What DO Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, John Grisham, George Bernard Shaw and Tom Clancy have in common with Enrico Downer, Austin Yearwood and Donna Every?
They are but a handful of the tens of millions of writers and poets who self-published their work in the past 150-plus years.
“Self-publishing gives you total control of your literary work, without the restrictions placed by publishing houses,” said Downer, author of two books: There Once Was A Little England and The Lure Of America, stories about Caribbean immigrants in the United States.
Yearwood, who wrote Down Danesbury Gap In Barbados, agreed.
“It’s not simply utilizing the gateway to publishing but you have an opportunity to spread your ideas without having to worry about the restrictions often imposed on aspiring novelists and poets by conventional book-publishing companies,” he said.
Something else links them. They were among about ten writers who participated in what has become a much-anticipated literary event, An Evening With The Griots. The outdoor celebration of Bajan culture enables novelists, poets and dramatists to present their works to an appreciative audience.
Launched a decade ago when Jessica Odle was consul general, it draws on the West African oral tradition of story-telling, praise-singing, poetry recitation and musical performances, all designed to entertain as well as pass on African heritage.
It was held at the Forest Hills residence of Barbados’ Consul General in New York, Lennox Price. More than 120 people, almost all of them with Bajan roots, attended.
“It was a wonderful presentation and I enjoyed it very much,” said Irving Burgie, composer of the lyrics to the Barbados National Anthem and the man who wrote some of the world’s best known folk songs, Jamaica Farewell, Island In The Sun and Day-O among them.
For his part, Price described the “evening” as a tradition that has grown every year, bringing entertainment and stirring delightful memories of Barbados and the changes which have made the country a vibrant society.
Indeed most, if not all of the material presented by the Bajan Griots had strong Barbadian links, as reflected in the dialect, references to various neighbourhoods in the island and the stories of immigrants making the transition to life in a home away from home – the United States.
That certainly was the case with Downer, who read from both of his books, the first of which was There Once Was A Little England, a novel set in Barbados in the 1950s. It dealt with a “stratified and polarized population of Blacks, Whites and half-Whites”.
Downer said the character in his book, an Englishman, claimed he mistook the boy for a monkey and shot him. For his defence in a court of law, he turns to a black Bajan lawyer, a member of a race he (the shooter) considers inferior,” said Downer.
Then there was reading by Every, who has written three inspirational books about life in Barbados. The latest, The High Road, deals with efforts to make Barbados the No. 1 place to work, live, and do business. Her first book, What Do You Have In Your House, Surviving In Times Of Financial Crisis, drew on her financial and accounting background.
Marsha Branch, a former BBC correspondent, read two of her unpublished poems, I Can See Me and Shackles, both dedicated to women and their strong, independent and forceful personalities.
“The evening surpassed my expectations in terms of the large audience and the high quality of the work,” she said.
Joyce Nightingale-Holder, an assistant professor of nursing at the State University of New York’s Downstate University Hospital in Brooklyn, has written two books of poetry. She read from Lines In Heritage, Mosaic Of Thought and Two Countries Speak Poems And Remembrances.
Others who read their work:
• Alvina D. Soo Chan, a Bajan poet and composer who has been living in New York for many years. She has written a book of poetry, Lasting Memories, an inspirational work of love, peace, joy and encouragement.
• Pastor Jenny Small, executive director of He Restores My Soul Outreach Ministries. She is the author of Yesterday I Died, a book about how she overcame years of domestic violence and speaks of God’s transformation of her life.
• Carolyn “Empress Poetry” Layne, a performance artiste, motivational speaker and poet. The activist against domestic abuse performed a short excerpt from Stop In The Name Of Love, which deals with the abuse women.
• Sharon Allgood, who emigrated from Barbados when she was 12 years old, writes children’s stories. A United States Navy veteran and graduate of the University of Maryland, she was joined at the microphone by her two children who also presented the material.
• Katheanne Woodroffe, authorof Journey Into Forever.
Diplomats who represent Barbados, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada at the United Nations were in the audience, as well as former Cabinet Minister Liz Thompson.
The master of ceremonies was Sandra Padmore Lewis.