Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Author Interview with Joanne C. Hillhouse

on January 16, 2012

Today, I am very excited to interview Joanne C. Hillhouse about mentoring. I first learned about Joanne C Hillhouse on the Blurb is a Verb Blog. She wrote an excellent blog post about getting her work out there as a Caribbean author. You can read the Blurb is a Verb post here.


Photo Credit: Emile Hill

Joanne C. Hillhouse is the author of Oh Gad!http://books.simonandschuster.com/Oh-Gad!/Joanne-C-Hillhouse/9781593093914 — a novel scheduled for publication in 2012. A University of the West Indies graduate and international fellowship recipient to the Breadloaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont, Hillhouse also participated in the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami. There she began work on her first book, The Boy from Willow Bend, which is on Antigua and Barbuda’s schools’ reading list. In addition to her second book, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Hillhouse has published in African, Caribbean, and American journals. She’s been announced as the 2011 recipient of the David Hough Literary Prize by the Caribbean Writer and previously won a UNESCO Honour award for her contribution to the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. That contribution includes her Wadadli Youth Pen Prize project–  http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com Joanne C. Hillhouse is a freelance writer and editor. For more visit http://www.jhohadli.com


 Thanks for joining us today!  

 Who mentored you? How did you meet?

Along the way, I’ve had several people beginning with my parents, who’ve influenced the person I’ve become and helped my writing to grow. I’m hesitant about calling specific names as I don’t want to overlook anyone. Plus, a mentor relationship I’ve found doesn’t have to be a formal thing; the best ones aren’t. It’s about being open to what people have to teach you, even when they don’t realize they are. I try to stay learning.

In terms of an ‘official’ mentor, during my time at the University of the West Indies, I was paired, under a pilot mentorship programme, with Jamaican poet Mervyn Morris, who was incidentally also instructor in my fiction writing course. I remember he took me to see several theatrical productions, fun and eye opening experiences; he gave me feedback on my writing at a time when, though not the first to give me feedback, I was still very shy about sharing; and notably planted the seed that resulted in me pursuing and earning a spot at the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute where I began work on what would become my first book, The Boy from Willow Bend. While we didn’t maintain a friendship as such, the association with him was an invaluable part of my evolution as a writer.

What qualities did he/she have that made you want to be around him/her?

Like I said it’s not one person, but those that I have connected with, the thing I suppose they have in common is that their knowledge well was deep; and I could count on them for honest feedback, with respect to my writing, that both challenged and motivated me. I don’t mean to speak in the past tense because as I said I’m still learning.

What did you learn from the mentor relationship?

That you can survive criticism and live to write another day. Seriously, as far as my writing mentors go, once I worked up the nerve to share my work, they provided frank (sometimes too frank) and helpful feedback that helped my writing to grow once I could open myself to hearing it.

Also, when someone whose opinion you respect sees you and believes in your potential – and in the potential of your work – you believe in it a little bit more as well.


Writing Workshop Under the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Banner

Do you mentor others?  If so, what have you learned by being a mentor?

It’s reciprocal; you give and you get. A recentish example…I remember feeling a big grin form on my face and a big whoop storm up within me on receiving in the email a poem written by a girl I used to read to/with when she was much younger, at the Cushion Club, a kids reading club with which I’ve volunteered for several years. I didn’t even know she wrote until then; and I remember feeling so proud and doing with her what others have done with me, offering frank assessment and encouragement. But that’s just one example of how delightful it is to see them grow into themselves. I know I’m such a small part of their world but whenever I come across the kids whom I’ve had the opportunity to interact with through the Cushion Club, Wadadli Pen, the Great Young Minds art camp, or some other workshop activity, or even personal interaction and see them doing their thing, sometimes I can’t help feeling like a proud mama – or big sister.

Then, of course, there are my own nieces and nephews who continue to teach me patience. I’m sometimes a slow student. Of course, they also remind me to joke, be inventive and be open to surprises.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize? How did it come about?

Wadadli Pen was an idea I hatched after a hearing a speech which spoke of how little there was to encourage and support the literary arts in the Caribbean. It resonated with me as a young writer trying to believe in her dream. And it was kind of a ‘what are you going to do about it?’ moment. I recruited Gisele – a friend, professional associate, and mentor – and a youth publication to join with me in launching a writing competition in Antigua and Barbuda. The target group was young people, the only agenda was getting them to write and, because of so much of what we read in the Caribbean comes from outside, getting them to write from the internal space that is the Caribbean. Over the years, activities have included literary showcases, workshops, and publication and recording of the winning stories. There’s interest in using Wadadli Pen to create a regional platform to encourage writing and once we can build the foundation, I’d definitely like to move in that direction. I want it to be the nursery for young writers that I didn’t have. I also maintain the http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com blog to promote the competition and the literary arts (especially in the Caribbean) in general.

Author Signing for Antiqua Girls High School

Thanks so much! If you’d like to learn more about Joanne C. Hillhouse, please visit her website-http://www.jhohadli.com

8 responses to “Author Interview with Joanne C. Hillhouse

  1. Thanks, Mindy. I have to say your questions challenged me, in a good way.

  2. […] Like the subject line said, me at Novel Spaces, Signifying Guyana, and Blurb is a Verb. And now speaking about mentorship at American author Mindy Hardwick’s blog. […]

  3. I met Mervyn Morris recently when he read at ‘Poetry, Punch and Pudding’ put on by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s St. James Office. He is such an unassuming person in spite of a life-time of achievements. You were so lucky to have him as a mentor Joanne.

  4. I agree, Helen, I was lucky indeed. And extremely easy to be around, no airs in spite of his considerable lifetime of achievements as you’ve said.

  5. […] January 16th @ Mindy Hardwick’s Blog […]

  6. […] January 6th 2012 – @ Mindy Hardwick’s Blog – interview  […]

  7. […] On seeking feedback in interview at Mindy Hardwick’s blog […]

  8. […] Mindy Hardwick was one of the very first bloggers to interview me when my book Oh Gad! was getting ready to come out. And for a writer way under the radar of the big publications and critics (even the ones right here in the Caribbean) that usually cover the literary world, bloggers and readers posting online reviews have been invaluable to whatever ripples I’ve made in the water. We’ve never met but she’s been on my radar ever since. Recently, I read on her blog about this project she’s involved with, the Denney Juvenile Justice Center Poetry Workshop. I have a friend, Brenda Lee, who runs a similar project at 1735 (Antigua’s prison) without the kinds of resources suggested by Mindy’s donor funding list which includes the BECU School Grants, Greater Everett Community Foundation, Terry & Cheryle Earnheart Fund for Children, Tulalip Tribes, Everett Public Schools Foundation, and the Blanche Miller Art Exhibit Program. Because there’s really next to no support for the kind of project that Brenda has going (I don’t know of any support for the project than that of Gender Affairs under whose umbrella she does this volunteer work). I’ve shared here on the blog some of the poetry Brenda’s interventions have helped the incarcerated produce. The purpose of this post is to pass on some of the work Mindy has shared from her workshop (but I also want folks to keep in mind the work B has been doing here at home too). Both projects I’d venture have the ability to do a lot of good and, frankly, these kinds of arts initiatives need more support. If through the arts we can get the incarcerated to start thinking about their situation and giving voice to their feelings, then maybe we’ll begin to do more than cycle them in and out. The poems shared by Mindy, written by Teen Boy, suggest as much. They are One Last Chance and Fake Faces. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: