Too Cool: Paris Review – Document: The Symbolism Survey, Sarah Funke Butler

In 1963, a sixteen-year-old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. Did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. Who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? When this happened, did the authors mind?

via Paris Review – Document: The Symbolism Survey, Sarah Funke Butler.


via Featherless Biped, PFFA.


So here’s the thing.

Yes, I got a degree in literature lo these many years ago.

Yes, we were exposed to the Great Books in English. And because I studied in Canada, they were really English, most of them. I have great gaps in my reading of American literature — no Moby Dick (we did Bartleby instead), no Twain or Hawthorne or Wharton or Dickinson or Frost. We read Henry James and called it a day, And believe me, I did read James from cover to cover — particularly The Golden Bowl, don’t ask why (Portrait of a Lady got itself skimmed).

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Tongues of the Ocean Issue 5

tongues of the oceanThe June 2010 issue of tongues of the ocean went live at midnight today.

This one’s a little different. We’ve taken a cross-disciplinary exhibition and put it into cyberspace. Instead the customary two pieces of writing a week, we’ve got a literary piece and a piece of visual art. This is how the exhibition—”A Sudden and Violent Change”, created for The Hub in Nassau for the Transforming Spaces Art Tour—was set up: writers creating pieces that artists used as inspiration for other pieces.

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Literary Explosion

Anybody else notice that the world has exploded with damn good poetry? That everyone’s publishing all of a sudden, and that a lot of the stuff that’s getting published is not half bad?

It’s not really all that surprising. The internet, access to print on demand, and so on, have liberated people’s ability to write, and have allowed people who had never read a poem outside of an academic institution (and come to think of it, I was one of those people — I just happened to spend a lot of my life within an academic institution) to read, write, critique, and discuss poetry in ways that I don’t think have happened since the turn of the last century.

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Laurels | Carter’s Little Pill

This is kickass. It’s a lot like what I’m feeling right now. Time is moving too fast and too slow and the things that you should do don’t get do. The gardens of the dead, or the gardens associated with the dead, are some of the most heart-rending places in the world.

from Laurels by Julie Carter

I would take it somewhere else to die. I know

that it takes the acid of deep Ohio soils but I
have killed the others–mowed them or let them

drown in burdock–before the pink beads of their
flowers could pop open like peppermints, spiraling

out in red and white. Because my husband
gave me three and I killed two. Because he

gave me three and nothing sent me to the back
yard and the yellowjackets and the yellowsun to guard

them and two died …

via Laurels | Carter’s Little Pill

Discovered a new journal today

I blink emerald.
I blink sea glass green.

Saeed Jones, via THE COLLAGIST.

One of the things I like about blogging here on (don’t worry, there are some things I don’t like too) is that sometimes I come across really cool blogs that I like to follow. Saeed Jones’ is one of them, and today, when checking the blogs I surf, I found this reference. Followed it, and ended up at The Collagist, a journal I’d never heard of before.

Worth reading. And while you’re at it, visit some of my online favourites too: Anti-, qarrtsiluni, and, of course, tongues of the ocean.

**edited to fix the man name.

10 Questions on Poets & Technology: Amy King « Very Like A Whale

Nic is back! Over at Very Like a Whale, a new 10 Questions series on Poets and Technology.

*Happy dance*

The internet, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, iPad, iPod, podcasts, digital video and who knows what else. What do they all mean for the poet qua poet? For Poetry? Is it still pretty much where the Gutenberg press left it? Is Poetry technology-proof? In our fearless ongoing quest to exploit other people’s wisdom on poetry-related subjects, we are posing ten questions to a group of illustrious contemporary poets on this topic. Our first responder is none other than our very own Amy King. Thanks for kicking off the series, Amy!

via 10 Questions on Poets & Technology: Amy King « Very Like A Whale.

tongues of the ocean issue 4 goes live

Or went live on Sunday past. Featuring entry art by Steve Cartwright, and beginning the issue with two very cool and contrasting poems: “In the Bay” by Changming Yuan (China, USA), and “12 Notes for a Light Song of Light” by Kei Miller (Jamaica, UK).

A taste:

the waves surging towards the seashore
not unlike my spirits

the seashore embracing the waves
not unlike your arms

–Changming Yuan


A light song of light will summon daffodils,
bluebells and strawberries, humming birds;
will summon silver, the shine of sequins,
the gold of rings—and the dreadful luminosity
of everything we had been told to close
our eyes to

— Kei Miller

Go Vote!

