Commonwealth-Caribbean Writers

kk(Barbadian/Caribbean science fiction author, Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo and other books and most recently editor of New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, leads a session during the Commonwealth-Caribbean writers workshop which she co-facilitated with Jacob Ross at Ocean Spray Apartments in Barbados)

I got a ton of pictures from the Commonwealth workshop held  in June 2018 for Caribbean writers in Barbados (Read about it here) and thought I’d share some of them (so keep scrolling). The pictures were taken by workshop co-facilitator Jacob Ross and supplied by Emma D’Costa of the Commonwealth.

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(Senior Programme Officer, Commonwealth Writers, Emma D’Costa, centre, with participating writers Sharma Taylor, left, and Shakirah Bourne, right)

Speaking of Emma, I also got from her the Antigua-Barbuda numbers as relates to submissions to the Commonwealth Short Story competition (Read about the outcome of this year’s competition) and, my people, we need to step it up. I say that knowing that rejections are hard to ricochet from and maybe you don’t want to put yourself through that – you just want to write, that maybe competitions are just not your jam, that maybe you have reservations specific to this competition (or the politics of competitions in general), or maybe you don’t see your writing as being its own journey with a narrative arc that requires it to stretch and grow and reach beyond its immediate space. I hear all ah dat (and even feel you on some of it) but le me bend your ear anyway.

This is an international competition, no entry fee, a lot of prestige, and a sizeable purse; plus as it breaks down the Commonwealth in to Asia, Africa, Canada & Europe, the Pacific, and the Caribbean, someone or someones from the Caribbean will be shortlisted and could win, potentially catapulting their writing/career to another level. In 2012, Jamaican author and environmental activist Diana McCaulay was our region’s winner; Trinidad & Tobago’s Sharon Millar who has since published a short story collection was the 2013 regional and shared overall winner with writers from Trinidad & Tobago also short listed, British-based Guyanese writer Maggie Harris was 2014’s regional winner with Trinidad & Tobago and Bahamas also making the short list, Trinidad & Tobago’s Kevin Jared Hosein whose star continues to rise was 2015’s regional winner with Jamaica and TnT also making the short list, TnT educator Lance Dowrich won the 2016 regional prize with Jamaica also short listed, Barbados-based Trinidad and Tobago writer and lawyer Ingrid Persaud (who hosted writers at the Barbados workshop at her beautiful home) 1nn
(That’s Ingrid Persaud, right, during the lime at her home, with Yesha Townsend of Bermuda, and Emma – clearly we had a grand time)

was the 2017 regional and overall winner with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago also making the short list. In 2018, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are the region’s selections (four of them) for the Commonwealth Short Story short list.

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(During the 2018 Commonwealth workshop for Caribbean writers there was a public reading and 2017 winner of the Commonwealth Prize Ingrid Persaud was a featured reader – we got to hear an excerpt from her novel in progress)

Though shortlisted in the earlier incarnation of this prize in 2002 and 2008, between 2012 and 2018, we (speaking about Antigua and Barbuda now) haven’t cracked 10 entries in any given year – our lowest years in that time were 2015 and 2017 (three entries each) and our best years were 2016 and 2018 (nine entries each), which points as well to an on-year, off-year pattern (not sure of the reason). I know we’re doing a lot more writing than that (for sure we are doing a lot more writing and especially publishing than we were doing even a few years ago – see the ever-growing bibliography of local books archived on this). Still even with the number of submissions from the region being comparatively low (238 in 2018 of 5128 submissions), the number of submissions from the two winningest Caribbean countries is over 50 percent of total submissions from the region (77 from Trinidad and Tobago, and 55 from Jamaica). Granted TnT and Jamaica are considerably bigger than us, and for that and many reasons (more literary models, a more vibrant arts/writing and publishing culture and tradition among them) the odds are in their favour. But still. As Caribbean Reads publisher Carol Mitchell said recently – referencing another regional prize, the Burt Award (for which my book, Musical Youth, published by Caribbean Reads, was a finalist in 2014, one of the very few small island finalists over the years) – we in the small(er) islands need to submit more.

‘…she is concerned that most of the winners come from the larger Caribbean nations, such as Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana and the competition is missing out on the great talent in the smaller islands.

“I do believe the results reflect perhaps, a lack of access to the resources that may be key to producing a polished manuscript that has a shot at winning,”…’

Fair enough, but submitting can build your muscles (and resourcefulness) as a writer (and your chances of being a winning writer) and you never know what could come of it.

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(Here I am at the public reading during the workshop, reading from my children’s picture book With Grace – which in 2017 was an official pick for the US Virgin Islands Governor’s Summer Read Challenge and of which I sold all three copies that I had on me after the Barbados reading – yay)

By way of example, I have never won the Commonwealth Short Story contest, but because of it I was published in 2014’s critically acclaimed Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean and specifically because of that I was invited to read at literary festivals in Scotland and New York, and am excerpted in a CSEC English A Caribbean revision guide, and have been read/studied at two tertiary institutions that I’m aware of (one in Belize and one in NY)- all off of one story (Amelia at Devil’s Bridge), easily one of my most travelled stories. And, yet, a story that didn’t win. This is in concert with other developments in my literary life (including referencing my Burt win, subsequently organizing and facilitating a CODE/Burt workshop here in Antigua; serving as a Caribbean Burt award judge; and, most recently, a mentor for a Burt/Code writer in Africa). All are part of the whole and none of it would happen without consistently writing and submitting. And of course none of it means that I am either where I want or need to be as a writer. After all, I still haven’t won yet, right?

