Showing posts with label Trinidad and Tobago. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trinidad and Tobago. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interview: Joanne Gail Johnson's Window Into Caribbean Children's Publishing

Two great interviews in a row, hooray! Today, it's Joanne Gail Johnson that I'm welcoming to the blog. If you know anything about Trinidadian children's literature, indeed about children's literature in the English-speaking Caribbean, then Joanne Gail Johnson is someone who needs no introducing. She is the author of such well-known children's books as Ibis Stew? Oh, no! and Pink Carnival! as well as Sally's Way, Digger's Diner, Go Barefoot, The Scottish-Island Girl and The Donkey and the Racehorse. The Editor of Macmillan Caribbean's Island Fiction fantasy series for tweens and the Regional Adviser of the Caribbean South Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Joanne is no stranger to the world of Caribbean children's publishing. Joanne and I have been exchanging emails for some time, talking about the very issues she discusses below. At a certain point it just seemed like her insights and knowledge were way too valuable and relevant to keep all to myself. So here she is! By the way, how cool is it that I am finally interviewing an author from my own country? Joanne is the first author from Trinidad that I've interviewed! But I digress. To the interview.


Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Joanne, I really appreciate it.

You're more than welcome Summer. The work you have done in such a short space of time - especially in listing over 500 Caribbean children's titles on your blog from as early as a century ago - is of great service to us all and very inspiring. Thank you!

Although I could be interviewing you about your writing/books (and I would like to do that some time) today I actually want to spend some time talking about another aspect of your work, i.e., your role as Regional Adviser for the Caribbean South chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Please tell us a little bit about the SCBWI and the work of the Caribbean South chapter.

With over 19,000 members, the SCBWI is THE international information and networking not-for-profit society for writers and illustrators at any level of their careers in children's and Young Adult books. The benefits are far too many for me to list here so do investigate for yourself at

What I can add is that I found the SCBWI online in 2003 when the internet started to become not only a professional, but a household tool. I already had a few books published with Macmillan and over the years had spent so much time and money on legal fees and buying 'how to' books to educate myself about the business of it all. I thought, "Ahh, now this is what I needed from the start!" and my next thought was, "I'd really like to share this with others in the Caribbean and especially Trinidad!" because people were always calling or stopping me to ask how to write/ illustrate or get published a children's book they had in mind. I then offered my volunteer services and was invited to become the founding Regional Advisor of our Caribbean South chapter. I encourage writers and illustrators to explore the SCBWI online. In this capacity, I may be contacted via our chapter's blog:

You and I spoke privately before about publishing issues in the Caribbean. You have some strong views about self-publishing as it pertains to Caribbean literature. Please share.

Self-publishing, once dubbed "vanity press" for obvious reasons, features more importantly than ever as an option and is a major part of an evolution that is changing publishing, media in general and how we communicate our ideas with others. I am in favor of it in essence and use it myself. Self-publishing is put to good use when it is relevant however, it may also circumvent the necessary growth and development not only of individuals but of our local and regional publishing industry.

Situations that I consider 'relevant' are
1. poets
2. personal stories/ self-help industry
3. tie-in media product around which a business is envisioned
4. guru/ expert in anything as a supplement to seminars and workshops
5. an idea in any field or genre so off the wall, that no one will invest in it at first, but yourself

If you self publish to impress a publisher with the finish and look of a book, this only shows one's lack of exposure to the business. The only person you're impressing is yourself. Editors and publishers work in books. There is an industry standard for manuscript submission - once this is met it is accepted as professionally 'impressive'. With self published books, in most cases a publisher may say, "If it's been published already, why should we publish it again?" The idea that a self-published book may work as an advantage in manuscript submission applies only if you have a second, completed manuscript, that may be deemed of of greater creative value, which you have not yet published.

I take issue with the wave of self-publishing in the Caribbean because for the most part these authors are doing themselves and their talent a disservice.The feeling I get is that many are working to circumvent the process of professional competition and know-how. This concerns me because it primarily means lowered standards in general for our children. And yes, of course there are exceptions. My opinions and observations are not absolute.

