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    May 19

  • 06:15 AM

SEEN UP NORTH: Slave story with Bajan roots

Tony Best,

Added 08 May 2011

What do Ezra Pound, Jane Eyre, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw and John Milton have in common? They are on the list of great authors whose writings have stood the test of time. At some point in their illustrious lives and outstanding careers, they turned to self-publishing to get their words into print. That places Annette Smith, a Barbadian human resources specialist at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, in good company. She has just added her name to those authors who have written interesting and polished books and end up basking in the glow of their acceptance. “I am very pleased with the reception the book, Etched, a multi-generational story of an African-American family – their loves, losses, hopes, trials and a dream which compelled them to face every adversity with conviction and determination – is receiving,” said Smith, a grandmother, Brooklyn resident and former student of Barbados’ Parkinson School . “It is really very gratifying.” That enthusiastic response to which she alluded was evident at a recent reading and book signing at the Barbados Government offices in Manhattan where scores of Bajans and other West Indians, as well as Americans, gathered to hear about the novel, listen to its author tell some of the story and buy copies. “It was a very exciting evening and the book was well received,” said Lennox Price, Barbados’ Consul-General in New York and the host of the function. Sandra Went, a jeweller who, along with her husband John David owns a Manhattan jewellery story, agreed. “It is an unusual and exciting book which people should take time to read,” said Went. “I am glad that I attended it.” Actually, Etched, whose story began with Blacks in New York City in the 1920s who reflect on the lives, loves and perils of their ancestors, is also set on a plantation in Promised Land, Greenwood, in South Carolina. Some of it is the well chronicled tale of sexual abuse of female slaves by white plantation owners, in this case, Rockwell Beauford. Where it parted company with many other similar literary works is the determination of the slaves to save Jennie Etta Mae, a principal character in the drama, from Beauford who wanted to do to “Cornbread” what he had done to her to her mother, Lil Mae, a Seminole Indian sold into slavery. Jennie, who later became known as “Cornbread” because of her yellow complexion and her brownish red hair, was Beauford’s daughter. She grew up on the plantation and was influenced by the spirit of the Seminole Indian who taught her to set goals and seek to achieve them, despite her condition as a slave. That determination was etched in her heart. When she became an adult, Beauford decided it was time for her to climb the winding stairs that led to his bed. But the slaves who had watched her grow from childhood were determined to shield her from that fate. Barbados was weaved into the story through mahogany furniture from the island which fascinated Beauford’s wife, and through language and a character, Tember, a slave. Decades later, the history of life on the Beauford Plantation, and the tales of women and men involved, were passed down through successive generations and told in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant. It’s a classic example of the oral tradition at work. The book features more than 80 major and minor characters who speak in the vernacular of slavery of the 1800s and of those in the 1920s who found themselves in New York. Like some of the characters in her first novel, the author has her dream of success. Turned on to reading and writing by a teacher at Parkinson School, Smith, the daughter of Alfred and Margaret Smith, has her sights set on a Pulitzer Prize, America’s top literary award. “That’s my big dream and I am convinced its attainable,” she said. “In the book, Etched, we see women who are strong and who make decisions for love and for family. I believe the book offers some poignant lessons to women and to men.”

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