While Rome Burns by Sarah Manley

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 The following was posted on Facebook by Sarah Manley on 19 March 2015 at 09:32. Despite repeated efforts to get her to start a blog where she can make her excellent writing available to the general public she continues to post them as Facebook Notes. This one is so relevant to an earlier post on Active Voice, “Caviar fantasies and champagne dreams”: The imagined community of #DinerEnBlanc in Kingston, that i had to repost it here…

One thing i’ve noticed in some of the bumph attached to this event is a reference to it as “the start of a social movement”. Would love to hear more about this, was there some kind of social motive or rationale behind the hedonistic display of Diner en Blanc? Or did they mean ‘social’ as in page 2 of the Observer? Anyone know anything?

With this piece Sarah Manley has certainly declared herself a powerful voice for social reformation, perhaps following in the footsteps of her father, former Prime Minister Michael Manley. Take a read…

They say the victors record history. It is they who tell the story from their perspective, as they are often the only survivors to tell the tale. But, a narrative told only one way misses details that in hindsight are important. Small or large tidbits left out present an incomplete picture. Perspective matters.

When I posted the picture juxtaposition of the Diner En Blanc affaire beside the huge plumes of smoke from the Riverton City Dump fire blanketing the city of Kingston I did so with a clear conscience and a profound sense of irony. The elegant aerial of Jamaica’s elite decked out in fine style streaming in to our National Emancipation Park, a picture I might add widely circulated in social media, and in traditional media, presented an irresistible visual representation of the haves doing what haves do. Their choice of white clothing formed an almost cloud like film eerily similar to the white smoke billowing over the capital. While Rome Burns, a long venerated metaphor for those with excess living to excess in the midst of poverty and desperation begged to be the caption. Immediately came the backlash from attendees, many of whom I count among my friends, acquaintances, former school mates and family. I am myself a part of the elite of Jamaica. In fact I hold the dubious distinction by accident of birth, and by far more deliberate upbringing of being counted among  perhaps the most reviled of the elites, the political elite.

A curious response emerged to my post from the attendees of the dinner. They seemed unaware that there was any irony attached at all and were genuinely surprised that I would put the two images together. They said they were unrelated. That the fire did not literally happen while they dined. They said in short that I was comparing apples and oranges. I was actually shocked. I expected some response, perhaps a sheepish, “well mi dear we may as well for Rome is burning anyway”. But to not see the irony at all was something that frankly astounded me. I can go on ad nauseum with examples of how Rome is figuratively burning daily, hourly, minutely in our beloved homeland. Where do I begin? I’ll begin with the dump itself which within a few short days and a few short miles away from the charming stylish dinner, began to suspiciously smoke, and as the head of the fire department said, was engulfed in flames over an unprecedented area, an area so large he has to attribute the fire to arson. This is not a new phenomena as these dump fires happen annually, and in fact it has been suggested are an accepted part of an economic structure so deformed that starting the fire is a common strategy of business development for the truck owners who are paid to haul the huge mounds of dirt needed to put it out. It is in fact business as usual. I go further. Noted environmentalists have said that strategies to improve garbage disposal in Jamaica have been repeatedly ignored by successive governments because they are either unaffordable or stand in the way of garbage for energy plans that appear to be permanently on the shelf. This is Rome burning literally and figuratively.

I can go on. The Ministry of Health, itself so cash strapped that it is frequently in the news for being short of even the most basic supplies, not to mention broken equipment it cannot repair, hospital beds it cannot supply etc, stated that it was awaiting results of air quality tests sent overseas to labs that we don’t have to determine the level of contamination in the smoke. Curiously, they later said that there will be no lasting effects from exposure. Fascinating. Are these Canadian lab results in? And what did they say? Enquiring minds want to know. These are but two of several examples of Rome in flames that are directly related to this particular fiasco.

But the merry revelers need not concern themselves with Rome as it appears they are exempt from it’s rules, it’s outcomes and it’s consequences. By example we look at the choice of the location secured for their bashment. The Emancipation Park. This park was opened in 2002 to serve as a monument to the end of the ignoble history on which our nation was built. In deference to it’s name and the freedom for which it stands its rules include that it is a public park. One of only a few carefully maintained public spaces in our city designed for all to enjoy. It costs 80 million sweat drenched dollars annually to keep it in it’s pristine state, money financed controversially from another venerable Jamaican institution the National Housing Trust. We forgive this misuse of NHT funds because this Park is for all of us. Or is it? The Diner En Blanc crowd, by virtue of its extensive political and economic connections in society appear to have circumnavigated the express rules of the park and managed to not only have a section, their special section,  closed for their soiree, but to bring champagne no less, in a towering pyramid of sumptuous white, to the park which expressly prohibits the use of alcohol. Champagne, the glorious symbol of excess… the wine drunk by kings. Yet there is no irony. Yea right.

So we must ask ourselves this question. Why are these self important, over privileged, over exposed, immaculately dressed folk unable to see themselves as the fiddlers and to see Rome itself in flames around them? Why do they think they are entitled to have their story recounted by them only, from their perspective alone? Have they bought in to their own press? Over the past 20 or so years, a culture has emerged in Jamaica. In it, a society of  “important” people have been created by virtue of attending social events and having those events publicized, first in the traditional press, which continues, and now in social media. It has become a thriving business where products are marketed and those in attendance are photographed and presented to the public as icons of style,fashion, and overall class and good taste. In fact, these page two moments are peddled by calculating culture vultures who hold the other side of the coin, the often vicious gossip column entries as the sword over the heads of any party thrower who dares to exclude them from participating. It’s a pretty nasty trick that has exploited the over inflated egos of the wanna bes for financial gain. It has been allowed to flourish unchallenged for over 2 decades as no one wants to be on the receiving end of the pepper potty mouth. Is it this ridiculous press that has convinced the few that their aspirations, their desires to see themselves in newsprint are actually a form of relevance? Notably absent from the Blanc proceedings were many brokers of power in our charming little village. Well known politicians were not present, well known bankers, well known businessmen were not photographed frolicking among the champagne glasses and white table settings shamelessly touted in the weeks leading up by businesses owned by other members of the elite. Do they see the irony of flaming Rome surrounding the emancipated blancs? A good question.

I have long espoused a theory I find to be one of a few core root issues we suffer from in Jamaica. I call it form over function. We Jamaicans are spectacularly good at appearances. We are good at creating the appearance of success. We seem however to have confused looking the part with being the part. It is so ingrained in our culture that to many of us we genuinely think that if we show up, in the right attire, at the right address, it doesn’t matter if we actually produce nothing, do nothing, alter nothing, because to us, the mere fact of our presence is enough. Blanc is a fine example of this. Surely our haute couture elegance taking over Emancipation Park is evidence of our general success as movers and shakers in society. Surely the fact that we could demonstrate such a sumptuous show of style is evidence of our virtue. To suggest otherwise is, well it’s just being a hater. But, form is not function. The appearance of success is not success.That you could turn up in your finery with your picnic baskets of (What was in those picnic baskets? Good cheese? Pate? Or tin mackerel?) of whatever, is evidence of nothing. Rome is a flame, despite your presence on the Boards of Associations, despite your Jimmy Choos. The desperate in ghettos ten deep to a room are plotting ever plotting to scale your wall, to pick your pocket, to carve themselves out a slice of your pie cooling just beyond their reach on your watchtower.

We have its not my fault itis. Witness our Prime Minister’s statement to the people of Jamaica regarding the Head ofthe NSWMA. She races to her defense with a most peculiar logic. She says, that since the head of the agency did not start the fire, she cannot be held accountable. Really? So what is her job then if not to take on the responsibility, and with that the concurrent accountability for happenings on the dump she collects a monthly paycheck to oversee? It’s nobody’s fault. Blame is not a thing we take easily here on the remnants of the plantation. Perhaps the sting of the cat o nine is so rooted in our ancestral memory avoiding blame is something we must do at all costs, for the whipping is hot, and the scars never fade.

Diner en Blanc is an international phenomenon. Originally it had about it an air of wanton subversion. In the past it was staged in public spaces without the permission of the authorities and the secrecy of the location was not only to surprise and delight the participants, but also to avoid authoritarian reaction. It has evolved into something else. An exclusive gathering of the crème de la crème showing the rest of us what style really looks like. When you hold such an event in a poor third world country, what you end up presenting is perhaps not what you intended, but it’s a spectacle that in our case ironically, preceded Rome literally igniting. It is the final layer of irony in an event ablaze with it that some picnickers are unable to see this perspective and it reeks of a denial so deep it is frightening.

When Images Come Home to Roost: Notes on Blue Curry’s PARADISE.jpg

Originally posted on National Gallery of Jamaica Blog:

Blue Curry - PARADISE.jpg, at the corner of Orange Street and Port Royal Street Blue Curry – PARADISE.jpg, at the corner of Orange Street and Port Royal Street

Although the Jamaica Biennial 2014 has now closed, we intend to continue the dialogue. Here is a guest-post by freelance curator and art writer Nicole Smythe-Johnson, who served as project manager for the Biennial and had special responsibility for coordinating projects such as Blue Curry’s.

