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On Bill Burt, the Burt Award (for Caribbean Literature), and the 18 teen/young adult Caribbean fiction titles it produced

Burt-Award-winners-book-covers

Home Homethe beast of kukuyoThe Art of White RosesThe-Dark-of-the-SeaMy-Fishy-StepmomA-Dark-Iris

The-Unmarked-Girl-Jeanelle-Frontin

You may not know the name Bill Burt. After all, he was a Canadian commodities broker. But you may know some of the titles above (all Code Burt award titles from the Caribbean). That seal on all but the newest of the pictured titles (This year’s titles are not yet published but the original edition of the winning 2019 title The Unmarked Girl is pictured) is the Oprah’s Book Club seal of teen/young adult Caribbean literature, that little edge, that extra endorsement to help them stand out and perhaps be picked up. It is an endorsement. It indicates that these titles have been tapped by writers, editors, and other literary professionals from the Caribbean and elsewhere who served as judges (refreshed every year), as being among the best new writing from the region in the teen/young adult genre.  It is Bill Burt putting a ring on it.

Accepting Burt Award trophy

That’s Bill Burt, left, above presenting me (Joanne C. Hillhouse) with the first runner up trophy for the inaugural Caribbean Code Burt award, for my then unpublished manuscript Musical Youth, at the 2014 Bocas literary festival in Trinidad.

A trophy. The most substantial single cheque of my creative writing career to that point. An opportunity to be published and to select the publishing house I would be working with from among several options in the Caribbean. A guaranteed order of the books. That was my prize. It was an amazing boost at the time.

Musical Youth and all of the pictured books benefited from someone, who, with the funds he made through this stock market investments, helped amplify stories from typically marginalized communities of which the Caribbean was only one.

Winners ...and #MusicalYouths in their own right ... members of the AGHS winning cast from the secondary schools drama festival collecting copies of Musical Youth.
(above and below, me presenting copies of Musical Youth at local schools)Musical Youth copies 2014 3

The Burt Award, named for Bill Burt and administered by CODE, a Canadian non-profit, stimulated the production of teen/young adult fiction specific to communities whose voices are not often heard in the vast publishing world. He presented the first Burt Award (for teen/young adult African literature), in Tanzania in 2009. The programme subsequently expanded to Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Canada (specifically among First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people), and the Caribbean.

The initial guaranteed order of the winning books was/is distributed to teens and young adults through individuals and institutions that work with youth. If you appreciate that funding is a major hindrance for working artists and for independent publishers, you will appreciate how significant this prize is; if you can appreciate that this was about producing books teens and young adults in the region would WANT to read, you would see how impactful this prize was or could be.

I entered that first year (October 2013 submission deadline), after they had adjusted initial proposed guidelines to accept unpublished manuscripts. I had to print, bind, and FedEx the manuscript from Antigua to Trinidad. I believe the guidelines were adjusted the following year to allow for online submissions but submissions had to be professionally bound in 2013. It wasn’t cheap but it was one of those invest in yourself moments and it was worth it because, thanks in great part to this programme, the book that manuscript birthed, Musical Youth, placed with Caribbean Reads publishing, out of St. Kitts, has become one of my best performing books. I can’t imagine Musical Youth even existing in a Burt-less world, especially given that two weeks out from the deadline I started writing something to submit (which is not the advised way to approach competitions of this nature but is the way this book came to be). Future Burt finalist Shakirah Bourne (of Barbados) who wrote her title (My Fishy Stepmom) in less than a month, blogged recently about how this bit of foolhardiness on my part inspired her (after some disappointments that made her consider not submitting at all):

“Five months later, on October 7th 2017, Antiguan author, Joanne Hillhouse shared the invitation to submit to the 2018 CODE Burt Award on Facebook. Initially I dismissed it. The deadline was October 31st, 24 days later. But Joanne is an amazing blogger and so I checked out her post ‘The BURT Blog – Memories to Keep and a Trophy’ and was amazed to read that she wrote her award-winning book Musical Youth in less than two weeks!”

When I heard this year ahead of the announcement of the last Burt finalists at the Bocas lit fest which administered the prize regionally, that this would be the last year, I wrote back to them “Congrats to the shortlisted writers. Sorry to hear it’s coming to an end. Sorry as well to learn (as I just did in this email) of the passing of Bill Burt. He did a great thing.”

That’s why I’m writing this because Bill Burt did a great thing and we need more people within and without the region to replicate this kind of philanthropy – in fact, one of my dreams for Wadadli Pen is that someday it has the resources to support a writer now and again in the region or maybe even the sub-region, maybe just Antigua and Barbuda, for completion of a project – just give them a financial break for a bit so that they can focus on creating. It’s the kind of help I need and as with Wadadli Pen itself, started because of a void in my experience of anything to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, I want to be in a position someday to support other artists in the ways that I don’t feel supported today.

