Growing up in Newport, Manchester in the 1950s, Yvonne Blackwood had a fascination for Africa, thanks to her grandmother, who was an excellent storyteller.
“I think I was probably about four or five when my grandmother told us the story about her grandfather who used to say he was ‘Ashanti’, whenever he was angry. He had gotten that information from his great grandmother who had come directly from Africa. Years later I found out that Ashanti was a tribe in Ghana and once I made that discovery, I began to develop an obsession to see what Africa looked like,” Ms. Blackwood tells JIS News.
Her dream of visiting Africa was put on hold while she tended to the rigours of daily living, becoming a mother, wife and honing her career as a banker with Canada’s largest bank, the Royal Bank.
In 1997 she was able to fulfill her dream and finally visited Africa, specifically Ghana and Nigeria. From that trip, she penned her very first book, the successful ‘Into Africa: A Personal Journey’.
Jamaican/Canadian author, Ms. Yvonne Blackwood (2nd left), with (from left): Consul General of St. Kitts & Nevis, Mr. John Allen; Consul General of Grenada, Ms. Jenny Gumbs; Consul General of Jamaica, Mr. George Ramocan; and President of Arts and Culture Jamaica, Mrs. Cherita Girvan-Campbell, at the launch of her book, ‘Into Africa: The Return’, at the offices of the Jamaican Consulate General in Toronto.
Five years later, in 2002, she returned to Africa, this time with two cousins and has now published, ‘Into Africa: The Return’, based on that journey.
On Wednesday, April 21, Arts and Culture Jamaica (ACJAM), under the patronage of Jamaica’s Consul General to Toronto, Mr. George Ramocan, hosted the launch of Ms. Blackwood’s latest book at the offices of the Jamaican Consulate General in Toronto, Canada.
Describing it as a labour of love, Ms. Blackwood told the audience that the book is about she and her cousins, “enjoying, travelling, touring and experiencing together,” the countries of Ghana and Togo. The author, who has published several short stories, read excerpts from the book and was able to transport the listeners all the way to Africa.
Speaking at the launch, Consul General Ramocan called Ms. Blackwood “an authentic Caribbean storyteller” and praised her courageous and undaunting spirit to venture into the unknown and to fulfill her dreams.
“As I read her book I felt as though I was taking the journey with her and experiencing the moments of fear, adventure and disappointment. It opens your eyes so much about the motherland that is unknown to much of her scattered sons and daughters,” he said.
The Consul General said the Caribbean is noted for producing many authors of distinction, and Ms. Blackwood’s book is a great addition to the rich body of literature produced by Caribbean authors.
President of Arts and Culture Jamaica, Mrs. Cherita Girvan-Campbell, remarked that she had been in Canada for only one year when Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 “blew Yvonne Blackwood into my life.” Mrs. Campbell cautiously approached her bank manager to ask for help to fix up her home and farm in the Blue Mountains, which had been devastated by the hurricane.
“That bank manager was Yvonne Blackwood. She helped me graciously; made me feel special and impressed me with her professionalism and the creative approach which she took in helping me to resolve my challenges,” she said.
Mrs. Girvan-Campbell, who revealed that she lived in West Africa during the 1970s, congratulated the author and said that through the descriptions in the book of the people, the landscapes, the sights, the sounds and the smells, she was able to re-trace her footsteps and re-generate the deep emotions that she felt when she was discovering Africa.
“Into Africa: The Return, helps us to see our present through our past,” the ACJAM President told the audience. “The paragraphs relating to death, mourning and nine night; the scenes depicting vendors in the streets blocking the formally established shops; the accounts of the various people who escorted them around showing off their towns and villages to visitors, all of this resonated with me. It was reminiscent of the warmth and hospitality of us in the Caribbean who are descendants of African cultures,” said Mrs. Girvan-Campbell.
Also at the launch were: Editor of the book, Ms. Sharon Crawford; Consul General of St. Kitts & Nevis, Mr. John Allen; Consul General of Grenada, Ms. Jenny Gumbs; author, Shadonna Richards; Jamaican National representatives, Mr. Harrington Stephenson and Ms. Paula Fennell; and storyteller, Phyllis Walker.
Arts and Culture Jamaica is an organisation that is committed to showcasing the unique arts and culture of Jamaica.