Interview with Annette Pateman

picture of Annette Pateman

Annette Pateman is the Thunder Bay Public Library’s Writer in Residence.  She was born in south London, England to Jamaican parents. She emigrated to Canada with her family in September 2012. You can find information about her and her residency on the Thunder Bay Public Library’s website at https://www.tbpl.ca/writer-in-residence

Shauna Kosoris: You’ve been the Writer in Residence (WIR) at the Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) since May 2021.  What has been the most enjoyable part of your residency? 

Annette Pateman: I have really enjoyed my residency and feel very fortunate to have been given this opportunity. The most enjoyable part of my residency has been sharing my writing with the community and the public, through TBPL’s Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube

I would like to thank the Ontario Arts Council for funding the residency. I would also like to thank the supportive staff at TBPL, who have worked with me to put out a program of presentations.  

That’s fantastic!  So what has been the most challenging part?

The most challenging part has been writing in a pandemic. The pandemic has affected my creativity and ideas. I have had to learn to put aside concerns about Covid 19 and the pandemic and focus on the writing.

Ontario Arts Council logo

Your residency reflects the UN Decade of People of African Descent 2015-2024.  What have you been working on in support of this initiative?

I have been very aware that this residency takes place during the UN Decade of People of African Descent 2015-2024. I am a person of African descent and a visible minority. I think it is important that I have been funded by the Ontario Arts Council to be WIR at this time.

My writing and poetry are created from the point of view of a person of African Heritage. The writing I have shared with the public during my residency has covered themes of Black identity through the lens of Black hair, belonging, childhood, family, folklore, music, and love of the natural beauty of Northwestern Ontario.

I was thrilled to be featured on The National with a focus on my children’s picture book Anancy and The Turtle. This opportunity came out of a local CBC radio interview I did talking about my children’s book and Anancy stories.

I was invited to take part in a Black Women in Business Panel, to talk about my life as a writer. The event was showcased by The Thunder Bay Museum and the Caribbean and African Multicultural Association of Thunder Bay. I think events such as these are important in the context of the UN decade of People of African Descent because it shows the talent, resilience and entrepreneurship present in the Black community. You can find the video for Black Women in Business here.

I have taken part in Patio Sets Digital Theatre Come Play with Me on July 6th, 2021. This was an online theatre experience set in Thunder Bay. I used my African hand drum and other percussion instruments during my performance.

Gizzard Media showcased a reading of a poem I wrote entitled “Wall 2100.” This poem has a speculative fiction theme, and envisages a world in which there are racial divisions and a wall exists between different groups of people. The poem is in my book of poetry Spectrum.

I’m a member of CAMAT, Caribbean and African Multicultural Association Thunder Bay. I did a reading from my books for Black History Month in February.

I am interested in fairytales and folklore. African and Caribbean folklore have a character named Anancy who is part spider, part man. He is a trickster character and has a lot of stories. I talked about Anancy in my presentation on folklore in May.  

A highlight was an invitation to appear in an outdoor audio installation at the Toronto Harbourfront Centre. I read three poems that described my experience as a Black woman living in Thunder Bay. The poems were broadcast at the Toronto Harbourfront Centre so that passersby could listen. The poems can be found in my book of poetry Spectrum.

You’ve written two books which largely feature poetry (Spectrum, and Lover Lines, which is a book of both poetry and flash fiction).  What attracts you to that writing form?

I have always liked poetry. I enjoy the rhythm of the lines, and the ability to play with words. Short stories allow me to write one story and share the thoughts I have and then I can move onto another story idea.

As you’ve already mentioned, when performing your work, you use percussion instruments.  How have the instruments enhanced your performances?

I have African and Caribbean heritage and music is an important part of my culture. My father played piano, organ, harmonica and accordion. I listened to reggae music when I was growing up and this music is very rhythmic. The drum beat is important in reggae. One day I decided to hold and play my hand drum whilst I was reading one of my poems called, “Slave.” The drumbeat somehow completed the poem. This poem is about being taken from Africa to work on the plantations of the Caribbean, during the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It is a poem about loss of homeland and freedom. Yet the person in the poem is a survivor. The poem is in my book Spectrum.

I now regularly use percussion instruments in my readings. The instruments provide accompaniment to the poems and stories. They signal when one poem ends, and the other is about to start. The percussion music sets the scene for my poems and stories.

You’ve also released the children’s book Anancy and The Turtle.  Do you plan to write more for younger audiences in the future?  

I really enjoyed writing Anancy and The Turtle. I would like to write more Anancy stories. Anancy stories feature folklore and introduce children and adults to African and Caribbean culture. This brings understanding and awareness of another culture which is an important part of anti racism.

Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I have many authors who I like and admire. I enjoy the work of Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Wordsworth, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Angela Carter and Zora Neale Hurston. This list will do as a start of the many authors I admire.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Issues of climate change, science and technology, racism and gender are all covered in the visionary work of Octavia Butler. The nebula award winning speculative fiction author.

And what are you currently reading?

I use cloudLibrary at TBPL a lot to read and listen to books. Right now I am reading Island Queen by Vanessa Riley, a fictional account of a free woman of colour who rose from slavery to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the colonial West Indies. I am also reading a book called The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. This book has short fairy tale genre stories including the story, “The Company of Wolves” on which the acclaimed film by the same name is based.

cover of Anancy and the Turtle

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