edge

The Novel Miss Allen Knead

Pictures courtesy Paula Obe

My name is Lisa Allen-Agostini and my novel The Bread the Devil Knead was published last week.

I come from straight outta Morvant, no crossover. I lived in my mother's house overlooking the traffic lights at Morvant Junction from age two until my mid-20s. I live now in Backayard, a village in the rainforest high up Simeon Road, Petit Valley. We live downstairs my husband Brian McMeo's parents' house.

My mom, Dolsie, was a widow with seven children. My father had two before he had my brother Dennis and me with Dolsie. It wasn't the Brady Bunch, though. Dolsie, Allen, Philly, Patty and Tony have passed. Only Ricky, Denny and I still live in Trinidad permanently.

Brian and I have no children of our own (except the cat, Fennec, and dogs, Sassy and Hagrid) but he's step-dad to my two daughters, Ishara is 28 today – May 24, Happy Birthday, Ishara – and Najja, 21. Both live abroad. My husband's family lives upstairs.

My childhood was a triangle I walked between my father's house & muffler factory in Success Village (every afternoon after school), my home in Morvant and my grandmother's house in Barataria (every Saturday). A passionate Catholic, I sang in the St Therese’s choir, Malick, and taught confirmation classes. But I was a church girl with an un-church-ical streak. I went to mass on Saturday nights before going to [nightclubs] Chez Moi and Wall Street.

I fell so immediately in love with Town, I included my poem, "My City", in Something to Say, the book I self-published at 18. It makes me sad to see Town so empty now. The walk from Bishop's to the maxi stand at the bottom of Charlotte Street was full of all the world.

At 19, I married Keifel Agostini, a boy I’d met in confirmation class, who lived with his mom in Diego Martin. Keifel and I remain close friends though he lives in the US. I call his wife, Vic, my wife-in-law. Her son stayed with me in Trinidad.

At UWI as a newly-separated single mom, I lived between the library (studying), the Creative Arts Centre (drawing and learning directing), Small Caf (playing knock romey for dollar. Also the Bench outside Big Caf (liming), JFK Lecture Theatre (praying with the Catholic Students Movement) and Infinity (drinking and making out with boys). I spent a lot of my wasted youth in Club Coconuts.

[Motherhood] has been a most beautiful, fulfilling experience. But it was hard. I hadn't wanted children and was surprised I fell in love with Ishara the moment I saw her. She was C-section. Najja, seven years later, was a natural birth, no meds. Stitches too but in a different place!

I don't have a perfect relationship with either of them but I hope my girls remember me as a good mom in spite of all my failings. They know I love them and I always want the best for them.

Both my parents were – politely – agnostic at best but I’m a believer, today more than ever. My Spiritual Baptist grandmother insisted all Dolsie's children be raised Catholic. I converted a few years ago [to] the Spiritual Baptist Temple of Divine Light. Zoom church is different from IRL but I've seen the Spirit move there.

Bad things happen to good people. That's life. But individual lives have joy, peace, love, sometimes even in the midst of terrible suffering and persecution. For me, all of it is God. Life itself begins with suffering and it's the joy and happiness in between that makes it worthwhile.

Dolsie used to say, "When you dead, you done." I don't believe that. I believe, as I pray in the Creed, "in life everlasting". I am a Bible girl and sing hymns and psalms constantly. I know there's the possibility of another life after this, a whole world without pain and without suffering. He told me so, in my heart.

As a Spiritual Baptist I acknowledge One God who manifests in different ways at different times to different peoples. I don't argue with anyone of faith about their God. If you profess to be of God but you don't have compassion for the piper down the road or the rapist or the murderer, then you need to check yourself. He made them, too.

When I start to feel self-conscious about wearing a lot of white, I think of Earl Lovelace and chill.

I love huddling in my bed with my husband, watching Messianic preaching and listening to Hebrew worship songs. Brian's a musician and we sometimes watch back-in-times music videos in bed for hours on end, when we're not watching nature documentaries.

I used to read dozens of books every month. Now, I try to read a few chapters from the Bible every day, but otherwise, unless it's for work, I seldom read anything longer than an essay. I don't know why, exactly, but I just can't read now.

My favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I love it deeply and have read it many, many times since [childhood]. I love The Kite Runner. World War Z. The Hobbit. Crick Crack, Monkey. John Crow Devil. The Colour Purple. The Stand. A Brighter Sun. Mimic Men. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. [This is a rabbit-hole. Speaking of which, Watership Down.]