Bill Burt’s life at least from his 40s onwards (I think) is a reminder that there is great value in giving if you can, where you see the gaps, simply because it needs to be done.

I know this is running long but I wanted to run through the books and some developments (re the authors’ professional trajectory) certainly in the Caribbean since winning the Burt award. Starting with 2019 (via bocaslitfest) and working back to the inaugural year, 2014, with the hope that you will consider purchasing (sharing, reviewing, recommending) these specifically Caribbean books, which wouldn’t exist as they do (as exciting new titles from Caribbean publishers for the teen/young adult market) without Bill Burt.

The Burt Award will not be accepting submissions from 2020 on; it will be interesting to see if any philanthropic entity steps in to the gap.

2019 titles:
Winning title – The-Unmarked-Girl-Jeanelle-FrontinThe Unmarked Girl by Jeanelle Frontin (Trinidad and Tobago), published by Mark Made Group Ltd (which is a Caribbean-based company providing arts and entertainment services of which publishing is only one component) – a quick google suggests that Frontin submitted the first of three ebooks in her YaraStar trilogy; self-published, according to Looptt (which suggests to me that Mark Made is not a traditional publisher but either a vanity or hybrid, paid for their services by the author). That book (already awash with five star reviews on Amazon) and the entire series just got a boost.

The Accidental Prize by Tamika Gibson (Trinidad and Tobago) – Tamika, a returning finalist, submitted a manuscript which puts this in the to-be-published category. Gibson, also a 2016 finalist for Dreams Beyond the Shore, published by Jamaica’s Blue Banyan Books, and named one of 2017’s best contemporary teen reads by Kirkus, said, “What’s phenomenal about the Burt Award is that it’s a direct path to getting your books into the hands of readers. Entering the competition has freed me to focus on writing the best novel that I can, without having to worry too much about the business aspects that come after the book is finished.”

Daylight Come by Diana McCaulay (Jamaica), also a manuscript – Diana is also a previous winner for 2015’s Gone to Drift which has since had an American edition published (2016) with Harper Collins after its initial release with Dominica’s Papillote Press. McCaulay was already an award winning and critically acclaimed author and activist when she first triumphed at Burt and hasn’t missed a step with another non-Burt book published in 2017 (her fourth novel) and Daylight Come forthcoming with, I believe, Peepal Tree press (which is UK based but publishes primarily Caribbean fiction and has been a favourite of the main Bocas prize).

2018 titles:
Winning title – The-Dark-of-the-SeaThe Dark of the Sea by Imam Baksh (Guyana) – also a repeat winner this is his second previously unpublished manuscript to find a home with Jamaica’s Blue Banyan Books after 2015 Burt title Children of the Spider which was published in 2016.  He explains in this linked article how the increased visibility positions him to do more to boost literature in his country even as he continues to work on his next novel and embraces opportunities to travel and present his work (most recently featured at the Edinburgh literary festival)

My Fishy Stepmom by Shakirah Bourne (Barbados) – manuscript, the Caribbean edition since published by Blouse and Skirt which is an imprint within Blue Banyan. Bourne is an independent filmmaker and self-published author now with a literary agent (I mention that this is the Caribbean edition of the book for just this reason as she also landed the book with an international agent right around the time it was shortlisted for the prize, as she blogs here). For her, there are loads of emerging opportunities (of which being a featured presenter at the 2019 Edinburgh festival is only one).

A Dark Iris by Elizabeth J. Jones (Bermuda) – manuscript, since published by Blouse and Skirt (Blue Banyan Books). You’ll see Tanya Batson-Savage’s Blouse and Skirt and/or Blue Banyan Books on this list a number of times as it has published more Burt Caribbean titles than any other imprint. Specifically, The Dark of the Sea and Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh, My Fishy Stepmom by Shakirah Bourne, The Beast of Kukuyo by Kevin Jared Hosein, Girlcott by Florenz Webbe Maxwell, Dreams Beyond the Shore by Tamika Gibson, Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph, and the very first Burt Caribbean winning title All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele. This means that this independent Caribbean publisher’s list has grown by almost 10 (maybe more by the time this year’s winning books are published) because of this prize’s investment in the region and in the process new voices from across the region (Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Bermuda, and Jamaica just from this list alone) are being either heard or amplified. I have had the opportunity to work with Blue Banyan as an editor of one of the named books and can attest to how seriously Tanya takes the job of shepherding these books in to the marketplace.