At one time I believed self publishing was the only way to address what was once a dearth in Caribbean children's books. I have changed my mind about this. Now I have a sense there is a preferred stance of hopeful writers/creatives that sounds sort of defeatist to me. Many talented writers don't even know about, understand or want to try the standard industry process of query letters for example, even if it means getting rejected. This may reveal that we are not thick-skinned enough for the world stage and want some kind of preferential treatment and protection - very unprofessional! There is even such a thing as a 'good' rejection letter i.e. getting professional notes from a working editor in an established publishing house. Getting rejected by a professional who takes the time to tell you why may offer clues about the direction of growth needed. This may be of greater service in building a long term career based on one's craft, than just going straight to press on the steam of your own guaranteed approval and authority. Really, I know you asked me to keep my answers short but this topic could be an entire seminar!

The SBWI does not refuse self-published members but makes a differentiation for reasons of safeguarding quality. The SCBWI does not promote or award self-published books. If the sales are particularly good, this may warrant a second look but this is very seldom the case. We have collectively agreed to remain open and keep an eye on the way technology is influencing this change for better and/ or for worse.

You and the Caribbean South chapter of the SCBWI have taken a strong stance against self-publishing in the Caribbean context yet you yourself have a self-published title. How do you explain this contradiction?

As I explained in your third question, it has its relevance. It is not simply a matter of being against self publishing, it is understanding the playing field and making the best choices for your career at each stage. I sincerely believe we have talent right here in Trinidad who would get properties signed with established publishing houses IF they knew how. Earning such a success puts one on equal footing with your peers anywhere in the world; self-publishing does not.

The main thing in my case is that I got my first book published with Macmillan by sending a query letter in 1998 and going through the industry standard. At that time there was no internet, no Google Search! How blessed we are now as writers to have these tools! I sent my query snail mail! and got back a reply a couple months later with an expression of interest. The person I submitted to had left the post and it wasn't until the next year that I actually met an actual person face to face.

I had had rejections and trial and errors before that success. Earning knowledge through experience gives one clarity about the business of books and debunks any illusions we have about how things work. We take rejection so personally some times. I hear many people lamenting and claiming "victim" when really, in a competitive market their offering is either ill-timed, poorly submitted, or just not as good as the next. Teaching the "know- how" and "how to" of it is part of the work of the SCBWI. I would rather see our writers get contracts from established publishers and enjoy the benefits and prestige than have to start up their own businesses - unless they really, really want to! Because then, we hear all the complaints about the reality of that situation too, when they have no distributor or marketing support for their self published book.

I actually had an editor's interest in publishing Pink Carnival! but declined in the end because after a number of books, readers and anthologized stories I wanted to give myself the freedom to produce the book as I envisioned it and under a new imprint Meaningful Books. I also already had ten years of experience working with a big name like Macmillan and it was interesting to see what I had learned and there were still mistakes made. We are always learning. Mistakes in publishing, especially picture books are very costly. My new imprint is a part of a wider vision and goal to publish a very specific kind of book that does not really exist in the book market and that is an adjunct to my workshops with children, parents and teachers - again, as a part of a business goal. As I see it, a true publisher will actually publish others, and one of the imprint's goals is to do just that. I already have a second title produced and have identified a book by another author that I'd like to put out; it is a matter of resources and timing.

What are your views regarding independent ("indie") versus established publishing houses, either in the Caribbean or internationally?

One of the main problems I take issue with is that book publishers, in Trinidad anyway, are often book sellers and interest groups with 'sure thing' Ministry / text book hook ups. It's not a matter of ethics only but of end results - my concern is that it significantly reduces creative quality for our children generation after generation. And not to mention it limits and suppresses fair play in the market and stunts competitive creativity which is exactly what we need. We would do well to encourage Indie presses yes of course, but not to call a self published book, nor a book seller's press "independent". If an entrepreneur loves books and values her audience then let her invest in her vision and take a risk and then there should be healthy market support for such a venture and government and private sector should be a part of ensuring that such a risk is at least potentially viable.