Alice Walker used to be my favourite writer. Like me, she writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction. BC Pires and Judy Raymond have long been two of my favourite writers. I love Neil Gaiman, Cormac McCarthy, E Annie Proulx, Nalo Hopkinson, Juno Diaz, Kei Miller, Shivanee Ramlochan, Nick Laughlin, Anu Lakhan, Kevin Jared Hosein, Shakirah Bourne, Barbara Jenkins, Rhoda Bharath, Attillah Springer, Andre Bagoo... I could go on…

I'm a singer/songwriter and am now seriously developing my gift. My current favourite band is Miqedem, a Messianic band from Israel. They perform rock psalms in Biblical Hebrew. I like the Dave Matthews Band. Pearl Jam Ten is my favourite album. David Rudder might be my favourite singer.

I auditioned for Teen Talent singing David Rudder’s epic song 1990. My singing voice is, um, shall we say special when I'm anxious. Aunty Hazel and Uncle Maurice gently persuaded me to perform another talent instead; I recited a poem and the rest as they say etc.

I love dancing but I stopped going to parties a few years ago. In church, dancing in the Spirit is like Jouvert without the hangover. Or the lingering questions about whose man you wine on and how hard he wine back.

I love the communal, immersive Trini approach to cinema where [the audience] talks back to the characters and really get involved with the film as some alternate reality. You never see Matrix until you see it in a Globe 8.30 show, [where] sitting silently and watching seems almost disrespectful to the art.

I’m working on being like St Paul, content in all circumstances, but I’m not there yet. I spend way too much time thinking about money.

Human connection, just talking to someone, usually helps lift the pall when I’m miserable. Is to convince myself that I should call. Because someone would care enough to answer.

[A friend at Bishop’s] Mariel Brown showed her dad, Wayne, an extraordinary writer, the chapbook I’d self-published. He invited me to do one of his workshops. I couldn't afford it. Many years later I could pay for it this time. So the first groanings of The Bread the Devil Knead, Miss Allie's birth, happened in emailed instalments sent to Wayne in Jamaica in 2009.

I wrote the very first scene in the Rituals coffee shop upstairs MovieTowne, Port of Spain. Looking out at the bare, ugly parking lot of PriceSmart, I wrote in longhand: Her childlike body seemed tied to the bed by the plastic tube of the IV, trailing as it did from her wrist beside the tidy sheet and up a new-looking stand from which the bag of drips hung.

I sent [the first scene] to Jamaican author Marlon James in February 2009 for feedback. He never responded. I didn't know then what to make of that and I still don't. We're friendly. I’ve never mentioned it to him.

[My heroine] Alethea was originally this battered woman who had been severely injured in a dustbin bomb explosion on Frederick Street. People do like that nightmarish event never happen. She was pregnant. When she was born at the end of the book, the baby's name was Aurora. (Names are very important to me. "Alethea" means "truth".) The book was born as a third-person omniscient Standard English narrative set in four different time frames.

Wayne wanted to know where the story would go. He was dying; I think he wanted me to have a structure that I could follow if he died while I was writing it. Which he did. The novel is dedicated to him. UK editor Ellah Allfrey demolished an excerpt at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest one year. I literally cried in the room with her. I got in a workshop led by Monique Roffey and rewrote the whole thing, cutting mercilessly. [The book’s name] came down to a choice between Dayclean and The Bread the Devil Knead. Dayclean was already taken.

Alethea came on her own. The same chick I dreamt up in the coffee shop is the one you get in The Bread the Devil Knead. She's a lot like me in that she's light-skinned and insecure about her looks while also intensely aware of the currency light skin carries in Trinidad. I've been told Alethea sounds like me. But I've never stayed in a physically abusive romantic relationship and I've never been a shop girl. Miss Allie’s whole personal history is hers, not mine.

When I'm writing, I do a kind of self-hypnosis thing and allow ideas to flow through me to the page. I think God sends them. I'm sure He sent this one. When I re-read it in 2020, I was shocked at how the ending perfectly fit the Bible verse from Micah: "He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."

The hills of Port of Spain’s Northern Range settle me. Once in Canada for an exchange programme, I could not find peace in a wide open place. In white cities, I miss black people. In black cities, I miss mixed people. In places where the mango comes with stickers on the skin, I miss mangoes vert and julie.

There's a music to Trinidad. [Not just] soca and pan and chutney and such, the place itself has a music. It's discordant sometimes but, wow, it's fascinating. I think a Trini is a person who has that music in them. And dances to it.

To me, Trinidad & Tobago means “home home”, not just where I'm from, where I'm at home. The place and its people have formed me and my voice. I'm all that I am, and all that I'm not, because I chose to stay here for all of my professional life. Trinidad and Tobago was it for me.

