Asha Graham is the 2014 winner of the Wadadli Pen writing Challenge, the first writer to two-peat in 10 years of Wadadli Pen.
Graham, 16, a student at the Antigua State College, won for her story Lajabless, favoured by the judges and described by one as having “a wonderfully distinctive narrative style” with dialogue that “flows impressively and rings true”, “brilliantly done” plotting, and writing that is “tight and finely crafted.” Runners-up for the main prize were Kohlyah Piper, author of Hallowed Ground, and Ariel Dunnah, previously a 2012 finalist and in the top three overall this year for her poem La Diablesse. Piper and Dunnah were, also, the winner and first runner up, respectively, in the 18 to 35 age category; Graham was tops among teens 13 to 17.
Margaret (The Skipping Rope) Irish, a teacher at ABIIT who also runs an after school programme, is the winner of the Teachers Lead by Example Prize.
“I wrote The Skipping Rope, because it is one of two powerful memories I have of my mother, who died when I was 8-years old. Actually, she died shortly after the events recounted in this story. The Skipping Rope is therefore a memorial of my mother and a tribute to her strengths as an individual,” Irish explained; adding “Crafting such an emotionally intense experience into a story for children was challenging, but the judges’ comments were extremely helpful.” She’s referring here to the fact that once it has a short list, Wadadli Pen, returns the stories/poems to the writers with edit notes to guide the writer towards improving the story and quite possibly improving its ranking in the competition. The intent is skill building and writers have the option of declining to make changes to their entries.
In Wadadli Pen’s 10th year, there were a record 24 writers on the short list. Four artists were short listed, meanwhile, from among those who submitted to the cover design Wadadli Pen Art Challenge. The winner is musician and art teacher Alvin Livingstone with his design for the poem Last Cry – mindful that cover design is not just about art but marketing, communication and a bit of mystery, he said, “I believe I was able to effectively capture the feel of the poem while leaving some of the interpretation up to the viewer.”
Emile Hill placed second with his cover design for The Knock on My Door and Shaziane placed third with her cover design for Delinquent Development. Past winner Shem Alexander was awarded an honourable mention for his design for The Cold Truth.
Swinging back to the literary prizes, first time contender, T N Kirnon, was the school with the most submissions and one of its teachers Paula (The Big Fight and Two Can Play at That Game) Russell-Peters was second and third placed for the Teachers Prize. Russell-Peters explained that she uses her storytelling as a way of illustrating to her students what they can do. One of her students, Daniel (One Scary Night) Ince, 10, was an honourable mention in the 12 and younger age category.
Former finalist Vega (Forbidden) Armstrong, now 13, of St. Anthony’s won the category with a historical romance, with another former finalist Chammaiah (The Great Cycle) Ambrose, 9, of Sunnyside placing second. Chammaiah’s entry serves as a reminder that inspiration is all around us – “My poem resulted from a class science project,” Chammaiah explained. “The huge caterpillars are usually on my neighbour’s tree and as I said, I have never seen the butterflies laying eggs but the tree is always filled with the caterpillars.” Christopher (The Knock on My Door) Gittens, 11, of St. John’s Catholic Primary and Mjolnir (Searching for a Treasure) Messiah, 10, of Minoah Magnet tied for third in this category. Daniel, Zoe Lewis, Zion Williams and Terry Benjamin Jr. were Honourable Mentions in this age category.
Among 13 to 17s, Antigua State College student Kelvin (Delinquent Development) Juwon, 17, placed second and Irene B. Williams student Suzette (The Day I saved a Friend) Emanuel, 14, placed third. Winner of the category, Graham said this about her story Lajabless: “Caribbean folklore had always enthralled me … The real challenge was mainly how to capture her in a modern sense, and still have her (remain) true.”
In the 18 to 35 age category, Arizé (The Cold Truth) Lee, placed third behind Piper and Dunnah. Piper’s poem grew out of a moment of gratitude: she said, “as a people we sometimes live as if our history and its value has no bearing on our lives today, and sometimes we take the opportunities that we have, however little, around us for granted … (but) our evolution from being ‘the owned’ to ‘owners’, from ignorance to education, from dreaming to realizing ought to be reverenced through the actions we take in nation building, defining our progression instead of digression.”
Given that the bulk of submissions came from the 18 to 35 age category, it’s no surprise that they had the bulk of writers on the short list, though the closeness of the ratings among these entries is a credit to the tightness of the race; so kudos to Dunnah, Daryl George, Letisha Faracho, Kaylee Meyer, Alexaandra Spence, Angelica O’Donoghue, and Liscia Lawrence. There were two honourable mentions in the teaching category, Carmen Ambrose and Damian De Silva.
The judges had a tough time zeroing in on the overall winners and praised the quality of the competition. They did see room for improvement in terms of the expansiveness of the themes and the approach to story telling – i.e. there was room to think outside of the box. Workshops to build on the evident skills of writers and artists is something Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse would like to pursue further, though she stated that community and corporate patronage would be needed to make it happen.
She expressed thanks for those who supported the 2014 season of Wadadli Pen as well as the work of Wadadli Pen through the years. In the 10th anniversary year, such support came from Barbara Arrindell, Linisa George, Art at the Ridge, Pam Arthurton, Barbuda Express, Best of Books, Brenda Lee Browne, Carol Mitchell and Caribbean Reads Publishing, Karib Cable, Community First Cooperative Credit Union, Lia Nicholson, Cushion Club, Frank B. Armstrong, Angelica O’Donoghue, Danielle George-John and Sweet Dreams, Karen and Koren Norton, D. Gisele Isaac, Devra Thomas, Ruel Johnson – two time winner of the Guyana Prize for Literature, Guyanese born writer Maggie Harris, Trinidadian writer Danielle Boodoo Fortune and her Wildflower Studio, Joy Lawrence, the Map Shop, Pearson, Latisha Walker-Jacobs, Photogenesis, Raw Island Products, Jane Seagull, Elaine Spires, Juneth Webson, Floree Williams, and, of course, the Media.