It was “a wonderful stew peas evening” – from the first chords of Dr Carol Ball’s mini music segment, called ‘Sweet Riddims’, to the final sounds of Carole Reid singing old time Jamaican tunes, giving the audience a little ‘brawta’.
Jamaican culture and language were at the centre of Saturday evening’s celebration, even though the main purpose of the gathering was to launch Easton Lee’s fifth book, humorously titled ‘Kiss Mi Granny’.
Every presentation was rife with a mixture of patois and English, seasoned with anecdotes that elicited laughter from an enrapt audience. Chairperson Glynis Salmon, head of BalaPress, set the tone with a ‘Good Howdy-Do’, explaining that each of the evening’s segments would be likened to parts of the process of cooking a pot of stew peas.
After prayer by Father Laurius Lewis and a rendition of ‘Above All’ by songbird Andrae Shepherd, things went into slow simmer, with readings by Erica Allen, Fae Ellington, Leonie Forbes and Tiffani Robinson. Each lady read a praise poem from Lee’s book, giving the audience pause for reflection on the author’s love affair with his “Creator God”.
“Dance me, Lord, dance me,” read Ellington, the lilt and sway of her voice drawing the audience into a reverie of movement with the majestic. Leonie Forbes stoutly declared, “Dem sing and dance we story” – a poignant line from the poem ‘And When Dem Play and Sing’.
Carole Reid wrapped up the segment with her singing of ‘Oh My Gracious Father’, a song written by Lee to the tune of Puccini’s 'O Mio Babbino Caro’.
Then it was on to the second segment, and the simmer heated to a boil. Readings from Ellington, Forbes, Robinson, and Grace McGhie-Brown had the audience in stitches as they heard ‘Stories and Teachings From Granny’. The selections were jawbreakingly funny, and the readers emoted and expressed their roles like the veteran media and theatre personalities they were, to the amusement and delight of the audience.
Storyteller Amina Blackwood-Meeks read from the preface she wrote for the book, sharing that Easton introduced her to writing for radio, and helped her develop her “voice”, while admonishing her “vices”. Professor Carolyn Cooper’s offering was a fitting reminder of one of Jamaica’s most famous ‘granny’ lines: “Mek fashion and tun yuh hand.”
“Only Easton Lee could have brought the cream of the creative arts and media together in such a satisfying mix,” said Steadman Fuller, keynote speaker for the evening, custos of Kingston and CEO of Kingston Bookshop, main distributors of Lee’s work.
Alluding to the stew peas imagery, he said that the readings gave “food for thought”, and brought to mind cultural icons Miss Lou (Louise Bennett), Maas Ran (Ranny Williams) and Miss Olive (Lewin). He added that Lee’s book was a call for a return to uplifting values like care and concern for each other, and said it should be made required reading in primary schools.
In his response in the evening’s final segment, Lee noted that one of his main motivations for writing ‘Kiss Mi Granny’ was “to give our younger generations an idea of what we were taught by our parents that have kept us”.
“We don’t pay enough attention to that wisdom and work ethic,” he lamented. “Do you know how many teachers, lawyers and doctors came out of that? That [work ethic] paid university fees for many of us.”
He went on to say that he strongly believed in living a life of purpose that would benefit younger generations. “Our life must be to help the young people to understand – to be proud of themselves and of Jamaica,” he said. “In God’s wisdom, he gave us each other. None of us can do without the other.”
In thanking everyone who attended the launch, or helped to make the book possible, he topped off what was truly an evening of sweet Jamaican stew with a line his own mother used very often: “God works in mischievous ways.”