Again from Aditi Machado.

So, I’m trying out something new. This is perfectly silly and supposed to be fun. Serious and/or whiny people, please go away (for the time being). I owe Tom and Lorenzo from Project Rungay for the idea. They have this contest/game-type thing called Virgins versus Vixens, in which a classic Hollywood starlet is pitted against another classic Hollywood starlet, except one has a ‘virgin’ image and the other a ‘vixen.’

I want to do a literary version of that  with dead white male canonical writers. (We can try dead white female writers, suicidal poets, dead Beats and Dan Browns later, I promise.)

Why dead white male? Because it’s a list long enough for this to go on for a while. And really, these guys get it so easy, faffing around in syllabi across the world. Let’s make them work a little for their fame.

Dead White Male Canon Wars: Part 1 | Blotting paper

On passing up my chance to eat with Derek Walcott

OK, so if you’ve been following my other social networks, you’ll have heard somewhere, somehow, that Derek Walcott’s in town. (If you’re not sure where “town” is, it’s Nassau, Bahamas, where I am too). He’s got here through the actions of two groups, one of which happens to be the School of English Studies at the College of The Bahamas, where I also am. I used to be in the School of English, but now I’m where I figure I actually belong according to my terminal degrees, in the School of Social Sciences. But the School of English still treats me like I’m with them, and I don’t mind. I pinch-hit some of the courses on that side every now and then and still enjoy myself.

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Douglas Basford on Anti-

Two sonnets I really like. Buffalonian Douglas Basford’s got some pretty cool stuff here, such as:

So arise and go shiatsu on it again,
jackhammer till pale-green static sparks flames.

–“Shoulder Rub


she’s still young and widely enough known

to minister to birds and those who lean
towards heaven for damn good reasons: lust, guns, rage.


I’m sure I shouldn’t have posted half a whole sestet of that last poem. But I just couldn’t help it, Mr. Basford. It was just that good.

And this is from a man who says this is what he’s anti- : “I hate poems that end with shimmering light.”

10 Questions for Poetry Editors – Very Like A Whale

Nic Sebastian continues her series, this time featuring James Midgley of Mimesis:

What goes on inside poetry editors’ heads? is a burning question for publishing and wannabe-publishing poets everywhere. With this third Ten Questions series, we are showcasing weekly answers from a diverse group of poetry editors to Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. Each editor’s responses will appear as a separate blog post and all posts will be linked back to the series’ standing page.Our responder this week hails from the UK: James Midgley, editor of the UK print journal, Mimesis.

–Very Like A Whale: Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – James Midgley

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Scavella’s Turn « Very Like A Whale

Nic Sebastian over at Very Like A Whale invited me to respond to her Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. You can read the result this week here:

What goes on inside poetry editors’ heads? is a burning question for publishing and wannabe-publishing poets everywhere. With this third Ten Questions series, we are showcasing weekly answers from a diverse group of poetry editors to Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. Each editor’s responses will appear as a separate blog post and all posts will be linked back to the series’ standing page.

Our responder this week is Nicolette Bethel [aka Scavella], editor of Tongues of the Ocean.

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Nicolette Bethel « Very Like A Whale

Flood Warnings and Steam Baths – the De-Cabbage Yourself experience flies south for summer

This week, Rob‘s in The Bahamas with me, Scavella, aka Nicolette Bethel. He hasn’t picked the best day for it — the birds are singing, they always do, but it’s overcast and going to pour. Still, the nice thing about rain in the sub-tropics (which isn’t like rain in Scotland, which I experienced one chilly day in Edinburgh on my way back from a conference in St. Andrews round the turn of the century) is that it’s drama at its best. And it’s warm. So hold on for flood warnings and steam baths.

••• Continue reading

Rob Mackenzie’s Cyclone Blog Tour

The last time I posted about this, I’d forgotten entirely that I’d agreed to host Rob on his tour, and had to be reminded by him. Since he started his tour on Very Like a Whale, he’s made two other stops: Marion McCready’s Poetry in Progress and Ivy Alvarez’s Dumbfoundry.

