dialogue to have. And I know of writers who have decided to stay and there is also a dialogue to be had with how do they then make their lives in Jamaica as people who’ve decided to stay. Your question brings up several issues, a multitude of issues but I want to talk about two or three of them because I know we don’t have all day to talk.
One is that I would hope that it doesn’t discourage anyone but it leads to more conversations like you and I are having about why it is that so many women writers feel the need to leave, right? Why is it that more of us do not feel supported enough on the island to stay? I would hope that it brings up discussions as to then what would be needed to support those of us who decide to stay. I would hope that it brings up discussions about the relationship between us who have decided to leave and those of us who have decided to stay. And by that I mean the book, in so many ways, is a collaboration between a writer who decided to leave (myself) and a writer who decided to stay (Sharon Leach) and this book would not be in existence were it not for the work of Sharon Leach, who is the editor of the Bookends section in the Jamaica Observer in Kingston. She made a space for all these women’s voices and continues to make a space for these women’s voices; we start a new series this Sunday with Curdella Forbes, and we will be doing it all throughout this month. So, there are ways in which both groups can anchor each other and have productive conversations. But yes, this is more of a dialogue that we need to have.

AC: It is very clear that many of these women writers have inspired each other as well as have been an inspiration to you. Do you find yourself more drawn to engaging in Caribbean Literature written by women as opposed to men? And if yes or no, why?

JB: Absolutely! I am more drawn to Caribbean literature written by women without question [laughs]. In fact, I am more drawn to literature written by women period, not just Caribbean women. But I have to say that I came to literature… I think I was just born a writer, I think it was something that was always within me. I think before writers publish their first thing they know. They know inside of them… they have an urge, a feeling inside of them… They know. But once you begin to put those marks on the paper, one of the main ways of growing and being and becoming as a writer is looking around the world and seeing who are my people who have done this before? And who are my models? You consciously or unconsciously begin to seek for models. I don’t think your model has to be a Caribbean writer or a Jamaican writer if you’re Jamaican or Caribbean, but I think it helps to bolster you if you know you’re not the first or the only. It did help enormously that there was a Lorna Goodison, for example. It meant everything to me… And just to have people writing about streets that I knew and using sayings that I knew. I oftentimes say my audience is my grandmother and my great grandmother hearing a discussion. You know like, they’d hear me and you talking, Ashly, and they can understand every word… They are my audience, right? And so to get to the place where you feel confident enough as a writer to write for them to understand, it helped enormously that Hazel Campbell existed and did the work that she did.

AC: One of the chapters in your book is called ‘Explaining Ourselves to Ourselves’  and in a climate where people are deeply seeking to self identify, particularly when it comes to notions of gender, what do you think your book has to offer to men or even gender non-conforming individuals?

JB: In the same ways that women were expected and didn’t slip in high school in reading Shakespeare and be expected to get all sorts of things from Shakespeare and from Walcott and from Brathwaite – men can get enormous things from this book and from reading these women as well and that’s what I’ll say to that. There is a stance that, “oh we have to think about the men’s feelings here, and whatnot,” but we don’t think about that when it comes to women reading male writers, right? Male writers, they have achieved, it seems, a kind of universality that “women have not”… Bullshit. I cry bullshit to that. Women, too, are universal. Right? So if you want good writing, if you want good interviews, if you want all of that, women can provide it as well. So male writers will get the exact same things and male readers will get the exact same things here that they would get from any good book.

AC: My last question is, what advice do you have to give aspiring women writers in Jamaica and the Caribbean today?

JB: I would say to them, “Write and write and write and write! The future depends on you writing. There cannot be too much of us or too many of us. Don’t buy that story. We need your voices. We need your story. The future depends on you writing.” We only, each of us, have a finite number of time here on this earth, and so each generation will bring forth, hopefully, new writers. So I want every woman writer, every young female in Jamaica who wants to write… to write! This only adds to the complexity, the abundance, the generosity of the Jamaican story. This frees us, I want the young writers to hear me very very clearly… This frees us to tell our individual story. The worst thing that can happen is one or two voices predominate, this is a terrible terrible situation… So we need more writers from Jamaica. We need more women writers from Jamaica, we don’t need less. 

AC: I love that, thank you.

Jacqueline Bishop is a writer, visual artist, photographer and professor. Her other publications include My Mother Who is Me (2006), The River’s Song: A Novel (2007) and The Gymnast and Other Positions: Stories, Essays and Interviews (2015)

My 2020 Goal was to Read More Caribbean Literature: Here’s how I did it!