Bahamian artist Blue Curry flew from London, checking his contribution to the 2014 Jamaica Biennial as luggage. Almost 300 feet of wall poster, divided into sections of 8 by 10 feet were packaged in two large rolls and encased in cardboard. Even though the National Gallery had provided the artist with a letter explaining the nature of the work, and the fact that the piece would not to be returned to London after the exhibition (only because it would be destroyed by then), the customs officer was unconvinced.

Blue Curry - PARADISE.jpg Blue Curry –…

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“Caviar fantasies and champagne dreams”: The imagined community of #DinerEnBlanc in Kingston


EmanPark

That’s right…this was Emancipation Park in Kingston Jamaica on Saturday night…

enteringEParkmoet

On Saturday evening some of us began to notice that something white and wondrous our way was coming. It started with an irreverend tweet from Big Black Barry:

Which part di all white dance a kip? Mi buy a white gun mout bootie mi waan buss pon naiga.
a secret. Not even those attending know as yet but dem raid mi things to set up table. & iron out boasy white clothes. DWL, tweeted back @marciaforbes
marciaforbes
Soon our Twitter feeds were inundated with images such as the following along with the hashtag #DinerEnBlanc. The location had been announced; Kingston’s beloved Emancipation Park was being occupied by Jamaica’s One Percent, clad in white and brandishing bottles of wine and hyper-expensive loaves of bread (one lampoons them lovingly because by staging this event they were in effect telegraphing to the world that Jamaica isn’t so crime-ridden that it’s not business as usual–or should we say leisure as usual–when it needs to be):

DWL after the SOS call, I now have a #DinerEnBlanc story http://t.co/f0REgoFXJ8

moetmodel epicureans napkinwaving
Agape, we asked the Google what #DinerEnBlanc was and discovered:

The Dîner en Blanc was started by a man named François Pasquier, who invited a few friends to the Bois de Boulogne one day in June. To find each other in the park, they all wore white. The dinner was such a success that they decided the next year, each person would invite some other friends and the event grew organically into the 10000+ dinner it is today.

From a preservation perspective, I have always been impressed by the progressive view the Parisian government has on the usage of venerated architecture, permitting large electro parties to happen in the Grand Palais and other formal institutions. The police generally try to break up the Dîner en Blanc (hence the need for secrecy)

At the last minute, the location is given to thousands of friends and acquaintances who have been patiently waiting to learn the “Dîner en Blanc’s” secret place. Thousands of people, dressed all in white, and conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette, all meet for a mass “chic picnic” in a public space.

From such humble beginnings Diner En Blanc has swelled to become a global event. The concept as described by a Canadian entrepreneur, Jordan Kallman, is :

Over the course of an evening, the diners enhance the function and value of their city’s public space by participating in the unexpected. Beyond the spectacle and refined elegance of the dinner itself, guests are brought together from diverse backgrounds by a love of beauty and good taste. Le Dîner en Blanc recalls the elegance and glamour of court society, and diners engage one another knowing they are taking part in a truly magical event. There are no disruptions: no car traffic, no pedestrian traffic, except for the occasional amazed and astonished looks from passersby at the scene unfolding before them. And we, as they, wonder whether it’s all not a dream…

Various goals are articulated: “Originality is encouraged as long as it stays stylish and denotes taste.” “Exaggerated dedication to white clothing is encouraged.”

What’s the actual appeal?

“It’s about co-creation. You have to bring all these items, which means you’re part of making it. And there’s so much creativity. Like people bring wild table centres. Or spend time cooking food that they share with friends and people they’ve just met. It has a joie de vivre feeling.”

 Thus “Who will walk away with the prize for the best dressed table?” was the question at #dinerenblanckgn. A suitable model to emulate was circulated on Facebook:

besttable
Look at the ingenuity from Sandi Spaulding as she prepares for her #DinerEnBlancKgn experience. Will she walk away with the Best Dressed Table @bestdressedja will celebrate those who have made an effort in bringing the most innovative and creative designs.
#wearwhite @dinerenblanckgn #dinerenblanc

As we examined the event’s Facebook page we realized that Kingston’s “first ever refined Epicurean pop up picnic” had been long in the making.

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Induction into the world of global pop up picnics employed a series of seductive images and exhortations:
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Picture yourself here! This was a scene from Dîner en Blanc – New York in August last year…a sea of white elegance! The waiting list for the first edition of Diner en Blanc Kingston is now open! Click the link in the About section of our Facebook and stay tuned! #savethedate #wearwhite #dinnerwithfriends

On March 7th Epicureans from all over will gather at a secret location for an event filled with Magic and Surprises #DinerEnBlanc #Kingston.

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This simple montage gives you an illustration of a signature Le Diner en Blanc evening… What surprises will the DEB Kingston team have in store for you come March 7th?
Phase 2/3 opens on February 6th…
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Kingston are you ready to experience the Global Phenomenon #DinerEnBlanc?
Phases 2 & 3 will be open on February 5th and persons on the waiting list will recieve their invitations.
Remember the number of places are limited and will be awarded on a first come first serve basis as we have a waiting list of 1600 and growing!

Kingstonians were more than ready as this playful photo demonstrates:

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And was Diner en Blanc ever ready for them!

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White on white! Thats the dresscode for #DinerEnBlancKingston No exceptions!

People will stare, Make it worth their while” :: don’t let them down! place your order for our #custom decor-in-a-box designs for @dinerenblanckgn . email info@pussbackfoot.com for details #beautyinabox #decorinabox #dinerenblanc #pussbackfoot #style #stylecaanspoil

The merchant community was well integrated into the dynamics of the event.

Having problems finding something to wear? Feel free to check out our clothing partners: @flirtboutiqueja @kerrymwh @ericasavvy @jasandalco @spokesapparel #Gaychel #Signatures #SoHo #Flirt #Elan #JamaicaSandal&co #StyleSavvy #Sabritru #MaxBrown #BossApparel #SpokesApparel #footcandy

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For all you last minute shoppers don’t worry. We have partnered with Jamaica’s finest boutiques to ensure that the most elegant and chic attire will be available for #Dinerenblanckgn

sabrita scotiacard picnicbaskets

Even bougy picnic baskets were flogged at hefty prices.

Leading up to DEB day reminders were rife:

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Do you have all your tools for #DinerEnBlancKingston? Remember it’s 4 days away!

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The images above were circulated on Facebook to illustrate finer distinctions of the dress code to Jamaicans along with the following advisory: We have a host of clothing partners for you to choose from therefore there will be no exceptions to the dress code.

On the day itself and the 24 hours preceding it references to the One Percent’s Occupy Kingston moment escalated:

Its T minus 17 hours to #DinerEnBlancKingston. We’re putting the finishing touches on the secret location. Are you ready? Did you pack everything? Is your decor on point? Have you picked up that last item to complete your outfit? Are you bringing good cheer and that rock star party hard lifestyle that defines Kingston? If youve done all that and more. You’re ready to unleash the magic. #wearwhite @dinerenblanckgn #dinerenblanc

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The upmarket picnic had no shortage of sponsors. The imagined community of Diner en Blanc has deep pockets. Organizers of all floundering and struggling cultural ventures in Jamaica please note…money is available depending on how you incorporate your sponsors into your events and how ‘tasteful’ and simultaneously boasy you are…so get to it! See list below–

But…but…is this not a textbook case of conspicuous consumption you ask? literally eating and drinking as conspicuously as possible–or is it something else? You decide. This blog isn’t into glut-shaming. I’ve just filleted the event for you, that’s all. *Waves napkin*

#MoetandChandon
#WinningWines
#ScotiaInvestments
#BestDressedChicken
#Audi
#JamaicaObserver
#AcquaPananna
#SanPellegrino
#PureCountry
#GuardianGeneralInsurance
#MainEvent
#CafeBlue

Silence like a cancer grows…Happy Birthday Audre Lorde!

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I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”

I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.

from Lorde’s THE TRANSFORMATION OF SILENCE INTO LANGUAGE AND ACTION

– Happy Birthday Audre Lorde, born 18 February 1934.

American writer, feminist, lesbian and civil rights activist born Audrey Geraldine Lorde to parents from Barbados and Carriacou. Her work gained both wide acclaim and wide criticism due to the elements of social liberalism and sexuality presented, and her emphasis on revolution and change.

All of the above taken from Wayne Chen’s facebook post this morning. For those who keep saying I’m ‘brave’ to speak out as i sometimes do (is that a veiled warning i often wonder, rather than a compliment–‘gonna be working at loop after this…yuh brave’ as @Grindacologist said), please heed Audre Lorde’s words and join in  breaking the silence…

Gender-based Violence at Mona: #SpeakUpUWI

The University of the West Indies’ repeated claims that it was clueless about the level of gender-based violence (GBV), or any violence on its campus for that matter, because it “cannot admit to a phenomenon that is not supported by data collected by UWI” are damaging the institution. They are an embarrassment because they lead to the inevitable conclusion that there are fundamental problems with UWI’S methods of data collection. Either that or the methods are designed to evade collection of data that would indicate beyond any shadow of a doubt the enormity of the problem.

Because of course the University’s claims that GBV is not a major issue at the university flies in the face of the experience of students who have to live and work on its campus. On February 12 students at Mary Seacole Hall, one of the only female halls of residence at UWI, mounted a silent protest against gender-based violence on campus (See video above). Accompanying this, for the first time in a long time, students mobilized social media to make their views known using the hashtag #SpeakUpUWI. There were of course the usual disparagers.