Blogsphere’s next. Check back on Monday coming for Rob’s next stop. And in the meantime, here’s a little taste of the UnCabbage:

  1. Never go into the cage
    without knowing
    what kind of day the poem is having.

–from “Advice from the Lion Tamer to the Poetry Critic”, by Rob Mackenzie

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Susan Culver « Very Like A Whale

Very Like A Whale gets inside Susan Culver’s head.

What goes on inside poetry editors’ heads? is a burning question for publishing and wannabe-publishing poets everywhere. With this third Ten Questions series, we are showcasing weekly answers from a diverse group of poetry editors to Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. Each editor’s responses will appear as a separate blog post and all posts will be linked back to the series’ standing page.

Our responder this week is Susan Culver, editor of Lily and Poetry Friends.

Go on. Go check it out.

Rob Mackenzie’s Virtual Book Tour Begins

Over on Very Like A Whale

Very Like A Whale is tickled pink to serve as the launching pad for Rob Mackenzie’s De-Cabbage Yourself Experience, his virtual book tour for The Opposite of Cabbage, his debut collection from Salt Publishing. You, of course, have either already purchased his stirling collection or are about to do so.

We thoroughly enjoyed reading this beautifully-crafted collection of poems which is infused with a whole range of desirables – intelligence, humor, satire, the surreal, the poignant and Scotland, to name but a few. We asked Rob ten questions about The Opposite of Cabbage. He answers half here and will be back towards the end of his tour to answer the other half. Thanks for being here, Rob!

I thought about offering to be a stop on Rob’s virtutour, and thought for some time about it, and then completely forgot. As things turned out, though, it’s probably a good thing I forgot. May found me swamped with work as usual — I seem to enjoy overexerting myself; ever since I plunged into depressions during the long Canadian summer vacations from university (April to September, no kidding) I’ve tried to keep myself busy so that I don’t think myself into a spiral, and now it’s June I have the biggest project I’ve ever taken on in my private life (curious? Check here and here — and if you want to book tickets and accommodations, check either website at the end of the month!) and little things like blogging are slip-sliding away.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be following Rob’s tour as closely as I possibly can. Go, Rob, go!

This one’s for Rob

Help save Salt.

Poetry press Salt has launched a viral marketing campaign in a bid to stave off closure, in the wake of the publisher’s “financial difficulties”. The publisher has asked for customers to “buy just one Salt book”. Director Chris Hamilton-Emery said the first day of his company’s ‘Just One Book’ campaign had “swept the web”, leading to more than 400 orders within 24 hours.

He said: “The response has been astonishing and heart-warming. Since June last year our family business has faced severe financial difficulties – the recession hit us hard. We’re almost at the end, it’s terrifically sad. Nine years of our lives has gone into developing this literary business.”

All right, Rob Mackenzie, Aditi Machado, Nic Sebastian, I’ve bought my book. It’s Katy Evans-Bush’s collection, Me and the Dead.

I’m a little bummed she took half my title (Mama Lily and the Dead – trust me, I had it waaaay before 2008) and I’m half-racking my brains to think of another.

Literary Geek Meme

Harry tagged me.

On FaceBook, no less.

“You have received this note because someone thinks you are a literary geek. Copy the questions into your own note, answer the questions, and tag any friends who would appreciate the quiz, including the person who sent you this.”

1) What author do you own the most books by?
No clue. I would have to count and we really don’t have the time. Probably a writer of murder mysteries, though – possibly Christie or Sayers. They’re that prolific.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
The Bible.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not any more.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Could I be more cliché? Mr. Darcy. Oh, you said secretly. Oh, well. That’s a different story altogether. That would probably be Strider/Aragorn. Or Lord Peter Wimsey. Or –

Hell and damnation. This multiracial Caribbean closet Marxist has a raft of crushes on upper class white Englishmen. What does that say about me, I wonder?

4a) What fictional character would you most like to be?

Not a clue, really.

4b) What fictional character do you think most resembles you?
Not a clue. I shall give this more thought and get back to you. Maybe. I would like to say Nancy Blackett from the Ransome books, but I would be lying. Continue reading

Online Literary Journals: Coming of Age

Edward Byrne, editor of Valpariso Poetry Review, notes that the most recent issue of Poets & Writers Magazine includes a discussion of online journals, which excites me.

One Poet’s Notes: Online Literary Journals: Coming of Age

The current issue May/June 2009 of Poets & Writers Magazine contains “a special section on the here and now of literary journals” devoted to information about the process of submission, editing, and publication of literary magazines. Sandra Beasley contributes a timely and insightful essay, “From Pages to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals,” among the articles included in the “Lit Mag Moment” feature.

