LE Newsletter - March 20, 2008

  Literary Lasana: St. Maarten’s Literary Powerhouse

By Melanie Reffes, Excerpt from Nights Magazine

Flashing his mega-watt smile and wearing a crisp white button down shirt, Lasana Mwanza Sekou is a happy camper people-watching at the bar in the popular and swank Holland House on Front Street in Phillipsburg. With the cerulean sea on one side and a bustling hotel lobby on the other, there’s no shortage of fodder for his imagination. “People and their stories are what inspire me,” he smiles stirring a strong cup of coffee.

As the founder of House of Nehesi– the largest publishing house in the Eastern Caribbean -   the 48 year old is a literary powerhouse with a string of eleven books of poetry, monologues and short stories to his credit.  He was a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami, knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands and the recipient of a fellowship at the International Writers Workshop in China in where he created his critically-acclaimed 37 Poems –referring to the thirty-seven square miles of his beloved St. Maarten.

Born Harold Lake in Aruba, he grew up in St. Maarten and studied in the United States where he changed his name to Lasana Sekou - African words for poet warrior.  After publishing his first collection from his dorm room at the State University of New York, he returned to St. Maarten having written four more volumes of poetry.  On a roll, he expanded his portfolio to include co-directing Traditions – the Islands first drama extravaganza and producing the critically acclaimed Fete CD of traditional music by the legendary Tanny and the Boys.

Ten years after it was first published, Brotherhood of Spurs, Sekou’s powerful collection of short stories chronicling three centuries of St. Maarten history has been reprinted for a new generation of readers. The Salt Reaper, poems that delivers his thoughtful message of Island independence is taught in high schools and universities. His work is performed on stage, included in literary journals such as Callaloo and the Caribbean Writer and translated into Spanish, Dutch, German and Chinese.

Despite being one of the most prolific writers in the Caribbean with a schedule that would exhaust someone half his age, Sekou is a humble guy when he talks about the accomplishments of HNP over the past quarter century. “We are getting an increasing number of writer inquiries from around the world, “he says with a shy twinkle, “imagine that?” 

HNP has published the work of thirty authors including former Nigerian diplomat Fabian Badejo, controversial American author Amiri Baraka and high school teacher Wendy-Ann Diaz whose children’s book Claude’s Adventures came out last year.    “Caribbean writers are world-class, “Sekou beams,” this new generation is hungry for recognition which today is a realistic goal.”  

In addition to mentoring young talent, Sekou is the project manager for the HNP non-profit Foundation which promotes the arts through events like the annual Book Fair held
alternately on both sides of the Island in June.

Back at the bar in the Holland House which is getting crowded during Happy Hour, Lasana is still sipping the café he’s nursed for nearly an hour while he chats to just about everyone who recognizes him . On his drawing board include another collection of short stories, a documentary about Ponum - the traditional slavery dance and speaking at conferences around the world.  “Even while I’m on the road, “he says, “I always look forward to coming back home.”


Mark the Calendar:

6th annual St. Martin Book Fair -  June 5 - 7, 2008

Founded in 2003 by Conscious Lyrics Foundation and House of Nehesi Publishers, the St. Martin Book Fair is one of the must-see events on the Island.  Held every June alternately on both sides of the Island, the fair attracts bookworms who come for three days of readings, workshops and a chance to meet dozens of authors from around the world. ”

Amongst the new crop is Brother Rich, Nana Sweetie – an anthology of short stories, vignettes and poems written by thirteen aspiring writers who took part in the House of Nehesi Creative Writing Program. “As its editor, “said Rhoda Arrindell, “I am honored to be selected by the book fair to represent St. Martin writers.” 
 According to coordinator Shujah Reiph, the event is now gaining the recognition it deserves.    “This year we were contacted by tourists from New York and Puerto Rico, who are coming in just for the Book Fair, “ he said proudly, “ News about our cultural event is growing here at home and abroad.” 
6th annual St. Martin Book Fair  -  June 5 - 7, 2008

Visit www.houseofnehesipublish.com for information.