YEAR LAUNCHED 2004
GENESIS In 2003, Joanne C. Hillhouse, who had just published her first book The Boy from Willow Bend, hatched the idea of a literary prize for Antigua and Barbuda. She was motivated by the lack of systems in her community to encourage and support her own writing journey, the fact that such systems still did not exist, and a need to provide such support for other young writers. Though there has since been an intermittent Independence literary arts competition, and themed community-organized essay competitions now and again, sustained state-driven and funded programmes focused on nurturing and showcasing the literary arts, as an end and a cultural driver, in and of itself, still do not exist (at this writing in
2016 2018) – though the efforts of volunteer/non-profit programmes like the Just Write Writers Retreat and the Expressions Open Mic (both currently on hiatus – 2018) must be acknowledged.
Hillhouse was also inspired by a 2003 presentation at the Caribbean Canadian Literary Expo by Guyanese writer Ruel Johnson vis-à-vis the lack of nurseries for writers in the Caribbean. She pitched her idea – for a Caribbean-centric fiction writing contest targeting teens and younger in Antigua and Barbuda – to the Young Explorer, a youth publication, and author (Considering Venus)/screenwriter (The Sweetest Mango, No Seed) D. Gisele Isaac. Both immediately came on board. And though neither remain active partners in the project, their collaboration at the outset made it viable. Credit must also go to the late Alstyne Allen (1973-2015), for whom the Best of Books-sponsored Challenge plaque has been named as of 2016. Alstyne was the key volunteer in the early years and remained a great support in the years after her active involvement.
SUMMARY Wadadli Pen’s flagship project has been an annual writing Challenge, guiding young Creatives toward culturally relevant literary expression, and nurturing and showcasing their best efforts. In time, the Challenge expanded from fiction to other genres (poetry, creative non-fiction), and other prizes have been added including at one time a Lead by Example Teachers Prize and art prizes. Other activities have included workshops, recording and broadcasting of winning works, and the Wadadli Pen website promoting not just the programme but the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda , the Caribbean, and beyond.
GOAL To Nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda
-To promote a love of the written word among young people in and of Antigua and Barbuda
-To provide opportunity for fledgling writers in and of Antigua and Barbuda
-To channel youthful energies in and of Antigua and Barbuda into creative endeavours
-To promote the works of young writers in and of Antigua and Barbuda
-To give young writers in and of Antigua and Barbuda a chance to see the works of their peers
-To create a lasting impact by preserving the literary endeavours of young Antiguans and Barbudans (and residents thereof) and putting them to use – for instance, in promoting future contests or storytelling generally
ETA -To celebrate all Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture – to engage with arts from the wider Caribbean and other parts of the world
As Wadadli Pen seeks funding to enable it to grow, we’ll admit we are sometimes challenged to quantify our impact (we’re a writing competition in a small place) but looking in to the beaming faces of the winners at ever Challenge awards ceremony, we’ve had no problems qualifying it.
It’s in the effort and the pay off…
“Writing for the Wadadli Pen Challenge this year wasn’t easy: and that is precisely why it’s so beneficial, year in and year out. It is only through effort that we can grow, and only through difficulty can we triumph…I believe that the process of writing a cohesive story or poem in 600 words or less, tailoring each word and each sentence for maximum impact, has allowed …young persons to increase their writing ability just a little bit more.” (Daryl George, 2016 winner, in open letter)
…it’s in the moments…
“I looked at the face of a young man as he heard his words being read on stage and it was like magic … ” (observer @ Wadadli Pen awards ceremony, personal note)
…it’s in giving young people a space to express him/herself and getting even one writer to find his/her voice…
“Wadadli pen opened the door to my creativity, it inspired me to let go of my fears and speak out, and most of all it helped me to channel all the energy I had by simply putting pen to paper giving something a narrative shape and in so doing I began to believe in the shape of my life again, in beginnings, and middles, and endings.” (Liscia Lawrence, past finalist, 2014 open letter to Wadadli Pen about entering the Challenge for the first time in 2004 and how it affected her life. Read the full letter.)
