Booking Over Coffee: Hope for Chicken Back Gravy and Such Delights
Professor, cultural ambassador, and author Donna Hope confidently strutted through glass doors adorned in a sea of regal purple with a splash of tribal colour. Flair was in the presence of intellectual royalty.
The sophisticated, chic Café Dolce on Constant Spring Road warmly welcomed our heart-to-heart discussion about Hope’s new book, over coffee.
Reading from the tender age of two, Hope had always envisioned a shelf of books with her name on the spine. It was only natural that she followed through and made her dream a recurring published reality.
Chicken Back Gravy is Hope’s sixth book. Her first book, Inna Di Dancehall, is her most popular one yet. It educates about the history of dancehall and dancehall culture.The second book, Man Vibes, explores masculinity in Jamaican dancehall. And her third, fourth, and fifth books, International Reggae, Reggae From Yard, and Reggae Story, respectively, tackle chapters of dancehall and reggae. Because her first five explored cultural academia, she decided that her next book would venture closer to home. “The time to do something like this was long overdue. I’ve had a really good career as an academic. People know me for talking about poetry, politics, and offering mentorship as well as motivational sessions.” Hope wanted to put a pause on that aspect of professional life and press play on more personal matters.
Dubbed an autobiographical and a motivational book, Chicken Back Gravy and Such Delights cooks up moving moments she encountered during life’s journey. Seasoned with a dash of cultural identity, it also dished out pivotal lifelong lessons along the way.
Hope has led a very interesting and fulfilling life and she didn’t hold back during her interview with Flair. We discussed the fact that everyone wanted her to become a doctor, how she showed much promise as a student, but unfortunately, had to drop out of school when she was pregnant with her son. We touched on her return to academia, balancing both work and school, leaving the workforce to pursue scholastics full-time. Her passion for local culture and education resulted in the fusion of both worlds. Her rise from diploma to professor, lecturing at notable institutions such as The University of the West Indies, among others, was aired in bouts of gratitude and humility.
So why the name Chicken Back Gravy and Such Delights? The answer presents itself as a double entendre. She recalled a time when her family would indulge in the likes of the bony variety of poultry. Additionally, the book delves right into her root in poverty. “Chicken back is poor people food. One pound of chicken back would distribute among eight people in my household,” she said.
While there was no beating, it’s great authentic taste, chicken back and its gravy also shared a constant reminder of a hard-knock life for this born-and-raised Linstead (St Catherine) native. Stemming from humble beginnings, her promising branches sprouted leaves of life. Setbacks seeking to ‘drought’ her very flourishing nature could not deter the ageless beauty from blossoming and blooming into greatness.
Writing is a process
Describing her writing as a process, she shared that this passionate labour was akin to giving birth. “I learned a great deal on this new journey because unlike my other books, this one was self-published.” This new role carried a series of additional responsibilities. From working behind the scenes on the ideal cover alongside Chef Noel Cunningham and her son, Burtland Hope (the graphics guru), to seeking editors and dealing with copyright – more work than meets the naked eye. But she was grateful for the experience, and was happy that she prepared for these duties prior to by attending seminars designed with self-publishing in mind.
Three months ago, she officially launched her autobiographical and motivational book in New York to the delight of the Jamaican diaspora. Then, a month later, she took her artistic work to the Second City, Montego Bay – delighting the taste buds of specially invited guests with curried chicken back and white rice. The reception, she declared, has been wonderful so far, and she takes great pleasure in hearing the many reviews, which she shared in sheer excitement.
She hopes to launch in Kingston within the upcoming months, and is already gearing up to write other autobiographies.
She credits her mother as a constant source of motivation, proudly announcing that she would not have achieved so much if it wasn’t for her unconditional love and support.
Her advice to aspiring writers is to just write. “Everyone has one book inside of them, so it is up to you to unleash that passion.” Choose your way of writing, she says, whether it’s pen to paper, or via laptop. Also, some people write better in the mornings, others at night, so she recommends that you choose the time of day that inspires your flow. Start the process, be disciplined and trust the process – there’s no need to rush – just finish what you’ve started.
Chicken Back Gravy and Such Delights is currently located at The University of the West Indies Bookshop, CMart’s The Readers’ Book Shop in Liguanea, all locations of Fontana Pharmacy and Kingston Bookshop. The book can also be found on Amazon.
For more information, you can follow Chicken Back Gravy and Such Delights on social media: Instagram: @chickenback_gravy or on Facebook: @chickenbackgravy.
A big thank you to Cafe Dolce for providing quaint and cosy accommodations for this private ‘booking over coffee’ party.