Jewel Greene-George's mission to expand the orange economy
IN today’s technology-driven world, developing a reading and writing culture among primary school students, teenagers and even young adults can be challenging.
With all types of material easily accessible on Google, studies have shown that it’s sometimes difficult to cultivate an appreciation for physical books and writing among a younger demographic.
President of the Tobago Writers Guild Jewel Greene-George acknowledges this reality but sees the merit in marrying digitisation with promoting an enabling environment through which young people can explore their creativity.
“The orange economy (business model rooted in creativity) speaks to an economic model where goods and services have intellectual value because they are the product of ideas and the expertise of their creators. Covid19 has not been all negative because the Caribbean had been, pre-pandemic, ever so slowly creeping towards a digitised environment,” she told Sunday Newsday.
“The pandemic forced us out of our comfort zones and into the realisation of a fully digitised mode of communication and doing business. We had to become very agile, very quickly, which the guild did extremely well. It also been moving towards a digitised environment by way of banking, membership, meetings, communications, workshops and book products.”
Greene-George believes the Ministry of Digital Transformation’s $200 million allocation is not only meant to drastically increase Trinidad and Tobago’s national digital literacy rate but also to remodel how citizens conceptualise business processes and ICT, which falls within the ambit of the orange economy.
“So this social media age has in so many ways moved the orange economy and its players forward at quantum speed and we hope that part of that budgetary allocation will be dedicated towards the literary arts culture and the publication sector as well.”
Still, she learnt that Tobago’s reading and writing culture leaves much to be desired.
“I’ve fielded enquiries about Tobago’s reading and writing culture, with people citing the closure of bookstores on the island and that outside of educational reading material, book sales are abysmal.”
Greene-George said although the development of a leisure reading habit is an objective of the primary school curriculum, there is a dearth of empirical evidence on the extent to which this is being attained.
“The general consensus is that Tobago isn’t reading and more specifically, that men aren’t reading. But with only 24-hours in a day and a multitude of other media competing for our attention, including cable/satellite TV, radio, the internet and e-mail, the competition is stiff for people to make time to read books.
“So while I would agree that we have a declining reading culture, I also have to qualify that by distinguishing where the decline lies – the reading of physical books and reading for leisure or pleasure.”
Greene-George is the marketing director of Caribbean Social Media Hub TT, a digital company which does marketing and accounting for non-governmental organisations and small and medium-sized enterprises.
She was elected writers guild president on January 22 at the organisation’s annual general meeting.
Greene-George, who replaced Xavier Edwardz, leads a seven-member executive and will serve for one year. The guild has over 300 members in Tobago and across the diaspora.
“We have quite a few honorary members and we’re looking to expand our membership so that we can provide support for as many writers as possible.”
She became a member of the guild in 2018, eight years after it became a registered entity.
Greene-George, who had moved to Tobago to be with her family after having lived in Barbados for close to decade, said she met the then writers guild president while strolling in Carnbee one sunny afternoon.
“That put me on the path to guild membership. I attended one monthly meeting in 2019, we met at the Scarborough Methodist Primary School and I felt an instant kinship. I knew that I had found my literary home, and I’ve never looked back.”
During that time, Greene-George observed, the guild had been attempting to promote an appreciation of reading among young people in schools and communities.
The organisation recently participated in the Division of Education, Research and Technology’s World Read Aloud Day initiative where time was allocated, during school hours, to engage the students by reading different types of material to them.
“It was a great success for both the readers and the listeners with the guild fielding requests from the students to return.”
She said research shows that reading aloud is one of the most important things that an adult can do for children.
Apart from providing a “model of fluent, expressive reading” targeting the skills of audio learners, Greene-George said research also shows that teachers who read aloud to students also motivate them to read.
“Reading aloud to another person is a key mechanism that can activate an appreciation for reading in Tobago’s younger generation and that will reignite that love for reading in some of us who have lost that spark of pleasure reading.”
The guild has also been using other avenues to encourage reading and writing.
One such programme is its annual reading fest, where participants are encouraged to perform and present their original written bodies of work in poetry, creative writing and fiction and non-fiction of any genre from writers across all media. Last November, the project featured literary icon Earl Lovelace.
