Today is the publication date of Falling in Love With Hominids, my second short story collection, from the lovely people at Tachyon Publications. Isn't that cover by artist Chuma Hill gorgeous? The reds and bronzed tones, the wildness of her hair, the proud Africanness of her features...
My friend, writer/actor/director Sharon Lewis is making a prequel film to my novel Brown Girl in the Ring! Sharon is a fellow Caribbean Canadian, a woman of many talents. She played the lead in Clement Virgo's "Rude," the first Canadian film written, directed, and produced by Black Canadians. She played Drake's mom on the Degrassi High tv series, and has been making her own short films for some time. She's been agitating for 15 years to make a film inspired by Brown Girl in the Ring, ever since she first read it. When it comes to this project, Sharon is a beautiful beast of persistence and determination. She's already written the screenplay. She's raised $30k from Canadian arts councils, but she'll lose it in the next month or so if she doesn't raise matching funds.
It's evening. My car has been baking outdoors all day in the desert heat. High of 100 degrees Fahrenheit today. A few minutes ago, I got into the car to go run an errand. The inside of the car smelled wonderful; a warm, sweet, fruity smell. Which is not usual. So I looked around inside, and found the cause; last night I did some grocery shopping, put the grocery bag on the floor of the passenger side and drove home. Turns out the pint container of raspberries had slipped out of the bag and slid underneath the passenger seat, where they proceeded to slowly steam in their own juices. They were hot. Mostly cooked through but not mushy. They hadn't spoiled.
And they were delicious.
Yesterday I had a rare few hours of more-or-less single focus, and I drafted seven pages of the graphic novel I'm working on. I'm a novice when it comes to writing comics. I've studied it a teensy bit, and heaven knows I read a lot of graphic novels. My first dilemma was formatting the script. How in hell...? But my collaborator, artist John Jennings, emailed me an existing manuscript to use as a template, and I was off to the races. That evening, I sent John the seven pages I'd written. He'll tell me in a bit what he thinks of it. I probably used too many words; classic challenge for a prose writer attempting a comic.
Waiting eagerly to hear back.
By now, it's no secret that I like to cook. I'm not big on complicated recipes that take most of a day and dirty all the dishes and utensils, but so long as it's quick and/or I don't have to fuss over it much, I'm there. When I'm writing, cooking is a good way to take a break for some healthy self care. Well, not always healthy. Once I mastered making boiled chocolate fudge, a demon was unleashed.
Today's meals included the teensiest salad in the world, made with an olive oil vinaigrette and a scant handful of produce from my little container garden; basil, pineapple mint and the two cherry tomatoes that ripened today. I also curried some green mangoes to eat with brown rice and red beans cooked in coconut milk with garlic, salt kumquat, and French thyme. No pics of that; it tasted good, but I couldn't take a pretty picture of it. And finally, I made an improv pesto with basil from the garden -- I have green, variegated, and purple, don't know their official names, don't feel like looking them up -- some fresh Parmesan cheese in the fridge that was going crunchy around the edges, virgin olive oil, and shelled roasted pistachios. Didn't have pine nuts and wasn't eating the pistachios, so this was a way to use them before they went stale. I just bought broad rice noodles a few days ago, so I'll have them tomorrow with the pesto.
It's summer and I'm starting to work on my two novels again. They both necessitate much research into the histories of Black people in the Caribbean. Which means I spend a lot of time enraged as I read patently essentialist nonsense about (for instance) the "indolent" and "brutish" nature of Black folks. It's all the more enraging because it's still being spouted centuries later, still being used an excuse for waging war upon us and our communities.
But every so often, there's evidence that even surrounded by stupefying systemic racism, some non-Black people were able to take a relatively clear-eyed look around themselves and call bullshit. I just found the following statement from the late 1800s, made by Sir Henry Blake, Governor of Jamaica, as he discusses the huge trade exhibition that Jamaica is about to put on. This was written around 60 years after the English had abolished slavery. At this point, Jamaica is still "owned" and run by white Englishmen. Black folks there are now free, but remain disenfranchised. Of course, like human beings everywhere, they're working for better. Sir Henry says:
The skilled, perceptive and mischievously forthright Betsy Mitchell was the buyer and editor for my first published novel, Brown Girl in the Ring. Basically, she gave me my start as a novelist in the industry. She made me feel welcomed as a new Black and Caribbean writer in a genre where we still struggle for representation. She made me feel seen. Hell, she made me be seen, by taking a chance on me. And with her editorial chops, she helped me to strengthen my books. She left Warner Books a few years later and went to Open Road Media, which publishes digital reprints. When my novel The Salt Roads and my short story collection Skin Folk went out of print, she purchased them for digital re-release. As of yesterday, both books are back in print, and you can be reading them within seconds of purchase. Thank you, Betsy!
Winter classes at UCR begin tomorrow. My first class is on Tuesday. To my delight, I'm mostly ready for it. It's been a busy Xmas season. Often, it didn't feel much like a holiday. But it's been good stuff. I made lots of Xmas food; Caribbean black cake (my version was gluten-free), garlic pork, ginger beer. I sewed myself a new tunic. I wrote a proposal for my novel-in-progress Duppy Jacket and massaged 67 pages of the manuscript to append to the proposal. My agent has it now. I read a bunch of excellent novels and a good 300 pages of literary theory. I got myself a wristwatch fitness tracker for my birthday (December 20) and started walking more and taking stairs. I found someplace local to take dance lessons. I hung out with old friends and made some new ones. So all in all, I guess I'm ready to go back to school.
On Twitter today, I said I would lay out my suggestions for how editors can go about creating anthologies that contain a diversity of voices. Here they are. I realize that some of the terms I use are clunky; diversity, non/marginalized, etc. Mea culpa.
So: The minute you start talking about bringing diversity to an anthology, you'll be besieged by stentorian voices damning the effort, claiming that it's going to negatively affect the quality of the work. It's bullshit, tantamount to saying that the only good writing comes from non-marginalized writers. Gathering a wide range of voices, styles, aesthetics, experiences and perspectives in an anthology is a recipe for a good anthology, not a bad one.
But here's where those voices have a point: if you run around trying to fill in diversity slots for your anthology – you know, the “one of each so long as there aren't too many of them” approach – you will more likely than not end up with a dog's breakfast of a volume in which it's clear that you selected writers for their optics, not their writing. That's tokenism, not sound editorial practice. The time to be trying to make your anthology a diverse one is before submissions come in, not during or after.
On the other hand, if you just put your call for fiction out there and cross your fingers, you'll end up with mostly the usual suspects. It's not enough to simply open the door. Why? Because after centuries of exclusion and telling us we're not good enough, an unlocked door is doing jack shit to let us know that anything's changed. Most of us will continue to duck around it and keep moving, thank you very much.
So make up your mind that you're going to have to do a bit of work, some outreach. It's fun work, and the results are rewarding.