On the second day of Christmas, an extraordinary Jamaican, Dennis Scott, gave me:
The gift of storytelling.
Faith is not something that is easy to come by. It begins and ends in a mystery. Sometimes it takes mimicry–acting as if you have it– or a blessing–someone else believes you have it. This is how many writers begin and continue writing–their belief in themselves and the faith of an elder writer.
In my case, add luck. I was fortunate to have been taught literature by Dennis Scott at Jamaica College, and it was he gave me the confidence to try my hand at writing. Of course, it didn’t come easily–nothing worth having ever does. I believed that I could become a poet and imitated Scott’s poetry until I could write my own. I also read everything that he had written and all the books he had read (remember the sleeves in the jackets of the books?) in the 800 section of the library at Jamaica College.
Then, I tried my first attempts at writing poems and short stories, and although they did not meet Dennis’s standards, they came with the words of encouragement: “Try harder. Make the verbs do the work in the sentence.” I tried and I sweated. I wrote and wrote until I finally produced a poem and a short story that Dennis liked and he said, “So where are you going to publish them?”
The poem, “Eve (for E. M.)” was published in The Daily Gleaner and the short story, “Escape,” was published in The Creative Arts Review at the University of the West Indies. It was exhilarating to see my name in print, but it was even more fulfilling that my teacher and friend believed in me and my work.
This faith has gone a long way and has seen me through the times when I’ve doubted myself–especially when I first came to America. I’ve been able to see horizons that I could not have dreamt about, and this is all due to the faith of my mentor who believed that I, too, could be a storyteller.
Winner of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s “Outstanding Writer, 2008,” is the author of Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas.
Geoffrey maintains a blog @ Geoffrey Philp’s Blog Spot and teaches English at Miami Dade College where he is the chairperson of the College Prep. Department at the North Campus. His next collection of short stories, Who’s Your Daddy? and Other Stories will be published by Peepal Tree Press in May 2009.