Long, varied day of Independent VoYces
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
After reading from A Hamper of Recipes From Jamaica on Sunday, Jill Roberts served up some of her words as pastry, toting the treats trays to all in the natural amphitheatre at Strawberry Fields Together, Robin's Bay, St Mary.
Roberts' offer and the general acceptance, though an exceptional event on the day, probably defined the inaugural staging of the Independent VoYces Literary Fair, designed to provide self-published authors with a platform for amplification of their craft. The fair was imbued with a general sense of sharing, where there seemed to be as many servers of literature as recipients.
It was a damp day, enough rain falling in the early going to create mud sloshes on the greenery that would have otherwise provided excellent repose. As it was, even though the rain held up for most of the day, the audience stuck to the tents at the rim of the grassy amphitheatre and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the readings.
They could hardly have asked for a better view, looking down at the readers and, behind them, waves smashing into the reef which creates an area of calm, safe for swimming. Craggy rocks frame either side of the narrow inlet, making for a distinctive, delightful vista.
However, with the best of intentions, the most exquisite of views and authors repairing to Bookophilia's set-up to sign purchased tomes, there were too many Independent VoYces crammed into a limited time frame, made even shorter as an hour was snipped to allow nervous travellers to negotiate the famed and feared Junction Road before dark.
With the featured authors and poets organised into batches and Judith Falloon-Reid hosting a programme that also included Joe Tapper on the Speaking Sax and the Bongani Drummers, as well as pre-registered open mic participants, it was a lot to squeeze into a single day.
The inevitable result was a uni-dimensional impression of most of the authors, although Tomlin Ellis was a striking example of a writer claiming more time than initially allowed to give an indication of depth, closing with the outright dub of Drop It, advice to the singers who have the "habit, habit". Among the many other writers who were featured at Independent VoYces were Tracey Tucker (The Day I Met Me), Veronica Carnegie (The Tie Came Back) and Barbara Blake-Hannah (Growing Out: Black Hair and Black Pride in the Swinging Sixties).
Her Hon Lyle Armstrong put her experience in the slave dungeons in Ghana into words and outlined matriarchal fortitude in When My Mother Danced, while Denise Defy Fyffe (Jamaican Honey and Sauce) and Denise 'Antoinette' Simpson (The Light and Black I Am) went on the romantic side of life, the latter reading with Omari on drums and then doing the Jamaican take on part of Songs of Solomon.
There was humour in Susan Lowe's public transportation memories in Shub Down and Small Up Yuself, Marcia Forbes giving an indication of the interviewees' responses in the recently launched Music, Media and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica.
Kavel The Psalmist and the Kreativ Aktivis, the latter demanding who the youths will vote for and declaring Me Love Me Breadfruit, gave a rhythmic, topical lift to the closing stages of the authors' section, before the musicians jam.
Sonia King was the only author to 'wheel and come again', reading twice from A Jacket or Full Suit: Paternity Testing from a Jamaican Perspective, which was a hit with the audience, focused as it was on the always-hot topic of paternity testing with King's first-hand experience of seeing many cases, the characters involved and the results.
The title comes from the reaction of a man upon discovering that an 'outside child' was really not his - as his wife had long insisted.
Independent VoYces were joined in acclaim for Melita Samuels, OD, whose Lifetime Achievement citation was read by Christopher 'Johnny' Daley.
Samuels advised those who are hesitant about writing to "just record your thoughts. Just write. People will enjoy it". And Jennifer Keane-Dawes responded to the Independent VoYces award with respects to her mother and a pair of hilarious stories, one about the siblings' pigeon-stealing exploits and A Fighting Chance about the Jamaican style of fighting, compared to the American.