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Unburnable Author Has Whirlwind Schedule by Joanne C. Hillhouse, The Daily Observer: 2006-10-13
  • From Washington to New York to Nigeria it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Antigua’s newest novelist, Unburnable author Marie Elena John, who’s participated in several high profile, star-studded events between late September and early October.

    She kicked off this latest tour at the World Bank in Washington, at a luncheon reading co-sponsored by government of Antigua and Barbuda. This event attracted the participation of Finance minister Dr. Errol Cort who brought his congratulations on John’s accomplishment. Present as well was Grenadian author and University of Maryland creative writing and gender studies professor Merle Collins, author of Angel, and two other University of Maryland professors. Collins, John noted, has added Unburnable to texts she’s teaching at U of Maryland in her course on Literature by Women of Colour. Collins and her colleagues, part of the distinguished panel of professors and critics, engaged during the luncheon event in discussion on various aspects of the books. Collins, it is reported, described as refreshing the depiction of Dominica’s Carib community in Unburnable, as this is a community largely overlooked in Caribbean literature.
    Overall, John said, the event attracted roughly 70 people, and was followed by a book signing. “It was very well supported by the Antigua delegation, as well as the embassy crowd,” she told the Daily Observer.

    “That one was way more than I could’ve imagined,” John said.

    From D.C., it was on to New York for the first Up South International Book Festival held in Harlem, New York from September 29th to October 1st. Taking place on the City College campus, it was also a home coming of sorts for John as this is her alma mater.

    “It was a very progressive group of black writers,” said John, who was in the company of Waiting in Vain author and founder of Jamaica’s Calabash Literary Festival Collin Channer, BET correspondent and Soul City author Toure, Petals of Blood author and professor Ngugi wa Thiongo, and others. “I went on early with Elizabeth Nunez (author of Bruised Hibiscus) of Trinidad,” John said. “It was just she and I having a conversation. We read from our books, of course, but it ended up being more what ever came up as we talked.”

    In Nigeria, which she visited between October 7th and 8th, John wore a different hat as advisor to the entourage accompanying American pop star Beyonce to Lagos for Independence celebrations. The October 7th and 8th concert was held in celebration of Nigeria’s 46th year of Independence, and featured the ‘Crazy in Love’ singer as well as various other artistes, including her beau and rap star Jay-Z, the funky divas En Vogue, Queen of Hip Hop Soul Mary J. Blige, colourful rap personalities like Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot, and more.

    John, who went to college with Beyonce’s publicist and head of Sony BMG’s Urban Music Department Yvette Noel-Schure, said, “my role was to be advisor to the team. There was a team of about 35 including her band, her production crew, and her publicist.

    “The vast majority had no exposure to Africa, and Nigeria is known not to be an easy country to visit.
    “(If) you arrive at the airport and you don’t know what you’re about, you’re likely to find yourself in trouble.”
    From running interference to advising on protocol to assisting with sourcing whatever was needed, to generally helping the team to understand and navigate the culture, John put her knowledge of the lay of the land to good use. “I first went to Nigeria as an exchange student in the ‘80’s,” she revealed. “…(and) the last organization I worked for did a lot of work there. At that point, we were working with pro-democracy and human rights groups.”
    John described her return as “short but sweet”, also timely. “I really had started having the feeling that I would like to be back just to refresh (my memory),” she indicated. “In my second novel, I’m planning for there to be a concrete trip to Africa by one of the characters. In fact, one of the characters works in Africa, in tourism.
    “It’s been four years since I’d been to West Africa and I wanted to get back. So when the opportunity came, I grabbed it.”

    Permission required prior to reposting or reprinting. Contact Joanne Hillhouse at www.myspace.com/jhohadli

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