This year not-winning landed me in Barbados for this Commonwealth workshop with other Caribbean writers, drawing strength and community from each others’ experiences (including or perhaps especially our challenges) on our respective islands and from the experience we shared together in Barbados. I felt disappointed obviously about not making the short list but welcomed the opportunity in the end to participate in this workshop because I remain a student of writing and because opportunities to immerse myself in spaces that encourage and respect and support my growth and journey as a writer are rare. And what I learn, I continue to teach, as I returned home to jump in to series 4 of my own Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop Series and continue my own writing with new and/or re-affirmed goals. Winning the prize (any prize) would be nice to be sure but there is more to be gained from each experience. I know it’s scary and not winning can be disheartening, but sometimes it really is just how things shake out and not a verdict on the worthiness of our story nor of  us as writers (though the goal is to always work to be better by whatever metric is important to us). Keep going, write, submit. Because in the same way that if you let fear win you’ll never learn to swim, if you stop journeying as a writer because of an obstacle in your path, you’ll miss the adventure.

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(Shout out to Sharma Taylor, pictured here amid the creaking towering bamboo trees at Coco Hill. Sharma is from Jamaica but resident in Barbados. On day one of the workshop, she reminded me that she’d taken the workshop session I co-facilitated with African American writer Bernice McFadden at the BIM Lit Fest in 2016. Small world, renewed connections. Sharma is one of the 2018 24 short listed Commonwealth writers.)

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(Coco Hill Forest really was a side of Barbados I’d never seen before)

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(Seriously)

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(But we were game – that’s from left, Barbados’ Carlie Pipe, St. Lucia’s Katherine Atkinson, Bahamas’ Alexia Tolas, Mahmood ‘Mood’ Patel – Barbados filmmaker and owner of Ocean Spray and  this hill we were just about to hike, and me, Antigua and Barbuda)

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(Through the forest we will go, through the forest we did go)

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(Barbadian artist Carlie Pipe blended poetry and music for her presentation #Dampersand)

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(The reading was dope with every one bringing his/her own flava, some reading from  Commonwealth prize entries, some switching it up with poetry, and some, like Shakirah Bourne, reading from previously published work – like her story from the Commonwealth Writers site Adda , one of two stories by her that I’ve used in my workshops by the way)

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(After the readings it was dancing time – let’s see, that’s Nailah Imoja of De Bajan Bookshop and other things, with her back to the camera, she was the workshop’s point person in Barbados and emcee of the public reading; that’s her daughter next to her. In front of them, facing the camera is Bajan short story writer and filmmaker, whose novel a 2018 Burt finalist is forthcoming, Shakirah Bourne, and in conversation, to the right is Alexia Tolas of the Bahamas and Sharma Taylor of Jamaica-Barbados. Some of us are the other bodies you see in the back there dancing)

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(Nailah!)

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(The other Antiguan, Barbados-based Tammi Browne-Bannister)

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(Some of our best conversations happened right here over breakfast and lunch, and occasionally dinner at Ocean Spray – pictured in the foreground are Emma, left, facing away from camera chatting with teacher and writer Alexia Tolas of the Bahamas; across from them, on his computer is lawyer-cum-writer, you may be familiar with his work re Groundation Grenada, Richie Maitland)

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(Our facilitators really covered a lot of ground in the week we had together. There was much to absorb during the actual sessions. Me, absorbing)

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(and I wasn’t the only one)

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(in session – Bermuda’s Regina Ferguson and lecturer and veteran author Angela Barry – whom I first met in 2008 in Barbados when we were both on a panel dubbed Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers, on either side of St. Lucia’s Katherine Atkinson – a teacher, writer, tv personality, and publisher)

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(That’s Shakirah Bourne to my right, your left, fresh off the Burt Awards ceremony and the buzz around her last and most international to date film A Caribbean Dream, a Shakespeare adaptation)

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(Even session breaks were full of discussion – here’s co-facilitator Jacob Ross, whose latest books The Bone Readers and Tell No-one About This were short listed for major awards, with Shakirah Bourne and Sharma Taylor- this picture taken from Carlie Pipe’s public facebook page)

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(the one-on-one sessions were invaluable; pictured is Alexia Tolas with award winning sci-fi author, workshop co-facilitator Karen Lord)

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(I had a couple of sessions with the man himself Jacob Ross; here he is at his reading. Jacob is an acclaimed writer but I first new him as an editor)

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(Conversations never stopped even when we were kicking back – it was a truly rich experience)

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(… and when I said the sea lullabyed me to sleep every night, I wasn’t exaggerating)

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,  Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). All Rights Reserved. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

 

 

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