Locally and regionally, we seem unperturbed by the consequences of business monopolies and have not yet made the connections between this and so many of our problems. In this climate the cultural creatives and artists cannot truly serve society as in developed countries. Breaking into a global market we then re-import to the Caribbean our own culture, may not be right in essence, but in my opinion, it is the route along which an individual will get the best opportunities - and in most entertainment and art fields this applies I think. Even Walcott and Naipaul have suffered in this machine - who is the rest a we?! West Indian authors of poetry and adult fiction have been getting a fair shake with Peepal Tree Press and Egg Box Publishing for example - both based in the UK. Children's books may be deemed less important and 'easy' so we may not be expected perhaps to produce the relative genius of a Beatrix Potter, Shel Silverstein, Enid Blyton or Doctor Seuss for our times and culture. Truly independent publishers here would want to discover and publish unique talent, as a sincere and serious mandate.

What are some of the things that aspiring and self-published Caribbean children's authors need to know in order to successful navigate the often messy world of publishing and does the Caribbean South chapter of the SCBWI provide professional development to help with that?

Absolutely - the help of course is all self-help. Members must discover, investigate and USE the tools and information available. Our mission is to help each other take a 'next step' in our careers- whatever stage we're at. If you have never been published we want to see you published and we want you to have every chance to understand whether or not your work is in fact publishable before you send it out to for consideration; and how to move it in that direction if it isn't. In many instances, editors in a big house will say I will receive unsolicited, unagented manuscripts only from SCBWI members this month and the only place you'll see that published is in our Bulletin magazine which only members receive! Not to mention the opportunity to compete for awards and grants against your international peer group and to apply fro travel grants to one of our three annual conferences where you can attend workshops and seminars and create opportunities to meet with editors and publishers face to face. 

You once shared with me some very interesting information about book piracy and illegal book publishing cartels in the Caribbean. How serious is book piracy in the Caribbean, particularly as it pertains to Caribbean children's/YA books? What can I, as an individual, do to stop or prevent book piracy in the Caribbean?

Yes it's true. Anyone who is in book sales or publishing in the Caribbean knows it. I saw some counterfeit work out of Guyana at a CAPNET conference a few years ago. The quality was amazing! Side by side there was no way to tell. It's not a problem easily solved, I mean the musicians suffer this plight and look at the way bootleg DVDs are culturally accepted. Until we understand that someone's sister, cousin, neighbor, husband etc is earning a living off intellectual property and copyrights it remains an abstract issue from Joe Public's point of view. And we're not very good on making white collar crime a crime anyway so I think this is one of the ways internet purchasing from publisher endorsed sources may help and of course most publishers have a 'official' distributor - at some point it is always going to be a matter of trust in our book sellers to be honest and vigilant. Just be a savvy consumer I guess! 

In our opinion, what would it take for Caribbean children's books to become bestsellers globally?

Well we are already you know. A book that sells on the internet is being sold globally and a book that sells 5,000 copies in the publishing world is already a 'best seller'. I know of course what you mean is a block buster hit perhaps. The reality is, NOBODY knows this answer. JK Rowling and her editors and publishers were not expecting the success she's had. It was unprecedented. Media tie in in the largest growing aspect of children's books and of course our market is just not rigged for these kinds of media and retail avenues and intersections. Well, except as it involves the corporate giants and their agendas. We have so much work to do; it is not a matter of individual talent.

I do believe that striking a chord in the North American/ U.K. market is the best bet - and artists in the developed countries on both sides of the proverbial pond know it and play it that way too. In many cases we are not aware of how much has already been done - what we may think of as new is not necessarily so. I've seen this first hand as an editor looking for teen fiction. It is important to investigate your idea before you invest in it. So many of the stories are similar and yet each author believes his own to be unique and special. Even so, a good story well told is something that never gets old. Networking is crucial - to really break through an author will need a good agent who believes in her work and commits herself to its success. A good agent will wheel and deal aggressively because her commission depends on and goes up when she gets the best deal possible for you!