“You guys think UWI care abt your tweets?” scoffed @Appleton_King.

“No but UWI cares about their image #SpeakUpUWI” responded @italisvital crisply.

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And that is the crux of the matter. It seems there may have been careless under-reporting going on all these years in an effort to ‘protect’ the University’s reputation (see my previous post Sexual Harrassment and UWI: Can we talk?  for more background). If UWI Admin think it is the reports of GBV that are ruining its image I suggest that everyone from the Vice Chancellor down to the Hall managers study these #SpeakUpUWI tweets carefully. In the meantime the administration’s stubborn insistence on a policy of denial is not one that the rest of us who work at UWI can or should support for it is bringing the university and all of us who work at it into disrepute. It is simply untenable. We have a vested interest in insisting that Senior Administration reconsider this unconscionably dishonest policy forthwith.

From all available reports around 11 pm on Tuesday, Feb 10, two Taylor Hall girls were walking between the halls of residence when some male students started throwing stones at them. When one of the girls objected and told off the boy who had stoned her in no uncertain terms it appears that he attacked her, leaving her with serious head injuries. The rest of the male students, proud Chancellorites by all reports, stood by and did nothing to intervene. A security guard was also said to be present yet this did not prevent the student from being injured.

Only the previous week the Gleaner had published an article titled UWI Halls of Horror outlining the risks faced by female students on campus. The University’s Registrar and Marketing Director strenuously objected to the article, claiming it wasn’t aware of any such problems. The tragedy is that in spite of having its prevarications thrown in its face by what happened to two female students at Chancellor Hall, just a few days after the University had loudly proclaimed that there had NEVER been a report of GBV on campus, once again the Deputy Principal finds it important to reiterate the tall claim that so-called data doesn’t support the evidence of the numerous attacks that have and continue to take place on campus. What kind of scholarship is that? You fail to collect important data and then claim a problem doesn’t exist because data doesn’t exist??

This is as absurd as a bank saying that it had noticed large chunks of money disappearing from clients’ accounts but as no one had officially made a report it didn’t think there was a major problem. Haha try that NCB!

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It’s only a pity that the poor Taylorite whose forehead was bashed in by a male student wasn’t part of a building, or a car or some other piece of private property, the University would have treated the incident like a major crime and steps would immediately have been taken to prevent its recurrence. I bet if asked the University can produce a complete list of property crimes on campus, disaggregated by all sorts of components.

But hey its just another female who’s been attacked. She’ll shut up or go away eventually when she realizes she has to continue attending classes with her assailants as well as those who stood by and watched without intervening.

Take a look at some of the tweets I extracted from the #SpeakUpUWI hashtag and see if you think I’m wrong (i’ve combined consecutive individual tweets for ease of reading) in bringing these matters to your attention.

RT @DanielleaAlexa: Went to UWI for a yr and Likkle bit. Lived on post grad and I was always scared as shit. Scared scared scared. 1 of my fren frm trini who lived on PG was attacked by a guy who lived on PG as well bcaz she never want him. UWI wanted her to hush hush. My girl get her lawyer an everything. Ole demons bwoy had to move off pg. like the whole a dem ova deh a drink mad puss piss to claart. They told her they would move the guy to another building in the complex. She was NOT standing for it. they moved him to the other side of campus.

RT @jdrenee_: Girls are safe at UWI yet I need to find a male friend anytime I want to leave my faculty? #SpeakUpUWI

RT @jdrenee_: Girls are safe by UWI but I got trailed when I left the Library by myself at night with no-one around? #SpeakUpUWI

RT @ShanaCogle: If violence is the way of the educated, what say the uneducated? #SpeakUpUwi

RT @Occupy_Jamaica: The first major sign of #Campus social media Activism in the Caribbean in a longtime. Get moving on this #SpeakUpUWI

Responding to the suggestion that things like this happen at all universities and universities in the USA and other first world countries have responded evasively as well, tweeter @Rosina_v retorted “yes but don’t have the time to care about overseas. [I] Care about the university i went to and suffered gender based harassment at.” She then went on to recount her experiences when she was a student at UWI.

Haile Minogue @Rosina_v
I was stalked for months by a man who would follow me to library and laywait me and scribble disturbing notes to me #SpeakUpUWI. had to go 2 a legal aid+get a civil injunction. He ws held by police who found 3 knives on him. Still no help from student affairs #SpeakUpUWI. tried to report it, turned out he had been doing the same to several other girls but me the worst. Directed to student affairs #SpeakUpUWI. I was told by head of Student Affairs not to tell her “Hi” when speaking to her, as she has a PHD & prefers the formal “hello” #SpeakUpUWI. That man had been deregistered from UWI since 1991! Still walking around campus terrorising women w impunity for over a decade #SpeakUpUWI. I couldnt bring myself to attend UWI graduation even though i was nominated as Valedictorian of my faculty. I couldnt stand for u #SpeakUpUWI.

In answer to a follow up question Rosina told me the following:

I went to UWI between 2008-2010. Did a BA in Philosophy and minor in Political science, graduated with a 4.01 GPA and was one of 5 students nominated to be valedictorian of Humanities and Education…Gender based harassment and violence is REAL, and the whole overall culture of the campus–and I can personally attest— is subliminally and overtly abrasively sexist and is a distressing environment for girls to achieve within–if places like the library, where late studying is a must for achievers breeds this kind of unwanted attention. Even in broad daylight, as in my case, harassment was not restricted to day or night.

Then there are the apologists for the University:

RT @GodivaGolding: We can’t blame UWI or Chancellor for the actions of a few. #speakupuwi

RT @GodivaGolding: It seems lost on some that UWI is a mere microcosm of the wider society we operate in. #speakupuwi

The apologists were swiftly dealt with. As @Cuddlephonics pithily put it: Cant and wont blame uwi for the incident but I will chastise them for how they handle these situations. #SpeakUpUWI

RT @Mandi143: “@KristinaLien: Nah we blaming UWI for something they’ve seemingly been ignoring for DECADES/” #SpeakUpUWI

UWI Problems @UWI_Problems
I wonder how many more things UWI plans to sweep under the rug…& how many things it has already that we don’t know about. #UWIProblems

Gaza Slimesha @AudiNatlee
Whether it is being investigated or no, SAY SOMETHING. Let us know you are as deeply outraged as we are. But sitting silence makes it worse.

Jack Mandora @darius_roberti
Women are speaking up about instances where they HAVE attempted to report things and were rebuffed.
So yes. That’s a UWI problem.

Odel @odelkerine
It’s been a good while now we’ve been crying out for PROACTIVE measures.
But now, AFTER the fact meetings being held.
#SpeakUpUWI

Jack Mandora @darius_roberti
If the ‘meetings’ aren’t about the expulsion of the responsible parties and them being charged for assault, what’s the point? #SpeakUpUWI

sash. @sashsolomon
Campus Police are bigoted, sexist buffoons with no empathy to rassclaat. You are there to SERVE and PROTECT, not victim blame #SpeakUpUWI

If the University wants to tackle the problems women have been trying to bring to their attention for decades let them start with the male halls of residence. @brandonallwood puts his finger on the problem: I went to UWI for a semester. Hall culture is abrasively macho n OBVIOUSLY n PATENTLY distressing for women.” #SpeakUpUWI

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What is Hall culture? Has anyone at UWI taken the trouble to study it? Have any of my esteemed colleagues in Social Science thought of investigating the fascinating sociological problems sitting on their doorstep? It’s a charge Verene Shepherd, head of the Regional Unit of the International Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) department has often made. The university’s researchers have been busy studying external problems instead of the ones that beset it internally.

Of course its also true that when a scholar undertakes a study as Taitu Heron did in 2013, the University is liable to reject its conclusions because it suggests there is a serious problem with GBV on campus. This is untenable. The Administration needs to lay out for us what it’s data collection methods have been all these years. Also what happens after a student reports an assault to the Police? Do the Police make weekly or monthly reports to the University about assaults on campus? If not why not? and if so why has the University said Ho, hum! and turned away?

Fortunately not all senior administration personnel at the University of the West Indies, Mona, are in denial. “Sexual harrassment is a troubling aspect of life on the Mona campus and has always been so from the time I was a student. It is not always manifested in violence but it is verbal also,” says Professor Verene Shepherd, head of IGDS at UWI.

“If Taitu found in her research that 67 cases came to the attention of campus security, one can bet it is a higher figure because it often goes unreported,” continued Dr. Shepherd. Education is vital; and I would suggest a Foundation course for all students — a kind of Gender 101 to sensitize all students to the historical roots of GBV and to the fact that the female majority on the campus is no excuse for male students to think that women are available for harrassment.”

In addition to a foundation course in Gender Studies let us at once examine the charge that the male halls of residence at UWI are little more than fraternity houses or frat houses as they’re more popularly known. At many American universities frat houses have been barred from campuses because it is widely acknowledged that such fraternities with their ultra-macho culture and investment in rowdiness, conspicuous machismo and male-oriented behaviour have contributed to the prevalence of rape culture. Yet at UWI not only are fraternity-type dorms such as Chancellor, Taylor and Irving part of the campus, some of them have also been turned into co-ed residences with female students placed in these havens of ultra-masculinity.