…it’s in the way potential shines through…
“I write to express appreciation to you and your team for allowing young writers like [my son] to explore their writing potential. He was quite reluctant to enter at first, but warmed up to the challenge. Excited, elated and ecstatic are just a few of the words that could explain how he felt, by being able to share his story and be rewarded for his effort.” (letter from a mother)
ANNUAL CHALLENGE STATISTICS
We do track the numbers and try to quantify as much as we can.
Total Number of (eligible) submissions over the years: 561 (2004 to 2017) – Total adjusted to between 620-629 (approximately* 630) as of 2018
Average number of annual submissions over the years: 51 (to 2017) – Average adjusted to approximately* 52 as of 2018
Best year: 2017 (with 96 eligible submissions – 101 overall with some disqualified)
Number of submissions: 45
Trivia: Fiction only; two main categories – overall winner plus a top three and best writer under 12
Number of submissions: 63
Trivia: Prize added for school with the most submissions – Buckley’s Primary was the winner
Number of submissions: 23
Number of submissions: 23
Trivia: First year of the Wadadli Pen art Challenge; addition of other genres besides fiction (i.e. poetry and creative non fiction); first themed Challenge (Black and Beautiful); changed age categories to 12 and younger, 13 to 17, 18 to 35 and upped the overall age limit to 35; for the first (and to date only) time there was no overall literary winner
Number of submissions: 40
Trivia: Specific challenge to write stories and create illustrations related to those stories for the children’s market
Number of submissions: 57
Trivia: Additional one time themed sub-categories Origins and Liberate Love; announcement of a shortlist ahead of the actual awards introduced; return of the prize for the school with the most submissions – prize went to the Antigua Wesleyan Junior Academy
Reader reviews (2012):
“Read and thought the poet was much older. She is quite a talent!” (facebook, re winning poem Smitten by Rosalie Richards)
“I loved the story! Vega is a very talented writer. Congratulations to Vega!”
“Wow! So impressed!”
“Very nice story. Vega is very talented.” (Anansesem, re Vega Armstrong’s Legend of the Sea Lords)
“This was epic!”
“…very interesting and entertaining…”
“I really do love this story. The voice that comes through is sweet, sincere and very special. I hope Akeile continues to write!”
“I too was impressed by Akeile’s story. She masters the simplicity and brevity that children’s authors aim for. All aspiring children’s authors can stand to learn a lot from reading children’s writing.”
“This story is so incredibly lovely, and the illustration accompanies it perfectly. I look forward to reading more by Akeile Benjamin in the future!” (Anansesem, re Akeile Benjamin’s Adventures of Mr. Coconut)
Number of submissions: 55
Trivia: Anansi themed art prize and introduction of adult and junior category of art winners
Reader reviews (2013): “Congratulations on a very timely story Mr. George, one need not be a rocket scientist ‘to get it’. I hope it gets read by more than just the ‘usual suspects’…………………….” (Wadadli Pen comments section, re Ceramic Blues by Daryl George)
Number of submissions: 79
Trivia: Introduction of the Lead by Example Teachers Prize; for visual artists there was a cover design Challenge in which they had to design covers for short listed stories
Reader reviews: “Very good piece. It’s good to see a young person coming up through the ranks who is talented and using that talent at such a young age. I guess they’re right when they say AGE is just a number….. Lovely story.” (Wadadli Pen comments, re Asha Graham’s winning 2014 story Lajabless)
Number of submissions: 31
Trivia: Flash Fiction Challenge only – winner takes all; no age limit.
Reader review (2015): ” Keep up the good work in bringing our budding talent to the fore. I enjoyed them all.” (from the Wadadli Pen comments section)
Number of (eligible) submissions: 49
Number of (eligible) submissions: 96
Reader reviews (2017): “An excellent short story” …“I got really caught up in it…excellent” …“Congratulations Zion, well done👏👏👏” (facebook comments in response to Zion Ebony William’s story Those Who Don’t Hear Will Feel)
Number of submissions: approximately* 59-68 entries (unable to verify final count to date; but all eligible stories were read and judged)
Reader Reviews (2018): “Perfectly written. Loved it.” – past Wadadli Pen finalist and published author and attorney Rilys Adams commenting (on facebook) on Kyle Christian’s winning story Creak.