Ashly Cork
December 21, 2020

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and as soon as I learned to read it quickly became one of my favourite hobbies. But as I grew older I found myself not reading much for pleasure anymore and only for school or work, and so reading became more like a chore than something fun. 

In indulging myself back into the world of reading I decided my 2020 New Year’s Resolution would be to read more Caribbean Literature. It felt important for me to engage with stories that were relatable and close to home, allowing for a connection both physically and emotionally. But I had only one issue, Caribbean Literature is such a broad genre, where do I start?

That’s where Rebel Women Lit came in. The independent library boasts a vast collection of all kinds of literature, particularly Caribbean Lit. They have various subscription packages where you can sign up to get a book in a particular genre or theme randomly selected for you.

I signed up for the ‘Caribbean Classics’ subscription which was only $11 USD per month running through September to December. What caught my eye on this subscription description was the way they broke down the idea of Classic Literature and how they sought to position the Caribbean within this space. The description says, “Classic literature can teach us so much about the past and what our ancestors hoped for our future. Notably however, the literary canon most associated with the term “Classic Literature” tends to be dominated by white, European & American men and about the world through their eyes.” Rebel Women Lit sought to reimage what classic literature was by focusing on books published across the Caribbean region from the period of the 1920s-1999. Because, as they rightly quoted Shivanee Robinson, “reading Caribbean means reading the world.”

Through the novels and poetry books selected for me I was transported through the history and cultures of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Haiti, Guyana and of course, Jamaica, as well as delved into the experience of the Caribbean diaspora in London during the Windrush era. In total (and in addition to other forms of literature) I was able to complete eight Caribbean literature books from my 2020 reading list. These were:

  1. Song of Night by Glenville Lovell
  2. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon 
  3. Stuart Hall by Annie Paul 
  4. Masters of the Dew by Jacques Romain
  5. Madam Fate by Marcia Douglas 
  6. Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo
  7. Gardening in the Tropics by Olive Senior (poetry)
  8. In This Breadfruit Kingdom: An Anthology of Jamaican Poetry selected by Mervyn Morris. 

My favourite of the bunch would most definitely have to be Madam Fate by Marcia Douglas. Douglas’ style of writing is so poetic and colourful, I was literally caught from the first page (and not to be biased, but it was set in Jamaica). Madam Fate covers Jamaican folklore, spirituality, femininity as well as notions of madness and mental health. It’s not everyday a novel catches you from page one. I will definitely be reading more from Marcia Douglas! 

Madam Fate by Marcia Douglas Cover Art

This New Year’s Resolution has definitely evolved my mindset when selecting books to read. I am now not only open to but actively looking to reading broader literature. It is through these various forms of art we are able to connect with all corners of the world.

One thing I must commend Rebel Women Lit for is the way in which they have filled every gap they have identified within their industry- in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Recently, they created the Caribbean Readers’  Awards where they have outlined various categories of Caribbean Literature and allowed the general public to select the nominees and vote on their favourites. The list of nominees is a perfect resource in guiding your selection of Caribbean Literature to add to your reading lists, particularly new releases.

2020 has been a whirlwind of a year and for many, reading and being transported to worlds outside of the often chaotic one we exist in has been the perfect escape from reality. If you are from the Caribbean and found yourself like me reading more West Indian Literature, take pride in the enjoyment of reading stories written for you, by your own people. And if you aren’t from the Caribbean but are interested in broadening the art you engage with, I would definitely suggest Caribbean Lit as a good place to start.

What are some of your favourite Caribbean books? Give me suggestions to add to my reading list 😁

6 Jamaican Creative Projects to Pay Attention to

Ashly Cork
June 8, 2020

The past few weeks have been heavy with distance, pain, fight and the taste of a revolution. In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic we have seen Black people all over the world continue to be frustrated with the racism and violence we have been forced to suffer through for no reason other than the colour of our skin. This has seen the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement protests happening all over the world, even here, in Jamaica.

People have taken this opportunity to support the Black community in varying ways, whether that is going to the streets and protesting, signing petitions, donating money or promoting various Black businesses. Jamaica Creates is taking this opportunity to promote six specially picked Jamaican Creatives who we think deserve some praise and recognition. Many of these projects have come out during the COVID-19 lockdown and have served as a means of distraction during this time as we are forced to only consume art in our homes. 

Art has always succeeded in creating a special atmosphere of healing, of community and friendship- a special way of making you not feel alone, even if you physically are. Therefore, in no specific order, here are six Jamaican creatives and creative projects which I think have stood out during this period and encourage you to support!

Music Releases:

  1. Lila Ike’s EP- ExPerience: You might be pressed to find a Jamaican today that is not a fan of newcomer Lila Ike. Her 7 track EP adds four new singles to her previously released tracks which were already blasting through our speakers, such as Where I’m Coming From and Second Chance. Stars Align, which shares a riddim with Protoje’s Bout Noon and Mortimer’s No Lies, is one of my favourites! 

Stream ExPerience from your preferred platform here: https://smarturl.it/xTheExPerience

Source: Instagram @jah9online

2. Jah 9’s Album- Note to Self Jah 9 has a healing energy that just draws you in and her album Note to Self is very much a reflection of that healing energy. A mixture of spoken word poetry perfectly entwined with her melodious voice and Reggae rhythms, Jah 9 sings and speaks about healing, self preservation and surviving in a world that seeks to drown our voices out. This project is refreshing and enlightening. Note to Self (Okay) ft. Chronixx and Ma’at (Each Man) are two of my favourites.

Stream Note to Self on your preferred platform here: https://linktr.ee/jah9online

The album is also accompanied by a 13-minute video introduction, which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X26RdCgvYFE


Jamaican Music Documentaries:

Documentaries have increasingly grown in popularity with major streaming platforms such as Netflix giving us behind the scenes look of different cultures, personalities and wildlife. Jamaican creatives are seeing the importance of giving us the behind the scenes, and audiences should continue to support the journeys as well as the final products.

Source: Instagram @theroyalblu

3. Riddim and Blu– Riddim & Blu is a short documentary produced by Yannick Reid (AKA @thetherapistsol), highlighting the process of creating the music videos for Hype & Style and Pattern by recording artist, Royal Blu. Stepping outside of the box of what Jamaican music videos used to be, these partly animated and very colorful productions supplement the lyrical prowess found in Royal Blu’s Reggae-Dancehall-fusion recordings. Music video director Ikem Smith and popular music producer (who also worked on Lila Ike’s EP), JLL also add their input in this documentary.

Riddim & Blu can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENNFFdSj4qI

Source: Instagram @adtelligent

4. Out There Without Fear: Jamaica’s Dancehall Dance– Written and Directed by Joelle Powe and produced by Adtelligent, Out There Without Fear tells the story of Jamaica’s Dancehall: its creation, its local and international reach and what can be expected for the future. With inputs from Professor Carolyn Cooper, Herbie Miller, Dancer Colo Colo among others, the production puts together ideas from academics, dancers and dance teachers. This documentary chronicles the ideals behind Dancehall Dance, of classism, of survival and of women empowerment. A well put together production, it carries you through the journey of “the bad pickney of Reggae,” as stated by Prof. Cooper.

Out There Without Fear: Jamaica’s Dancehall Dance can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSkx-Us3Rzs


Literature:

Source: Instagram @rebelwomenlit

5. Rebel Women Lit: Rebel Women Lit is a Book Club put together by Jherane Patmore. This book club serves to create a safe space for Women and members of the LGBTQ+ community within Jamaica. Monthly, a book is selected and upon signing up for the club you come together and discuss the book, as any book club would go. These books specifically tend to be Caribbean Literature books and as a result of COVID-19 the book club also takes place online, catering to persons interested outside of Jamaica. Rebel Women Lit has also put on a few online Literature Festivals, allowing various Caribbean authors to showcase their writing to an audience, usually on Instagram Live. 

Find out how you can be a part of the book club and when the events are taking place here: https://www.instagram.com/rebelwomenlit/?hl=en

The creators of Rebel Women Lit also host a Podcast, called Like a Real Book Club, which can be streamed wherever your preferred podcast platform is. More information can be found here:
https://www.rebelwomenlit.com/blog/tag/Like+A+Real+Book+Club

Youtube:

Source: Youtube @ Tami Chin Mitchell

6. Meet the Mitchells Last, but most certainly not least, is the Youtube Channel, Meet the Mitchells. Jamaican entertainers, Tami Chin and Wayne Marshall have invited us into their home. With their three sons and other extended family, the Mitchells have shown us an example of authentic Jamaican life laced with humor and unfiltered realness that will literally leave you laughing the entire time. They have most certainly been a light in the darkness of the world today.

Check out their channel, and show support here: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=meet+the+mitchells

This list is in no way exhaustive, but what it does show is a few Jamaican creatives doing amazing things particularly despite the challenges COVID-19 has placed on the Entertainment Industry, and I am grateful to be a part of their audience and encourage you all to support them, and those who have been left off the list, in any way you can. Which Jamaican projects have been getting you through lockdown that I missed?