Add to this Hall Managers who have graduated from fraternities to become their managers (rather than the post being filled by the most highly qualified and competent candidates whether they lived on the particular Hall or not) and there is almost nothing to curb the masculinist excesses that occur, in fact are encouraged, from time to time.

It is noteworthy that in the instant case of the two female students who were attacked at Chancellor Hall around 11 pm on February 10th the University administration itself was unaware of the attack until the afternoon of the 11th. Allegations are that the Hall Managers concerned neglected to report the matter until it became obvious that the media, social and otherwise, was not going to turn a blind eye to what had happened.

It is sad also that the injured student’s parents, a working class couple from Montego Bay, were not given accommodation at the University so that they could tend to their daughter, instead of having to return to Montego Bay the same day they arrived to inquire into what had happened. Inexcusable also, if true, that the University did not escort the student back to Montego Bay after her doctor’s examination yesterday. These are simple ways the University could have started to repair its image instead of flatly denying the violence that is plaguing its campus.

I end with two tweets worth sharing. Let’s hope that everyone comes to their senses and starts doing what’s necessary to make campus safer for students, faculty and everyone who works there.

RT @_JKav: Worse thing is that some people are going to complain that it’s being made a gender thing.
But it is a gender thing.
#SpeakUpUWI

RT @italisvital_: My prayers go out to that girl. Confrontation or not, she doesn’t deserve a cracked skull and what they did to her face #SpeakUpUWI

Sexual Harrassment and UWI: Can we talk?

campusregoffice

Everyone agrees that in order to deal with a problem you first have to acknowledge it exists. I thought of this when listening to Camille Bell-Hutchinson, University Registrar, energetically refuting the charge that gender-based violence is out of control on the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies. Today the Letter of the Day in the Daily Gleaner is from the University’s Director of Marketing, Recruitment & Communications, Carroll Edwards. Like the Registrar she denies allegations of rampant attacks on campus women made in a Sunday Gleaner article dated February 1, 2015, ‘Halls of horror: gender-based attacks haunt UWI, Mona’.

The denials come in response to a study cited in that article quoting Taitu Heron, currently National Programme Coordinator at UN Women Jamaica, who chronicled some of the reported cases of violence against women on the campus in her 2013 study Whose Business Is It? Violence Against Women at UWI, Mona. The study, conducted  while Heron was a lecturer at UWI’s  Institute of Gender and Development Studies, used data compiled from incident reports  made to the Office of Security Services on campus. Records showed 67 reported incidents including stalking, physical assaults and domestic disputes.

Astonishingly this was categorically denied by the UWI registrar who stated in the media “…while the university cannot say sexual violence does not take place on campus, the university has never had a report of sexual harassment on any of its six halls of residence.”

Remarkable! If this is true it is a huge feather in the university’s cap. Its security arrangements are so good that not one case of sexual harrassment has been reported–EVER. I hope the University’s PR and marketing department is making lavish use of  this extraordinary ‘fact’ in advertising the campus and the excellent security that obtains there to potential students.

Considering how prevalent sexual harrassment is on virtually every other University campus in the world this should also qualify UWI Mona for some sort of global award–for it has NEVER had a report of sexual harrassment on its campus if the Registrar is to be believed. I would imagine that the University’s gender specialists and social scientists have done considerable research on this amazing state of affairs so that it might lead the way in showing other universities how to manage gender-based violence on their campuses.

Returning from UWI’s alternate universe to the one described by Ms Heron, much of what she reported sounded alarmingly familiar. I still remember a women’s group on campus in the early 90s putting up posters inviting concerned individuals to a forum to discuss the many violent incidents female students were facing on campus with a view to forming some sort of strategy that would provide women with better support than was then available.

Before the meeting could be held an edict was issued by the administration. There was to be no such forum and all posters advertising it were to be taken down forthwith. Organizers were reprimanded for jeopardizing the ‘good reputation’ of the university by holding such a discussion in public and ordered never to do it again.

Very little appears to have been done by the University to upgrade the security of female students between then and 2007 when the attacks grew so flagrant that another women’s advocacy group took the matter of female security on university campuses to parliament. A Gleaner article detailed the issues:

Rape, a major problem at UWI – advocacy group
April 12, 2007
Complaining of a disturbing number of rapes and other forms of sexual offences on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), a female advocacy group on the campus is calling for special legislation and other measures to combat the problem at all universities in Jamaica.
The recommendation was made yesterday by the Society for the Upliftment and Advancement of Women Via Education (SUAWVE), a group based at the UWI’s Mary Seacole Hall, during a presentation to the joint select committee of Parliament considering legislative changes relating to sexual offences.
Real-life incidents
Lanoy Crumbie, president of SUAWVE, related three real-life incidents on the campus: In the first incident, she said a female student attending a party on campus was gang-raped by male students from her class, who videotaped the assault. Student number two was raped by her male study partner in his on-campus bedroom, after they had finished studying. The third student was raped by a classmate, whom she had invited to her bedroom; but he flatly denied that it was rape, since she had invited him to her room and, by her own admission, he did not use physical force.
Crumbie admitted, however, that none of these incidents had been reported to the university authorities or the police, citing the victims’ reluctance to undergo the “trauma” associated with rape cases.
Responding to the report, Joseph Pereira, deputy principal of the Mona campus, also made clear in an interview with The Gleaner, however, that these incidents had not been brought to the attention of the university administration.

Heron also cited SUAWVE’s 2007 initiative to Parliament in her paper. In its submission to Parliament SUAWVE noted the prevalence of ‘acquaintance rape’ as a particular problem at UWI’s Mona Campus.

“Shortly afterwards”, as Heron notes in her paper, “the Student Group was called into the Prinicipal’s Office and reprimanded for bringing the university into ill repute”. Heron concluded “The primary concern was not that the incidents of violence against women occurred but rather that speaking about it in an open forum made the University look bad.”

Nothing much seems to have changed between the early 90s and 2007 or since in the University’s strategy for dealing with problems of sexual harrassment. Suppressing information and preventing potential victims from mobilizing support for themselves or discussing the problems seem to be cornerstones of its policy towards sexual harrassment. In another incident I’m aware of two girls narrowly escaped being raped by a mob of young male students at one of UWI’s Halls of Residence at Mona. When a student newspaper tried to publish a report on this incident, in an act of blatant censorship, they were ordered to drop the article from the publication immediately. How women are to take precautions when much needed information is suppressed in this way is something an institution of higher learning such as UWI needs to explain.

In the same vein a few years ago some female students called up Ragashanti’s virally popular Newstalk 93 talk show to complain about rape and sexual harrassment threats they faced on the Mona Campus. Ragashanti was sympathetic, urging them to speak freely, only to be hauled up by the administration who ordered him to cease and desist from holding conversations on the subject of female vulnerability on campus. The virulent arguments between Ragashanti and Rodina Reid, a senior campus administrator, originated over this matter.

Recall also poet and writer Stacey Ann Chin’s vivid description of the near rape she suffered in a bathroom at UWI.

What is consistent in all of this is the University’s tactic of demanding and imposing silence on victims and potential victims of sexual harrassment on campus while at the same time doing very little to secure the safety of its female students. It was striking that in her appearance on Newstalk 93, University Registrar Bell-Hutchinson insisted there were hotlines for students to call in case of trouble though she was unable to provide the number when pressed by the host to announce the numbers for the benefit of students who might be listening.

Also striking is the emphasis placed by senior UWI management on the lack of reportage of sexual harrassment incidents as some sort of vindication of its reputation rather than recognizing it as an extraordinary situation that requires immediate investigation. Instead of claiming proudly that the university “has never had a report of sexual harassment on any of its six halls of residence” or that “these incidents had not been brought to the attention of the university administration” let’s try and find out what is preventing such reportage, let us then put systems in place to facilitate female students who are being victimized, and let us immediately stop this foolish strategy of censorship, cover-ups and bullying of advocacy groups who are legitimately attempting to solve problems the University has been more concerned to deny than address.

Finally no more of statements such as this: “The UWI, Mona, also rejects the allegation that the issue of gender-based violence has not been accorded priority by the campus.” Had this issue been prioritized as it should have been as far back as 30 years ago it wouldn’t keep returning to haunt the university today.

“I’m dead. No returns.” : The Afflicted One checks out

pdface out

One of my favourite friends, Peter Dean Rickards, departed this crazy world on December 31st at 4 am. It’s heartbreaking to step into 2015 without him and I will do a longer, more considered post in due course but in the meantime here’s a compilation of some of the most compelling tributes I found on social media. A particularly touching one is from LA Lewis (Horace), someone both PD and I think/thought is a completely underrated genius…you see him here in a rare unvarnished video moment–the master of artifice with no props, unfiltered, mourning Peter’s passing. Peter’s magnificent spoof of the artworld–The Concepshional Artist–used LA Lewis as his subject, a role he played brilliantly. Check it out.

“Dem get out Bab Morley, Dem get out Bill Casby, and now they try to get out me. #kim #pete #uptown”–one of Peter’s last tweets…

bout yuh dead
Sani Showbizz‎

AYE RED BWOY! TEK MON FI FUUL!!!!!
Hiff u eva guh ded yuself mi kill yu… LOG EEN PON FASEBUK NOUW!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jacquie Juceam

Dem get out ‪#‎WerlBoss‬ dem get out ‪#‎BabMorley‬ and now dem get out ‪#‎EdgyPete‬ . God knows I have been crying all morning but we soon organize a celebration.