Perhaps someone reading this is interested in joining the Caribbean South (or the Caribbean North) chapter of the SCBWI. What steps do they need to take?

It's easy! Just go online; Everything is there. You can join and pay online and then request to be listed under the Caribbean South chapter if you are not living in our region. My work is as a volunteer and the organization is a non-profit one so you will see that the content you receive is far out weighs the value of your annual membership. 

Joanne, thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us. As a new member of the Caribbean South chapter of the SCBWI myself, I look forward to working with you!

Thank you for the opportunity Summer, you have much energy and talent to offer. I trust that we can all work together to create events for our regional chapter that will in time attract international interest and opportunities for our Caribbean talent in children's books.


Born, bred and based in Trinidad, Joanne Gail Johnson is a published children's author of a number of contemporary Caribbean books, series readers and athologized stories with Macmillan Education. She is a dynamic storyteller, and facilitates “Relevant Reading” and “Core Creativity” workshops for students and teachers; including volunteer readers of GSK's Comforting Words Mobile library at the Mt. Hope Children’s Hospital in Trinindad.

Joanne has traveled the length and breadth of Trinidad reading to children of all ages, and recently visited St. Maarten and The Bahamas where she visited both primary and secondary schools. As a children's theatre facilitator, she has worked with UWI’s Creative Arts Centre, The Trinidad Theatre Workshop, and ran her own children's theatre company, The Hamelyn Players, for eight years. In the 90s, her company SUN TV LTD pioneered indigenous cable television in Trinidad producing over 700 hours of 100% Caribbean content; and in 2003 created The First Ever Website for Caribbean Children. This year SUN TV launched its own imprint Meaningful Books with its inaugural title Pink Carnival!. Joanne’s work is generously supported by the Trinidadian NGO, Creative Parenting for the New Era. 

Related Links

Caribbean South Chapter of the SCBWI

Caribbean South Chapter of the SCBWI's Flickr photostream

Meaningful Books

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blog Roundtable: Rehannah Khan's Thoughts on Caribbean Multiculturalism and its Relevance to Children's Literature

Welcome back to this week's Blog Roundtable on race and diversity in Caribbean children's literature! Yesterday we heard Carmen Milagros Torres' thoughts on race in Puerto Rican children's books. If you missed it, do go back and take a read, very interesting stuff. Today, I'm pleased to welcome back Rehannah Khan, a longtime reader of the blog. Rehannah was a guest blogger previously and she always has very thought-provoking things to say. Here is Rehannah's completed questionnaire and below that is her post.Take it away!

Your name (first name alone is fine): Rehannah
The nationality(ies) you identify with: Trinidadian
Your self-described racial identity: Indo-Trinidadian (East Indian descent)
Your experience reading Caribbean children's and/or YA books, either in print or online:9
*Rate yourself on the following scale of 1 to 10.

1 - You haven't read any Caribbean children's or YA books, EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading, but you have read reviews or summaries of such books.
2- At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have NOT read Caribbean children's or YA books outside of required school reading.
3 - At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have also read 1-3 Caribbean children's or YA books that were not required school reading.
4 - You have never read a Caribbean children's or YA book as part of required reading for school. You have read 1-3 Caribbean children's or YA books.
5 - At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have also read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books that were not required school reading.
6 - You have never read a Caribbean children's or YA book as part of required reading for school. You have read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books.
7 - You review Caribbean children's or YA books (on a blog, website, in a newspaper, magazine, scholarly journal or other media outlet) and have read and reviewed AT LEAST 5 such books.
8 -You have read 0-3 Caribbean children's or YA books, EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written (but not published) a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)
9 - You have read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written (but not published) a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)
10 - You have read MORE THAN 1 Caribbean children's or YA books EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written AND published a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)

Caribbean Writers As Multicultural Writers

by Rehannah Khan

Regarding whether to consider Caribbean literature as multicultural, I am for it, and thus I have termed my novel (in progress) a "YA Multicultural Fantasy." The reason I justify it is that on the one hand, Caribbean literature is multicultural in the literal sense of the word (that is, about more than one culture, or cultural origins at least). On the other hand, as you have said on your blog, multicultural literature in the US is basically 'minority' literature (which I'm guessing would include the Caribbean). I tend to prefer the literal definition as I consider Caribbean literature on the whole as multicultural literature, though not all multicultural literature is Caribbean, obviously. I suppose this decision has to do with the fact that I have an ethnically diverse cast in my book, and that it's a fantasy. The term 'Caribbean Fantasy' just always sounded too idyllic or superficial to me.