“Captivated and waiting in anticipation of more… words.” (on facebook) on Kyle Christian’s winning story Creak.
Most appearances by individuals in the winners’ circle (meaning most wins among the 106 winners, runners’ up and honourable mentions – i.e. finalists, 2004-2018):
Daryl George – 4 times (twice as honourable mention, twice as age category winner, once as overall winner)
Chammaiah Ambrose 3 times (once as age category winner)
Zion Ebony Williams – 3 times (once as age category winner)
Vega Armstrong – 3 times (once as honourable mention, once as age category winner)
Verdanci Benta – 3 times (twice as honourable mention, once as age category winner)
Chatrisse Beazer – 3 times (twice as honourable mention, once as age category winner)
Liscia Lawarence – 3 times (twice as honourable mention)
Asha Graham – 2 times (but with several wins packed in to those two years – winning twice overall, twice in her age category, and one time placing twice in her age category in the same year)
Number of appearances by students of the named schools in the winners’ circle (2004 to 2018) i.e. number of times a student from named school has been a finalist in alphabetical order (for art, lit):
Antigua Girls High School (12) – also secondary school with the most submissions in 2013
Antigua Grammar School (3)
Antigua State College (19)
Antigua Wesleyan Junior Academy (3) – also school with the most submissions 2012
Baptist Academy (4)
Buckley’s Primary School (1) – also school with most submissions in 2005
Christ the King High School (7) – also school with most submissions in 2016
Clare Hall Secondary School (2)
Foundation Mixed/Ms. Davis School (1)
Glanville’s Secondary School (1)
Golden Grove Primary School (1)
Irene B. Williams School (4)
Island Academy (2) – also school with most submissions 2017
Mary E. Piggott School (2)
Minoah Magnet Academy (2)
Ottos Comprehensive School (1)
Princess Margaret Secondary School (1)
St. Andrew’s Primary School (3) – also schools prize winner in 2018
St. Anthony’s Secondary School (4)
St. John’s Catholic Primary School (6) – also primary school with the most submissions in 2013
St. Nicholas Primary School (2)
Sunnyside Tutorial (5)
T. N. Kirnon (1) – also school with most submissions in 2014
Overall Student Winners (for art, lit), meanwhile, have come from (2004 – 2018):
Antigua State College (6)
Antigua Girls High School (1)
Youngest Overall Winner – Asha Graham (2013) – Asha was 16 when she collected her prize. There’s been one other 16 year old winner, Angelica O’Donoghue (2006) BUT this tie-break is determined by the fact that Asha was actually 15 when she entered and technically won the competition, and didn’t turn 16 until the day she collected her prize.
Oldest Overall Winner – Devra Thomas (2011) – Devra was 35 when she collected her prize. This is the cut-off age for Wadadli Pen. BUT this is only a technical edge, as in 2015 we opened the competition up (i.e. no age limitations so no need to submit age or year of birth with entry) and ultimate winner Margaret Irish was an adult – and we didn’t ask her her age. Both Devra and Margaret have become Wadadli Pen partners, volunteering with the programme.
Youngest Finalist (meaning the youngest person to receive a prize in any age category) – This is a three way tie between Freya Platts-Costeloe a visual arts finalist in 2011, Chammaiah Ambrose, third placed in the 12 and younger category, for her story How Tigers Got Stripes in 2013, and Zion Ebony Williams, an honourable mention with her story The Night I went to Cricket in 2014; all three were eight years old at the time of recognition. We still believe that one of the little ones can someday claim the overall prize.
