Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Pamela Mordecai

Share |

According to Caribbean scholar, Mary Hanna, Pamela Mordecai “is accurate and ebullient, vibrant and precise. She is a brilliant storyteller with a gift for orality.” According to Donna Bailey Nurse in the Toronto Star: "Her subjects are diverse, her storytelling immediate – especially in her use of a vibrant, dynamic language that superbly articulates an irrepressible Jamaican spirit." Whether Zoey Mordecai thinks, like the Globe and Mail’s Jim Bartley, that her Grandma mixes “picaresque humour and unsparing human observation” in her stories we don’t yet know, but she likes the songs Grandma writes for her, like “Spitting here and spitting there…” She knows Grandma is a nut — and an honest woman, for she does have a book of poems called Certifiable. Also, whoever takes sixteen years to write a PhD?

Grandma has been many things: a teacher, a trainer of teachers, a TV host (it’s how she snagged Grandpa Martin, who directed many of the programs), a diplomatic wife (Grandpa was faking it), an anthologist, a writer of poems, stories and textbooks for children, and a writer of criticism, fiction, poetry and plays for those challenged by age. Born and raised in Jamaica, educated there and in the U.S.A., Pam has lived (with Martin) in Toronto for the past 15 years. They drive south to see Zoey frequently.

You can view a video of Pamela Mordecai reading from her latest book, Pink Icing and other stories here. Her website is and her other blog is here.

Ten Questions with Pamela Mordecai


What was your first publication and where was it published?


It was either a poem in my high school paper, or an essay that won a competition and was published in the daily newspaper. I hope it was the poem, as I suspect the essay was awful and I don’t want to have started off with something that makes me wince. My first book of creative writing, a collection of eight little books of poems for children called Storypoems: A first collection, was published by Ginn & Co. in the UK. My daughter, a scholar of literature who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, recently identified it on Facebook as one of 15 books that influenced her. “Truly,” said she…

Pink Icing and other stories

By Pamela Mordecai

Telling stories of ordinary lives with extraordinary skill, Pamela Mordecai draws delicately detailed portraits of life in Jamaica and other islands, with occasional trips to Canada. Her characters speak with the cadences of the Caribbean, and cope with the universal experiences of birth and death, joy and betrayal. In "Hartstone High," a group of girls learn the high price of education; in "Alvin's Ilk," a self-centred teenaged boy comes to see his elderly neighbour in a whole new way; and in "Shining Waters," a young priest's plans for his new parish go horribly awry. Mordecai turns a sharp ear to the nuances of everyday speech, exposing the currents beneath the calm exterior and producing complex tales that will challenge and entertain her readers.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Re: (Whether it is) Becoming (to Be) a lady and the use of the word in Jamaican Creole (JC)

News flash! Author copies of my novel, Red Jacket, arrived in the mail yesterday. About to post this exploration of the use of the word ‘lady’ in the land of my birth and here in North America, I put a question to myself about the many female persons, the heroine Grace included, in Red Jacket. Women? Ladies? Both? Neither? Hmmnnn... Five ladies maybe, and three women? Except who’s who would shift, depending on the ‘speaker’. But I get ahead of myself...

A response to Ann Elizabeth Carson's WE ALL BECOME STORIES, Blue Denim Press, 2013

Ann Elizabeth Carson’s WE ALL BECOME STORIES is a generous book. This recounting of journeys the author has made with a baker’s dozen of elders (she makes the thirteenth) is an intimate exploration of the eldering process—to coin a word—its various paths, its challenges and rewards, and most of all, the resilience and ampleness of a determinedly positive old age, one to which sensory memory (an especial interest of the author’s) can contribute mightily. Indeed, it is a book about memory—and its complementary function, forgetting—in older persons, not as something diminishing, but as a resource.

A Tale of Two Marys

Colm Tóibin recently spoke to Eleanor Wachtel on CBC’s “Writers and Company” about his new novel, The Testament of Mary. I tuned a close ear since I have for a while been meaning to write something on Mary – perhaps another verse play, like my second book, de man: a performance poem, an account of Christ’s crucifixion written entirely in Jamaican creole and now only coming into its own almost twenty years after being published in 1995 by the now defunct Sister Vision Press. I am encouraged to write another piece of the Jesus story by the fact of the reception of de man, which has had several recent performances, three in Calgary between 2007 and 2010, and one last year in Norris Point, Newfoundland.

Launch for Subversive Sonnets by Pamela Mordecai


Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 7:00pm


Beit Zatoun
612 Markham Street
Toronto, ON
M6G 2L8


Head to Beit Zatoun on September 20th for the launch for Subversive Sonnets (TSAR Publications) by Pamela Mordecai.


