In children’s literature circles around the Caribbean, the name Summer Edward is pretty much well-known and respected.
She is the creator of Well Loved Tales and Summer Edward’s Caribbean Children’s Literature, two blogs devoted to reviews of children’s books, the latter targeted at young and adult fans of children’s literature from the Caribbean and started earlier this year. Her poetry and art have appeared in a number of literary journals, including BIM: Arts for the 21st Century, The Columbia Review, tongues of the ocean, St. Somewhere, and Philadelphia Stories
The holder of a BA degree in psychology, and currently studying for her Masters in reading, writing and literacy at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Summer is a native of Trinidad & Tobago, and has been living in the US for several years. She is a recent recipient of a Roothbert Fellowship
By her own admission, her dedication to promoting children’s literature grew out of the need to reconnect with her childhood and her memories of the Caribbean due to homesickness and nostalgia.
“Eventually, my nostalgia resolved itself, but like many things, the resolution was just a bridge to another personal crisis; a crisis of identity,” Summer said in an interview with Caribbean Literary Salon. “You can’t grow up reading as much Jane Austen as I did, decide you want to be a writer during adolescence, and move to America on top of it, without having an identity crisis. I began to realize that most of the books I was writing about on Well-Loved Tales were books by British and American authors. Stuff by Enid Blyton. Sweet Valley books. Judy Blume books.”
After two years blogging, Summer decided to go further. In May 2010 she launched Anansesem, an online literary magazine of Caribbean and related writing and illustrations for children, by adults and children. It is targeted at 8 – 16 year old kids. Anansesem will feature stories, poetry, illustrations and other forms of artwork. She’s looking for stories that “critique and inform” as well as “delight and amuse,” and that can be performed as well as read. They can be historical or contemporary pieces that “build upon the past while speaking to the present and the future.”
Summer’s stated aim is to “provide a space to highlight the unique flavour of children’s writing and illustration by Caribbean people and to thereby recognize and stimulate the children’s publishing industry in the Caribbean.”
The Anansesem logo which features a half-human, half-spider lounging on a spider web sipping a coconut, draws upon the ancient Caribbean folkloric figure of Anansi which is familiar to young and old throughout the islands. The fable of Anansi originated in West Africa in the 17th century during the reign of the powerful Ashanti kingdom. He was said to be a spider with such incredible wit and cunning, the gods gave him the gift of spinning tales. Over time he came to be regarded as the original bearer of stories and the owner of all the stories in the world. Anansi tales were brought to the Caribbean by Africans who crossed the oceans as slaves. The stories were passed on orally from generation to generation and, to this day, Caribbean people still get pleasure from reading and listening to Anansi tales.
“The paper-bound Caribbean stories that modern-day Caribbean children read are Anansesem too in the sense that they are made up of the threads and fragments of different cultural and historical traditions. Our hope is that the adults – aspiring and established Caribbean children’s writers and illustrators — who submit work to this magazine will, like Anansi, work with skill and cunning to become the bearers and original owners of stories that speak to a diverse generation of Caribbean children,” says Summer.
Anansesem stands out among other Caribbean-based literary mediums for children. Currently there are several Caribbean essay competitions for children and teens, including the OECS Essay Competition, the Wadadli Pen Competition in Antigua and the Poetry and Short-Story Competitions for Children launched on May 14 by the Guyana Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. Summer Edward has broken new ground by launching a dedicated online platform designed to engage and entertain kids by giving them the opportunity to read and publish their stories and poetry, as well as their artwork, and showcase them to the world.
Caribbeanchildren.com based in Trinidad is the only other online platform for kids in the region. It is as an online community for Caribbean children and “children interested in the Caribbean” where they can buy books and specialty products and play interactive games.
Summer Edward believes that Caribbean children’s literature should be “enjoyable, palatable and tasteful,” and should provide young readers with intellectual stimulation and nurture their minds and spirits, as well as give them a sense of cultural identity. She worries about the paucity of institutionalized and governmental support for writers and publishers of books for children in the region.
“As I read American children’s literature journals like Children’s Literature in Education and became aware of American children’s literature periodicals and library magazines like Stone Soup Magazine, VOYA, The Horn Book Magazine and School Library Journal, I felt a growing sense of envy and indignation. Why didn’t we have children’s literature platforms and markets like these in the Caribbean? Where are the prestigious awards and incentives for Caribbean children’s writers and illustrators? Where are the peer-reviewed journals dedicated to Caribbean children’s literature and Caribbean children’s literacy?
“Of course, we’ve had some Caribbean mavericks that have done scholarly work and research in the field. I am thinking of scholars like Cynthia James and Dr. Cherrell Shelley-Robinson over in Jamaica and the Resource Centre for Caribbean Children’s Literature on UWI’s Mona campus. But these people and centers are too far and few in between and the work is not as recognized as it should be,” says Summer.
She is not alone in her venture. Anansesem is supported by a formidable 4-member editorial team comprising of kids editor (prose) and author of the successful Caribbean Adventure Series, Carol Mitchel from Nevis; poetry editor (kids and adults) Sandra Sealy who is a former literary arts officer with the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados, and a former coordinator for the VOICES: Barbados Writers’ Collective, as well as a former coordinator for and winner of the Irving Burgie Literary & Creative Arts Scholarship in Barbados; art editor, (kids and adults) June South-Robinson from Jamaica, an English and art teacher who has also served as a principal in primary and secondary schools in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and the UK, and holds an MA. in Education Management from the University of Greenwich; and fiction editor (adults) Anouska Kock from the Netherlands Antilles, a freelance journalist and editorial consultant who studied English and journalism in the Netherlands. Anouska is also the founder of the Caribbean Literary Salon, an online community which is helping to energize the literary scene in the region by bringing together writers and readers from all over the Caribbean.
Summer and her team are under no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead as they embark on their mission.
“Despite the abundance of artistic talent in the islands, illustration for children continues to be underdeveloped and many of our artists fail to see it as a viable venture. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that they don’t have the incentive. In places like Europe and the States, there are prestigious prizes and awards for children’s illustrators and writers. We have no such reward systems for children’s literature in the Caribbean, neither do we have sufficient local control of critical appreciation, taste and judgment for Caribbean children’s books.
“We have to understand that children’s literature, if it is to be serious enterprise, a meaningful investment, requires a concerted effort on the part of the regional publishing interests, the islands’ book delivery and distribution systems, regional literacy organizations, the consumer/the readership, and yes, Caribbean governments.”
She added; “I am really trying with the Anansesem magazine to depart from the idea that Caribbean literature for adults is somehow more valid and more worthy of recognition than Caribbean children’s literature. I am convinced that Caribbean children’s literature needs to take itself seriously and that the world needs to take Caribbean children’s writers and illustrators seriously, just like Walcott, Naipaul and Brathwaite have been taken seriously by the world. But we here in the Caribbean have to take it seriously first … My hope is that with a platform like Anansesem, people will see that it is possible to take writing and illustration for Caribbean children seriously. It’s a small shift, a small start, but maybe it will set the precedent that we need to stimulate the field/industry/art form.”
Interested contributors can visit the Anansesem website at http://www.anansesem.com for submission guidelines and more information.
You can contact Summer Edward at: