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Wadadli Pen Diary – 2020 Season Reflections

When I started Wadadli Pen in 2004, it was purely fiction. The most obvious reason is that I am myself a fiction writer and I wanted to promote the art/craft of storytelling/creating fictions. It’s also possible that this is the genre in which I felt most comfortable. It’s possible as well that I observed that many when wading in to writing seemed to see poetry as more accessible, easier even. It isn’t.
Reading this article in Lit Hub about eco-fiction reminds me that my unspoken hope with the Imagine a Future climate change themed component of the 2020 Wadadli Pen Challenge was to get people telling stories – as in I was more interested in world building and what that world would look like if climate change beat us or if we beat it. I enjoy experimenting with short story and have been trying my hand at speculative fiction; so that interest may have been a factor. Plus I was curious – spurred by a blend of recent real world stories, from hurricane Irma and the ghosts of hurricanes past (which inspired my own as yet unpublished short story Frig It! and partially inspired The Night the World Ended, published in The Caribbean Writer) to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg crossing the world in a wind-powered vessel to take the leaders of the world to task to the teen climate strike that she inspired to a story I read about a little boy very afraid of the future in a world where climate change is an already unraveling certainty. I wanted to give that little boy (and all the children of Barbuda so traumatized by Irma) an opportunity to tell his/their story, to Imagine a Future. That was my goal.

I haven’t read any of the entries – 57 of them – yet. But I have noted that poetry entries have edged out fiction 29 to 23 with 2 creative non-fiction and 2 genre unspecified entries, and 1 art entry. Only 5 of the 57 entries clearly indicated on their entry forms that they wished to be considered for the Imagine a Future prize – 3 of those poems, 1 the art entry, and only 1 fiction. Could be that there are more climate change themed entries in the lot – and I’ll leave identifying those to the judges’ discretion – but if I’m going by those numbers, I have literally one Imagine a Future fiction to read. And I’ll admit to being a little disappointed by that – I was looking forward to reading those futures. I’ve been wondering how I could have more enthusiastically communicated that (and should I have insisted that writers imagine a future without using those words to better emphasize that they were to lift the idea not the actual words). I don’t know.

I’m not disappointed with this year’s crop of submissions overall though – the total number is roughly our usual average, and is more than I thought we’d be getting when up to the submission deadline there were almost literally no submissions. Then they all came in at once (because why make our lives easier lol). It took a week with two of us on duty to get the entries processed and out to the judges. But they are out. And if you’re getting ready to ask when’s the awards ceremony, not for a minute. Wadadli Pen, you may remember, has two rounds of judging, roughly two-to-three weeks on each side – and the in-between is where we post the short list and get the short listed entries out to the writers/artists with the judges’ edit notes so that the writers can review, consider the edit notes if they wish, improve their pieces, and re-submit. We do this to satisfy our goal for Wadadli Pen to be developmental – helping budding writers become stronger writers, and to give some sense of what it is to work with an editor as one would if submitting a piece for publication. It’s an extra speed bump but though we do reach out to patrons to attract the best prizes we can, this was never meant to be just a competition.

So, there’s that. It’s inconvenient work – we’re all pretty stretched (understatement) – but necessary if we are to do what we set out to do fully, which is to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda.

We’re happy to see some returning writers (and past finalists) but especially happy that first time entrants dominated, that there was at least one collaboration – we haven’t had that since season 1 (and that was not a joint submission), that a number of schools that hadn’t shown up before in our listings responded this time, that a couple of church and youth groups worked with their young people to submit, that the young ones remain the MVPs on interesting takes on life. Their writing may not be as disciplined (?) as the older ones (who have a better sense of story structure and a more evolved sense of language) but they are almost always more interesting (less weighted by clichéd language and overly familiar tropes). Challenge dropped, older writers! Think the impossible and write that! Anyway, there is a lot to be happy about with this year’s response and always room for improvement.