Beit Zatoun
612 Markham Street
Toronto, ON M6G 2L8 43° 39' 53.2692" N, 79° 24' 44.622" W

Black History Month: Rachel Manley, Olive Senior, Pamela Mordecai... In Conversation with D. B. Nurse


Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 7:00pm


Don Mills Library
888 Lawrence Ave East
Toronto, ON
M3C 1P6


Join literary critic Donna Bailey Nurse ("Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writers") for a series of readings and intimate conversations about living and writing the Black Canadian experience. Three dazzlingly talented Jamaican women read from award-winning works of memoir, fiction and poetry. They join Donna for a discussion about the art of loving Jamaica.

Full details on Black History Month at TPL can be found at http://www.torontopubliclibrar....


Don Mills Library
888 Lawrence Ave East
Toronto, ON M3C 1P6 43° 43' 45.84" N, 79° 20' 14.28" W

Walk good

If you had asked me I’d
have said that when
the time had come for me
to say au revoir
officially by then
it would be warm
and we would be outside
in shorts and T’s.

But it ain’t so.
Of course each year there are
the usual
determined souls who brave
dawdling cool
no mind wind striding up
from off the lake
biting their lips pinching

their pimply arms.

Canadian English and his relatives

Back to our English. Having raised the question of how old he is, and mused about how we decide, we now consider his relatives. Perhaps we should begin with great-grandma.

COCKROACH by Rawi Hage

English grows up

It appears English is about to undergo some kind of rite on June 10 at 5:22 a.m. ET. An unsupported headline on the front page of today’s GLOBE AND MAIL (you have to go inside for the article) says that at that time it will pass the million-word mark.

It is not clear, however, what kind of rite this is, in relation to English’s development. Is it a puberty rite, marking English's moving into adolescence? Can you see him hitching up his drooping jeans, underwear peeking out, Bluetooth in his ear, offloading a whoosh of frothy mouth-water onto the sidewalk?

Can you hear his mother?

“That’s disgusting, English! How often have I told you not to spit?”

“Ma, I’m tired of telling you I can’t be myself if I don’t spit! All those fricatives and sibilants and stuff…”

Ruth the Reckless

reck (rěk)

1. to have care, concern, or regard
2. to take heed or to have caution

What intrigues! What Machiavellian plots! What underhand dealings!

Who would have believed that electing a new Professor of Poetry at Oxford would result in such bizarre carryings-on!

Bans o’ character assassination!

Protestations of innocence come to naught!

Exclamation marks for so!

The poor little button on my keyboard, line two from the top, next to the end on the left, is bawling out for mercy!

Okay, little key. No more. I promise.

I won’t rehearse the story, because everyone, I’m sure, has now heard it. If not, go to

Things to do this summer in Toronto, for free

In these difficult times when every penny must count, and money for entertainment, as for everything else, needs to be wisely spent, it’s reassuring to know that there are lots of things to do in Toronto that cost only the TTC fare, or the gas, if you drive, or, if you ride a bike, the energy to get there. Pack a sandwich, some juice, your frisbee, yo-yo, skates, skateboard, paperback, boggle or scrabble, sunglasses, bug spray just to be on the safe side, and off you go.

Teenagers with a vision...

I enjoyed meeting Emil Sher and reading with him at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People this morning. Folks visiting ranged in age from babies in buggies to ladies and gents with white hair. That’s a very special kind of group, one that we don’t see often enough – one that needs to be treasured. (I confess some special interest here, being white haired and all…)


No heavy stuff today. No sah!

Sky too clear, sun too warm, and, just now, it’s too lazy, snoozy, comfortable, with a wee bit of wind, dog barking in the distance, as if, were time to fall asleep and stop for a while, this is how it would feel.

So nothing onerous…

I’m reading from my play, EL NUMERO UNO, at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People (LKYPT) on this coming Saturday morning. Emil Sher, who adapted Karen Levine’s book, HANA’S SUITCASE, for the stage is reading too. Both plays are part of LKYPT’s 2009-2010 season. The readings are part of a combo Doors Open-Lit City event, one of those to wind up three months of Lit City as well as to celebrate ten years of Doors Open.


child of dandelions

More about knowing where we’re coming from

Funny. In the last post, talking about the need to preserve our cultural creations, I said that we have to know where we’re coming from or we won’t know where we’re going. Today, by accident, I find two famous persons, one Canadian, one American, saying much the same thing, on vastly different subjects. They are Naomi Klein, journalist, author and activist, and Noam Chomsky, linguist, cognitive scientist, political activist, and author.

