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Thursday, December 05, 2013
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Joanne Johnson - Writing meaningful books
Although Joanne Gail Johnson has published 11 children’s books, she doesn’t always consider herself a writer. For Johnson, her books and upcoming film, fit into a larger mission. “I’m not viewing myself as a writer all the time. It’s a passion about protecting a value and nourishing that value. I’m interested in Caribbean people loving themselves and seeing themselves,” she said during an interview at One Woodbrook Place, Port-of-Spain.
Part of Johnson’s mission is to fill a void of Caribbean content for children in literature and film. Another part of her mission is to get parents and children to understand emotional intelligence. Both missions fall under her broader beliefs in social activism.
A former primary school teacher and television producer, Johnson’s first nine books were published by publishing house Macmillian. In 2010, however, she embarked on a self-publishing project with a series of “meaningful books.” The second book in the series, Please Tell Me Where It Hurts, was officially released on in August.
Please Tell Me Where It Hurts is Johnson’s method of creating a safe space for children to speak about and express negative emotions. The book is meant to teach children that all their feelings, good or bad, are legitimate. However, the way these feelings are dealt with and expressed is important. “It’s about breaking negative silence and false senses of peace or repression of feelings. That silence can cause harm. That silent part of ourselves is a conversation that needs to happen in publishing.”
In the book, a young boy is depicted expressing a range of emotions, but no matter how he feels, his mother remains loving and kind. “The big thing about it (the book) is that it’s a conversation between an adult and a child and it’s intended to open doors to meaningful conversation. You don’t just start to talk about things that are important when they become important because there’s a problem. It’s about deepening relationships in the home.”
The first book in the meaningful series, Pink Carnival, uses interactions between a father and son to raise issues of gender equality.
Gender equality is just one social issue Johnson tackles in her work. Last year Johnson received a script writing grant from T&T Film Company (TTFC) to adapt her book Sally’s Way. Sally’s Way is a coming of age story that deals with race and class in T&T.
In March, Johnson also received a TTFC production grant for Sally’s Way, which will start filming in 2014. Sally is a 12-year-old orphan who lives with her grandmother in a one-room shack. When the grandmother becomes terminally ill, Sally is taken in by a well-off Indian family. Johnson said the film is not meant to engender pity for the poor, but to highlight human willpower. “This book was conceived back in the 90s when I was doing some filming in Sea Lots and became inspired by children I was saw playing while fetching water. It struck me how powerful people can be in difficult circumstances,” said Johnson. “The film is more involved than the book. People who watch it should recognise that luxury is not only what you can find in the malls. It’s really about the indomitable spirit of the human being.”
Although casting for Sally is ongoing, Johnson has already secured some household names to play major roles. The cast includes Eunice Alleyne, Patti-Ann Ali, Conrad Parris and Errol Sitahal. Johnson will work with the NGO Brown Cotton Outreach to produce the film.
More about Joanne Johnson
Johnson, 51, is the author of 11 children’s books including illustrated readers and trade books. She is the founding Regional Advisor of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Caribbean South Chapter. Johnson also works as a facilitator for workshops on creativity and theatre in education. In the 1990s, she was a co-founder of the local cable channel SUN TV LTD and in 2003 she created the Web site: www.caribbeanchildren.com. In 2012, Johnson received a Professional Recognition Award from the UK organisation City & Guilds.
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