The fact that online publications are growing in reputation, and are even being accepted as credentials for funding and for university tenure, is a happy one. The quality of online journals isn’t lost on me — the pool of submissions is larger, as is the pool of editors — which has a happy effect on the results that I’ve seen.  My most recent experience with print journals has been stuffier and less moving than my experience with online ones. Of course, in my country, the availability of print journals is entirely dependent on the post and the depth of one’s subscription-fee-paying pocket (in my case not so deep, believe me), and so my access to such journals is limited at best. I’m there are those out there that are different. But I know that what I have seen tends towards the conservative (in the sense of conserving, not in the sense of being close-minded), the cliquish, and the controlled, not towards (as with the online variety) the exciting, the fresh, and the unusual.

Maybe it’s just me, but maybe it isn’t. Any comments?

hearts are clouds « Very Like A Whale

Over on Very Like a Whale, Nic gives a headsup to tongues of the ocean.

I’m so glad someone’s noticed the power of Muhammad Muwakil’s work. The more I read that poem the more it grows on me — specially the bit Nic quotes.

Thanks, Nic!

And this week’s posts are up — a second poem by Ian Gregory Strachan, and an interview with Derek Walcott. No, I didn’t carry it out. It’s actually a link to an interview carried out in 2006 by Canadian litblogger Nigel Beale. Thanks, Nigel, for allowing us access to the interview!

And as for Strachan’s “National Anthem”, here’s a taste of it:

one hundred years ago
from this spot
a painter with a poet’s name
caught a coconut frond
in the wind and
brushed the white lighthouse

tongues of the ocean: why stop now?

Two more poems are up for the week:

The West Indies Haiku (#1) by Tim Tomlinson

heat lightning—
pages scattered

on an empty bed


The joy of planting banana suckers in your own land by Ward Minnis

I only want me own garden
a little patch where I can dig till I silly.
Plant banana morning, noon and night,
Open the hole and put in me fertilize,
fill it with sap
from nighttime ritual and early morning dance.

Jee’s Birthday Party

Song of a Reformed Headhunter: Virtual Book and Birthday Party on March 20
I am planning a Virtual Book Party to launch Equal to the Earth on my birthday, March 20. Everyone is invited, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home, or wherever you find yourself that evening, at 8 pm (Eastern Standard Time). All you have to do is to visit the book blog or my Facebook page.

I agree with Nic — it is a good idea. So I’m spreading the word.

Twenty-five writers meme

From Geoffrey Philp:

The deal is to name 25 writers who have influenced you, and then tag 25 people.

Hear ye the gospel according to Fragano: “Influence” does not mean the same thing as “enjoy a lot.”

(Just to note — this has been cross-posted with Blogworld so I can cross both my writing networks)

As with everyone else, before, in no particular order:

  1. T. S. Eliot – for blowing my mind
  2. Kamau Brathwaite – for blowing my mind again
  3. Ngugi wa Thing’o – for inspiring me to write plays
  4. Chinua Achebe – for Things Fall Apart and A Man of the People
  5. Toni Morrison – for just being
  6. William Shakespeare (no, for real) – what I said about Morrison
  7. W. B. Yeats – for channelling ghosts and writing great verse
  8. C. S. Lewis – for Narnia and concision
  9. Bronislaw Malinowski – for participant observation, the Trobriand ethnographies, and theory I can believe in
  10. Claude Levi-Strauss – for Tristes Tropiques Continue reading

It’s Sunday, so

two more poems went live on tongues of the ocean this morning.

They’re “Sunday” by Nicholas Laughlin (Trinidad and Tobago) —

Long Woodbrook afternoons when it never rained
—already this is another century—
the street agape, the households all asleep,
the smell of soap and orange peel under the stairs
—the smell of still having too long to wait—
and the aunts asleep, and the smothering patience of indoors.

and “Circles of Light” by Obediah Michael Smith (The Bahamas) —

landscape, moonscape, seascape

escape evening falling

sun into the sea
instead of upon your toe
or upon your head

and they’re both worth a look.


New poems on tongues of the ocean

“For the Trees” by Vladimir Lucien, from St Lucia:

The trees have always been our brothers.
The silk cotton tree that was forced to lynch us,
In those gardens that our mothers stooped to nurse
That grew with us, were our brothers.