(Past art winners – one by a child, one by an adult – just because; check out all past Wadadli Pen winners here – again, just because)

I’ll wait until the short list to tell you which schools are in the running for the prize with the most submissions but I will say that the entrants came from 18 primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions locally – and there was one off-island entry, though that institution isn’t eligible for the prize (sponsored by Caribbean Reads). We do appreciate the local educational institutions that stepped up and, as those that didn’t, we know we still have work to do. We have to figure out for instance why even with direct mailings to educators and connected people on our sister island, and a specially named prize Wa’oMani, and a unique story to tell we had, yet again, sigh, no Barbuda submissions. We’re not casting blame, it’s our challenge to figure out. Another challenge, how to get more boys writing! At last count, we were uncertain of the gender of 12 of our entrants, but among those who specified gender on the forms, we had only 12 submissions from males compared to 34 from females. Why? We’ve got to keep trying to motivate participation from all genders for all the reasons that self-expression and creative exploration can expand the inner and outer world of any person, and especially our young people. Writing, like reading, creating generally, is not just a girl thing.

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(Since the launch of the Wadadli Pen Challenge in 2004, there have been 2 male main prize winners, and 9 female main prize winners in 12 challenges)

Another point of reflection, I have been feeling feelings about the fact that youth is privileged in the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Challenge. It’s totally my doing. In fact, initially it was limited to age 16 and younger (using the school graduation age as our guide) before being expanded to 35 and younger (using the UN definition of youth). Over the years, this age-ism has come in for criticism but we had to be realistic about what we, a rag tag group of volunteers (a team with some solidness only since 2016; before that me and whomever I could corral for temporary duty), could reasonably take on – a national literary prize for the entire nation was not it. Even knowing that we are not the powers that be, whose duty literary arts development is, and are already stretched (such an understatement), I’ve been feeling bad about there not being a similar initiative for anyone over 35 in Antigua and Barbuda. As if your creativity dries up somewhere in your 30s. I know there are 48, 39, 69, and 98 year olds out there with their own stories to tell – where is their platform, right? Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have worried because the response from the older eligibles was loooow – like single digits low. Nine 18 to 35s; 15, maybe 16, 13 to 17 year olds; and (wowza!) 34 7 to 12 year olds…no 6 and younger, so maybe that was too ambitious (*shrug* it was a suggestion, we tried it).

Thanks for playing; we look forward to reading; and we’ll be back in time with the results. – Joanne C. Hillhouse, founder and coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize

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Welcome to 2019

We made it, y’all. We each hit different speeds and temperatures this year and because our online lives are so curated we can think it’s all smooth sailing and temperate climates with every body but us. Not so. Don’t let any of us fool you. We live, that’s all, through the Antigua-sized potholes and the rough weather, we live and though flipping the calendar from 2018 to 2019 isn’t some magic door to everything-better, it is, if nothing else, an indicator that we’re still here. Another day, another opportunity to be, to dream, to work, to hope, to laugh, to cry, to do, to journey…imperfect as this journey is. Okay? And as someone once close to me used to say often, ” be good to you”.

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In spite of the challenges – and they were many – 2018 was good to me in a few ways. One of those ways was the release of the Spanish language edition of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure. I was about to say that it’s my first foreign language translation but technically it’s not even my first Spanish language translation – my poem She Works (which won a prize and then didn’t did manage to get translated before things fizzled). Which was cool to see. But this is the first book translation…except maybe not something something a university student in Italy, The Boy from Willow Bend. But it is the first commercial book translation. And it’s Caribbean Reads, one of the newer (if not the newest), smaller independent presses I’ve had the opportunity to work with that did it.

They share that and other developments re books by all their authors in their year end round up. Two other developments specific to this #gyalfromOttosAntigua are the addition of my other Caribbean Reads book, Musical Youth, a Burt award winning title, to the secondary schools reading list in Antigua and Barbuda (it had also previously been added to a schools reading list in Trinidad); also my participation in the Miami Book Fair.

Real talk while these developments were developing, other parts of my life weren’t going so well (so even as a part of me was promoting these developments, the inner me was struggling to stay upbeat). But it’s nice to look back and realize yeah, I did that. The literary achievements, yes, I am beyond thankful, but also survived 2018. Here to live another day.

And guess what, you did to. Celebrate yourself.

Okay, if you want to  read the entire Caribbean Reads round up, go here.

And again Happy New Year, let’s make it great.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder, coordinator, and blogger Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved.

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Just Letting You Know

Look up.

