Wadadli Pen, the Odyssey: 2016 Edition

A frazzled Wadadli Pen Challenge coordinator journals and blogs the experience. It starts rough and ranty but read on, it gets better.


Finally! all eligible entries are out to the judges. I say finally because processing this year’s entries was an extremely trying exercise and distribution to the judges was delayed as a result. Too many entries were incomplete or messy, like an unedited-text-messy, and that’s before you get to the fact that some had little or no details re the entry sometimes not even a title (age, contact information etc. fugheddabouddit). And late! I suppose I have to accept 12 years in that the law of competitions is always submit on deadline day. That’s one thing but while processing, up to a full week after the submission deadline, I was still getting entries with only one pausing to apologize for and explain the lateness. I ended up sending a mass email out to everyone who submitted (and even tried to reach out to others via online media) requesting the information needed to process their submission…and giving them the opportunity to clean up any messiness and re-submit. Some responded with the updated information (including some who didn’t need to but were just that conscientious). Some didn’t respond at all.

Why bother, you ask?

Well, the 18 to 35s aside, these are kids and I….I guess I was being a sap; the admin stuff is a pain in the bleeeeeep but the purpose of this is to encourage young people to write and to give them a platform to share their writing. Also, as a practical matter, this information is needed for record keeping re who submitted what and details re how to get in touch with them etc., to update our stats re patterns of entry, and to categorize entries appropriately for dissemination to the judges. Still, in the end, for the first time, I had to eliminate entries as there was just no way to process some of them and get them to the appropriate judge – 11 entries were cut. I’m not happy about this because I bend over backwards to give each entry a fair shot – even when they stray far outside the word limit, even if they’re a day or so late etc. But no. A line had to be drawn.

Note to self, no matter how much folks fuss that it’s too much to wade through, there must be clearly spelled out submission guidelines (as every lit contest I’ve ever come across, no matter the age group, has). I will try to simplify them but they must exist – beyond reading the notices in the paper, or online, or in flyers when we have them, if you’re going to take the time to submit, I’m going to insist that you (the younger ones with the help of an adult) take the time to go through and adhere to the posted guidelines.  It’s just too much work and too tedious otherwise. And nothing good is being learned.

If I sound grumpy, it’s because my eyes are burning and I’m tired. I do this processing solo and this year it ate up entirely too much work and personal (and weekend, and sleep) time. And inconvenient as it was for me, there’s also the fact that it delayed the process. I have engaged the volunteer judges for a set time (after they’ve done their work, I still have to do follow up with donors and work with Best of Books on organizing the awards

Moment from the 2014 awards.

Moment from the 2014 awards.


– though thank God they’re doing the heavy lifting of hosting, organizing the prizes), I certainly cannot afford to take their time for granted either. Not good.

Grump. Grump. Grump.

Okay, that out of the way. Hoorah, another cycle of Wadadli Pen’s annual Challenge is rounding the first lap. I say first lap because once the judges cull the list according to categories, I still need to return the top entries to those still in contention with edit notes for their review and revision after which the overall winners will be selected. This process is atypical as far as writing contests go, but is in keeping with Wadadli Pen’s mission to be developmental – to help participants not just win prizes but grow in the craft of writing. I wish we could send out constructive critiques to each participant, but I am trying to get additional funding for more workshop activity so that I/we can work with more young writers. #WadadliPenGoals

Now, the break down. After the eliminations, there were 49 entries – 29 poems, 13 fiction, 6 creative non-fiction, and one I wasn’t sure how to categorize but I still sent through (like I said, I try to give everyone a fair shot). It’s interesting to me, especially given that when Wadadli Pen started it was a purely fiction contest, that entrants favour poetry. I suspect that’s because most think it’s easier – good poetry isn’t, for the record; but then I’m talking as a fiction writer who was once told after submitting poetry and fiction to an editor “your poetry is not up to the standard of your fiction”. Hope the poets in this cycle fare better than I did that time.