Recordings and Publications:
2004 – 2006 Winning stories were published by then partner – Young Explorer
2004 Winning stories were recorded by ABS Radio (as read by the writers)
2005 Winning stories were recorded by HAMA Productions (as performed by the Optimist Club of St. John’s Youth Drama Club) – recordings were distributed for broadcast on radio – now uploaded to you tube
2011 Select winning pieces through the years featured in a Special Wadadli Pen Issue of Anansesem: the online Caribbean Children’s Literary Journal called the Best of Wadadli Pen
2012 Akeile Benjamin’s The Adventures of Mr. Coconut and Vega Armstrong’s Legend of the Sea Lords published in Anansesem
2014 The Night I went to Cricket by Zion Ebony Williams, Legend of the Sea Lords by Vega Armstrong, and Smitten by Rosalie Richards published in a special Antigua and Barbuda issue of Tongues of the Ocean
Variously over the years winning stories have also been published in Antigua and Barbuda’s main daily, the Daily Observer.
Recognition – for nominations made by Wadadli Pen or received in connection with achievements under Wadadli Pen:
2005 Wadadli Pen finalists Sandrena Martin, Rilys Adams, Liscia Lawrence, and Sarah Ann Li received literary certificates from the Optimist Club of St. John’s for their contribution to the literary arts
2015 Asha Graham who won Wadadli Pen back to back in 2013 and 2014 was awarded the Literary prize during the National Youth Awards for her achievements
2005, 2013 Wadadli Pen writing workshop
(additionally Wadadli Pen finalists have participated in other workshops organized and/or facilitated by Joanne C. Hillhouse including her 2013’s Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project ,
Other notable developments:
2006 Word Up! Showcase and fundraiser held in partnership with the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda – Wadadli Pen finalists Rilys Adams and Sandrena Martin given the opportunity to participate in this showcase alongside seasoned Antiguan and Barbudan writers
This is a cut from the press coverage of Word Up! Read the full article: Word up
2007-2009 Wadadli Pen was on hiatus
2010 Launched this website anchoring our presence on the web but props have to be given to Antigua Nice for keeping us online from the earliest seasons to this point even while the programme was on hiatus; there was a previous site (2005 – 2006) built as part of the OECS Cultural Network Project sponsored by Alliance Francaise – The Wadadli Pen logo was designed during this period by technical advisor on that project Ken Shipley – Wadadli Pen did not have the independent funding to keep the website going beyond the project’s run
2010 The Best of Books sought and received approval to begin using the name for a new open mic series, the monthly Wadadli Pen Open Mic hosted by Glen Toussaint, a writer in his own right, who would also later serve as a Wadadli Pen judge
2014 Wadadli Pen celebrated 10 years of existence
2015 Wadadli Pen teamed up with the Cushion Club Reading Club for Kids to launch a Summer Reading Challenge
You can read the winning stories through the years here.
2016 Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse, having put together a plan for the future of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize as a year-round development programme with a strong foundation, began the process of moving it from a project and labour of love to a non-profit that she hopes will endure as an arts development institution well in to the future. She pulled a team (effectively a Wadadli Pen advisory and action board) together. This team consists of past and current Wadadli Pen annual Challenge partners Floree Whyte (who has worked with the programme as a judge since 2102) and Barbara Arrindell (who, as manager of the Best of Books, has effectively supported the programme from the beginning and more actively beyond being a patron since Best of Books started hosting the awards ceremony in 2011), and past Wadadli Pen winners Devra Thomas (who won in 2011) and Margaret Irish (who won the Teachers’ Prize in 2014 and the main/flash fiction prize in 2015). The work continues.
