If you look at a little dot directly south of Cuba you will find my homeland Jamaica – all 4,411 square miles of it. To hear us Jamaicans talk, you’d think it was the size of the USA. This overblown sense of importance has spawned some of the most creative, high achievers on the planet. Our successes have been phenomenal, including but not limited to the World’s Fastest Man. So have our failures. But it takes a lot to psych us out. Perhaps that is what made me dare to enter the BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition aged 60. Now here I am a winner, blogging away for Commonwealth Writers. It is overwhelming to be another Jamaican first.
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I was born in Spanish Town, just west of capital city Kingston where I currently live. I was “high schooled” at the Roman Catholic, Convent of Mercy Academy, Alpha where I questioned why black skinned girls were never chosen to play the Virgin Mary or princesses, but were relegated to orphans and boy characters. But Alpha was where I discovered that writing came easy to me. I had excellent English teachers who were happy that I could manage more than a meandering paragraph. I doubt if they would have been as enthusiastic if they knew that it was the Black Power movement that made me want to write as I flirted with Nikki Giovanni’s poetry, devoured Eldridge Cleaver and worshipped Angela Davis.
After leaving Alpha, I worked at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation for a year before heading for Ryerson Polytechnic Institute in Toronto, which has since become a University. Oddly enough, despite revelling in the potpourri of Caribbean students and our intense discussions about race and politics, my years in Canada did nothing to advance my writing. I basically partied for the three years it took me to get my degree in Radio & TV Arts.
When I returned home in the mid 70’s, the stridency of Black Power jargon had been replaced by the peace and love mantra of the rising Rasta evolution which had reached uptown. But the political climate was hostile, as the opponents of Michael Manley’s Democratic Socialism tried to turn the tide against his second term. I had found another reason to raise my fist if not my pen. I was a socialist. It lasted three years. I changed my colours and found my spiritual home in Rastafari. It was the end point of where I had been heading all my life, and also a new beginning.
Marriage, six children and a professional career in radio, film production and advertising kept me pretty busy and slightly perplexed most of the time. Writing was confined to my responsibilities as a copywriter, Creative Director and subsequently VP- Creative at Dunlop Corbin Communications. I wrote everything from Jingles to Documentaries including an episode of Earth Tales for BBC2. My gift had been moulded to fit RFPs and marketing briefs. I was among the best at what I did. But it wasn’t my voice anymore.
At 50+, I decided to do my Masters in Communication for Social and Behaviour Change which nudged awake my creative writing. Short stories, a novel, stage play, a screen play, my father’s biography, all lay in folders on my hard drive, unfinished, while I played Lexulous and made excuses for their incompleteness. I had carried the idea for The Fisherman around in my gut like a dormant virus for a while. Then, just as Jamaica was about to take the world by storm at the Olympics, I decided to enter the competition and the story leapt to life. The rest as they say is my history. Good timing…unimaginable results.
Jamaica is at another crossroads. Full of promise and unravelling potential, we are faced with the spectre of the IMF and harsh economic times, while violent crimes against women and children escalate. Will dithering politicians on both sides have time for missing girls? I will write and see.
At age 60, I am a Rastafarian wife and mother, of African descent and Jamaican nationality who has found her voice….again. I am grateful for the opportunity and pray I will not squander it.