Kari Heron‎

You know, I was shocked, then sad then angry, then all three. But then when I look at how you left, I realise that the joke was on us. The screenshot. The cover shot. The ominous tweet and FB update- Mic drop! And then the dramatic New Year’s Eve exit down-stage. “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and NSA surveillance device…” I will always love you Peter Dean..and all the spaces between. Love to Aunty D and Pops and Sue and Rache and Satori and Shaman.

cowboysunset

Annie Paul: gr8 image, whose?
22 December 2014 at 10:08

Peter Dean Rickards: I not sure uno Hannie…i teef it .

Tomas A Palermo

Peter Dean was our go-to guy for original, artistic and downright jaw-dropping photographs of Jamaican artists, models and the grimier side of life during my tenure at XLR8R. Bark worse than bite, he was always professional and humorous when we least expected it. He will sorely be missed.

Donna P. Hope

RIP Peter Dean Rickards…your light shone brightly, burnt a few in the process and left us quite suddenly.

Edgar DE Scribe Lewis

My brother, my friend forever, Peter Dean Rickards . You made us laugh, we got each other in trouble, we ducked gunshots together. You defined creativity and rebellion for most of us. Through your eyes and your camera lens we saw what was right and wrong about Jamaica and the world, and you laughed about it. You went at it fearlessly, and that made you even more creative. People like you don’t die…. People like you lived and will continue to live.

Jacquie Juceam with Peter Dean Rickards and Leighton Paul Walsh

By @walshyfire “RIP to a great friend. One the most loved, hated, and feared people in the internet. From 1994 on dancehallminded.com to the first live in studio soundsystem dubplate recordings at downsound records in the late 90s. His artwork, photography and video captures of Jamaica and dancehall still reign supreme. Your contributions to Jamaican culture will never be forgotten Peter Dean Rickards. Rest in Peace brother.”

UpRising! @BullyRingo
The 1 @afflictedyard cut cause him tired a hang out wit bhuttus, den Joe call him fi shoot #GullyBop, that was the last straw

Berette Macaulay

This took all day – mainly because I hoped it was a sick joke – but here goes:

Out of respect for a life I knew and worked with,
…the profession of photography lost a brilliant visionary of style, wit, and talent. This dude Peter Dean Rickards stirred the shit up whereever he could, pissed off many, even frightened a few, and was definitely among the #zerofucksgiven SoulJahs. BUT no one could dispute his talent or resist the laughs.

He was committed to showing the world the raw side of #Jamaica that frankly few others really looked at or cared to do honest photo-essays about…and he represented this with poetry and the sexiest style. In this singularity I absolutely respected his stubborn tenacious and incomparable vision.

No doubt now in death, as in life, there are mixed feelings about this genius cat, but I will admit I will miss the funny exchanges we had from time to time. He was utterly grossed out or at least wickedly amused by lachrymose sentimentality – so with that I’ll wrap it up with this:

Trust you to have this last graphic note on your site you nut! Ha! Alas the fight is over. #FlyInPeace PDR (but as you said too William Richards – he’d just tell me to fuck off and get on with something better to do. So off I go. LOL).

For those of you who do not know this mans work – familiarize yourself.
Unforgettable eye.
www.PeterDeanRickards.com
www.AfflictedYard.com

S-Ann Anderson

“I just wanna cause enough shit to be a good bar story for a hundred years or so.” – Peter Dean Rickards

Parvs Haider‎

Who will take the photos now… RIP

Prince Zimboo shared a photo to Peter Dean Rickards’s Timeline.
pdzimboo

All Hail King Peter Dean! The most Afflicted Mad Man the World has ever seen.
You dressed your Doberman in long shirt and drove him in Car front seat to intimidate pedestrians with gritting & snapping of his teeth.
*SALUTE*

Karen C. Tomlinson‎

Goodnight beloved. Much guilt in my heart for not staying with you Tuesday night You didn’t want to be left alone. My hope is that it was soft like cream. you battled for every breath for some time now. Now you rest. I miss you and wish you were still here. But the suffering was too much for you. See you in the afterlife. Shine your star bright. Oh my god you are amazing PDR.

Polly Thomas‎

So very sad and shocked to hear that the inimitable Peter Dean Rickards has died; a unique and acerbic wit, a brilliant photographer and a fantastic ambassador for Jamaica in all the right ways.

Sweetland Photos‎

Always thinking outside of the box., always different, always …. FIRST..Genius at imaging ..Still trying to grasp some of your work, thats how advanced you were . Gonna miss our talks even though its been a while since we last chatted. now i am figuring out all the reason for all the changes in recent times.. Always loved your spirit and admired your works Rest well my friend. You have left The afflicted yard in mourning

Horace L A Lewis‎

THIS WAS PETER LAST FILM THAT WE WORK AN BE FOUR HE LEFT JAMAICA LIFE IS SO SAD I WAS LOOKING FOR HIM TO RETURN WE LOVE YOU PETER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaZt1NLZRfg

10441140_10152610841476872_6045852787824361596_n

http://www.afflictedyard.com/djlalewis.htm

Debbie Deer
debbiedeer

2015 has been a year of great learning and friends lost. R.I.P @afflictedyard I will thoroughly miss you ‘Ruddy’. You were one of the first photographers to see the beauty in me. When I was just 18, you said “climb that rusty ship in Port Royal and come Mek we tek some pics” that’s when I knew you were crazy and I loved it! Those who knew you knew you loved controversy, you lived for it and you were a true artist to the core! Honestly one of Jamaica’s top ‘Media Terrorist”. I loved and respected your craft and loved you as a friend. Again you will be missed Peter, until my friend. Try not to piss the cosmos off lol ‪#‎rip‬ #2015 ‪#‎sad‬ ‪#‎friend‬ ‪#‎Jamaica‬ ‪#‎model‬ ‪#‎artist‬

Julian @AllianceJamaica
this is one of the most enduring memories I have with @afflictedyard was captured here. him draw me out of my yard. I ended up in Tivoli about 3 am the same night with my laptop showing Dudus the harrowing photos Pete took of Chris Royal’s death scene

Christina Xu
@xuhulk was a complicated man and a brilliant photographer but I’ll always remember him for this: newsone.com/44922/jamaican…

Jamaican Dog Defecates on Priceless Banksy Piece
A new chapter has emerged in the struggle between legendary at-prankster, Bansky and his Jamaican photographer nemesis, Peter Dean Rickards. Rickards has allowed a dog to defecate on artwork  Banksy,
 NewsOne @newsone

wallyboo

Julian @AllianceJamaica
Banksy paid Pete @afflictedyard £10,000 to handover the fotos an never mention it again The fotos were taken in Jamaica mostly @ Buju studio

Julian @AllianceJamaica
I think it’s also safe to say now the fucker dead that @afflictedyard is the only person known to have photographed @banksy

BigBlackBarry @BigBlackBarry
Big loss.The definitive jamaican film of my generation woulda been done by Peter. It woulda taken forever, but he woulda gotten around to it

BigBlackBarry @BigBlackBarry
Long before newspapers started mentioning the JCF death squad vimeo.com/6651793

BigBlackBarry @BigBlackBarry
The lizard town massacre pics. The thurs nite boxing pics. Passa Passa. Kids in tivoli. No one else got it like him

Russell Hergert @russellhergert
Saddest thing is Jamaica lost its most important artist today and they don’t even realise it. @afflictedyard #afflictedyard #timewilltell

Screenshot 2015-01-01 09.16.02

seriously

Is there Life After Ebola?

Ebola

Clovis, Jamaica Observer

I hope someone somewhere is keeping track of the way different countries and cultures have reacted to the news of a possible Ebola pandemic. I will do my bit by documenting a representative sample of some Jamaican responses here. In general there has been an air of barely controlled hysteria, perhaps understandable in a population already ravaged by a pestilential disease called Chikungunya which crept up on us virtually unannounced about two months ago. The entire months of September and October were lost to Chik V as the mosquito-borne illness is nicknamed and perhaps November too, so long-lasting are the effects of this peculiar virus.

The word Ebola first started being bandied about by Jamaican media in August and escalated in frequency after news broke that a Texas hospital in the United States was housing an Ebola patient who had just returned from Liberia. In early August Trinidad and Tobago entered panic mode and isolated a flight from London because it was carrying a Nigerian doctor married to a Trinidadian. It was later discovered that the doctor had not set foot in Africa in the last five years. In mid-September the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health here was forced to issue a statement denying that Jamaica had received its first Ebola case.

“I want to dispel the rumours surrounding a patient who was admitted to the University Hospital yesterday afternoon. The person is in fact a 65-year-old senior physician who travelled to Trinidad and returned to the island feeling ill. The person fell and was admitted to the hospital. There is absolutely no travel history to any Ebola-affected country or possibility of contact.”

The hysteria continued to build with Jamaican doctors announcing that in the absence of appropriate protective gear they would not be turning up to treat Ebola patients. Meanwhile neighbouring Cuba announced that it was sending nearly 500 medics to West Africa to help fight the deadly disease.

