Tag Archives: Caribbean writers

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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Writing Triumphs (Yay!)

Gerty Dambury writes in an article headlined ’10 Female Caribbean Authors You Should Know (And Add To Your American Lit Syllabus)’ and published at Lit Hub, “When I was studying English and American literature, I was struck by the fact that not one black woman—American, English or Caribbean—was included on any of the syllabi. It seemed as if such a category of writers did not exist. This is why I’ve listed below Caribbean women authors who, I think, deserve more attention. Some of them are contemporary, some older, but all are worthy of your time. I’m personally interested in the way these authors address issues of both racism and feminism.”

So, there I was scrolling through this list which kicked off with Una Marson (Jamaica), who I’ve written about here before as the first producer of Caribbean Voices, a programme instrumental in the development of the Caribbean literary canon. Through names I recognize – like Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica), Afua Cooper (Jamaica), Marion Bethel (the Bahamas), Marcia Douglas (Jamaica) and names I don’t – Elma Napier (Dominica by way of Scotland), Mahadai Das (Guyana), a list that rounds out with Myriam J. A Chancy (Haiti) and Velma Pollard (Jamaica) – other well-known Caribbean literary artists, when my name (and by extension Antigua and Barbuda) showed up. What?!

She wrote about my book Oh Gad! Oh Gad cover“With this book, Joanne Hillhouse tells a well-known story: how does it feel to return home when it is no longer truly home? Nikki, the main character, was born in Antigua but raised in the USA. When she comes back to Antigua for her mother’s funeral, she decides to remain on the island. Turmoil and chaos ensue. Joanne Hillhouse is a powerful writer, raising questions directly and with great energy.”

What?!

Humbled to be in such company. Give thanks. #gyalfromOttosAntigua

p.s. is it weird that I’m almost equally excited that today the nephew I wrote about in Boys DO Read …this kid–>boy reading … got an A on his writing assignment and got called to the front of the class to read his story; I don’t blame the teacher, I like reading his stories too.

p.p.s. if you’re reading this and resident in Antigua and Barbuda, remember to help your own little storytellers get their stories in to the Wadadli Pen 2018 Challenge on time.

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, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). 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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Caribbean Poets Forward

The 26th annual Forward Prizes will be awarded on September 21, 2017, at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London. Among the writers on the shortlist there are Caribbean writers such as: Ishion Hutchinson (Port Antonio, Jamaica); Malika Booker (of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage); and Richard Georges (Port of Spain, Trinidad). [Caribbean writers Vahni Capildeo and […]

via Forward Prizes 2017: Shortlists — Repeating Islands

The Forward Prizes for Poetry are the most coveted awards for poetry published in Britain and Ireland: they have played a key role in bringing contemporary poetry to the attention of the wider public for quarter of a century. They were set up in 1991 by philanthropist William Sieghart to celebrate excellence in poetry and increase its audience, and are awarded to published poets for work in print in the last year. The three prizes – £10,000 for Best Collection, £5,000 for Best First Collection and £1,000 for Best Single Poem – are unique in honouring both the work of established poets and the debuts of brilliant unknowns. Past Forward Prizes winners include Claudia Rankine, Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Alice Oswald, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Kathleen Jamie.

Among the writers on the shortlist there are Caribbean writers such as: Ishion Hutchinson (Port Antonio, Jamaica); Malika Booker (of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage); and Richard Georges (from Port of Spain, Trinidad and resident in the British Virgin Islands). [Caribbean writers Vahni Capildeo and Tiphanie Yanique were among last year’s Forward Prizes winners.]

 

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From the Mailbox – Hurston Wright Winners

Hurston/Wright Foundation Announces 2016 Legacy Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation announced the winners and finalists of the 2016 Legacy Awards and paid tribute to celebrated authors Ernest J. Gaines and Junot Díaz on Friday, October 21st in Washington, D.C.