The Novel Miss Allen Knead

Pictures courtesy Paula Obe

My name is Lisa Allen-Agostini and my novel The Bread the Devil Knead was published last week.

I come from straight outta Morvant, no crossover. I lived in my mother's house overlooking the traffic lights at Morvant Junction from age two until my mid-20s. I live now in Backayard, a village in the rainforest high up Simeon Road, Petit Valley. We live downstairs my husband Brian McMeo's parents' house.

My mom, Dolsie, was a widow with seven children. My father had two before he had my brother Dennis and me with Dolsie. It wasn't the Brady Bunch, though. Dolsie, Allen, Philly, Patty and Tony have passed. Only Ricky, Denny and I still live in Trinidad permanently.

Brian and I have no children of our own (except the cat, Fennec, and dogs, Sassy and Hagrid) but he's step-dad to my two daughters, Ishara is 28 today – May 24, Happy Birthday, Ishara – and Najja, 21. Both live abroad. My husband's family lives upstairs.

My childhood was a triangle I walked between my father's house & muffler factory in Success Village (every afternoon after school), my home in Morvant and my grandmother's house in Barataria (every Saturday). A passionate Catholic, I sang in the St Therese’s choir, Malick, and taught confirmation classes. But I was a church girl with an un-church-ical streak. I went to mass on Saturday nights before going to [nightclubs] Chez Moi and Wall Street.

I fell so immediately in love with Town, I included my poem, "My City", in Something to Say, the book I self-published at 18. It makes me sad to see Town so empty now. The walk from Bishop's to the maxi stand at the bottom of Charlotte Street was full of all the world.

At 19, I married Keifel Agostini, a boy I’d met in confirmation class, who lived with his mom in Diego Martin. Keifel and I remain close friends though he lives in the US. I call his wife, Vic, my wife-in-law. Her son stayed with me in Trinidad.

At UWI as a newly-separated single mom, I lived between the library (studying), the Creative Arts Centre (drawing and learning directing), Small Caf (playing knock romey for dollar. Also the Bench outside Big Caf (liming), JFK Lecture Theatre (praying with the Catholic Students Movement) and Infinity (drinking and making out with boys). I spent a lot of my wasted youth in Club Coconuts.

[Motherhood] has been a most beautiful, fulfilling experience. But it was hard. I hadn't wanted children and was surprised I fell in love with Ishara the moment I saw her. She was C-section. Najja, seven years later, was a natural birth, no meds. Stitches too but in a different place!

I don't have a perfect relationship with either of them but I hope my girls remember me as a good mom in spite of all my failings. They know I love them and I always want the best for them.

Both my parents were – politely – agnostic at best but I’m a believer, today more than ever. My Spiritual Baptist grandmother insisted all Dolsie's children be raised Catholic. I converted a few years ago [to] the Spiritual Baptist Temple of Divine Light. Zoom church is different from IRL but I've seen the Spirit move there.

Bad things happen to good people. That's life. But individual lives have joy, peace, love, sometimes even in the midst of terrible suffering and persecution. For me, all of it is God. Life itself begins with suffering and it's the joy and happiness in between that makes it worthwhile.

Dolsie used to say, "When you dead, you done." I don't believe that. I believe, as I pray in the Creed, "in life everlasting". I am a Bible girl and sing hymns and psalms constantly. I know there's the possibility of another life after this, a whole world without pain and without suffering. He told me so, in my heart.

As a Spiritual Baptist I acknowledge One God who manifests in different ways at different times to different peoples. I don't argue with anyone of faith about their God. If you profess to be of God but you don't have compassion for the piper down the road or the rapist or the murderer, then you need to check yourself. He made them, too.

When I start to feel self-conscious about wearing a lot of white, I think of Earl Lovelace and chill.

I love huddling in my bed with my husband, watching Messianic preaching and listening to Hebrew worship songs. Brian's a musician and we sometimes watch back-in-times music videos in bed for hours on end, when we're not watching nature documentaries.

I used to read dozens of books every month. Now, I try to read a few chapters from the Bible every day, but otherwise, unless it's for work, I seldom read anything longer than an essay. I don't know why, exactly, but I just can't read now.

My favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I love it deeply and have read it many, many times since [childhood]. I love The Kite Runner. World War Z. The Hobbit. Crick Crack, Monkey. John Crow Devil. The Colour Purple. The Stand. A Brighter Sun. Mimic Men. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. [This is a rabbit-hole. Speaking of which, Watership Down.]

