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GUEST POST: Christene Browne, author of Philomena Unloved

Welcome back to Reading, Reading, Reading!

Today I have a very special post I am eager to share. Just under a month ago, I was asked to share a guest post written by Christene Browne. Christene Browne is the author of Philomena (Unloved), which was released on September 25, 2018.

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Christene Browne is a well-respected and internationally acclaimed Toronto independent filmmaker and was the first Black woman to direct a feature film in Canada. Her documentary series “Speaking in Tongues – The History of Language” won the Visionary award at the Women’s Intl. Film & Television Showcase. Christene’s most recent short film, Mount Misery, won best film at Berlin’s Film Festival in 2017. She is currently working on a feature documentary on Toronto’s Regent Park – the oldest and largest Canadian housing complex as well as an animated film on the early life of famed Canadian author Austin Clarke. This is Christene’s second novel.

Her new book, Philomena (Unloved), is about a women named Philomena Jones who was born in the Caribbean and has been abandoned by her mother and left at the mercy of her grandmother who, after raising many children and grandchildren, is not capable of dedicating herself to another child. Love-starved, Philomena is easy prey. Not since Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye have readers been exposed to a heroine so in need of love. Abused by her pastor, Philomena begins a descent into mental instability. She leaves the islands for America, but ends up homeless and battling mental illness. Released from a psyche ward, Philomena is sent to a supportive housing facility for women. In this most unexpected of places, she finally realizes her dream of family. Reminiscent to “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”, the women united through their damage, all sharing a history of abuse and sexual violence ultimately support each other and find tenderness. In the midst of the #MeToo Era, this story delves into the stories of women living on the margins of society and the violence that is inflicted upon the already vulnerable. Philomena’s story is poignant and unbearably sad, but ultimately uplifting.

Personally, I love reading about what inspires authors to write and who sparked their writing journey. Christene Browne has shared her writing inspirations with me, and I am honoured to share them with you!

As a human, I write because I need to write. The urge to write is (as it is with a most writers) is as necessary as the act of breathing, eating, or sleeping. It’s as innate and essential. Writing is a form of release in which I give life to the ideas, thoughts, emotions, stories and characters in my head. Writing is a form of communication, a form of therapy, a form of catharsis. It is primarily a dialogue that I have with myself.

As a citizen of this world I write to contemplate the beauty that is life and this planet and to underline injustices and inequities.

As a Black woman who is an immigrant to North American and someone who grew up on the margins of society in a low-income community, I write to declare my existence. As an invisible entity, I am in the process of constantly writing myself into existence. In this aspect, writing is a dialogue I have with society to say, I and people like me, am not to be discounted, dismissed or forgotten.

As a mother I write to convey my passions, reveal my moral compass and provide lessons and cautionary tales to guide my children and lead them in the right direction.

As a teacher I write to instruct future generations.

As an artist I write to escape from reality into creations of my own makings.

As a lover of everything, I write to convey the magnitude of my sentiments.

As a writer, I write because I must. I write to tell stories that need to be told, stories that I have never read.

The inspiration for my second novel, Philomena (Unloved) came from my encounter with a stranger. I would see this diminutive Black woman on a regular basis when ever I left my house to run errands in the neighbourhood where I lived. Something in the woman’s demeanor told me that she didn’t want to be noticed, she was content with her invisibility. This for some reason made her all the more intriguing to me. Every time I saw her I wondered what her story was. I wondered how she developed the skin condition on the upper part of her face that she always seemed to be trying to conceal with a wool hat even in the heat of summer. I wondered how far her seemingly directionless walks took her. I wondered about her living conditions. I wondered if she had any people in her life and if she was loved. The more times I saw her, my wonderings continued. At one point I was seeing her every time I left the house. I took this as some sort of sign. The universe was telling me that there was a story there, so I began to write it. I had never spoken one word to the woman since she did everything in her power to avert her eyes or even cross the street to avoid me and everyone else. Since I could not approach this woman, I decided to invent her story, imposing real circumstances and individual stories from my past on it. When I began the story, I didn’t set out to write the story of a group of survivors of sexual violence. Through the writing process I was lead to these marginalized women. As I was trying to imagine the trauma that the stranger may have lived through, the trauma of women who I knew started to speak to me and these are the stories I was lead to tell. I don’t remember if my contemplation on love and what happens to the human psyche when one does not experience love came before I began to imagine the stories of these women.

What it means to live on the margins of society, what it means to be a survivor of sexual trauma, what it means to live with mental illness, what it means to live without love all become the underlying premise of the novel. Philomena Jones much like Pecola Breedlove of The Bluest Eye is an unloved child. In Philomena (Unloved) this child grows up and must deal with the all the trauma from her past. This trauma is inescapable.

Thanks to Christene Browne for sharing her inspirational story and what inspires her to write and what inspired her to write Philomena (Unloved). You can purchase a copy of this story here.

Good Night Book Owls!

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