Fact, Antigua and Barbuda has a lot of literary talent – look at the sheer number of writers these 170 square mile twin-small-islands continue to produce. Fact, there is literary enthusiasm (just peep the eager, so when do we start, comments re the 2016/2017 season of the Expressions Open Mic over on their facebook page). Fact, relative to facts one and two, we under-submit to journals, anthologies, and contests (can’t say we don’t know when we have an Opportunities and Opportunities Too (the one with pending deadlines) page, plus facebook pages like Just Write to keep us in the loop). What’s that you say? The claim of under-submission is opinion, not fact? Over-statement considering our size? Maybe, I mean I don’t know the submission levels for every small island but…
Case in point, the Commonwealth Short Story competition’s submissions from Antigua and Barbuda after 2012 (when my story Amelia at Devil’s Bridge, also shortlisted for the Small Axe fiction prize and taught in two college/university courses, one in NY and the other in Belize, that I’m aware of, was one of the prize also-rans included in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean):
2013 – 4 submissions
I don’t have numbers for earlier but if I’m recollecting my conversations with the Commonwealth rep overseeing the comp correctly, it was consistently less. And these uneven numbers though they reflect an improvement seem a trickle to me (even though we’re a combined 100,000 people if you want to stretch the truth a little), relative to facts one and two.
Is it the ‘unattractive’ prizes?£2,500 for regional winners, £5,000 overall plus a bump of recognition that can lift any emerging writer’s stock.
Is it the tight submission window? I mean sure it’s every year at the same time (November 1st – Independence Day in Antigua and Barbuda) but who can remember?…oh that’s right I remind you months in advance on Opportunities Too.
Is it the prohibitive no entry fee?
Is it that our mangoes will never get a fair shot against them apples? Except the Caribbean is its own region – remember the dark days when we were linked with Canada; and from this region, our writers – like Trinidad’s Sharon Millar have claimed the main prize.
What is it then?
I have an inkling.
As someone who’s been submitting to this prize for more years than I care to think of, I understand the intimidation factor and the soul crushing power of rejection – it’s hard putting your stuff out there and being told it’s not good enough. But you know why I keep submitting (well, apart from the obvious masochistic streak that keeps me getting up like a fighter that doesn’t know when she’s been beat)? Because I have stories I need to tell and I’m not about to let anybody tell me that those stories aren’t worth telling – my characters won’t have it. Because I know that sometimes these things are less about the quality of the work and more about how something clicks in a particular moment in time – I know (because some of you’ve told me ) that you have read winning stories and gone …but, but, but how? Don’t matter, it was that story’s turn and frankly, they’ve been good choices, the ones I’ve read (and I do try to read them for the enjoyment factor but also to learn and grow). Because if I’m being honest with myself my story
probably did need some work and I’d rather work to get better because I know that talent is such a small part of what makes a writer – we’ve got to be committed to the journey and the work. Because I am a writer and this is the rhythm of the writing life, and you need to develop the resilience to survive and game it (and give yourself permission to cry when it’s too much but DON’T GIVE UP). Because I am good enough dammit (repeat that three times!) and some day they’ll have to admit it – yes, the part of me that grew up hearing Solo affirm in song We bigger dan dem, will not allow size to limit her. A mix of positive affirmation, drive, and badmindedness (harnessed for good) – because, whatever it takes, for me to pick myself up off the ground and try again.
And so as I look at the trickle of submissions relative to the literary activity and enthusiasm for the literary arts here, I want to encourage you to find your whatever it takes, keep working on your craft (inquire re what didn’t work with your story if there’s an avenue to do so), keep growing, and keep submitting. Now you may say, I don’t write for that and that’s fine, if you don’t…but if you do want to take your shot and you’re talking yourself out of it, tell yourself to get out of your way and go through. And no, this isn’t the first time I’ve come here to urge you (and myself) to go for it…don’t think of me as a broken record, think of me as your favourite song on repeat, and get up and dance.
Carry these facts with you for some inspiration.
Diana McCaulay of Jamaica was the regional winner in 2012 for her story the Dolphin Catcher. That story was the root of her manuscript Gone to Drift which was the first runner-up for the 2015 Burt Award for teen/YA Caribbean fiction and has since been published to critical acclaim by Papillote Press. Diana, before and since the Commonwealth short story comp, has published several books, and won or been short listed for several regional and international prizes. She and her publisher are also past donors (2013, 2016) to the prize package for the annual Wadadli Youth Pen Prize challenge and we’ve reviewed her book here on the site as well (teaser: we loved it).
Sharon Millar of Trinidad & Tobago was the regional and overall winner in 2013 for her story The Whale House. She’s since gone on to publish her first book The Whale House and Other Stories to critical acclaim including right here on Wadadli Pen . It was also longlisted for the 2016 Bocas prize.
Maggie Harris, originally of Guyana, many years resident in the UK, was the regional winner in 2014 for her story Sending for Chantal. Maggie already had a long list of credits when she won the prize and she hasn’t missed a step, winning the Guyana (Poetry) Prize in 2015 for 60 years of loving. She’s also a 2014 prize donor to the annual Wadadli Youth Pen Prize challenge.
K. Jared Hosein of Trinidad & Tobago was the regional winner in 2015 for his story the King of Settlement 4. An earlier story of his had also made the cut in the aforementioned 2012 Pepperpot collection and he had self-published Littletown Secrets (check blogger on books for this site’s review). He has since published to acclaim The Repenters with Peepal Tree Press. And, with his permission, I’ve used both an earlier and the final draft of King of Settlement 4 in workshops, as an illustration of the tweaks that happen to make a story better as it goes through the editing process.
Lance Dowrich, a school principal in Trinidad and Tobago, won the regional prize in 2016 for Ethelbert and the Free Cheese. I’m not as familiar with his work, but given the trajectory of the other writers on this list, I have no doubt we all will be in time.
It’s worth noting, in case you’re feeling big-island intimidation that Antiguans and Barbudans have registered in this competition before. And no, I’m not talking about Pepperpot. Mary Quinn’s story Joe was highly commended in the 2002 Commonwealth short story competition as was Hazra Medica’s Banana Stains in the 2008 competition – in the years before the literary prizes out of the Commonwealth was restructured.
Keeping it real, I’d like to see Antigua and Barbuda make the short list and even win, and I believe we can, and so I submit every year. How about you?
As with all content (words, images, other) 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, and Oh Gad!) – still a writer journeying.