But before they fell to the earth,
I grieved when they cried in autumn

and “I Am”, spoken word poetry by Amielle Major, from The Bahamas:

I am not the first to have had my heart broken by a white man I
probably shouldn’t have loved
I am not the first to have had my heart broken by a black
man I probably shouldn’t have loved
I am not the first to have not been loved because I was too black
I am not the first to have had sex in this darkness my blackness I hate it.

I am not the first ugly person.

CRC Review #1: “New Negroes From Africa”

roseanne1OK, so I had to read this for an assignment. I had to officially review it. Is that cheating? If it was, it was a pleasant cheat.

The full name of the book is “New Negroes From Africa”: Slave Trade Abolition and Free African Settlement in the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean and it was written by a friend, Roseanne Adderley, who’s also a pretty major historian on the Caribbean.

The fact is, though slavery and its aftermath is intrinsic to the way in which the Caribbean sees itself,  not all Africans who arrived in the Americas came as slaves.  Adderley’s study looks at another group of Africans — the more than 40,000 people rescued by the Royal Navy from illegal slavers after the 1807 abolition of the slave trade and settled throughout the British New World Colonies.

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CRC Progress

Almost finished two of my books together:

  • keiKei Miller’s There is an Anger that Moves
  • roseanneRoseanne Adderley’s “New Negroes from Africa”: Slave Trade Abolition and Free African Settlement in the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean

Been busy — teaching, planning and marking, and also editing tongues of the ocean (now live!) and doing other stuff so as not to be bored, so I’m putting off the writing of the review.

I’ve already reviewed Adderley’s book elsewhere. Maybe I’ll cull from that.

I’m savouring the end of Miller’s book of poetry.

So there!

100 novels everyone should read – Telegraph

100 novels everyone should read – Telegraph

A Telegraph selection of the essential fiction library

So I’ve read 29 of these books. Specifically:

100, 99, 96, 82, 81, 79, 78, 77, 73, 62, 53, 52, 50, 48, 46, 42, 39, 38, 34, 30, 27, 22, 21, 20, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5, 4.

I have not included those that I started but didn’t finish, which would be a list of 10 more.

And then there were those I was supposed to read but didn’t, which would be about 10 more again.

The comments say it all. And more.

tongues of the ocean

Three things.

First thing. I’m switching jobs. I’ve been a bureaucrat for five years, which is the term of a parliamentary government administration. Bureaucrats by definition are enemies of change. I prefer agency, myself. So, after five years, I’m returning to academia.

Second thing. I was afraid I’d be bored. I know. All laugh together now: one, two, three …

Third thing. In order to stave off boredom, I’m taking on three major extra-curricular activities. The first one is up and running. It’s an online poetry journal I’m calling tongues of the ocean. The second two are in development and will be exposed as they come to light.

So there. Those are the three things. So if you’re wondering how come I’m not posting as much these days, that’s one reason why.


Banned Books Meme

From Violette at The Mystery Bookshelf, who commented on the Caribbean Reading Challenge. I thought it was cool, so I stole it. Pass it on!

Look through this list of banned books. If you have read the whole book, bold it. If you have read part of the book, italicize it. If you own it but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, *** it.

1. The Bible
2. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
4. The Koran

5. Arabian Nights

6. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

7. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

8. Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

9. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
10. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
11. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
12. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
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Caribbean Reading Challenge 2009

Well now.

The time has come.

Nanowrimo is over, and Christmas is around the corner, and it’s time to be thinking about new year’s resolutions.

So I’m in the process of trying to finish the Africa Reading Challenge I blogged about earlier. I’ve read two Abouet books and I’m still swimming in a slow and stately fashion through Ngugi’s latest. I’m going to save the last part of the challenge for Karen King-Abisola’s Hangman’s Game, though, because it’ll be a good segue into Caribbean books.

The Caribbean Reading Challenge kicks off on January 1st!

My books:

  • The Hangman’s Game, Karen King-Aribisala
  • “New Negroes from Africa”: slave trade abolition and Free African settlement in the nineteenth-century Caribbean, Roseanne Marion Adderley
  • Omeros, Derek Walcott
  • A Turn in the South, V. S. Naipaul
  • There is an Anger that Moves, Kei Miller

More here.

