It’s been an odd year for Wadadli Pen. I had mostly drafted but hadn’t made the kind of progress I’d hoped in activating a plan for the future, and was staring down the possibility of (at minimum) a gap year up to the time the programme would normally have launched in January. Between sponsorship, promotion, submissions, and all the behind the scenes administrative and communication activities, Wadadli Pen can be time consuming, and I didn’t feel like I had the time to give. We’d gone on hiatus before and come back; it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.
But then a few things happened that pushed me to try to push it, even when new obstacles to my extremely pared down approach popped up.
I’m still in the thick of it, so I don’t know yet how I feel about this year, but I do know this, some patrons who have a history with the programme reaching out to offer support, even though I hadn’t stretched my hand out to ask for it, was reassuring. It suggested to me that these are companies, people who care about, feel invested in what Wadadli Pen is trying to do.
Best of Books and especially manager Barbara Arrindell (herself a writer) who cheerleaded/nagged (po-tay-to/po-tah-to) with little nudges that boiled down to what will it take to make this happen (“let me know what you need done”). Because I was frustrated with myself for not having moved the plan along so that a year on from our 10th anniversary we were in this place of uncertainty …again, I didn’t always know the answer to that. But as more than a patron, Barbara’s support and encouragement (even our occasional bickering) has been as invaluable to this programme as the fact that Best of Books contributes to our prize package and the last few years (about 2011 on) has taken the lead in planning and executing our awards ceremony.
Art at the Ridge via its manager Joy James who came on board last year as an art judge, but going back maybe a year before that also added little artistic whatsits to our prize package.
We aren’t doing visual arts this year so I hadn’t reached out to ask her for anything. But she didn’t let that stop her from offering: “I’d be happy to contribute some small offerings to the Wadadli Pen competition again this year if you’re needing prizes – let me know!” I did and she’s on board.
Raw Island Products has been gifting winners their generous basket of goodies in recent years and when they didn’t hear from me, they reached out as well with: “I would like to sponsor your wonderful event again this year. Please let me know when you will need the gift basket…” Not if but when; I like that.
Flow (formerly Karib Cable) is one we actively courted last year and this year when they didn’t hear from us they contacted us, explaining that they had budgeted for us in anticipation of supporting the programme for a second straight year. Now you have to understand that this sponsorship business is an up and down thing, and frankly I’ve had instances where I am made to feel like a beggar, not someone seeking patronage for programmes that could have positive community impact. Companies taking the initiative like this, extending goodwill like this make me feel like they get it, that they understand that this isn’t about me but (hopefully) community uplift through arts and youth development. So, Flow, thanks for thinking of us.
Finally, the only patron I reached out to is the one who has insisted on remaining anonymous but who has given a cash incentive each year since 2012. This year I intended to use that cash incentive as the main winner takes all prize and wanted to make sure said patron was still on board. I didn’t even have to ask.
I have gifts as well from CODE and the Burt Award folks, and as these gifts are primarily contemporary Caribbean books, I’m thrilled at their contributions as well.
Thanks to all the 2015 patrons.
Some people’s first question when considering entering is what’s the prize; but I know most of the people entering Wadadli Pen, especially those doing it year after year, aren’t in it for the money, money, money. When you’re a budding writer looking for opportunities, especially early on, often this is the furtherest thing from your mind – when measured against encouragement, validation, opportunity (including the opportunity to learn and grow). I’ve been there. But because I am a working writer, a journeying writer, I also understand the importance of valuing artists and the effort they put in, and that’s why I work hard to make the prize packages substantial. I’m happy to say that though this year’s programme is a smaller one, thanks to these patrons – and maybe others who may yet step up – we’ll be ensuring that our writers feel encouraged and rewarded.
At this point, I’m still processing the entries for submission to the judges. As a side bar, I need to re-emphasize how important it is when submitting to follow the submission guidelines (especially when they’re kept as simple as we did this year) – most contests or programmes you’re submitting to will reject or disregard out of hand any submission that doesn’t (I know). I’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible but even so had to deem some entries ineligible. In the end, 31 looks like the final count for 2015. As I said in a post on my facebook page, not our best year; not our worst. I have to admit I’m disappointed not to see some of the people I expected – some of the schools that expressed an interest in submitting – but I’m happy that some took a shot, and happier still with the ones that ensured their pieces were edited and/or proofed and put their best penned effort forward. It makes a difference. How much of a difference, we’ll see when the judges come back with their results. This year’s judging pool includes Journeycakes author Monica Matthew, Trinidadian artist and poet Danielle Boodoo Fortune, Caribbean Reads – publisher (of my book Musical Youth and others) and an author in her own right Carol Ottley-Mitchell, Floree Williams, author of Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses, and co-founder of August Rush which hosts a regular open mic series Linisa George.
We’re hoping to have the awards ceremony if not by the end of this month (given that I’m booked to participate in the VI Literary Festival) then by early next month. If you’re a past or future patron and would like to support in some way, there’s still time to do so. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks either way for all the support through the years and good luck to the writers. It’s never easy putting your work out there and whatever the outcome, I applaud you for daring.