Shortly after that all hell broke loose at a hospital in Mandeville, a bougy hill station in the centre of Jamaica. What caused the panic was a resident Nigerian suffering from food poisoning who sought help at the Mandeville Hospital. As the newspapers had it:

“…the Nigerian presented himself at the hospital at 5 o’clock yesterday morning, sweating profusely and vomiting. He was reportedly placed in isolation in one of the rooms in the Accident and Emergency Department and was seen by a nurse, who was not told of the man’s history.

The source said the nurse took the man’s temperature without wearing any protective gear. Panic quickly broke out at the hospital as that nurse and other medical personnel refused to tend to the man on hearing that he was from Nigeria.”

Another news report some days later carried the Nigerian doctor’s response to his ordeal:

“Dr Bob Banjo, who has resided in Jamaica for the last 28 years, blasted nurses and other employees at the hospital as being ill-prepared for an Ebola outbreak and described how some became hysterical after he revealed that he had travelled to his homeland in July.

Banjo, in recounting his ordeal to The Gleaner yesterday, admitted that he had dizzy spells and was sweating profusely when he turned up at the hospital and said the doctor on duty assigned a nurse to take his temperature and blood pressure.

He said the test showed that his blood pressure was high, prompting the nurse to ask him if he had travelled overseas this year.

Banjo said he admitted to visiting Nigeria from July 16 to August 27 and recounted the panic and hysteria that followed.

“The moment I told the nurse I travelled to Nigeria, she ran out and told the doctor [and] the whole hospital – even patients and the staff. They went haywire,” he recounted.

“Because they claimed, ‘This is somebody from Nigeria; he has Ebola’,” he asserted.”

In recent days Jamaicans have been somewhat reassured by offers from Cuba to help train medical personnel here in the treatment of Ebola.  But not all Jamaicans have been so pusillanimous in the face of Ebola. One doctor is in Liberia already ministering to the afflicted and urging other Jamaicans to join her:

“Jamaican medic Dr Coril Curtis-Warmington has urged colleagues in Jamaica to join her in Liberia, one of the countries at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak, to get first-hand experience in treating the deadly virus which has already claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Curtis-Warmington made the call last Friday as she spoke by Skype from Liberia to the 10th annual scientific symposium and general meeting of the Caribbean Association of Clinical Microbiologists, held at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

“It is not easy, but even short term, just for two weeks. Please consider it because we really need you,” she begged in her final comments at the end of the 45-minute link.

Whispers of “who, me?” were immediately heard from medical professionals following the plea, but Professor Marvin Reid – who chaired the live interview session – promised that as vice-chair of the Medical Association of Jamaica, he would present her call to his colleagues.”

Finally, yesterday the island’s leading newspaper, the Gleaner, published a cogent editorial arguing that Jamaica has a moral responsibility to help Ebola-hit nations:

“Nonetheless, we believe that Jamaica – which used to pride itself as a leader among developing countries – has the capacity, and indeed an obligation, to do more – even if only symbolically. First, the vast majority of Jamaicans have their roots in that part of Africa, the region of the Gold Coast, from where most of the slaves to the New World arrived. In that sense, the victims of Ebola on the African continent are Jamaica’s kith and kin, claimed in popular culture and strategically embraced as part of a geopolitical insulation against the buffeting by the powerful of the world.

Yet, in stark contrast to neighbouring Cuba, which has sent hundreds of health workers to the three worst-hit countries, and from which this country has sought help in crafting an Ebola plan, the Jamaican authorities have offered them nothing – at least nothing that the country has been told about.

A public declaration of sympathy is the least that the Government could do. Moreover, Jamaica, which has responsibility for foreign relations within the Caribbean Community, would be expected to be mobilising the Community to a shared response, including, possibly, medical assistance and/or logistical and security support.

At a private level, there is no sense of Jamaican health workers – neither doctors nor nurses – volunteering, like their counterpart in other countries, to work in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea. They, as one Jamaican doctor resident in Liberia told this newspaper, are needed and would be welcomed.

Nor are there any projects to raise money to help these governments finance their anti-Ebola efforts or for relief for the survivors of the disease.

With regard to the latter idea, Jamaican musicians/entertainers, especially dancehall deejays, should be at the forefront. They are often in the media boasting about their exploits in Africa – the adulation they enjoy and the large audiences at their concerts. They often wear their Africanness like badges. It can’t be too difficult and be too much of a burden for such artistes to organise benefit concerts for the Ebola-hit countries and to contribute a portion of the sale of their albums or concert income to this project.”

Surely a people that pride themselves on having the most churches per square foot in the world should have a more humane, enlightened and charitable response toward sufferers of this latter day plague?

Kei Miller Maps His Way to Zion…

Kei Miller. Photo credit: Susumba.com

Kei Miller. Photo credit: Susumba.com

Kei Miller was born in Jamaica in 1978. Kei writes across a range of genres: novels, books of short stories, essays and poetry. His poetry has been shortlisted for awards such as the Jonathan Llewelyn Ryhs Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Scottish Book of the Year. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Phyllis Wheatley Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First book and has won the Una Marson Prize. His recent book of essays won the 2014 Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (non-fiction). In 2010, the Institute of Jamaica awarded him the Silver Musgrave medal for his contributions to Literature. Kei has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and a PhD in English Literature from the University of Glasgow. In 2013 the Caribbean Rhodes Trust named him the Rex Nettleford Fellow in Cultural Studies. His 2014 collection, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, has just won the Forward Prize for Best Collection. (Adapted from note on Carcanet website–Carcanet Press being the main publisher of  Kei’s poetry)

Kei it was in Treasure Beach during the Calabash Literary Festival in June this year that you found out you had been shortlisted for Britain’s top poetry award, the Forward Prize, right? I remember your telling me about the controversy aroused by Chief Judge Jeremy Paxman’s draconian pronouncements on the state of contemporary poetry (“with bloggers ranting and poets unfriending each other on facebook “ as you said on Facebook) and his virtually calling for an inquisition of poets. At the time you were pleased just to be on the shortlist but now it turns out you’re the sole survivor–the champion–of that figurative Inquisition. Do you feel as if the moon just fell into your lap? Describe what winning the Forward Prize feels like and means to you please…

Well, it was while we were in Treasure Beach that the news became public. I had known a little bit before, and yes, I was simply pleased to be shortlisted. I actually wasn’t looking forward to the award ceremony because before that there was simply the possibility I could win, and I thought after I’d go back to simply being the person who was shortlisted. I seem to get shortlisted for things but hardly ever win, so it has come as a huge surprise and as you put it, a little like the moon has landed in my lap. I knew I had written my best poetry collection to date, but I also knew there were other really good books out there, and I didn’t know if a collection so steeped in a Jamaican soundscape could be fully heard by British ears. So it all feels like an incredible validation that if we write well enough our voices can be heard.

I have to say I completely agree with Paxman about poets needing to connect with ‘ordinary people’ more. As a youngster I loved reading poetry but gradually became alienated by the gnomic, elliptical utterances I was increasingly being offered in its name. Your A Light Song of Light was the first book of poetry that made me realize I didn’t really dislike poetry as I had started thinking, that I could and did still appreciate really good poetry I could connect with. What was your reaction when Paxman said he thought poets had more or less made themselves irrelevant? I feel the same way about much contemporary art that I see today by the way–too tight-lipped if you know what I mean–oh, you don’t wish to communicate with me? Let me not be detained any further by you then is my response. I know you disagree about communication–strictly for ad agencies and PR folk you’ve said in the past but it IS something you do well. There’s a profound empathy in your poems that pulls you in and an effortless virtuousity that detains you, enraptured. So you’ve won it already and don’t have to worry about offending anyone, tell us what you really think of Paxman’s position on poetry.

Well I always kind of agreed with Paxman and I think many poets, not only today but as far back as Wordsworth, have been saying the same thing. There was an unfortunate backlash that seemed to me to say, how dare a non-poet talk about our world and our craft, which pretty much proved his point. I think each poem ought to consider very deeply its reader and what it is offering that reader. Too many poems, I think, seem to be more conscious about what they withhold rather than what they reveal. The thing about communication is probably just semantics, because I think we’re saying almost the same thing. I don’t like the word ‘communicate’ because it’s too wrapped up in the idea of a simple and reducible message, and I think what a poem transmits is a lot more than that, a lot more complex. But that the poem ought to be generous, that it ought to consider and give to its reader – these are things I’m fully on board with.

When did you first start writing and did you start with poetry? A lot of people think that you came out of the Wayne Brown writing workshops in Kingston but you didn’t did you? Was there a literary community that nurtured your interest in writing or was it something you just developed on your own?

I don’t know if it’s possible to develop on your own, but those communities were quite various. No, I didn’t attend Wayne Brown’s workshops regularly though I dropped into a couple of their end of year sessions. But the space that Wayne created in the Observer Arts supplement was one of the most important spaces in which I was allowed to develop as a writer. So Wayne was massively important – not as a tutor but as an editor who created space for writers. Mervyn Morris was much more important to my beginnings as a poet. I did his poetry workshop as an undergraduate student at UWI and at a time when I only saw myself as a prose writer. But there were online communities as well – place at Alsop Review called the Gazebo that had both the kindest and the most vicious critics I’ve ever encountered. It was nurturing and rigorous and I grew a lot there – my standards became much higher.

