Grenfell English professor builds recording capacity for Caribbean artists

For the last decade, Dr. Stephanie McKenzie has been building a veritable arsenal of digital recordings, performances, articles and publications focussed on Caribbean artists.

A total of 31 entries are available through the University of Florida’s Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLoc).

“I have been interested in Caribbean literature since 1997, when I was awarded the Louise Bennett Exchange Scholarship, during my PhD years at the University of Toronto,” she said, adding that the exchange allowed her to visit Kingston, Jamaica, to study for a term. “I really began creating archival materials and records, though, after my sabbatical in Guyana, where I lived in the capital city, Georgetown, for about six months in 2014.” 

Guyana is very poor, and, as such, books and records in the university library were not easily accessible during her time there–materials were in poor condition, with barriers to accessing or borrowing. Furthermore, years of racially divided governments have resulted in materials in the national archives being destroyed. She captured these circumstances in a review that was published in the Jamaica Observer, one of Jamaica’s two national papers. 

Because historical and cultural documents are necessary for peer-reviewed scholarship and publications, Dr. McKenzie began to collect and create material for further studies in Caribbean literature.  

“dLOC is very impressive in terms of its holdings and in terms of its promotion of Caribbean literature,” said Dr. McKenzie, adding its resources and standards allow the library to properly house materials. She noted the library at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, also has an extensive collection. 

The most recent recordings to be added to the collection are those of Pamela Mordecai and Tanya Shirley (biographies below). 

Poetry reading by Pamela Mordecai: https://dloc.com/AA00081068/00001

Poetry reading by Tanya Shirley: https://dloc.com/AA00081069/00001

The latest Mordecai recording uploaded in Dr. McKenzie’s dLoc compendium is a poetry reading from November 2020 (editor Ed Johnson; funded by Scholarship in the Arts). Dr. Mordecai is no stranger to Newfoundland and Labrador: In 2012, she gave a lecture at Grenfell Campus on the poetry of Dionne Brand. In 2015, Dr. Mordecai visited Corner Brook and read her work at the March Hare Literary Festival. That same year, and guided by a pilot project initiated by Dr. McKenzie, Dr. Mordecai video-recorded all her books of poetry up to that time at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) in St John’s, Newfoundland. They are online at CITL.  

Tanya Shirley has also spent time in Corner Brook; in 2013 she performed at the Last April Rabbit and also gave a solo poetry reading at a local venue. The Shirley recording, also a poetry reading, was recorded in October 2020 (edited by Ed Johnson; funded by Scholarship in the Arts).  

Dr. Mordecai’s A Fierce Green Place: New and Selected Poems, edited by Carol Bailey and Stephanie McKenzie, is forthcoming from New Directions Publishing in 2022. 

Most recently, Dr. McKenzie’s interview with Prof. Tom Halford of Grenfell Campus’s English Program was published online with World Literature Today, which also references some of her Caribbean work. 

 For more information about the work of Dr. McKenzie, visit her website.

All readings were funded by Memorial University’s Scholarship in the Arts Fund. 

Biographies

Dr. Pamela Mordecai

Dr. Pamela Mordecai has published six collections of poetry, five children’s books, and a short story collection, Pink Icing, released as an audiobook read by herself in ECW Press’s Bespeak Audio Editions. Her debut novel, Red Jacket was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award. Mordecai’s writing has been featured on CBC and ABC (Australia) and translated into Spanish, French and Romanian. Her children’s poetry is part of the UK’s Poetry by Heart initiative, and is widely anthologized and used in language arts curricula in the US, UK, Africa, India, the Caribbean and the Far East. Her play for children, El Numero Uno, had its world premiere at the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto in 2010 and its Caribbean premiere at the Edna Manley School for the Performing Arts in 2016. She has published two crossover poetry collections, de Man: a performance poem, and de book of Mary: a performance poem. Her seventh book of poetry, A Fierce Green Place: New and Selected Poems edited by Stephanie McKenzie and Carol Bailey, is forthcoming from New Directions. With her husband, Martin, she wrote Culture and Customs of Jamaicain a series edited by Peter Standish. A trained language arts teacher with a PhD in English, she was for many years Publications Editor of the Caribbean Journal of Education. She has also worked in media, especially television. She lives in Toronto.

Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley has published two poetry collections with PeepalTree Press in the UK: She Who Sleeps With Bones and The Merchant of Feathers. Her work has been featured on BBC World Service, BBC Front Row, www.poetryarchive.org and translated into Spanish and Polish. She has conducted writing workshops and performed in the UK, Canada, the Caribbean, Venezuela and the U.S.A. She is the recipient of a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for her outstanding contribution in the field of Literature. She is a Lecturer in the Department of Literatures in English at UWI, Mona.

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