Literati, family, friends, co-workers and proud Bajans including Consul General Lennox Price were on hand for the March 11 book launch of Annette I. Smith’s novel, “Etched” at the Barbados Consulate.
The book is Smith’s first and is a story that takes place in the antebellum south. A nagging question persists: How and why does a Barbados-born woman--she immigrated at age 15—set a story in pre-Civil War America. As Smith puts it, “I was selected by the ancestors to write it.”
Smith is an avid journal-keeper. In the late 90s, she was awakened by neighbors having a fight and began to write, continuing until dawn. This was the beginning when she met eight of her characters. “This time period chose me,” she repeats.
The story begins in 1813 on the Beauford Plantation in Promise Land, Greenwood, South Carolina and traces the multi-generational story of an African American family through their loves, losses, hopes and trials.
Consul General Price welcomed the packed Consulate with an introduction that emphasized the appropriateness of the launch of a book about strong women during Women’s Month. Author Smith read three selections.
To frame the selections, Smith clarified that the book is written in three voices– the storyteller, the master’s, and the slave dialect and that the choice of some words and language were in use then, before there was the concept of “political correctness.”
Smith read masterfully, including the most different, the slave dialect. Her experience in the off -Broadway production “Moore Than They Bargained For” and years of writing and directing plays for church certainly added to her skills of creating different voices.
Smith explained that it took years to research the book, “I didn’t know what a slave cabin was like. I had to find out,” and she had to learn how to write a book. “I didn’t leave out Barbados,” she said, incorporating in her story how the islands were a “seasoning” station for slaves en route from Africa to the United States. Smith fielded many thoughtful questions following the readings.
“It’s really 900 pages,” she said, explaining that she stopped at 466 pages for this volume, the first of three. The working titles of the next two are “Lineage” and “Legacy.” “I already have the next manuscript completed,” she said and expressed the hope that she’ll have another launch “this time, next year.”
Smith has performed her poetry in churches, cafes, at open “mic” nights in various Brooklyn and Harlem venues. Her passion of books and storytelling was fueled by listening to the many stories told of her family from her mother–her greatest griot. Storytelling was part of her family tradition; she knew she wanted to carry on the tradition and tell stories like her mother.
A reception followed the reading and as guests ate cod-fish balls and drank mauby, a long line of intrigued readers bought “Etched” while Smith signed books.
The book launch is one of many cultural activities sponsored by the Barbados Consulate.