In addition to local coverage of annual Challenge activities (much thanks to the local media), Wadadli Pen has picked up some regional and even international notice as well. Samples…
“It is possibly the best testimony to the value of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize that one of its past winners is now a member of the organising team…” Lisa Allen-Agostini writing in Caribbean Beat in 2012 in a piece headlined Budding Pens: the Wadadli Pen Writing Competition
Article by Wadadli Pen founder Joanne C. Hillhouse in Bookbird: a Journal of International Children’s Literature – headlined Wadadli Pen and Young Writers in the Caribbean
This mention “Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (Antigua and Barbuda) and the Allen Prize for Young Writers (T&T) both incorporate workshop sessions into their organisational structure, resulting in rich dividends for fledgling youth scribes” by Shivanee Ramlochan in the Trinidad Guardian
Social Media (samples)
(video by Floree Whyte)
“I have had occasion to see work from this group, some from young people under 15, and was very impressed…” Diane Browne, Jamaican children’s author, writing on her blog
Guest post by Wadadli Pen founder Joanne C. Hillhouse on the blog of Summer Edward, founder of Anansesem – headlined Nurturing Another Generation of Antiguan and Barbudan writers
A feature in the 2016-2017 edition of Simply Antigua and Barbuda – which referenced the history and purpose of the project, and also pointed to the work we’ve been doing here on the website to build a data base of books by Antiguans and Barbudans
Joanne C. Hillhouse (founder, coordinator, 2004 – ongoing)
Young Explorer (partner publication, 2004 – 2006)
D. Gisele Isaac (judge, 2004 – 2006, 2010)
Alstyne Allen, RIP (volunteer via Young Explorer, 2004 – 2006) – Challenge plaque now named for her
Charmaine Thomas (volunteer, 2006)
Mark Brown (art challenge coordinator and judge, 2010)
Renee Philip (art judge, 2010 – 2011)
Brenda Lee Browne (judge, 2010 – 2014)
Barbara Arrindell (manager of the Best of Books which has contributed every year since 2004 but took a more active role, particularly as relates to the awards ceremony, 2011 – 2017, member of the Wadadli Pen advisory and action board 2016 – ongoing)
Dotsie Isaac Gellizeau (judge, 2011)
Claytine Nisbett (volunteer, 2012)
Devra Thomas (Wadadli Pen 2011 winner-cum-volunteer, 2012 – 2014, 2017, member of the Wadadli Pen advisory and action board 2016 – ongoing)
Floree (Williams) Whyte (judge, 2012 – 2017, member of the Wadadli Pen advisory and action board 2016 – ongoing)
Linisa George (judge, 2013 – 2015)
Joy Lawrence (volunteer, 2014)
Carol Ottley-Mitchell (judge, 2014 – 2015)
Lia Nicholson (Wadadli Pen 2004 finalist-media ambassador, 2014)
Latisha Walker-Jacobs (2011 and 2013 Wadadli Pen finalist-media ambassador, 2014)
Joy James (art judge, 2014)
Angelica O’Donoghue (2006 winner and 2014 Wadadli Pen finalist-media ambassador, 2014)
Danielle Boodoo-Fortune (judge, 2014 – 2015)
Monica Matthew (judge, 2015)
Glen Toussaint (judge, 2016 – 2017)
Cedric Holder (judge, 2016)
Margaret Irish (Wadadli Pen winner teachers prize, 2014, and flash prize, 2015 – volunteer, 2016 – 2017; , member of the Wadadli Pen advisory and action board 2016 – ongoing)
Michaela Harris (Wadadli Pen shortlister 2012 and finalist 2013, intern/volunteer 2017)
Sharifa George (judge, 2017)
CHALLENGES Overall, the number of submissions could be higher but there still needs to be more awareness of the programme among teachers – more interaction with the schools which requires more time (which requires more money) – as this is a voluntary project, time has to be stolen (and depending on other obligations this is not always possible). There needs to be a budget to cover promotion and marketing; readings and presentations; the annual Challenge activity and other projects the founder would like to undertake (such as in-school workshops year round, and publication and production of film shorts based on the winning stories). The programme has no consistent independent financing; prizes are solicited annually (cap in hand) – a different approach is needed and for that the project ideally needs to be established as a legal non-profit so that it can set up an account, put a permanent team in place, and raise funds and run development activities year round. Proactive steps toward formalizing the Wadadli Pen foundation have been taken – as noted under ‘other notable developments’, 2016, above. Most significantly, a vision and plan has been drawn up, and a team – an advisory and action board – is in place as of 2016. We will work together to overcome the stated challenges and grow.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