Dominican-American author Junot Diaz at the 2016 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards (Hurston Wright image)

Dominican-American author Junot Diaz at the 2016 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards (Hurston Wright image)

More than 200 literary stars and representatives of the publishing industry, media, arts, politics, and academia attended. National Public Radio’s Michel Martin served as Mistress of Ceremony and novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez delivered a tribute to the foundation’s namesakes. The highlight of the evening was the naming of the winners of the juried awards for books by Black authors published in 2015 in the categories of debut fiction, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Mitchell Jackson, author of The Residue Years and a former Legacy Awards finalist, presented the North Star Award — the foundation’s highest honor for career accomplishment and inspiration to the writing community — to Ernest J. Gaines, the award-winning author of A Lesson Before Dying. Marita Golden, co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, presented Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and founder of Voices of Our Nation, with the Ella Baker Award for championing diversity in MFA programs, his leadership in creating workshops for writers of color, and social justice advocacy.

The winners and finalists of the Legacy Awards are as follows:
Debut Fiction

Mourner’s Bench by Sanderia Faye (The University of Arkansas Press) – Winner
Fiction

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham (Little, Brown and Company) – Winner

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – Finalist

The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) – Finalist

 

Nonfiction

Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga by Pamela Newkirk (Amistad) — Winner

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (Grand Central Publishing) — Finalist

Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic by Gerald Horne (Monthly Review Press) – Finalist
Poetry

Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press) –Winner

Honest Engine by Kyle Dargan (The University of Georgia Press) — Finalist

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press) – Finalist

 

The Award for College Writers, under the sponsorship of Amistad books, a division of Harper Collins Publishers, also was presented Friday night.  Princeton University’s John S. Wilson III won for fiction and Joy Priest of the University of South Carolina won for poetry, both of whom read from their winning works. Honorable mentions were awarded to Clynthia Burton Graham for fiction, and to Vanity Hendricks-Robinson and Latasha D. Johnson for poetry.
The 2016 Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards continue the foundation’s tradition of recognizing literary excellence by writers from the United States as well as the international Black writing community.
The additional nominees, all of whom were announced in June, were:
Debut Fiction

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson (Penguin Press)

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Little, Brown and Company)

Fiction

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson (William Morrow)

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

 

Nonfiction

Where Everybody Looks Like Me: At the Crossroads of America’s Black Colleges and Culture by Ron Stodghill (Amistad)

Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We “Catch” Mental Illness by Harriet A. Washington (Little, Brown and Company)

The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America by D. Watkins (Hot Books/Skyhorse Publishing)

 

Poetry

How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes (Penguin Books)

It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time by Angela Jackson (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press)

Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis (Alfred A. Knopf)
About the Hurston/Wright Foundation: The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation was founded in 1990 in Washington, D.C., and is dedicated to discovering, mentoring and honoring Black writers. Through workshops for adult writers and teens, master classes and readings, the organization preserves the voices of Black writers in the world literary canon, serves as a community for writers, and continues a tradition of literary excellence in storytelling established by its namesakes. The Hurston/Wright Foundation is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit. Learn more at http://www.hurstonwright.org

 

p.s. you may have noticed a few people with Caribbean roots mentioned, folks like Junot Diaz, Caryl Philips (fiction finalist), and Naomi Jackson who has Barbadian and Antiguan roots (nominee for debut fiction). Congratulations to them and all the winners and nominees. And to all of us writing and dreaming, continue to strive.

 

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Arts Round-up (August 27th 2016—>)

October 5th 2016 art show at the AYC Event Centre will feature the works of GuavadeArtist, Jan Farara, Jennifer Meranto, Angela Stenzel, and Maria Tyrrell. More here.

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Zahra I Airall’s Zee’s Youth Theatre is back after a long hiatus. Zee’s Youth Theatre is open to young people between the ages of 11 and 16. Under the motto “changing the world one scene at a time”, the main objective is to create a healthy and safe environment where young people can express themselves through the performing arts, mainly using the elements of drama. This will also be an excellent forum to allow them a platform to unleash and showcase their creativity to explore issues affecting young people, in hopes of raising awareness. “Drama has always played an integral part in my life. I was born into it, and I had the privilege of working under the direction of renowned stroyteller and director Amina Blackwood-Meeks as a child. Drama not only instills discipline, but sharpens the mind, forces creativity and critical thinking, while building confidence, public speaking skills and developing social and interpersonal skills that are paramount to a successful foundation as a student and professional.” – Zahra I Airall. Classes will be held on Mondays from 5-6:30pm at the Antigua Girls’ High School auditorium, for the academic year 2016-2017, with the exclusion of public holidays, for a total of 30 weeks. There will be a fee of XCD$350 to be paid each term. The first term’s fee will be due by October 3rd; second term by January 16th; and third term by April 24th. For further information, please do not hesitate to contact Zahra Airall at 779-6634 (call or whatsapp) or email byziaproductions@gmail.com. Spaces are limited so register your child/children as soon as possible.