The far right of the banner has been updated to Wadadli Pen 2019.

Nothing to report re the next year’s Challenge – a staple of Wadadli Pen since its inception in 2004 – except that I have informed my partners that I am on a time out for the next season as I try to focus or re-focus my energies on some real life issues. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this but it’s September when planning should begin and I don’t have the mental space or time to give to it right now. So, I’m taking a step back.

If the rest of the team (having worked with me over the past two seasons) decide to proceed without me, I’ll let you know – as I will still be blogging.

I will also check the mailbox as often as I can. The latter is important because one of the things I do want to mention is that Wadadli Pen if it is to become a non-profit needs money and it needs legal help. I’ve spent the last year (and on and off before that) trying to wrap my head around what needs to be done, reaching out to institutions that I thought could assist with the process but the process requires money and the legalese and the navigation of the legal maze requires translation and guidance – at least for my non-legal brain. I honestly don’t have the time to give to it anymore but I also don’t think time is the only issue – I think the project needs a lawyer who has experience working with non-profits who can say here’s what you need to do, and just guide us through it. I wish I had the money to pay such a lawyer because not even legal aid is free (I’ve checked) but I don’t and Wadadli Pen as it is not a legal entity does not have a bank account nor funds of its own. So if there is a lawyer with non-profit experience and the resources to offer pro bono assistance to a community project like ours, reach out via wadadlipen at gmail dot com

I do believe that it continues to hurt us that we are a project and not a legal non-profit. For instance, things that I could have applied for in terms of technical support and funding to solidify and/or expand our operations if our status was different than it was (they were very specific about the legal non-profit part); and people who’ve reached out – people in academic institutions regional and further afield who approached me about working with the project for their academic reasons – which I haven’t felt able to say yes to because those kind of collaborations require time and mental space that I don’t have just now. Even our internship programme of two Challenge seasons ago. It was a good thing and I’d like to be able to do it again and expand it but in order not to shortchange the intern, to properly mentor and guide said intern, to manage and oversee their progress, to properly delegate and supervise, you need time and mental space and other resources; and as we’re not a non-profit with anything resembling a staff, it is what it is for now. And right now I do need to reduce my involvement because the time I put in to Wadadli Pen and have since 2004, much as it matters to me (as much as or maybe more than any book I’ve written), and hopefully to the community, isn’t valued as currency, so I’ve got to put more time, focus, and energy in to the hustle. And hopefully, because I do have several of my own writing projects as well, have some me left over for my own creative growth. For now, coordinating (planning and managing the moving parts of a) Wadadli Pen Challenge season, is part of the sacrifice.

But Wadadli Pen will, I hope, be around for a long time beyond me and that’s why I put a team in place a couple of years ago. I ran in to one of those team members just this week and I’ll admit her contribution has not been at the level either of us would have liked because like me she has to work and pay her bills and manage her life, but her commitment to the project remains. That remains. To quote Puffy we ain’t going nowhere.giphy So keep sending us your positive energy and whatever support you can in the specific areas that we need, we receive it with thanks, and I will keep you informed re whatever the team decides to do re Wadadli Pen Challenge season 2019.

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!, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, Musical Youth and With Grace). 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 Writers are facing a dilemma…

Breaking the Shackles

Caribbean writers are facing a dilemma. The region is blessed with numerous poets and novelists whose work has thrilled readers over the years.

But if you speak to many booklovers in and outside of the Caribbean, or check out some online message boards where the topic of discussion is Caribbean literature, you’ll find people bewailing how difficult it is to find good books by Caribbean writers, whether it’s in the region itself or in the metropolitan markets.

There is also a thirst for new writers which goes unquenched – again because it’s not easy to find their books in the bookshops. What a shame, considering how difficult it is for new writers – not to mention those from the Caribbean, especially if they reside there – to get published. Yet, undaunted, the young aspirants continue to spill out of creative-writing classes and workshops yearning to have their voices heard.

Caribbean writers are increasingly being published by small presses in the UK, US and Canada. Several of these publishers have said they have a tough time trying to get mainstream bookshops to stock their books. Those writers who opt for self-publishing find it even more of a hassle to get shelf space for their books in the bookstores.

Read the rest at the Caribbean Book Blog

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