On 2 February 2018, 45 people gathered at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus Bookshop to celebrate the arrival of the Peekash Press edition of So Many Islands Stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans to the shores of Barbados.
The hour-long event, which I hosted, featured readings from Heather Barker (Barbados), Tammi Brown-Bannister (Antigua and Barbuda) and Kendel Hippolyte (Saint Lucia), three of the 17 contributors to the anthology, as well as guest speaker Emma D’Costa from Commonwealth Writers. The readings provided attendees with an entertaining sampling of the book. Also offered was a taste of another Peekash Press publication, New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, edited by Barbadian novelist Karen Lord who introduced two contributors to that short story anthology, Brian Franklin and Richard Lynch, whose story was read by Dorhonda Smith.
My involvement with So Many Islands began in January 2016 when I was selected, along with eight other Caribbean nationals, to attend a CaribLit/Commonwealth Writers week-long workshop in Guyana. The workshop, aimed at assisting “emerging editors”, was the best I’ve attended – and I’ve attended many as participant, facilitator and organiser. You can read more about my Guyana experience here.
From that opportunity sprung the invitation to work on the anthology with noted Trinidadian poet-writer-editor and Bocas LitFest Director Nicholas Laughlin. I looked forward to the opportunity to learn from one of the region’s respected literary contributors. I also warmed to my new title, ‘Junior Editor’, as, having entered my 5th decade and feeling my age, I’ve not been considered a junior anything for a very long time!
The task was not easy. There were more than 500 responses – poetry, short fiction and nonfiction – to the call for submissions. During a recent television interview in St. Lucia, I joked that I had to have my vision prescription changed at least three times during the elimination process! Once it was decided to include only one piece from each selected island, Nicholas and I, with the assistance of Commonwealth Writers, were able to agree on the final 17 pieces to be found in the book.
During the months of reading and re-reading, debating and re-debating, examining and re-examining those hundreds of entries, I didn’t foresee how incredibly happy I’d feel to finally celebrate the arrival of the book’s Caribbean edition in February 2017. And, I imagine, I will be just as excited to hold the Pacific and UK editions! To read So Many Islands now is to do so as a reader rather than an editor. This means I engage with and marvel at the work with a different eye; a new level of appreciation for the range of voices, themes and moods evoked by this tight collection of work which defines ‘island’ in so many familiar-yet-alien ways.
On 15 February, 30 people gathered at City Hall in Castries to warmly welcome So Many Islands to Saint Lucia. I was fortunate to be there (thanks to Saint Lucia’s Cultural Development Foundation, Saint Lucia Books and Kendel Hippolyte for sponsoring and facilitating my visit.), performing the work of Heather Barker (Barbados), Marita Davies (Kiribati) and Cecil Browne (St. Vincent & the Grenadines).
As proud and happy as I was to participate in the Saint Lucia Launch, my favourite memory is of my visit to Sir Arthur Lewis Community College where I conducted a workshop with a group of English Literature students. After reading an excerpt of Tracy Assing’s So Many Islands essay, ‘Unaccounted For’, I led a discussion on the importance of remembering and recording one’s past. This led to our riffing off the essay to produce a poem created by the students.
For me, the act of creating the poem illustrates the ripple effect of good literature and underscores the importance of the work of Commonwealth Writers generally and So Many Islands specifically. It is, after all, about getting the work out there; getting the words out there. It’s about giving voice to writers who might not otherwise be heard.
And it’s about inspiring others to let their pens sing also.
Nailah Folami Imoja, an award-winning, Barbadian/British writer, is co-editor of So Many Islands. A teacher by day, she relies on more than three decades of teaching experience (from kindergarten teacher to university tutor) and a keen sense of humour to survive each day in the classroom.
As poet, novelist, journalist and editor, Nailah has contributed significantly to the Barbadian litscape and aims to entertain and enlighten with her work. She is author of numerous novellas including Colourblind, To Protect & Serve and Fantasy Fulfilled which are available via smashwords.com.
Her greatest opus thus far is her teenaged daughter.