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I’m late posting this one but hopefully it’s not for you to participate. Or to start your own writing challenge. No time to get started like today, right?

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Meanwhile, in New York (if you’re there)

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The Caribbean Cultural Theatre which is behind the above event also reports that the visiting writers doing work for younger readers will for the first time be having readings for elementary and middle school students in Brooklyn and the Bronx thanks to partnerships with Brooklyn Public Library, Caribbean Research Center – Medgar Evers College, Jamaica Progressive League, and the Marcus Garvey School for making these possible.  A meeting with Caribbean-American educators is also planned. On September 18th 2016, these and other writers are expected to spend time during the day under the CCT tent at the Festival marketplace – Booth 533 (Beside Borough Hall at Joralemon & Adam Sts).

Read of other stateside Caribbean-arts activities this month, here.

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September 4th 2016 – Let’s Paint Antigua

Paint your own Picture

image from facebook.com/letspaintantigua

Two hour session creating one-of-a-kind art pieces in the company of others at a popular bar or restaurant (Russell’s Fort James) – 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. – EC$70 per person – Rules: drink wine and have fun, do not compare paintings, do not use words like “mine don’t look good”, do not let someone else paint for you, do finish your painting, do feel proud of your painting, do come again, do tell your friends how much fun you had. To register, contact 724-9043 or letspaintantigua@gmail.com

 

 

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The Caribbean Writer Announces Its Volume 29 Prize Winners

The Caribbean Writer has announced its 2015 annual prize winners for Volume 29, which highlights contradictions and ambiguities in the Caribbean space.

Topping the list of prizes is The Marvin E. Williams Literary Prize ($500) for a new or emerging writer. This annual prize is donated by Marvin’s widow, Dasil Williams, in honor of her late husband who served as the editor of The Caribbean Writer from 2003 – 2008. This prize was awarded to Richard Georges, an up-and-coming Caribbean poet from the British Virgin Islands.

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BVI writer Richard Georges reading at a Carib Lit event in Guyana. Image sourced from the Bocas Lit Fest facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/bocaslitfest)

The Cecile de Jongh Literary Prize ($500) was awarded to Shona V. Jamadi-Jabang, a Jamaican-born writer now living in the UK. This prize is awarded to an author whose work best expresses the spirit of the Caribbean. It is donated by former Gov. John P. de Jongh, Jr. in honor of Cecile de Jongh’s abiding commitment to literacy in the territory, especially among the young Virgin Islanders.

The David Hough Literary Prize was awarded to Breanne Mc Ivor, a writer who currently lives in Trinidad where she teaches English, history, drama and citizenship at Rosewood Girls. This $500 prize is awarded to an author who is a resident of the Caribbean. It is donated by Sonja Hough, owner of Sonja’s Designs, the handmade jewelry designer in Christiansted, St. Croix, in memory of her late husband.

The Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for short fiction ($400) was awarded to Bibi Sabrina Donaie, a fiction writer born in Guyana, who currently resides on St. Croix, V.I.
The Charlotte and Isidor Paiewonsky Prize for first-time publication ($250) in The Caribbean Writer went to D’Yanirah Santiago, a writer from St. Croix, V.I.

The Marguerite Cobb-McKay Prize to an emerging Caribbean fiction writer ($200) went to Tammi Browne-Bannister, a writer from Barbados.