In terms of 'minorities' and 'majorities' and whatnot in the Caribbean, numerically speaking, I suppose Afro-Caribbean people would be the majority or at least the perceived majority (I don't have any figures to back that up). In Trinidad and Guyana, however, Indo-Caribbean people would be considered the majority, again numerically speaking. Taking that further, the majority of these individuals would probably be Hindu. Yet I don't know if other ethnicities or religions are treated necessarily as 'minorities' in the way described in the U.S. Taking myself as an example, since I'm a Muslim Trinidadian of East Indian descent (or Indo-Trinidadian), I would be a minority within a majority, which is itself a minority in the wider Caribbean.

This just makes talk about minorities in the context of the Caribbean thoroughly confusing. What’s considered the minority in one country may not be in another, or may even differ in different islands of the same country (Trinidad and Tobago, for example). Thus I understand your reasoning about multicultural literature being a somewhat unnecessary term in a Caribbean context, when using the American definition of the genre. The term ‘minority’ doesn’t have a very strong meaning in the Caribbean.

That being said, if asked, I would still have to consider myself a ‘minority’ in the Caribbean, given my religious and ethnic background. Again, this is in terms of numbers (which I don’t have exact figures for). Despite this, I wouldn’t say that the experiences of Caribbean people (at least in the same country) of different ethnicities are all that different from each other. Yes, there are differences because of religion, but in my opinion, I don’t think all these differences make that much of...well...a difference. I think it boils down to the way we speak. If you notice, older generations tend to speak a little differently from younger generations, even within the same race, and younger generations of people tend to speak more similarly to each other, regardless of race. What this means is that with every new generation, cultural differences (like language, in particular), get smaller and smaller, and most ‘post-race’ young people, to use your terminology, are capable of appreciating their religious and ethnic heritage, while not letting such differences get in the way of their overall Caribbeaness.

In my opinion though, I would have to say that there has been an under-representation of characters and cultures in Caribbean literature (especially children’s) that are not of African origin. This probably has more to do with the fact that most Caribbean authors are of African descent, who may also be of an older generation and whose experiences may not be as broad culturally as younger generations. Thus, while there may be a cultural ‘minority’ in Caribbean literature and Caribbean children’s literature, I couldn’t say if this is a result of deliberate discrimination or not. However, I also don’t think that Indo-Caribbean (or any other sub-culture) type of books should be a distinct category or subgenre in Caribbean literature. This is perhaps because, although I am of Indian origin, I wouldn’t consider my experiences as having a certain ‘Indianess’ about it, and although I am Muslim, I grew up attending Roman Catholic schools. My experiences are multicultural, and therefore, I write multicultural.

I don’t find the "Caribbean Folklore Diversity" widget box on your blog (Summer's note: Rehannah is referring to the display of Amerindian and Indo-Caribbean kid lit. in the left-hand column of my blog!) offensive, although perhaps it’s a bit unnecessary. Those books seem more historical or folkloric, so perhaps it’s better to classify them as that, along with other books in that genre with different cultural origins. That’s just my opinion though. The fact that you felt the need for that widget in the first place, however, is kind of proof that people of Indian and Amerindian descent (and others) are under-represented in Caribbean children’s books, and Caribbean books on the whole. Furthermore, the title of the Anansi conference (Summer's note: Rehannah is referring to a conference titled 'A is for Anansi: Literature for Children of African' ascent that I presented at in New York last year.) is also more proof that there does seem to be a perceived Caribbean ‘mainstream’ in the US where ‘Caribbean’ in the US means ‘African’. I’m not certain if this is the case in the UK.