2009’s a-comin’ and we’re gearin’ up for the readin’

Harry just asked this very question.

What does “Caribbean” mean? What a vast weight of confusion and possibility and debate those four little syllables have to bear.

Is “Caribbean” a geographical region defined by proximity to a body of water, by insularity in the literal sense, by lines of latitude?

Is it a group of nations and proto-nations defined by a common history or culture, or by political links? Is it an aspiration, an attitude, an illusion? Is its meaning determined by presence or absence? Has it an antonym?

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Corduroy Mansions & Alexander McCall Smith

This is what I’m “reading” in my spare time.  Rather, I’m having it read to me as I drive around town — McCall Smith’s Corduroy Mansions, a serial novel in the Telegraph.

Having just discovered podcasts, I’ve been downloading it and listening to it in traffic.  

And marvelling about the communications revolution we’re all probably taking for granted.  But more on that later.  Here’s a little quiet inspiration for all the writers out there, courtesy of AMS:

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Wizard of the Crow – Some Notes

All right, it’s been quiet enough on the Africa Reading Challenge front.

I have been reading.  

Wizard of the Crow is a long, dense book, divided into several sections.  I’ve finished the first section and am now into the second.  Slow going?  Yes, but rewarding.  Ngugi has the habit of surprising one.  The satire is thick, but that doesn’t keep us from connecting with characters.  It isn’t till the second section that we get to meet the main characters — Ngugi spends the first section setting the scene and introducing those people I imagine could be considered villains/antagonists — but once we do, things settle very nicely.

But enough for now.  Just letting you know.  I haven’t not been reading.

The Writing of … well, Anything

I’m reading (listening to) Ian McEwan’s Atonement, having watched the movie long after buying the book years ago, when I was recreating my home library after returning from eight years abroad.  There are always differences between books and films, clearly, and what’s missing (what has to be telegraphed) is always the inner life, the thought, the meditation.

But more on that later.

Now that I’m halfway through the Africa Reading Challenge, including the works of young female writers alongside the spaces filled in my mind by Ngugi and Achebe and Soyinka, something else is growing clearer as well.  It doesn’t seem to matter that the generations have changed and the gender is different.  The stories we’re writing and publishing continue to be coming-of-age stories, by and large.

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Africa Reading Challenge [3]

Remember this?

Here’s my revised list:

  • Adichie (Nigeria) – Purple Hibiscus   REVIEW
  • Abouet (Cote d’Ivoire) – Aya REVIEW
  • Ngugi (Kenya) – Wizard of the Crow
  • Lalami (Morocco) – Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits    REVIEW
  • Gourevitch (Rwanda) – We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families
  • King-Aribisala (Nigeria) – The Hangman’s Game

The future of publishing – print on demand

It’s becoming commonplace to observe that the internet and print-on-demand revolutions are changing the world of publishing, shaking the centrality of publishing houses and agents, and creating a more democratic relationship between reader and writer.  But how is that supposed to work?  The following article gives some ideas:

Reading and Writing with Ernest Scribbler: Escape POD.

Years ago when the world was young a writer who couldn’t get a book published turned to ‘vanity’ publishers who, for a fee, would set and publish your book for you. Vanity publishing has always been sneered at because the books so produced tend to be poor, and without a publisher’s imprimatur, it’s hard for purchasers to know if they’re buying a pup.

POD fulfils the same need, but uses modern technology to cut out virtually all the cost. Submit your files online to the POD provider’s conversion engines, design a cover, set a price, and you’re done. Send the link to all your friends, and you have a book.

The catch, as ever, is credibility. Why should POD books be any better than old-fashioned vanity products? They needn’t be, of course — except that the increasingly tough publishing market, in which publishers have been stung by paying unrealistic advances on books that weren’t going to be big sellers, means that many good books fail to reach the market, because it’s just not worth an agent’s while (or a publisher’s while) to publish a book that sells fewer than a certain number of copies. My agent tells me that publishers are increasingly “buying conservatively” which means that they will tend to do retreads of tried-and-tested formulae rather than risk anything new. That’s why all books these days are chick-lit or Dan-Brown clones.

Here the ‘long tail’ effect comes into play. There are many good books that would get some readers, if a publishing mechanism existed that allowed for them to be produced without incurring a thumping great loss.

Enter POD.

Food for thought, at the very least.