Fri | Apr 19, 2024

Story writing ‘satisfying but not easy’, says veteran author

Published:Monday | March 4, 2024 | 12:07 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Rev’d Michele Synegal, pastor of Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living, was one of two authors at the multipurpose event dubbed ‘The Power of Storytelling’.  She read from her book ‘Widows Speak’, which was written nearly three decades afte
Rev’d Michele Synegal, pastor of Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living, was one of two authors at the multipurpose event dubbed ‘The Power of Storytelling’. She read from her book ‘Widows Speak’, which was written nearly three decades after her husband’s death by suicide, an event which made the book much more difficult to write.
Dr Opal Palmer Adisa reads from her book ‘Portia Dreams’, about the childhood of former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller.
Dr Opal Palmer Adisa reads from her book ‘Portia Dreams’, about the childhood of former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller.
T.K. Dawkins, broadcaster and theatre director, was the moderator of the book-reading at the Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living.
T.K. Dawkins, broadcaster and theatre director, was the moderator of the book-reading at the Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living.
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The question-filled audience at the Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living on Fairway Avenue, St Andrew, last week Sunday heard about both the frustrations and the joys of trying to write and publish books. The process was ultimately “very satisfying”, one veteran author told them, but, she cautioned, it was “not easy”.

Dr Opal Palmer Adisa – a poet, story writer and performer for decades, and also an educator and women’s rights activist – was one of two authors at the multipurpose event dubbed ‘The Power of Storytelling’. It was a book reading, discussion and book signing which culminated in a high tea. Rev Michele Synegal, senior minister of the church, was the other author.

Palmer Adisa read mainly from her most recent book, The Storyteller’s Return, story poems about her return home to Jamaica after decades studying and teaching in the USA. Other readings came from Portia Dreams, a book about the childhood of former Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller.

Synegal read from her two published books, Widows Speak, a self-published book with the self-explanatory subtitle A Guide for Healing, Living and Thriving After the Loss of a Loved One, and Inspiration in Small Doses, a book of inspirational anecdotes.

In her foreword to Widows Speak, the author’s friend and sister author, Marita Golden, states: “ Michele shares the pain of her husband’s death and the continuing impact of his death on her and her adult children, even as they all manage to thrive in ways that would make that husband and father proud. Michele dives into discussions of depression and the stages of grief, what to expect from the grief journey and how to go and grow gracefully through the phases.”

The death was by suicide, Synegal told Sunday’s audience. That made it particularly painful and the book that much more difficult to write, as suicide was a “taboo” topic,

Answering a question posed by the moderator, Toni-Kay Dawkins, a television news reader and theatre director, Synegal said that she wrote the book during the pandemic lockdown period, some 29 years after her husband’s death.

The writing process brought her some healing, she said, but the preparation took great effort. She was plagued by the self-doubt and questioning that would-be writers in the audience should expect: “Am I a good writer? Do I have a story others would want to read?” for example.

She took numerous writing courses, and friends got so tired of hearing about her plans to write that she pulled a publication date “out of the air”. It happened to be the day of her son’s wedding, and this led her to develop a strong vision of herself as a published author.

“I saw myself on Oprah,” she chuckled. She worked to have it published on the chosen day, and happily succeeded.

Palmer Adisa said that the “essence of Jamaica” was to be found in The Storyteller’s Return and its unusual prose-poetry form flowed from several sources – the stories that both her grandmother and grandfather told her as a child, Jamaica’s traditional Big Boy and Anansi stories, and also the storytelling of the African griot.

One of the book’s blurbs – by renowned poet, essayist, short story writer and educator Kei Miller – addresses a central topic in the book, the “contested, complicated, chaotic” definition of “home”.

The blurb reads in part: “ Opal Palmer Adisa’s most ambitious book wrestles with these contestations. Between the storyteller’s various departures and returns, between moments of glib nostalgia and hard-won wisdom, between the storyteller’s own voice and the voices of matriarchs that haunt from the margins, what emerges is home, but one rendered in all its complications and all its fascinating angles.

To one member of the audience who said that she and many others who spoke at the church regularly had accumulated enough material to make a book, but couldn’t find the time to put the material together in book form, Palmer Adisa said, “I set myself deadlines. I tell myself that the book is just as important as the regular work.”

Synegal’s reminder to the aspiring writers was that, thanks to technology, “authoring doesn’t necessarily mean writing. You can speak your words and have them transcribed”.

Both advocated joining support groups in which everyone wrote regularly. Palmer Adisa said that she was a part of one for more than 20 years and each member had to attend the monthly online meetings with 10 fresh pages written. Synegal’s group, she said, only asked for five new pages monthly.

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