Marcia Douglas is the author of the novels Madam Fate (Soho Press) and Notes from a Writer’s Book of Cures and Spells (Peepal Tree Press) as well as the poetry collection Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom (Peepal Tree Press). Her work may be found in anthologies such as Whispers from Under the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (Invisible Cities Press), Mojo: Conjure Stories (Warner Books), Sisters of Caliban: Contemporary Women Poets of the Caribbean (Azul Editions), The Art of Friction: Where (Non)Fictions Come Together (Univ. of Texas Press), The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, and The Forward Book of Poetry (Faber and Faber).
Bella is a kin-owl—a shapeshifter—who knows the story of how God created Jamaica and how She laughed when She saw what She had done. Through the generations Bella lives on, in one incarnation, then another, always meeting suffering with fortitude, hiding the burden of her strange nature from others. Some of the women whose lives cross hers are young Gracie who seeks comfort for the pain of waiting for her mother who has immigrated to New York, and Mrs. Cummings, who teaches Gracie about the plants in her garden and sends her to look for the mysterious, white star flower known as Madam Fate.
The seed for this book came from childhood recollections of squatters in a Kingston cemetery, their clotheslines stretched above tombstones, a young girl singing amid the dead. This story travels the riff of a Marley tune and comes from afar. Notes has at its center a Jamaican writer, Flamingo, whose life becomes intertwined with her fictional characters: Dahlia, a young girl growing up in ghetto Kingston; her beautiful one-eyed sister, Alva, who dreams of fashion design in New York; their brother, Paul, who through his love for the coconut cakes in Mrs. Ying’s (the Chinese shopkeeper’s) showcase, comes to be called “Made in China;” and a Rastafarian Madonna who sits on a windowsill stealing keys, bottle caps and hair pins as people pass by. Through poverty, immigration and Jamaica’s political upheaval, the siblings are dispersed, and it is Alva who solicits the help of Flamingo to bring the fictional family back together. In the world of this novel, storytelling serves as a metaphor for healing and the ability to tell a story is an act of magic.
In Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom, the reader is taken on a journey of light, from the rural flicker of the firefly, the half-moonlight of the limbo of exile in the USA, to the sense of connectedness and arrival suggested by the image of the eight-pointed star. It is also a journey of the voice, traversing back and forth across the Atlantic and across the continents, pushing its way through word censors and voice mufflers and ending in tongues of fire.