Alice Walker used to be my favourite writer. Like me, she writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction. BC Pires and Judy Raymond have long been two of my favourite writers. I love Neil Gaiman, Cormac McCarthy, E Annie Proulx, Nalo Hopkinson, Juno Diaz, Kei Miller, Shivanee Ramlochan, Nick Laughlin, Anu Lakhan, Kevin Jared Hosein, Shakirah Bourne, Barbara Jenkins, Rhoda Bharath, Attillah Springer, Andre Bagoo... I could go on…

I'm a singer/songwriter and am now seriously developing my gift. My current favourite band is Miqedem, a Messianic band from Israel. They perform rock psalms in Biblical Hebrew. I like the Dave Matthews Band. Pearl Jam Ten is my favourite album. David Rudder might be my favourite singer.

I auditioned for Teen Talent singing David Rudder’s epic song 1990. My singing voice is, um, shall we say special when I'm anxious. Aunty Hazel and Uncle Maurice gently persuaded me to perform another talent instead; I recited a poem and the rest as they say etc.

I love dancing but I stopped going to parties a few years ago. In church, dancing in the Spirit is like Jouvert without the hangover. Or the lingering questions about whose man you wine on and how hard he wine back.

I love the communal, immersive Trini approach to cinema where [the audience] talks back to the characters and really get involved with the film as some alternate reality. You never see Matrix until you see it in a Globe 8.30 show, [where] sitting silently and watching seems almost disrespectful to the art.

I’m working on being like St Paul, content in all circumstances, but I’m not there yet. I spend way too much time thinking about money.

Human connection, just talking to someone, usually helps lift the pall when I’m miserable. Is to convince myself that I should call. Because someone would care enough to answer.

[A friend at Bishop’s] Mariel Brown showed her dad, Wayne, an extraordinary writer, the chapbook I’d self-published. He invited me to do one of his workshops. I couldn't afford it. Many years later I could pay for it this time. So the first groanings of The Bread the Devil Knead, Miss Allie's birth, happened in emailed instalments sent to Wayne in Jamaica in 2009.

I wrote the very first scene in the Rituals coffee shop upstairs MovieTowne, Port of Spain. Looking out at the bare, ugly parking lot of PriceSmart, I wrote in longhand: Her childlike body seemed tied to the bed by the plastic tube of the IV, trailing as it did from her wrist beside the tidy sheet and up a new-looking stand from which the bag of drips hung.

I sent [the first scene] to Jamaican author Marlon James in February 2009 for feedback. He never responded. I didn't know then what to make of that and I still don't. We're friendly. I’ve never mentioned it to him.

[My heroine] Alethea was originally this battered woman who had been severely injured in a dustbin bomb explosion on Frederick Street. People do like that nightmarish event never happen. She was pregnant. When she was born at the end of the book, the baby's name was Aurora. (Names are very important to me. "Alethea" means "truth".) The book was born as a third-person omniscient Standard English narrative set in four different time frames.

Wayne wanted to know where the story would go. He was dying; I think he wanted me to have a structure that I could follow if he died while I was writing it. Which he did. The novel is dedicated to him. UK editor Ellah Allfrey demolished an excerpt at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest one year. I literally cried in the room with her. I got in a workshop led by Monique Roffey and rewrote the whole thing, cutting mercilessly. [The book’s name] came down to a choice between Dayclean and The Bread the Devil Knead. Dayclean was already taken.

Alethea came on her own. The same chick I dreamt up in the coffee shop is the one you get in The Bread the Devil Knead. She's a lot like me in that she's light-skinned and insecure about her looks while also intensely aware of the currency light skin carries in Trinidad. I've been told Alethea sounds like me. But I've never stayed in a physically abusive romantic relationship and I've never been a shop girl. Miss Allie’s whole personal history is hers, not mine.

When I'm writing, I do a kind of self-hypnosis thing and allow ideas to flow through me to the page. I think God sends them. I'm sure He sent this one. When I re-read it in 2020, I was shocked at how the ending perfectly fit the Bible verse from Micah: "He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."

The hills of Port of Spain’s Northern Range settle me. Once in Canada for an exchange programme, I could not find peace in a wide open place. In white cities, I miss black people. In black cities, I miss mixed people. In places where the mango comes with stickers on the skin, I miss mangoes vert and julie.

There's a music to Trinidad. [Not just] soca and pan and chutney and such, the place itself has a music. It's discordant sometimes but, wow, it's fascinating. I think a Trini is a person who has that music in them. And dances to it.

To me, Trinidad & Tobago means “home home”, not just where I'm from, where I'm at home. The place and its people have formed me and my voice. I'm all that I am, and all that I'm not, because I chose to stay here for all of my professional life. Trinidad and Tobago was it for me.