Rehannah Azeeyah Khan is a self-taught Trinidadian author of an unpublished children’s book, which she likes to call a "Young Adult Multicultural Fantasy." She is currently seeking publication. A Muslim and former St. Joseph's Convent girl, Rehannah holds a B.Sc. in Information Systems and Management, which thus far has been helpful in giving her some much-needed organizational skills (but perhaps some day she’ll get that MFA!) Rehannah is an avid reader of all genres, and is always happy to get her hands on a great Caribbean read.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Interview with Trinbagonian Illustrator, Brianna Mccarthy

If you read my last post, you know I'm a sucker for Caribbean illustrators and have made it my business to promote the work they do. It would be remiss of me if I didn't include Brianna Mccarthy in that campaign. Mccarthy is a young lady from Trinidad and Tobago whose talent can only be described as dazzling. In her insistent mastery of a single subject matter, Mccarthy reminds me of the great Impressionist painter Edward Degas, who obsessively depicted dancers (ballerinas) in his art. Only with Mccarthy, it's girls. Mccarthy repeatedly draws and paints girls. Beautiful, colored girls. In doing so she displays her mastery in the depiction of African, East Indian and creole physical features. Truly, in her art I see the working out of a Caribbean aesthetic which recognizes and affirms négritude (black consciousness), antillanité (West Indianness), and créolité (transcultural fusing.) Her art simply radiates color consciousness and métissage.

This is the first time Mccarthy's work is being featured on a children's literature blog. Indeed, when I contacted her to solicit an interview I could sense a sort of pleasant surprise in her response. I see great potential for children's illustration in Mccarthy's work and can easily compare her skill and style in watercolor to that of award-winning African-American children's illustrators, Sharda Strikland, E.B. Lewis and even Jerry Pinkney in some respects. There is such a need for illustrations like hers--unapologetic, eloquent images of beautiful, black people-- not only in the general universe of commercial images, but in children’s illustration in general and Caribbean children's illustration in particular.

I guess you can tell that there's just not enough good things I can say about her work :-)

It's painstakingly detailed....

It's highly conceptual...

It's protagonistic (Caribbean Cinderellas anyone?)...

It's versatile....

It's anecdoctal (Don't these illustrations already seem like part of a story?)...

I recently had the pleasure of picking Brianna's brain about her work. Here's what she had to say.

Brianna, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview, I really appreciate it.

Thank you for the opportunity! It’s an honour.

So tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes Brianna Mccarthy interesting?

I’m a 26 year old, self taught artist. I’m from Trinidad and Tobago and I do my own thing.

Let’s talk about your art. Your drawings are highly recognizable not only for their signature style, but also for their subject matter. You repeatedly depict black/colored women and girls. How would you describe your artwork and your subject matter of choice?

Erte’s (Roman de Tirtoff) work had a huge impact on me. Realizing that there wasn’t much of that kind of art featuring black women was a turning point. I thought, “This is fantastic! But where can I find some where the women look like me?” I’m female, black and West Indian – those come with a host of dynamics. I’m certainly influenced by my ethnic make-up or cultural influences as I want to know them intimately – it’s all very beautiful. Someone asked me once why all my paintings were of Black women. I had to think about it. I knew the answer, but what was it? I happen to be Black, female and West Indian; it’s what I identify with and influences how I see myself – therefore, it comes out in my expression.

What tools or media do you use to create your illustrations?

Watercolour – I love its fluidity. Graphite, acrylic, ink, cloth, paper, a metal ruler and a scapel. Can’t do much without them!

What is your process for creating an illustration?

Almost every mood I go through inspires me to create – I sketch when I’m bored, I sketch when I’m happy, sad, angry. It’s a quirk but I need to have clean hands and space to move around. I try to keep everything I could possibly need close by as stopping to get things that are missing breaks the vibe especially after 4 or 5 hours of concentrating.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Life. Beauty. My dreams and moments of apparent idleness. The inspiration for the set of layered paper collages I made recently came from attempting to makes the faces I drew into simple shapes – I drew long curving lines and incorporated the shapes and features I believed were staples in my faces – the eyes, cheekbones. It was a completely random exercise but it served t o give me a wealth of new ideas and ended up not being that simple at all.

