Interview with Jacqueline Bishop, founding editor of Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts & Letters

This month we interview the multi-talented, Jacqueline Bishop.  She is the founding editor of Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts & Letters, the author of two collections of poems, an artist and a published author. She is presently editing a film on a group of Jamaican untutored artists.

Q: Where in Jamaica are you from? 
I was born in Kingston and grew up there; so I guess technically speaking that is where I am from.

Q: When did you realize you had this passion for writing? 
Quite early on actually. I remember I had my first poems published before I was 10. So quite early on I was scribbling away.

Q: What did you do growing up to keep that passion going? 
I don’t think you have a choice with writing. It is not so much a passion but rather a calling, something you just get on with it. Once writing takes a hold of you it does not let go. Other writers I know call writing their child. It is very much like that, writing, not so much a passion, but rather a life-long responsibility.

Q: Who are you favorite Jamaican writers? 
Goodness, Jamaica has so much great talent that it is hard for me to say. Recently though I have been enchanted by the work of Tanya Shirley, Sharon Leach and Kei Miller.

Q: Tell us about the books you have published? 
To date I have published a novel entitled The River’s Song which is the story of a young girl’s coming of age in Jamaica; two collections of poems, Fauna and Snapshots from Istanbul; a non fiction book on Jamaican female immigrants to New York called My Mother Who Is Me: Life Stories from Jamaican Women in New York; as well as a lovely little book that just got the most beautiful review entitled Writers Who Paint/Painters Who Write: Three Jamaican Artists. This last book features my paintings as well as the work of two distinguished Jamaican writer/painters Earl McKenzie and Ralph Thompson. It was a lovely little book to put together and I am happy to see it being so warmly received.

Q: Are you working on any new books? 
Yes, I am working on a new novel right now.

Q: Tell us about the film project you are working on right now? 
I Came Here By A Dream is a non-fiction film on a group of untutored Jamaican artists called the Intuitives. In other parlance they would probably be called naïve or folk artists but Jamaican art historians made a concerted effort not to give them such a questionable name. The film features interviews of several of these artists as well as art historians and others in the field, including gallery owners and collectors, talking about the artists. I started this film as a graduate student and have documented many of the artists who are sadly no longer living.  It has been incredibly hard working on this film for largely two reasons. One is funding; I really need funding to edit and do post-production work on this film, as well as to purchase stock footage. Funding is the main hold up of the film actually. Another thing to consider is that some of these artists live in garrison neighborhoods where it is hard to go and do filming. In deed one of the artists, Allan Zion Johnson, was robbed and murdered where he lived. So there are challenges to completing the project, but I have hope that it will be completed one day. Especially so if we could secure funding.

Q: You are the founder of “Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts & Letters”. What lead you to start this journal? How often is it published? Where is it distributed? Is it online? Do you plan to have your own website? (separate from the NYU) 
Calabash is largely an online journal that comes out once a year. I founded and publish this journal because when I was at the Caribbean Writers Summer Institute in Miami several years ago I was surrounded by writers from all over the Caribbean, and  I started wondering who was going to publish all those wonderful writers? How could I get out the voices of these writers?  It was in that moment that the Journal was born, some ten years ago. The Journal was founded and is still housed at NYU and there are no plans for a separate website.

Q: As a writer do you find it hard to get into the administrative part of publishing a journal? 
I find it very hard actually dealing with the administrative part of publishing the journal and consequently I don’t know how much longer I will be able to do the Journal, especially with the fact that I have been traveling a lot lately. There have been times that there have been guest and other editors of the Journal because the administrative burden is so much.

Q: Is Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts & Letters  related in any way to the Calabash Literary festival in Treasure Beach? 
Actually no. The Journal existed before the Festival, which is such a fixture these days. I am glad to see the Festival growing and thriving and was stunned when there was talk of not having the Festival last year.

Q: Your studies and work seems to have you traveling extensively. What was you favorite country apart for Jamaica (lol) and why? 
I liked Barbados a great deal because I felt very much at home there and felt I could relax there.

Q: What do you like the least about traveling? 
How tiring it all is. After traveling somewhere out of my time zone it takes my body forever to pick up the rhythm of that country so I am sleepy when everyone is up and is wide awake when everyone is sleeping. That is the part I like least about traveling.

Q: With so much going on where do you find the time to do it all?
I have no idea where I find the time to do some of the things I have done especially when it seems to me now, that I have been in France for the last few days, that all I want to do is sleep! Seriously though, I think I am the type of person who does best with a deadline. It doesn’t mean that I always make my deadline, but rather that a deadline adds focus to my life.

Q: What is your “comfort” food when you want to de-stress? 
Oh, just about anything sweet or salty will do! If I could take banana chips, tamarind balls and June plums around with me all the time those would do it!

Q: If you were given the deciding vote for person of the year in 2009 between Usain Bolt and Barack Obama who would you choose? 
Barack, because I think he has so much more on his plate in dealing with all the troubles of the world.

Q: In our opinion what makes Jamaicans unique? 
Our culture, the way we are in the world, our ability to laugh and make others laugh and how we just know how to have fun!

Q: Any final thoughts? 
Well I am going to have an exhibition of art work in Italy soon, and I am very excited about that!

About the author

Xavier Murphy