She recalled Lovelace read to the audience from his short story Joebell and America, which has now been adapted into a movie.
Greene-George said the guild is also exploring a partnership with Africa Film TT and the Tobago Film Association that will provide yet another avenue for writers to have their work adapted for film through screenplays.
“Tobago’s literary voice must be facilitated on as many platforms as possible and aid in the expansion of our contribution to the orange economy.”
The eldest of three siblings, Greene-George grew up in Trinidad, navigating between Arima and Kelly Village.
She told Sunday Newsday she has always been exposed to books.
Her family had a large bookshelf in a corner of their living room which her father built and mother furnished. It had two volumes of encyclopaedia, a series of cooking and health books and two volumes of children’s books. The bottom shelves were reserved for the books her parents favoured.
“That corner of the living room was where I fell in love with books and it was owing in large part to my mother who would read to us at bedtime, with all the accoutrements. She spared no effort in the drama department.”
Greene-George recalled she and a childhood friend read every Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes they could find. They later decided they had had enough of other people’s stories and decided to write a book of their own.
“We had a hard cover notebook where we wrote our own mystery story. It’s a pity that we lost track of our first novel.”
Later, during a July-August vacation period, she recalled her mother bought her and a sister penmanship books.
“That was when I found my second true love, a love of writing. I am, to this day, that person who has to have multiple ink pens and bottles of ink and other writing paraphernalia of varying colours and hues. That is an enormous sense of joy for me, even in this digital age when you take notes on your laptop at meetings and use a dictaphone at lectures to save time. Reading and writing are becoming a dying art, an act of indulgence and leisure that we simply don’t seem to have time for.”
Coming from a closely-knit family, Greene-George said books were her comfort when she went off to secondary school at Holy Name Convent.
“I read for school, I read for pleasure, I read to better understand my new world, I read to understand myself and why people behaved the way they did.”
That experience prompted her to pursue a degree in Biology at Caribbean Union College (now University of the Southern Caribbean), Maracas, St Joseph, and later a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Management at UWI’s Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.
“I took every opportunity I could, to find ways of learning more about the world around me, from a humanistic perspective. Wherever there is a knowledge gap in your circle of influence, there is no such gap with access to books.”
As the guild’s president, Greene-George is tasked with ensuring that the mission of the organisation is executed, that programmes are carried out in support of the mission and that finances are properly managed.
She said at the height of the covid19 pandemic, many of the guild’s members, especially those who experienced changes in their employment status, embraced writing to cope with the stress.
But she noted during this post-pandemic period, members need greater support in fine-tuning their writings to have them marketed and published. The guild found platforms for members to expose their voices through various events and partnerships.
As such, Greene-George sees her role as president as being that of a “great facilitator."
“I have to look at the global, regional and local trends, and try to predict where we need to be before we need to be there. I have to ensure that we continue to be the premiere domicile for authors and writers across TT and the diaspora.”
She also has to address the prevailing concerns of the guild’s membership while anticipating the future needs of Tobago’s literary arts culture and charting an economically profitable path for people to flourish within the sector.
During her term, Greene-George intends to push for Tobago’s creative sector and especially the guild’s members to have a compilation of the island’s unique vernacular and jargon.
“We have to be able to understand and articulate what we do and conceptualise, redefine and articulate our place in the scheme of things and our role in the regional and international landscape as creatives, where the guild, as a collective, re imagines our strategic plan, to create a dynamic stamp on the orange economy that speaks to the literary arts and the local publication industry through our Tobago Writers Guild Publishing House Ltd.”
In the long term, she wants to see the orange economy play a significant role in revenue generation for each writer, the island, country and ultimately, the region.
According to the Central Statistical Office, the orange economy’s contribution to TT’s economy was $393.8 million in 2019 and $394.6 million in 2020.
“What part of the came from Tobago? I’d like to know what that figure is and increase it.”
The guild meets monthly but has, over the years, established stronger ties with the community through its spin-off initiatives, First Mic, The Next Chapter and the lecture series.
“These coupled with our more established annual events, namely the Literary Affair and the Reading Fest have increased our opportunities for engagement with our members and the public.”
"Jewel Greene-George’s mission to expand the orange economy"