The biographies and photographs of these winners will be featured in the 30th anniversary issue of The Caribbean Writer.
For more information on The Caribbean Writer, visit www.thecaribbeanwriter.org

Sourced from: http://stthomassource.com/content/arts-entertainment/showcase/2016/01/21/caribbean-writer-announces-its-volume-29-prize-winner

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A Blast from the Past

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Writer and academic, Ifeona Fulani, posted this blast from the past on facebook recently. Thankfully, this is largely a good memory and an opportunity to talk about the value of writing workshops. This one was my first (that’s me in black in the middle). Some of the other people pictured are workshop leader Olive Senior (seated), Sarah Pemberton Strong (far right) – who was not only with me (and another friend) when I got my first tattoo but suggested the design, and some others I’ve reconnected with all these years later via facebook (though I didn’t automatically make the connection) – Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa, Donna Aza Weir-Soley, Ifeona Fulani (who I knew then as Faye), and Guichard Cadet…probably others and I just haven’t made the connection as yet.

As I explained during a recent (as yet unaired) TV interview, I participated in this workshop during an in-between period in my life. It was my first ever writing workshop and came at a time when I was struggling with the choices or, it felt at the time, lack of choices that lay before me as someone who wanted to be a writer but felt like she’d have to sacrifice that dream to what was practical. This workshop (the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami) was a moment in time that allowed me to see another possibility. It was a transformative summer in many ways. But it wasn’t easy.

My memory is murky on this, so forgive any misspeaks, but the workshop was recommended to me and I recommended for the workshop by Mervyn Morris, currently Jamaica’s Poet Laureate, then, during my University of the West Indies days, my mentor. I submitted a sample of my writing and other required material, and earned a spot. I was among, if not the youngest in my group; scared but hopeful. I had only shown my work to a handful of people by that point and yet here I was in my first workshop where the writers were considerably more accomplished and certainly not shy about telling me all the ways what I had on the page didn’t work. There were tears that summer, tears and so much doubt. But there was also adventure (did I mention my first tattoo? … Well that was only a small part of it), new friendships, and so many growth opportunities. Not only didn’t I stop writing as you feel like doing sometimes after a drubbing but I went down new roads in my writing – one a vaguely familiar road, one so unfamiliar I had to wonder how I’d ended up there; two different manuscripts…and so much poetry. I read my writing before an audience for the first time that summer…and lived.

The familiar road referenced above was the dead end alley in The Boy from Willow Bend, which would become my first published manuscript.

After that first, bruising critique, Vere showed up; barefoot, running down a willow-tree-lined dead end alley. I knew that alley. It was my place of first knowing, a vague early memory. I revisited that space and – sitting there, cheered by my flat mate, the other half of my summer writing group of two, with whom I shared bits and pieces – built from it a world more fiction than fact but rooted in something solid enough to anchor me, and hopefully the reader. I got to know the boy, his character biography including many things that didn’t end up in the story but which certainly informed my understanding of him as I wrote the things that did.

Workshops are good for getting you out of your comfort zone, for challenging you, for allowing you to prove to yourself what you are made of as a writer.

At summer’s end, I stepped in to what-I-had-to-do-for-now knowing that I would never lose sight of who-I-truly-wanted-to-be. I returned to my world a writer, even if I was the only one who yet knew it. It (didn’t make me immune to but it) helped me overcome all of the petty nonsense you find on the job because I knew that that was not my life; my life existed in the moments outside of that space writing and living, and poking around for a way to make writing my life. It took some doing but that summer, the summer of ’95, was really the jump start for what came after, the bumps and scratches, the setbacks, knockdowns… and the breakthroughs.

One such breakthrough came when in January 2001, I signed the contract with Macmillan for the release of The Boy from Willow Bend. The book would be re-issued by Hansib in 2009, and has been taught in schools in Antigua and, I believe, Anguilla…and it will forever remain a highlight of my writing life, the moment a boy at a school I visited in February 2015 said to me that he played Vere, the boy in The Boy from Willow Bend, in an in-class dramatization.

The girl in this picture doesn’t know any of that; and if she did maybe she would have decided it was too hard – because it has been at times, too hard – but maybe she would decide, it was worth it and that she was strong enough…and that she was indeed a writer. Little did she know that the summer workshop she was participating in would begin to give her not only some of the tools but the drive to do just that.

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!  Fish Outta Water, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, and Burt Award finalist Musical Youth), founder and coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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