Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Making money from writing was one of the themes of the six-hour-long Kingston Book Festival Workshop at the Spanish Court Hotel, New Kingston, last Friday. The 'workshop' was really four presentations by panellists on selling books to the Caribbean diaspora and other international markets, getting published internationally, making money by memoir writing and online marketing.
The well-received presentations by local and foreign publishers and authors gave the eager audience of mainly published and longing-to-be-published writers information useful for both creative writing (poetry and fiction) and non-fiction. Among the publishers on the panels were Marva Allen, CEO of Hue Man Books (US); Michael Williams of BIS Publications (UK); Johnny Temple, founder of Akashic Books (USA); Jeremy Poynting, founder of Peepal Tree Press (UK); and Jaime de Pablos, director of Spanish language publishing at Random House (USA).
Award-winning Jamaican author Kei Miller gave welcome news, saying that, though editors are usually seen as "bad guys" just looking for a chance to reject a writer, the opposite is true. "They're always looking for publishable manuscripts," he said. "They're rooting for you."
Editors are unhappy, he continued, when they have to turn down a submission from a would-be writer. In fact, finding a publishable book could mean their job is safe. Concurring, Poynting said that, from very early in the reading of a manuscript, an editor can detect whether the writer is one who will give "delight". Editors, he said, look for a distinctive "voice" and breadth of vision in an author.
He said it is vital for a writer to trust both his/her characters (and give them their space to have a life of their own) and readers (to understand what is going on). It's vanity in writers, he said, to think they know more than their readers.
On the topic of getting published internationally, both Miller and fellow panellist Annie Paul emphasised the importance of thinking big. "My horizon has never been local," said Paul, who has contributed to numerous international journals, books, catalogues and conferences.
And Miller admitted, somewhat reluctantly (for until then he had been modest about his praiseworthy achievements as a scholar, writer and lecturer at the University of Glasgow): "I think I can do things with language that other people can't do."
Wide-ranging though the presentations were, none touched on the linkage of books to dance (or on the possibility of making money through that link). Still, book festival chairperson Kellie Magnus had seen a connection and had asked Edna Manley College School of Dance lecturer and choreographer Neila Ebanks for a "book dance".
Which is why, on the previous day, Ebanks had been able to stage the dance Notes from Edna at the College. The lyrical dance, which was having its premiere public presentation that day, began in the college garden and ended in the school's studio theatre. Performing it were seven dancers backed by a musician, Andre France, on his saxo-corder.
Source of the concept
The concept, Ebanks told the audience, came from her reading the Rachel Manley-edited book on the diaries of Edna Manley (Rachel's grandmother). Asked for more on the dance's genesis, Ebanks sent me this (lightly edited) email:
"I picked up the book last June out of my own curiosity about Mrs Manley, with no intention of creating anything from it. Once I began reading, though, her turn of phrase, her honesty and her humility all bowled me over and I was inspired to jot down some of the quotations which stirred me, creatively or personally. I wasn't sure exactly what I would do with them, but knew that I had to document them somehow."
"I knew that the coming semester would see me teaching the Repertory and Performance course at the School of Dance and, as this would require me to choreograph on my students, I decided that I would use Mrs Manley's quotations as stimulus not only for a new work, but also for teaching these young performers about finding their literal voices and working with body and text, a la physical theatre and much of European contemporary concert dance."
"Fortuitously, I became connected to the planning of the Kingston Book Festival and Kellie Magnus asked me for a 'book dance' [without knowing] I had already begun to flesh out the possibilities for the piece and so Notes from Edna was born. The choreographic process I have been using, known as devising ... involves the dancers becoming more than empty vessels/mute interpreters of the choreographer's ideas, and instead being given opportunities to collaborate with the choreographer on some creative aspects of the work."
"This approach dovetails nicely with the ways in which I teach performance skills and so, through a set of tasks, I had the students learn some of the quotations, learn some movement I had constructed (inspired by the quotations) and then use certain dance composition tools to add their own creativity to the given words and movement."
"I love the devising process, because it gives dancers a greater level of investment in the work, because they know that they are also articulating their own voices through the choreography. It also allows me to access choreographic choices that I would not have ordinarily been drawn to."
Ebanks plans to work further on the dance and remount it next month at the school's annual Dance Works production. The dance and Friday's workshop were part of the second annual weeklong book festival, hosted by the Book Industry Association of Jamaica.