Makeup to Steups


From cover of The Star Side of Bird Hill, by Naomi Jackson, 2015

From Literary Hub:

I’d been watching the girl in the painting that hung above my desk for a few months before I became obsessed with the idea of her appearing on my book cover. “Too Much Makeup” by Barbadian artist Sheena Rose could be an illustration of one of the characters from my novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill; specifically, sixteen-year-old Dionne Braithwaite, who has been shuttled off by her ailing mother to Barbados with her ten-year-old sister Phaedra in tow. The second paragraph of the novel describes Dionne, and the way that makeup affords Dionne both a form of armor and a connection to the life she’s left behind in Brooklyn:

Dionne Braithwaite was two weeks fresh from Brooklyn and Barbados’s fierce sun had already transformed her skin from its New York shade of caramel to brick red. She was wearing foundation that was too light for her skin now. It came off in smears on the white handkerchiefs she stole from her grandmother’s chest of drawers, but she wore it anyway, because makeup was her tether to the life she’d left back home. Hyacinth, while she didn’t like to see her granddaughter made up, couldn’t argue with the fact that Dionne’s years of practice meant that she could work tasteful wonders on her face, looking sun-kissed and dewy-lipped rather than the tart her grandmother thought face paint transformed women into.

Beyond the makeup we see on the cover girl’s face, there is also suspicion brewing, a side eye on the lookout for trouble, her lips deeply pursed in anticipation of what might vex her next. I knew that I had found the right image when I sent an early mockup of the cover to my sister and she wrote, “she looks like she’s about to steups.” A “steups” is a vocalization of irritation, impatience, or disapproval made by drawing air and saliva through the teeth. This seemed like precisely the right posture for the angsty, defensive Caribbean-American teenager I’d dreamed up in Dionne Braithwaite.

The work of Sheena Rose—a young visual artist born and raised in Barbados, currently on a Fulbright at UNC—forms part of a thrilling renaissance in Caribbean arts and letters.

“The Perfect Covergirl”, Naomi Jackson, Literary Hub