“I can’t find any books by Caribbean writers for the kindle, except for Junot Diazand Edwidge Danticat. What’s up with that?” was a complaint by a fellow writer and reader in my facebook feed recently. It continued, “Joanne C. Hillhouse is another exception, enjoyed ‘O Gad’ [sic] recently. But so many more books are unavailable. Especially wish I could find contemporary Caribbean poetry for the kindle.”
Others on the poster’s friends list were quick to offer other suggestions because there are, of course, more than the named books available via e-publishing platforms. But it’s still a valid point. Relative to the growing popularity of ebooks, which are reportedly outselling print books, while providing a much more interactive experience for the reader, there are comparably few Caribbean books available for access in this format.
Recently the Government Assisted Technology Endeavour Digital Publishing Workshop (in Antigua and Barbuda) with funding from Columbus Communications (which recently acquired Karib Cable) hosted a Brightpath-led e-publishing workshop.
I was in that workshop, and it was clear that what the roughly 20 participants desired was less convincing and more hands on guidance in how to proceed. Brightpath, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing regional technological capacity, seems game to return and given them just that.
Why does this matter?
Increasingly young people are engaging with the world in a digital way – our tablet programme, placing technology in the hands of high schoolers, is a part of ensuring that. But, what will they be engaging with? How many of our writing – our Antiguan, Barbudan, and Caribbean writing – will they be able to access using those tablets?
“There are dimensions of our world that can’t be found on the internet,” said co-facilitator and Brighpath founder Bevil Wooding.
Every media innovation has brought with it concerns about content – cable TV being the most notable example – because so much of what we consume through that technology and now through the internet is created in other places. In the case of the internet, from a cost standpoint, it’s much easier for creative types to share content. We can blog, we can connect via social media, we can add research to wikipedia, we can upload videos to youtube, and, yes, we can publish ebooks. But are we?
In fact, Wooding shared the criticism that the tablet programme to be truly successful needed a production component, training the recipients to produce content from the jump.
Self-defining is the key underlying issue here. Because part of what happens incrementally when you absorb content almost entirely from other places is that you develop a way of seeing yourself and your world that’s outside of yourself. Wooding illustrated this point by sharing an anecdote from his own home. His younger daughter told him that she wanted to write a story and he encouraged her to go for it. He was impressed with how enthusiastically she jumped at the task. When he read what she’d written though, he found that the world presented in the story was not reflective of her world – think more northern. It was an unconscious act; “she didn’t even know that she wasn’t describing her world…she had been warped by a dietary input not relevant to her cultural experience.”
To share an anecdote of my own, before and since starting the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com) to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, I’ve had opportunity to judge and/or just read stories by young writers and saw evidence of this trend as well. It’s one of the reasons why, I set as a foundation of Wadadli Pen that submissions to the annual Challenge must be Caribbean in spirit. I didn’t intend it as a limitation but as a guide, a reminder to tell stories true to our world.
Wooding pushed this point hard, the need to get our stories out there – high quality, low quality, and everything in between, underscoring the view that the only bad story is an untold story. I have a different view on this as I do believe that we should strive for high quality. Something in me resists the notion that it doesn’t have to be good, even to your personal standards, it just has to be published; nothing turns me off of a book quicker than sloppy writing and editing. But he makes a valid point that not everything on the internet from the U.S. is gold, some of it is crap, but it has a space to exist and market forces (whether views, sales, rankings or ratings by the user/buyer) not artificial barriers set up by the publishing industry determine its value.
So what he’s doing at this stage is trying to empower and encourage content creators to get their work out there. It helps “create a sense of the value of regional content” and a realization that we have just as much right to “share our views, our ideas, our interests, and imagination.” The workshop, especially the latter part, began the process of showing how, by taking participants through different e-publishing platforms and checklist of things to think about when putting writing out into the digital world. What’s needed next is per participant feedback is hands-on tutoring, learning by doing.
*Originally posted on Wadadli Pen http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com. Permission to re-post given by author, Joanne Hillhouse.
Joanne C. Hillhouse is a freelance writer, journalist, writing coach, and editor. She is the author of several books including Oh Gad! and The Boy from Willow Bend. She is founder and coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize in Antigua and Barbuda.