Sugar Belly and the Canefields

Sugar Belly pulled all kinds of sounds out of his bamboo sax. Hear the sax wail!

Sugar Belly's Bamboo Sax

We were teenagers, older teens.

On Saturday morning, we’d go down to Victoria Pier, named after the Queen whose Day we celebrate as I type, so that I just found myself ducking fireworks that seemed dangerously close to this window! The Pier and the famous Myrtle Bank Hotel were casualties of a government redevelopment initiative in the 1960s. It was at the bottom of King Street in downtown Kingston, and so right on Kingston Harbour, and there you could hear Sugar Belly (born William Walker, but known to no one by that name) playing mento music with his rhumba band.

Should Professors of Poetry at Oxford be without sin?

A friend of mine, a Jamaican man, told me many years ago that he disliked going to bars in England, where he’d been a student. Why? Because if a man put his hand up under a woman’s skirt, he was likely to find that two other hands had got there ahead of his. The level of slackness disgusted him, and he was no prude.

Against this background, I am compelled to express my great joy at finding that England is suddenly full of chaste men and women! Who knew? They must be everywhere, for they’ve turned up in the most unlikely place – a university, and no less a one than the venerable Oxon, to boot!

Glory to God!

Except of course these are the last days, and we’ve been warned. If anyone says, “See the Lord there!” or “Behold his miracles here!” we should be wary.


Many years ago I read a book called HEALING THE FAMILY TREE by a psychiatrist, Dr. Kenneth McAll. I won’t go into the theories he presents in the book (it’s still available, for anyone who’s interested) except for one, which struck me at the time, and which, given the matter of my last post, I thought I’d share.


“Man proposes, God disposes.”

The disposition in this case concerns the rear window on the driver’s side of our Civic.

We’d said goodbye to our daughter, her husband and our granddaughter five minutes before, taken off down one sixteen, turned onto route thirty-three on our way to the Mass Pike, and, in good time, Buffalo, and home.

Nothing. No smash. No crack and pop. A thud, maybe. I swivel my head round to see glass crumble in slow motion, spreading streams and rivulets, a mosaic of shine shattering. It keeps on, like a live thing dying slowly, the life running out through the gleaming cracks.

God doesn’t do stuff like that, does He?

“Honey,” I say to spouse. “We need to pull off the road.”


Yesterday’s NEW YORK TIMES carried an article in their “Dining” section about Shave Ice, which Florence Fabricant, the author, describes as “popular in Hawaii and Japan as well as other parts of Asia”. Funny. That’s exactly what we called it in Jamaica when I was a child, first that, and then later, 'sno cone.' The ‘sno’ part came about, I guess, as a result of increasingly popular and pervasive Hollywood movies in which we saw snow, and the ‘cone’ part because the shave ice vendors moved to serving it in paper cones.


I once told my next door neighbour that I was eighty-seven.

It was meant to be a joke.

“No…” said she, unbelieving. “You couldn’t be…”

“No,” said I. “I’m really not!” And we both laughed.

But there was a moment there when she wasn’t sure…

Don’t know what kind of gap that is. Maybe a “Don’t believe everything you’re told!” gap or a “You surely need new glasses, dear,” gap or perhaps, more than likely, a “Stop seeing yourself as you were fifteen years ago!” gap.

Our Town, 2009 edition

Come the good
weather folks in
this Portuguese-
Italian neighbourhood
hang their clothes
out to dry
so stirring lines
of laundry
in the breeze
are a sure sign
it’s warming up.

Come fill the cup
the poet said…

Of course,
one or two hardy
souls hang out
even in winter
on clear cold days
but by and large
loaded down wires
say spring’s
tiptoeing in,
them and lounge
chairs on patios,
towels spread
on the grass
and those
tools of the rite:
lotion, a visor or
very big hat,
and to gently
doze off with,
a paperback!


Enjoy New York, Michael Rubenfeld! It’s a city that I’ve known from my youth, and that I love mightily. And take good care of Blog, who appears to know you well and to be very supportive. How are you doing on the matter of those ciggies, by the way? It’s a nasty habit that will wreck your lungs and wreak havoc on your body. Take it from a long since reformed smoker, who still, now and then, would love nothing better than a smoke with her cup o’ coffee! I hope you do manage to see a couple of plays. In fact, I know you will. There’s nothing like a play on Broadway, off-Broadway, even very far off-Broadway…

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Recent Comments on Pamela Mordecai’s Blog