WADADLI PEN Finalists have gone on to achieve in the literary arts and other areas (N.B. Wadadli Pen does not take credit for their accomplishments; merely joins in celebrating them for continuing to strive and continuing to create)…
Rilys Adams, now an attorney, who released a spoken word CD Laid Bare (2009) and several self-published books since as seen in Antiguan and Barbudan Writings
Shem Alexander is an emerging visual artist (“recognized for his innovative and unique paintings on the West Indian turpentine tree bark” – the Antiguan) who has participated in several national art shows and is also spotlighted in the Simply Antigua and Barbuda edition cited above
Vega Armstrong, as of 2015, at only 14, ventured into music, initially doing covers but then spreading her wings as not only a singer but a songwriter with 2016’s The River Effect
Terrikia Benjamin won other literary prizes such as the Antigua Public Library Short Story Competition (2010), the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association essay competition (2012), and was the top CSEC student from a Government School in 2014, and 2016 Island Scholar
Ashley Clendenen continued to study art and has exhibited as a student in both Antigua and Barbados; she showed in a 2015 Orange Day Artivism event organized by the Directorate of Gender Affairs, Antigua.
Shakeema Edwards has excelled in other writing competitions (the Independence Literary Arts competition and others) including the Dancing Nude in the Moonlight next chapter contest with her winning poem and prose now included in the 10th anniversary edition of that book released in 2014; she has also published in Tongues of the Ocean; and, having graduated university continues on a career path in the field of writing and publishing in the US
Lia Nicholson, a Yale graduate, who said during a Wadadli Pen promotional interview in 2014 that she used her winning Wadadli Pen entry as her college entry essay, is as of 2015 a board member with the Environmental Awareness Group and was one of the speakers at the first ever TEDx event in the OECS, speaking on, what else, climate change ; in 2016, she was named as one of only 60 Queen’s Young Leaders from across the Commonwealth
Angelica O’Donoghue is the publisher and editor of Antigua Chronicle, an online newspaper; Angelica is a 2014-15 National Youth Award winner; and was named Woman of the Week in St. Lucian Voice
Kohylah Piper is still writing; here’s a link to her poetry blog, The Deafening Selah, started in 2015
Tiffany Smith won a National Youth Award for Culture and the Performing Arts in 2012
Damani Tabor is, as of 2014, an Antiguan and Barbudan Senator
Devra Thomas has since published in Tongues of the Ocean
Zion Ebony Williams placed among the top 5 students in the country after the national assessments required as primary school students move to secondary school (formerly the Common Entrance Exams)
Wadadli Pen has benefited greatly from the support of various businesses, writers, and other individuals; people who understand the value of philanthropy (giving back). Never doubt that you have had a hand in youth and art development in Antigua and Barbuda. To anyone who has supported us in anyway, we say thanks for your past and hopefully future support as we, knock on wood, continue to experiment and grow. And we encourage everyone to support the businesses and people that support the arts.
Click on the links throughout this introduction and/or use the drop down menu to the right to access particulars about each year (the names of the winners and the patrons who helped us reward their efforts).
Didn’t find what you were looking for? Want to correct an error? Want to find out how you, too, can support the work of Wadadli Pen? Contact Wadadli Pen site admin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to subscribe to or follow the site to keep up with updates.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your support.
p.s. photographers include Colin James (2004), Laura Hall (Word Up! 2016), Angelica O’Donoghue for AntiguaChronicle.net (2013), Zahra Airall (2010), Glen Toussaint and Barbara Arrindell of the Best of Books bookstore (2011 – ongoing), Linisa George (2017), Joanne C. Hillhouse, and several proud parents. Thanks to anyone who has contributed to this project.
*Re approximately – we do our best to keep track of the numbers but it’s a lot to keep track of and where the final figures are not verified, we have given the closest possible approximation.