Advocacy Works! Spotlight - Anansesem

History

Anansesem Caribbean Children’s Literature Ezine (online magazine) was founded in 2010 by  Ms. Summer Edward. It is a community-driven digital forum in which Caribbean children’s literature can be discussed, dissected and celebrated. It started off as the passion project of our founder and blossomed into a team effort. 

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In addition to discovering and nurturing new children’s writers and illustrators, we provide an outlet for the non-commercial work of established children’s book creators. We have published a range of children’s and young adult (YA) writers and illustrators with a strong emphasis on marginalized voices, experimental writing, and works by important but often overlooked Caribbean writers who write for young audiences. We’ve bypassed the commercial magazine system insuring that our ezine remains community-driven rather than profit-driven.

Objectives and target audience

We advocate for Caribbean voices in children’s and young adult (YA) literature and for those effecting important changes within the field of Caribbean children’s literature. This includes writers, illustrators, publishers, festival coordinators, academics, and anyone else with a shared interest in building the capacity of the Caribbean children’s book industry.

The prime beneficiaries of our advocacy however are child readers. We’re committed to bringing Caribbean books/stories and children together, and to upholding the right of every child to become a lifelong reader.

In her bold poem “Moving Towards Home”, Jamaican-American poet and activist June Jordan used the metaphor of “living room” as an essential place where “the talk will take place in my language.” She was talking about the idea of safe spaces─ for discussion, growth and yes, for working out complex emotions, all of this in community. Our advocacy is about defining and celebrating this “living room” as it pertains to Caribbean children’s literature, acknowledging everyone in it, and holding it up as a place where we can tell our stories in a nonreactive, self-empowered way.

Values

As an independent, volunteer-run literary ezine, we are mission-driven not market-driven. We seek to enrich the literary culture by bringing works by important and often neglected children’s writers and illustrators to the widest possible audience. Our broad areas of focus are literary outreach, literacy empowerment, social change and community-based education, all through the liberatory power of children’s literature.

We educate about the importance of culturally-relevant children’s literature, i.e., children’s books that reference Caribbean children’s own physical likenesses, beliefs, and immediate everyday experiences. Culturally-relevant literature provides the crucial mirror or cultural reflection that children need in order to work out their value in society, see where they fit in, and develop a positive self-concept. Studies have shown that reading culturally-relevant literature: helps children better understand and engage more deeply with texts; successfully prepares young people for active citizenry in a democratic society; enhances young learners’ confidence and critical thinking skills; preserves and extends local traditions in an educational context; and builds children’s reading and writing proficiency.

Our mission is expressed in our five goal statements:

1. To provide a publishing platform for Caribbean individuals who write and illustrate for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia, as well as those who share a vital interest in Caribbean children's literature.

2. To encourage the writing and illustration of quality Caribbean literature, of literary and artistic merit, for and by children.

3. To highlight and celebrate talented Caribbean writers and illustrators of children’s stories, thereby supporting the creation, visibility and availability of quality Caribbean children’s books around the world.

4. To foster a vibrant community around Caribbean children's books and broaden public, literary and artistic awareness and critical appreciation of Caribbean children's literature.

5. To act as a consolidated voice for writers and illustrators of Caribbean children's and young adult books worldwide.

Notable achievements

Anansesem is the first children’s literature publication in the English-speaking Caribbean. No other outlet exists which makes available so much literary work in, and coverage of, Caribbean children’s and YA literature with such frequency and at no cost to readers. We have published works that challenge accepted views of children’s literature, that foster an international and multicultural sensibility of children’s literature, and that preserve and extend the literary tradition of Caribbean children’s writing. As sponsors of innovation and purveyors of experimentation, we are proud to be an iconoclast in the publishing world.

