“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 😁

The Business of Creativity: How to Formalise Your Work in an Informal Industry

Ashly Cork
October 12, 2020

The burden of the Creative Industry is to prove that it is more than fun and entertainment but legitimate and profitable just as much as any other industry. In Jamaica, young and old creatives alike have taken on the battle of pushing the narrative that work done in this field can be a legitimate career. These practitioners can be formally trained and educated, start reputable and successful creative businesses and make tons of money with the additional benefit of doing something they are passionate about. So how do we, within the industry, continue to push towards legitimising the way we work and the spaces we operate/occupy? The head of the Blank Canvas Ja Podcast, Ewan Campbell, sat with the founder of Kingston Creative, Andrea Dempster-Chung to discuss key points to the legitimisation of the creative industry and Jamaica Creates was there to report on it all.

Six Factors for Developing the Creative Industry:
Before considering businesses and single person entities, it is key to understand the Industry as it stands and the ecosystem in place that allows it to run as it does. We must account for the gaps that currently exist in the industry before we start creating a roadmap to formalisation. Kingston Creative, in their own research, has developed six key factors making up Jamaica’s Creative Ecosystem and thus stand as core areas for development:

Jamaica’s Creative Ecosystem. Source: Kingston Creative

  1. Funding– public and private sector funds, including venture capital funds, and financial institutions who understand the creative ecosystem.
  2. Space– affordable spaces to create, practice and perform.
  3. Training and Development– legitimate means of certification and training within various fields.
  4. Messengers of the Brand/ Communicators– ways to know what is happening in the industry and how to procure the goods and services of those within.
  5. Innovation Houses/ Think Tanks– spaces where like-minded people can get together and network and bounce ideas for the development of the industry (such as the Kingston Creative Hub).
  6. Audiences- The transaction from artist to the audience included in spaces such as festivals, galleries and retail spaces.

She stated that it is crucial for Jamaica as a country to view creativity as an asset, as something that people can (and should) invest in. We need to make the link between actual raw talent and national development. There needs to be a level of collaboration across all sectors that the Creative Industry interacts with(culture, entertainment, tourism, foreign affairs, economic growth, commerce, etc.) for the industry to be able to fully thrive. So while we seek to create our own table, it is indeed crucial to have a seat at the tables that already exist.

“We are all creative,” Andrea believes. In Jamaica especially, many (if not most) creatives have a day job. They are turned away from a creative career and have it as a ‘side hustle’ or a hobby. In taking the step of capitalising on our talents it is crucial to respect your craft as a business in itself. Once you do that, you move on to educating people on the worth of your craft and the cost of providing your service/business, as any other industry would. This is crucial in moving away from the ‘friend ting’ culture that exists in Jamaica’s Creative Industry. 

Creative Entrepreneur and Freelancer- What’s the difference?

Understanding the development of the industry individuals themselves, Ewan posed the interesting question of “what is the key difference between a creative entrepreneur and a freelancer within the creative space?” Andrea simply made the distinction between the two by highlighting, “many persons calling themselves an entrepreneur have not created a business, they have just created a job for themselves and it’s a big distinction.”

More specifically, freelancers have a job or series of jobs with several different employers where one minute of their time equals a unit of compensation- they are selling their time while entrepreneurs create an actual business entity. Notably, this business must be able to operate on its own once you step away. An entrepreneur, in whatever field, is able to set up employment for themselves and others and create something that has a level of succession past their involvement in it and while there are benefits to freelancing, creating this solid entity should truly be the end goal for creative practitioners. 

How To Formalize Your Creative Business
“Nobody is confused about the power of Jamaican culture,” Andrea underlines. The question though is, how are Jamaican creatives able to cross that threshold and begin the process of starting a business, running their start-up and eventually having an entity capable of running by itself? 

Andrea outlined what she had identified as the critical first steps:

Step 1: Make a business plan. Take the time to write down your goals and expectations of your business. Use this as your reference point throughout the execution of the business to ensure you are continuing along the right path.

Step 2: Make sure you have protected the company and the ideas you have developed. A key step is registering your Intellectual Property. In Jamaica, this can be done at the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO).

Step 3: Register your company legally- in Jamaica. This is done at the Company’s Office of Jamaica. She also suggested a starting point is registering as a sole trader and moving to a limited liability company as the business progresses. 

Step 4: Develop an organizational structure. Teamwork is important, ensure your company runs efficiently with all responsibilities adequately delegated with the right team to get the job done.  

Staying Motivated
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the process and just as easy to be demotivated trying to thrive in an industry where you feel you may not be reaching your full potential and gaining the traction, and even monetary value that you deserve. “People want to live meaningful lives,” Andrea shares, “there will be tough days but life becomes so much more meaningful if you feel like you’re living on purpose… Let your passion guide you. Do the things that lift your spirit. Find like minded people and… expand your circle.”

With the creativity and passion that lie within the spirit of Jamaica’s people, the formalisation of the industry is not just a dream but is currently underway, having made incredible strides in the last five years. What we must do is “invest in the thing we already know we are excellent at,” as Andrea stated. With the impact of COVID-19 on the sector and country on a whole, the creativity of our workers, and by extension population, must now be moulded and mended to fit a new time, working to regain the momentum of the industry before the pandemic. Let us not miss our opportunity to contribute to the rebuilding of our economy in the post-COVID era. With collaboration and a mutual goal for success in mind it is certainly possible. 

You can listen to the full discussion between Ewan and Andrea on BlankCanvas Ja’s Podcast here: https://youtu.be/rp2kMpJIByM

How to get involved:
Want to get involved in Jamaica’s creative industry and don’t know where to start? Visit www.kingstoncreative.org and sign up to be a volunteer, you will be placed in a particular group specific to your skills and interests!