On Thursday 27th March, Grenadian Author, Cindy Mc Kenzie, completed the first leg of the North American Tour for her debut novel, Force Ripe. The tour began in Brooklyn, New York on 20 February, 2016 and took Mc Kenzie to Toronto and Montreal, Canada; Washington, D.C; Atlanta, Georgia; and rounding off in Queens, New York.
Force Ripe was first launched in St. George’s on 24 October, 2015. Chief Education Officer shared during the launch that the book rekindled his passion for local writers and hoped that, “Young people (are) exposed to that kind of literature.” He noted that, “Grenadians need to get into the habit of producing literature that we can infuse into our education system.” His support for the novel was strengthened by comments from Director of Mt. Zion Library, Author OonyaKempadoo who acknowledged Mc Kenzie’s “tremendous amount of courage and bravery to write this story.” Kempadoo considers Force Ripe a “significant contribution to Caribbean literature, (and) world literature.”
After doing book signings around St. George’s and in her birth parish, St. Patrick, Mc Kenzie received the impetus to take Force Ripe to a larger audience—North America. Mc Kenzie’s adventurous spirit and drive which first led her write and self-publish her book, ultimately led her to take the book abroad.She received support from friends, and fans who fell in love with Lee, the main character in the novel. Sociologist, Dr. Wendy Crawford-Daniel and New York-based Television Producer, Johncrow Alexander helped to ensure that the book and its author reach an audience hungry for the taste of real life expressed in Caribbean stories.
The North American audience received the novel with love and high critical acclaim. Mc Kenzie spoke of the diversity of Force Ripe’s tour, “Every one of my book events are different. New York was great…the people who came out, came to support, some already had their books so lovely to share their own connection with Force Ripe…Toronto massive were there…nice crowd, great meeting up, reconnecting, chatting, brilliant…Montreal…real love…so much love through poetry… warmth, friendship–old rekindled, new ones struck up, real warmth and love and support from my people…all rolled up into one big Love!”
Reader, Claudia L. Hood-Halley describes Force Ripe as, “The first West Indian book I’ve read for which I strongly believe a Literary Prize is deserving! Everyone should read Force Ripe. Simple, yet powerful language, the Grenadianese was artfully captured. Bravery, mastery, skill, creativity, and pure guts – Cindy you are Awesome!!! I applaud you! I shall certainly read, and read, and read, this book again. Congratulations on a well written story! I enthusiastically endorse it!”
Force Ripe is revolutionary in its use of the Grenadian creole on the page. Some readers claim difficulty in encountering their mother tongue on the page for the first time. Mc Kenzie stands by her use of our kind of English in telling the story. “Force Ripe is a voice. The voice of this little girl, Lee.Her voice through her experiences, from her perspective. It is what it is. Her story. It does not try to explain, demoralize, take sides nor cast any blame. And it certainly does not call for any actions. It has gone through all its phases of trying to conform, fit in with what you learn you should and should not do, how you should and should not write, especially as a new writer. And it is certainly not forced ripe, because it has matured and is now confident to use and own that voice.”
“I feel it is important to be proud of our language, which is a huge part of our culture. Using our vernacular added more authenticity to Lee’s voice and the story, making it more relatable.”
On March 17, Mc Kenzie presented excerpts from Force Ripe at the Embassy of Grenada in Washington, D. C. with Grenadian Dr. Merle Collins and other Caribbean scholars and writers. This was a serendipitous moment considering Dr. Collins’ review of Force Ripe during the early stages of its fourteen year journey. In 2008, Dr. Collins said of Force Ripe, “I am particularly interested in the use of language in our Caribbean writing…I would stay with your use of language.” Her praise for Mc Kenzie continued, “You have a great story and a tremendous sense of voice. I hear the voices. I think it’s a great story and will be a good book. I can already feel that you have a gift for capturing the voice on the page.”
In a 2016 interview with Johncrow Alexander of Caribbean Classroom, Dr. Collins expressed her “pleasure to hear Cindy read from her work Force Ripe.” Dr. Collins found the intersections between fiction and reality, as well as Cindy’s reading, “fascinating.” She praised Cindy for courage and tenacity to tell this story despite not having a Ph.D. She noted that many writers who teach in colleges do not have degrees. What they along with Cindy have is, “the control of craft…tone of voice…the craft of storytelling.” Her experience hearing Cindy read from Force Ripe was, “Absolutely wonderful.”
Cindy Mc Kenzie and Force Ripe has been featured on readgrenada.com and Caribbeanbooks.org. Guyanese author, Harold Bascom featured a chapter of the book on his website:laughingpallete.com, plusCreative writing professor at the California College of the Arts, Dr. Opal Palmer Adisa, recommends Force Ripe “to be included in Caribbean literature and Sociology courses.
Force Ripe is a timely gift to our culture in that it reflects some of the experiences many women have growing up—having to survive sexual abuse. It comes at a time when Grenadian girls are being raped and are at risk of death from sex offenders. It also reflects some of the joys of growing up in Grenada—the outside kitchen; aroma of bakes and cocoa tea with spice and bwaden; catching crayfish in the river; even the life of the elusive Rastaman during the revolution. This book and its author are definitely going places and it would be remiss for Grenada to get left behind, only to heap awards and acclaim after the world has recognized greatness.
For as Cindy Mc Kenzie puts it at the end of the Ladies of the Word event in Queens, NY, “This journey has been so inspirational. I have felt so welcomed, embraced and loved by all of you who have come together, with love, generosity and pure Grenadian pride, to celebrate this achievement with me. To celebrate our stories, our culture, our literature. And this piece of literature is not just my book, it is a representation of our country GRENADA because I am Grenadian to the bone. I am proud to say I feel I have represented well. Feeling blessed. Giving thanks always to EVERYONE who has been there, supported and continue to show love and appreciation. Blessings come in all forms. THANK YOU!”
Cindy believes that from the start, Force Ripe was destined to take its own path, make its own journey. The heartfelt connections that the book has made with people along the way has changed, even enlightened the course of that journey.
Force Ripe is available in bookstores in Grenada, The House Of Chocolate, Young street, (opposite MNIB) and from the author. Cindy can be contacted on Facebook: Cindy-McKenzie-Author. Twitter: Simbamac. Cindy’s blog: cindymac.info also features her ecofriendly cement plant holders and other usable art pieces.
Cindy Mc Kenzie is available for book club discussions and speaking engagements. She can be reached via phone at 473.414.6737 and email: email@example.com.