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One of the remarkable things about you is that you’re a multigenre writer, if that’s the right term. You’ve written novels, poetry and most recently a book of essays. I remember a conversation in which you said you thought you were increasingly finding non-fiction a more interesting medium than any other, am i remembering correctly? You also write about art, don’t you? Could you talk more about your forays into non-fiction? Did this develop out of your blog Under the Saltire Flag?

The blog is certainly a space where I try out a lot of my ideas and sometimes develop them, but I’m not sure where my interest in non-fiction came from or how it grew. I know that it’s a genre that seems incredibly full of possibilities – a place where I can use all my skills as a poet and a fiction writer at the same time. But also, where a good poem might impress you most deeply for its lyricism and a good story might impress you most by its narrative, a good essay always impresses me most for its intelligence. I leave a good essay thinking, what an incredible mind this writer has! And to be able to think that clearly, with that much sophistication, and to be able to allow others to think through things like that – it seems to me an especially high calling, something I always want to aspire to. But something about the sensibilities of these various genres keep on spilling over into each other. I think it used to be obvious in my fiction that I wrote poetry as well, and in this new collection of poems it’s probably quite obvious that I’ve been writing essays.

Did you follow the recent fuss about Shonda Rhimes, the woman behind a string of US TV success stories such as Scandal and Gray’s Anatomy, who was described as ‘an angry black woman’ by a New York Times writer despite the fact that she chooses not to view herself or race in such polarized terms? That whole controversy reminded me so much of your encounter with some postcolonial African academics who tried to interview you a few years ago but assumed you shared their sentiments and worldview. “I’m sorry I cannot be your angry black poet” was what you wished you had replied, apologizing for the fact that you were comfortable in your own black skin. Can you talk a little more about this refusal of an all too familiar role? It’s not unlike Jamaican poet Mervyn Morris’s refusal to be a cookie cutter ‘revolutionary’ or leftwing poet several decades ago.

I wonder if that’s natural, I mean – for an artist to resist the boxes we try to peg them in. It’s an occupational tick to live in fear of clichés, and also I live in fear of a kind of self-indulgent earnestness. Maybe that’s because, deep down, I think I’m susceptible to that sort of thing, so I have to resist it. But I’ve never felt like a particularly angry writer, which obviously doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot that doesn’t concern me, and neither does it mean that I’m not a deeply political writer. But there are other tools I think we can use to explore and unpick the many things that are so wrong about the world we live in today – humour for instance. Humour is always there in anything I write and we discredit humour too easily as not having heft, as being trivial, but I don’t think it is at all.

Marlon James, Kei Miller, London Underground, October 2014. Photo: Morgan Everett

Marlon James, Kei Miller, London Underground, October 2014. Photo: Morgan Everett

This is such an incredible moment for writing in Jamaica what with you winning the Forward Prize, and back in the US Marlon James meteoric streak across the literary firmament with his new novel A Brief History of 7 Killings. How does this make you feel?  How long have you known Marlon? When did you first become aware of each other? You seem to enjoy a friendly rivalry with him–I’m remembering your Facebook jousts about being invited to an event in Switzerland because Marlon the original invitee had dropped out and you joked that the organizers turned to you “to fill their quota of One youngish dreadlocked Jamaican writer”; then there’s your defence of ‘Maas Joe’, the rural caricature whom Marlon dismissed in his keynote address at the 2013 Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference. I agreed completely with Marlon by the way, what he was criticizing was the stock rural Caribbean character often found populating mediocre stories and not a particular individual who may happen to live in the country and ride a donkey. It was the hackneyed representation of such individuals he was deriding. It’s not just about cosmopolitanism versus local or ‘fi wi maas joe’ but about a romanticization of rural poverty over urban blight–a kind of simple-minded belief that the ‘folk’ are not to be found in urban ghettoes, only in verdant pastoral villages.

If what I have with Marlon is a rivalry, then I wish all rivalries would be like that. We obviously like each other. We’re friends. It’s true that not all my interaction or relationships with Caribbean writers in my generation feel as healthy. Some of them – the things people say – are downright petty and vindictive. But in that I have a Caribbean Granny’s approach: I leave them to god. But with Marlon, you know, I think it’s just exciting to be writing at the same time that he’s writing. Probably in both of us is this excitement that we want to do something in literature that hasn’t been done yet. I don’t know if you know this, but our backgrounds are scarily similar – we went to the same high school (not at the same time), then we went to UWI to study literature and were both influenced by similar books; we both went into advertising; we were both part of the same charismatic Christian circles which we eventually stepped away from. Perhaps the profound difference is that Marlon’s instinct is to transform the material he gets into a kind of darkness, and my instinct is to transform it into a kind of light.

Kei Miller, Deborah Anzinger...

The ever mischievous Kei Miller with Deborah Anzinger of New Local Space (NLS) Photo: Annie Paul

You mentioned our Maas Joe argument, and maybe that’s something that I will continue to disagree with both you and Marlon about. I used to feel the way you do, but the more I think about it is the more I simply don’t know the books you’re talking about. I’m not saying people don’t probably write such books, but when has such a book ever been valorized or held up as great Caribbean Literature? I don’t know any such examples. It seems like a myth to me. Look – literature is something that is created twice. It’s created when the writer writes it, but more profoundly it’s created when the reader reads it, and perhaps we have to ask – how are Caribbean novels being taught? How are they being read? Because I suspect the folk romanticization you’re talking about happens then. I think of a writer like Olive Senior whose settings are as idyllic and rural as you can get – but in Summer Lightning, a little boy is raped by a man who visits the village; in Claude McKay’s books, goats are raped; in Erna Brodber characters migrate and return and have huge psychotic breakdowns, and in the novels of Orlando Patterson or Roger Mais, the folk are very much in the heart of urban blight where the most violent things happen to them. So where is this romantic treatment we love to criticize. When I actually think about Caribbean literature the folk presented are always wrestling with a violent and complicated modernity that is thrust on them. Even in the poetry of Louise Bennett (which is where my argument with Marlon began long before – he tends to dismiss her), if you don’t read the sometimes brutal critique that she levies against the folk, then you’re simply misreading her.

So to repeat the easy argument that the folk has been romanticised in Caribbean Literature seems simply wrong to me, and represents a kind of anxiety to appear sophisticated, savvy, and yes – cosmopolitan, but it reinscribes a terrible, terrible misreading of the literature. There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll stop there.

Finally, you recently moved from Glasgow where you taught for several years to London. How are you finding the shift? What are your writing plans for the coming year or two?

Moving from Glasgow to London feels a little bit like moving back to the Caribbean. My first morning here I woke up to two voices arguing under the window and all manner of ‘clawt’ was traded in this verbal altercation. And those sounds for me are a kind of healing. I’m enjoying it so far. As you know, I’m always writing something, and there are several ideas (non-fiction and fiction) percolating in my head, and I’ll write them as they come, but I don’t want to say too much and jinx myself.

Plotting a Brief History of Seven Killings: An Exclusive Interview with Marlon James

Marlon James at Calabash Literary Festival, June 2014

Marlon James at Calabash Literary Festival, June 2014

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So i first posted this interview with Marlon on September 30 only to get a call from him the next day asking if I would mind taking it down for a few days because the Wall Street Journal had complained that my interview was breaking the national embargo on information on Brief History and its author. They threatened to publish their piece immediately which would have affected the NYT’s preferred position at the head of the national pipeline. I wasn’t amused but agreed to do so for Marlon’s sake though of course an interview by a Jamaican blog could hardly be viewed as national in the US sense of the word. But that’s the thing with online fora, they know no borders. So here once again is my interview with a Part 2 to follow whenever Marlon finds the time to answer the next set of questions I’ve sent him.

A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James’s new novel which will be released on October 2, 2014, has already attracted a series of rave reviews from all the top print media, not least from Michiko Kakutani, the redoubtable New York Times book reviewer. She called it a monumental novel “sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex” in scope.

Others have referred to it as epic, and that it certainly is with its theme of war and peace in the tropics. A multitudinous cast of phantasmagoric characters populates Brief History and through them we descend into the chaotic craziness that was Jamaica in the 1970s. Marlon exposes the multiple duplicities that underlie the constant chatter about ‘peace’, an elusive concept that haunts the saga like a fetish and continues to remain beyond reach today, almost 50 years later.

James was a Kingston-based graphic designer and wannabe writer when he encountered Kaylie Jones, the American writer and daughter of best-selling author James Jones,  at a writing workshop put on by the acclaimed Calabash Literary Festival. She persuaded him to resurrect a manuscript he had discarded after being rejected dozens of times and introduced him to her publisher, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books. Thus was born Marlon’s first novel, the critically acclaimed John Crow’s Devil (2005). The award-winning Night of Book Women followed in 2009 and now a mere five years later what looks set to be a blockbuster, the apocalyptic Brief History of Seven Killings.

I sent Marlon a list of questions, handicapped by the fact that I haven’t yet finished reading his novel (he had presented me a copy of the uncorrected proofs some months ago), and he sent back his replies by email.