So far, we’ve produced ten issues featuring and highlighting over fifty of the most relevant voices in Caribbean children’s and YA literature. One of our proudest accomplishments to date was our 2010 children’s book drive which allowed us to sponsor a Caribbean children’s book giveaway booth at the A.R.R.O.W. Literacy Day Extravaganza in Trinidad. The children were able to take home a beautiful, culturally-relevant children’s book at no cost.

anansesem2Anansesem's Caribbean children's book giveaway booth at the 2010 A.R.R.O.W. Literacy Day Extravaganza


Message to others:

For one, Caribbean children’s literature has a history. The bad habit of “Columbusing” (claiming to have invented/discovered something that has been around for years, decades, even centuries) when it comes to Caribbean children’s literature has to stop. It encourages an ahistorical view of the region’s children’s writing tradition that is counterproductive since it keeps us from valuing and actually engaging with what we’ve accomplished, and prevents us from being able to move forward confidently.

We need to invest in ourselves. Localism, regionalism and even nationalism should not be shied away from when it comes to literary consumption: the books we choose to buy, the stories that we privilege, should be our own. For Caribbean children’s literature to prosper “buy local” has to become more than just a catchphrase.

For the aspiring children’s authors and illustrators: don’t give up. Figure out which barriers are worth working to overcome in pursuit of your craft and which ones are intended to undermine you and keep you silent. Know the difference. Devote your energy to your craft, or else the stories that still need to be told will never get told. If the accepted methods don’t work, find or create a third way. Your voice, your story, is important, no matter how small your audience.

For those in the publishing world, we need to throw out conventions and break rules. Phrases like “community-based publishing” (Zetta Elliott) and “mentorship publishing” (Maya Christina Gonzalez) have been coined to describe innovative approaches to publishing children’s books that take into account the particular circumstances of marginalized writers. All of this needs to be freely embraced in the region.

Desired outcomes

The emergence of a sturdy publishing agenda for Caribbean children’s literature is long overdue. Within the region’s present literary ecology, publishing for children is not lucrative and so, at the national level, government-subsidized publishing is needed to encourage publishers to enter the children’s book market.

Caribbean governments should recognize children’s publishing as an industry. That means national awards and competitions for children’s writers, illustrators and publishers established by the governments of each country, and financial assistance for children’s publishers in the form of loans and tax exemptions. Governments should also sponsor workshops to train representatives in the managerial, editorial, distribution, authorship, illustration and graphic arts sectors of the children’s book industry.

As has been done in other developing, post-colonized regions like Asia and the Pacific, Caribbean governments should subsidize national Children’s Book Trusts/Bureaus or Children’s Book Development Councils that will function as children’s publishing houses and sell printing materials at concessional rates. The Children’s Book Development Councils would organize national seminars on juvenile literature, establish children’s reading rooms, initiate national reading promotion programs in schools, and launch vigorous campaigns to encourage librarianship and scholarship in the area of indigenous children’s literature.

In addition to national incentives, the Caribbean Co-Publication Programme for children’s books (sponsored by UNESCO and spearheaded by the Children’s Writers Circle in Jamaica in the early 1990s) needs to be revived. The purpose of a Caribbean Co-Publication Programme would be to co-plan, co-edit and co-publish high-quality, large-scale editions of inexpensive books for children (both single volumes and anthologies) by Caribbean authors through joint regional efforts. With technical and financial co-operation, cultural exchange and co-production between territories, high-quality attractive children’s books can be produced that promote literacy, regional pride and mutual understanding through the sharing of cultural values among Caribbean territories. Because children’s books depend heavily on illustrations, requiring expensive color printing in addition to monochrome printing, the investment and subsidy requirements for children’s publishing are greater compared to books for adults. Pooling resources regionally will help offset costs.

We also need to engage in regular, critical examinations of children’s literature to make sure that we’re publishing the kinds of Caribbean writing and illustration that makes a difference for the reader and that reaches the largest possible readership without compromising the integrity of the work to meet the demands of the wider, international children’s market. This will help us monitor standards in the field of Caribbean writing for children and encourage serious engagement with the craft and traditions of children’s literature.

Volunteer information

We’re currently seeking volunteer editors to add to our team. We also plan to offer internships and fellowships soon in the areas of writing, web design, photography and strategic development. Finally, we have a kid’s book club in the works and will need rhyme-time and story-time volunteers for these projects. Anyone interested in volunteering with us can find out more here: http://bit.ly/1lHDzhF . Please contact Summer Edward, Managing Editor, at anansesemonline{at}anansesem.com for more information.

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