What aspects of your own life or experiences have you brought to your illustrations?

I’d have to say my family – I have three sisters, all very creative, individual and strong. My mother and grandmother as well have influenced what I illustrate and how that comes across. For example, I think much of the jewelry I draw mind reconstructed out of my childhood of searching through my grandmother’s jewelry boxes. I think it’s still something I find enjoyment in; digging through women’s jewelry – it’s amazing fodder for me to create. I discovered that my great aunt’s name was Romancia La Roche and have a picture of her wearing a feathered cloche and jet beads around her neck - I thought it was fantastic! I think a little flair and drama is a wonderful thing – the women I grew up around certainly had and still have that.

On your blog you describe yourself as a “self-taught” artist. Do you really mean to say that you have never engaged in any formal art studies?

That’s exactly it. I have done CXC Visual Art which didn’t actually, in my case, involve much teaching of art. Art classes where mostly opportunities to the homework you failed to do the night before for all your other subjects! Like at many Caribbean Schools, Visual Art wasn’t really considered an important subject at my high school – so much so that Art wasn’t even offered at as an A Level subject. Since then it’s been a process of discovery and revelations. I didn’t even consider studying Visual Art at university; I opted for French at one point and English Literature at another.

You have been told before that your paintings are really illustrations and that you should get into the professional book illustration. The way I have always understood the difference between illustrative art and fine art is that with illustrative art, the illustration is always secondary or subsidiary to the product being illustrated, while with fine art, the painting itself is the critical object and holds first place in the range of values being considered. With illustration, the main concern is selling the product while we can think of fine art as, “art for the sake of art.” Also, the fine artist typically doesn’t have to answer to anybody in the making of the work, while the illustrator does. Given these distinctions, can you see yourself as an illustrator? Or are you more of a fine artist?

Fine artist…which is why the illustrator label always sounds great but never fit me. I don’t follow rules or have anyone to answer to; based on that alone I’d have to say fine artist!

I know you have a full-time job, but if an aspiring or established Caribbean children’s writer saw this interview and wanted you to illustrate their book would you be game? Would you do it?


One of my biggest contentions with Caribbean children’s literature is that too many Caribbean children’s writes are outsourcing illustrators from overseas when there is abundant talent right here in our region. Should you get into professional children’s illustration in the future, what do you think you can bring to the Caribbean picture book aesthetic?

It’s feels great to see local art that jumps out at you, that’s so different it makes you smile. I think traditionally there is a style and a feel to local work. You can tell sometimes because you’ve seen it before. When that tradition is broken and the new style is individual and fresh, I think it’s great. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring something different to that forum.

Do you sell your work on stock illustration sites and if not, would you ever consider doing so?

No I don’t currently. I never considered it and I can’t see that as an option for me at this point based on the kind of work I do.

How can interested parties (Caribbean children’s writers perhaps?) contact you?

My email address is

Brianna, thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us. I wish you all the best in art and in life.

Thank you so much for the opportunity and the encouragement!


Brianna Mccarthy from Trinidad and Tobago is a 26 year old, people watching, wisdom seeking West Indian who paints, draws and makes girls. Her artwork has been featured on many Afrocentric blogs, including Woman of Color, Kiss My Black Ads, Black Girl with Long Hair, and most recently, Alice in Nappy Land. The beautiful fashion of Mccarthy's colored girls has also earned them the spotlight on fashionista websites like Shen Dove Style, Au Courant Daily and b.vikki vintage. Mccarthy's art has been featured online in Hiddenyou Ezine, Poema Jones and Khristian A. Howell Surface Design and Photography. She holds degrees in English Literature and Psychology from the University of the West Indies and is currently an intern with Trinidadian fashion house, The Cloth.

Related Links

Brianna Mccarthy's Online Portfolio

Brianna Mccarthy's Blog