Marlon your new novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, is a latter-day epic in my opinion. Did you set out to write the Great Jamaican Novel or did you just happen to write it? It illuminates the postcolonial nightmare many of us still inhabit in the 21st century by getting us inside the heads of a vast cast of characters, all of whom we get to know with some intimacy by the end of the book. Gul Panag (@gulpanag), an Indian celebrity I follow on Twitter recently said: “The trouble with reading Tolstoy (apart from keeping a glossary of royal titles handy) is keeping track of the myriad characters!! #War&Peace

Of course this immediately reminded me of your Brief History and ITS myriad characters. I once asked you how you kept track of all of these distinct voices when writing and you said you kept a timetable chart with a column for each character. Didn’t it make you feel schizoid or partitioned into all these characters I asked but you said not really, that it more made you feel like a teacher of an unruly class…or maybe a prefect. Could you tell us some more about this process, how you achieved what seems to me to be quite a feat?

I actually do use plot charts. Columns filled with characters and rows with time periods, whether years, days, or in the case of this book, hours. I think the fear people have is that this kills spontaneity; it kills story flowing in an organic way, or it just results in novels that are schematic. And yet this was my most free flowing and spontaneous novel ever. There is a nine page chapter in free verse, a six page sentence, and from pages 277 to 395 stream of consciousness monologue.

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Pages from Marlon’s notebook showing the elaborate chart he used to plot the novel.

I believe the reverse actually: that by not having a clue where you might want to go, you pick the route that’s safest, most familiar and most predictable — you just don’t realize that you’re doing it. It’s like the dog left wandering who ends up home anyway; or the poet who will never realize that it’s a lack of understanding of prosody that makes him formulaic. This is not to say that I follow the charts religiously—far from it but I need the base, just to keep track of what each character is doing at all times, and also to resist the urge to play favourites, which is a very easy thing to do. Especially when you have characters who clearly announce themselves, and characters who take a little more digging. Knowing that I had a plot point to come back to allowed me to fly all over the place with characters. And just because a plot is written down, doesn’t mean it’s not wild and crazy, resulting in an awful lot of trouble for the character. My writing day wasn’t done until I could say ‘well I didn’t see THAT coming.’

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The novel pivots on events and personalities surrounding the shooting of Bob Marley in 1976, the Smile Jamaica concert that followed two days later and the even more famous One Love Peace Concert of 1978 noted for that moment when Marley joins the hands of the 2 opposed political leaders, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga. This is passed off nowadays as a stroke of genius on Marley’s part without much awareness of the political machinations behind the concert, the alliances between the politicians and the dons or gang leaders who ran the impoverished, inner city vote bases for the two political parties. Also behind the scenes lurked the CIA and the realpolitik of the Cold War. When did it occur to you that all this was prime material to plumb for literary gold?

That took some time. At first I wasn’t aware that it was a bigger story. In fact, the first character I created was the Chicago Hitman, John-John K, for what was supposed to be a noir novella. That he was killing a Jamaican who was involved in an assassination attempt was a small but still important detail. The second character I created was Bam-Bam, who was a ghetto youth raised in such hopelessness and violence that it was inevitable that he became violent. But even then I thought it was a small novel without much scope, even as his story started to involve ‘the singer.’ It wasn’t until I kept running into dead ends writing these ‘novellas’ that a friend of mine pointed out that this was a bigger novel—she saw it first, not me. It also helps that I was reading James Ellroy’s American Tabloid at the time, a novel that more than any other taught me how to recognize the bigger story and then tell it on a big scale without becoming pompous or writerly. In many ways what I wrote was essentially crime fiction. I just got out of the way and let the characters do whatever they wanted. Even my plot charts are what they —not what I wanted to do. But paradoxically, the more these voices became individual the larger this novel stretched in scope. I actually cut 10,000 words from the final draft.

How to represent Jamaican language in a way that outsiders can grasp has always been a challenge you’ve enthusiastically embraced. In Night Women you experimented with reproducing 18th century enslaved speech, in Brief History you recreate the street patois of the 1970s which must have been much easier since it would have been something you grew up speaking right? Did you also research the way Americans spoke in the 70s?  For example the kind of language diFlorio uses–Holy fucking horseshit etc–cuss words and street lingo are so time bound. How did you research this? by watching films? by reading fiction from the period?

Everything, from watching films, the grittier ones such as Scorcese’s, (since even film has invented language), to documentaries (more authentic), song lyrics, slang dictionaries, websites and youtube videos. And getting an American accent wasn’t enough—Diflorio is older and far more conservative than Alex Pierce, who works for Rolling Stone. And black American speech is different from white, especially after hip-hop, so then you have a character like Romeo who sounds like nobody else. But bear in mind that my generation was the first not to be in any dialogue with the UK whatsoever. We don’t even understand it. We were in dialogue with the US. Our cross pollination came from RUN DMC, The Cosby show and Eddie Murphy, from American commercials and Miami Vice, LL Cool J, breakdancing, Prince, Michael Jackson and the occasional trip to Miami. The Samuel Selvon narrative is foreign to us.

One of the characters in BH is Nasser, a white Syrian politician based on former Prime Minister Edward Seaga. At one point Josey Wales I think says “Peter Nasser is just another ignorant as shit naigger…” which is interesting because a ‘naigger’ is not quite the same thing as a ‘nigger’ is it? Another Jamaican writer, Anthony Winkler, who happens to be white describes the confusion that ensues in the mind of his American companion when a fellow Jamaican greets him heartily saying “Wha’appen ole negar?” Can you articulate the difference between the two? What exactly is this concept of the ‘ole negar’ whose origins you make very clear by spelling it the way you do–‘naigger’? It’s nuances like this that you wonder if outsiders to Jamaican culture will get. How can a Syrian White in Jamaican terms be considered a ‘naigger’?

Well firstly Peter Nasser isn’t really based on Seaga, in fact Seaga appears in the novel. I resisted this easy character appropriation for several reasons, one being that it would be too easy for the novel to become nothing more than a spot-the-real-person exercise. Nasser is rather, a composite of several politicians, largely because I was looking for an archetype. He’s far more cynical, far less patient, and unlike Seaga has no ear for culture. As for naigger, the first issue was spelling and I always try to make my words very clear to the non-Jamaican, at the risk of so called authenticity. I wanted the reader to see the link between naigger and nigger so that he knows that the term can be equally loaded. And yet that tension comes from the American reader, not the character as Jamaicans rarely use it in any racial context. But on the other hand, Americans get the concept of one drop very well, so in a certain way it’s a joke they understand that Jamaicans won’t. That these Jamaican men, who are convinced that they are white, are really “niggers.”

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By the way a couple of random questions. Is it Stony Hill you refer to as White Man Hill in BH? What does ‘Me take the S off Superman chest and the B off Batman Belly’ mean? There’s more than one reference to Superman and Batman. And why does the song Ma Baker make Josey Wales laugh?

I can’t even remember. It could be Stony Hill, but I have a feeling it’s Jack’s Hill or Coopers, which used to be even whiter.  As for ‘Me take the S off Superman chest and the B off Batman Belly’ both Barrington Levy and Junior Tucker have used the lyric in songs, but it goes back even further as a children’s rhyme establishing playground badness.  As for Ma Baker, a certain lady of the night does a certain routine that ends with a highly improbably split, all to that song.

I really wanted to interview you after finishing the book but I’m still only on page 399 with another 300 or so to go with no desire to race through it, i’m savouring it so much. I just decided i needed to send you these questions sooner rather than later because once your book comes out on October 2 you’re going to be virtually lynched by major media. I wonder if you’ll end up on Oprah’s show or has she stopped doing books? It must be fun reading all the rave reviews you’ve been getting. I see you posted the one from Rolling Stonel today. One of the things people may not realize is what an audiophile you are and what an encyclopaedic knowledge of rock music you have. Brief History didn’t really give you a chance to expose that expertise or did it?

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There’s still a lot of music in it, and not all just Marley. Or rather more about musicians, from Mick Jagger’s brief championing of Peter Tosh, to the rise of hip-hop and new wave, dance hall in the 80’s and 90’s and some insider info, from the very brief and quickly aborted plan to kidnap Mick Jagger to Eric Clapton’s infamous racist rant onstage. I like to think it’s rock and roll in attitude, if not always content.

You know I’m going to enjoy watching your Twitter account blow up after October 2 when the TV appearances begin. On  Sept 22 you 327 followers on the  26th 355; do you use social media much? You seem to use Facebook more than Twitter right?

I was just now trying to get with Twitter, only to hear that it’s all about Instagram now

Finally, do you think you might write a kind of sequel centred around the events of the 90s and noughties leading up to the extradition of Dudus, the Don of Tivoli Gardens, glossed as Copenhagen City in BH? A kind of ‘Brief History of 73 Killings’ perhaps in reference to the official number of civilians killed by the state in the process of capturing Dudus. I mean who else could tackle that saga? And wasn’t Jim Brown’s older son, Dudus’s brother Jah T, who was briefly the don before Dudus, actually a classmate of yours?

I was thinking a sequel actually. In fact a trilogy, each taking 5 time periods and a totally different cast of characters—some of them being minor ones in this book (maybe Peter Nasser and Kim-Marie Burgess). But this book took 4 years to write and I need a break. My next book is going back in the past, way before even the middle ages, actually.