Forty five [45] people in all submitted – 15 in the 18 to 35 age category, 7 in the 13 to 17 age category, and 23 in the 12 and younger category. It’s worth noting that a sizable portion of these (18) are from Christ the King High School which makes that school the clear winner as the school with the most submissions. I don’t have sponsorship for this prize this year so I hadn’t planned to offer one, but I’m going to try to come up with something because it’s well earned. Not surprisingly, Margaret Irish who stepped up as this year’s Challenge ambassador, visiting schools and talking to the media, confirms that CKHS was one of her stops, and she reports talking to the English teacher, noting: “it was great speaking to a teacher who understood the importance of Wadadli Pen, even though her teaching schedule was hectic.” It’s always been the case that where we are able to engage directly with the teachers and students – but especially the teachers – that there’s a bump in entries from that institution. I noticed it first in 2005 when I engaged with students and teachers at Buckleys


and got a ton of entries from them in return. Time and resource constraints has made doing this sustainably difficult but thank God for surrogates like Margaret who, though she is beyond the target age group, you may recognize is a past winner of Wadadli Pen (the teacher’s prize, and in 2015 when we didn’t set an age limit, the flash fiction prize). Margaret also visited Antigua State College, Golden Grove Primary, T N Kirnon, St. Joseph’s Academy, Antigua Girls High – she also mailed Baptist and Island Academy; a complement to the mailing I did after the launch to each individual school on Antigua and Barbuda and a fair number of teachers in addition to checking in and answering their follow-up questions. The returns could be better, I’m not going to lie. This year we picked up submissions (dribbles of one, two) from Antigua and Barbuda Hospitality Training Institute, Antigua Girls High School, Antigua Grammar School, Antigua State College, Baptist Academy, Five Islands Primary, Irene B. Williams, Mary E. Piggott, St. John’s Catholic Primary, and Sunnyside Tutorial. What I would like to see is more continuity with schools who’ve won the prize for most submissions in the past – schools like Bolans, St. John’s Catholic, Wesleyan Junior Academy; what the programme needs is more ongoing engagement with these and other schools but that will take funding – it just will because it’s a lot of time and it would need to be properly planned, coordinated with the teachers and schools, and pull the resources and resource people, me and others, to facilitate. All of that is part of the future planning…which continues at a snail’s pace… mostly because of that time deficit.

Another non-surprise: most of the entrants were female. Only seven boys and/or young men have submitted this year. So, there’s that…
The youngest entrant was 6 years old (if I’m doing the math right), the oldest 34 – keeping in mind that we have no minimum age and a maximum age of 35 in keeping with UN parameters re youth. We will as we’ve done over the years select winners 12 and younger, 13 to 17, and 18 to 35, and the top entrants from all age categories will be eligible for the overall prize.

Moment from the 2012 awards ceremony.

Moment from the 2012 awards ceremony.

Finally, it’s always interesting to review not only the pieces but why people are writing – whether it’s because teacher told them to or writing through writer’s block or depression, because they have a message they wish to impart or they just love to write. It’s fun to read of this one’s “passion for writing” and that one projecting “someday I might be a bestselling author”. It’s a privilege to discover the secret writers – “been writing since I was thirteen. Growing up I was always afraid of expressing myself so writing (has) always been my outlet” and to be entrusted with someone’s fragile hope – “I really hope you find something worthy in my writing”. It’s a joy to see the familiar – “(I am) a sixteen year old girl who enjoys writing and reading books” and to meet the first time writers, those for whom writing is an academic exercise, those for whom it’s emotional catharsis, and those for whom Wadadli Pen has become a ritual of sorts – “ever since I found out about this competition, I have been looking forward to it each year”.

All of that is what made me push through the grumpiness and put in the time needed to give each entry a fair shake – well, as much as possible.

Now it’s in the judges’ hands.

I look forward to the outcome almost as much as the writers.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Literary Gallery, Wadadli Pen 2016, Wadadli Pen News

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