2017 titles:
Winning title – The Art of White RosesThe Art of White Roses by Viviana Prado-Nunez (Puerto Rico) – this previously self-published novel was described by Kirkus as “An emotional coming-of-age story posed against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution.” It is one of three Burt titles issued by Dominica’s Papillote Press. What’s interesting to me is that Papillote, while not publishing Dominican books exclusively, had, certainly in my mind, been branded as a distinctively Dominican press (a press primarily concerned with stories out of Dominica) – with the publication of three Burt books out of Jamaica, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico in a short three year span, it emphatically broadened its brand to include the wider Caribbean.

Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini (Trinidad and Tobago) – this too is a Papillote book. I actually couldn’t find a lot from Lisa re the publication of the book but she did say this about its genesis on her blog: “The manuscript I first wrote a decade ago and rewrote while in hell in an airport in Suriname in 2016 is now being published as Home Home by Papillote Press, after being named third place in the CODE Burt Awards for Caribbean Literature in 2017. We’re hoping to do a launch at the 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

Yay!!!”

For a manuscript 10 years in the making, I suspect that “Yay!!!” is only the half of it. And that’s the other thing, some of us write new things, some find a home finally for that manuscript gathering dust because of an industry that makes very little room for voices like ours. ETA: Home Home has landed a deal with Delacorte (Penguin) for release of a US edition due in 2020.

The Beast of Kukuyo by Kevin Jared Hosein (Trinidad and Tobago) – Kevin was actually on quite a roll (with several Commonwealth short story wins, Bocas long listing)  when he placed in Burt so perhaps for him this didn’t change much but it certainly added to his coffers and his publishing credits.

2016 titles:
Winner – Dreams Beyond the Shore Dreams-Beyond-the-Shore-front-lr-190x300by Tamika Gibson (Trinidad and Tobago)

Girlcott by Florenz Webbe Maxwell (Bermuda) – who, per this article, dreamed of being a writer since her days reading the Bobbsey Twins and then of working in publishing, then a librarian only to find that she couldn’t work as a librarian in Bermuda because of segregation. With this book, the first dream is fully realized and she finally gets to tell the little known tale of segregation in Bermuda – and telling our under-told and unknown stories in a way that can enlighten generation now about the past is not a small thing. This is just one review I came across on booktube which contrasts segregation in the US and in Bermuda via Girlcott, indicating that this is a book primed for social studies discussion.
Beautifully Bookish Bethany, who seems to be American, said “(Girlcott is) super interesting… because I actually had never heard anything about Bermuda during the civil rights era… this is from an indie publisher but I really recommend it.”

The Protectors’ Pledge by Danielle Y C Mclean – published by Caribbean Reads
It’s worth noting here that one of the interesting elements of the Burt titles is that they underscore that the Caribbean story is not one thing; we write in different genres of different times and different futures, we have lore that is primed for exploration and expansion, and imaginations not constrained by the perceived tropes of Caribbean literature. There are many other non teen/young adult books that do this of course but if you’re looking for your teen reader you can find romance, adventure, crime, fantasy, coming of age, history, and so much more; just google them (I haven’t linked every book because I don’t feel like linking to Amazon but I have linked to the reviews I’ve written of the ones I’ve read).

2015 titles:
Winner – children of the spider 001Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh (Guyana) – Anansi as you’ve never seen…ze?

Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay (Jamaica) – a book that draws on the author’s career in environmental advocacy as it weaves a tight rescue tale.

Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph (Trinidad and Tobago) – I haven’t read the published version of this one yet though it is on my book shelf but I did read it when it was a contender for the prize as I was a judge that year. And speaking of telling different stories, this was is not only a Caribbean story but is another story that can be added to the library of books (if such a thing exists) about the fallout from 9/11, existing as it does at the intersection of Caribbean and American life. It’s also about grief as Home Home is about depression, as such tackling the still fairly taboo issue of mental health. These books (the Burt books generally) go there and really should be read not just by Caribbean teens but beyond.

2014 titles:
Winner – all over again - cover FAW 05JUN2013All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele (Jamaica) who has recently been announced as a Musgrave medal recipient (the equivalent of national awards) for her contribution to the literary arts. She said in the  linked article, “We are still in the very early stages, but there are a lot of fantastic writers right here in Jamaica. Unfortunately, most of them get on a plane and leave in search of greater opportunities for income and exposure. With technology moving the way it is, the good thing is that that is not even necessary any more as we can stay here and enjoy the benefits of these markets. But at a certain level, our work has to be recognised, we need to be taken seriously and it must be recognised that behind every great movie, song, radio or television programme is a good writer.” No lies detected and the Burt award – in fact other Bocas prizes are among the very few opportunities for writer development and reward in the Caribbean. That’s another reason why it’s sad to see it go- especially before another Eastern Caribbean small island writer could come through.

Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse (Antigua and Barbuda) – that’s me (the previous Eastern Caribbean small island writer that came through) and I would be remiss if I didn’t speak a bit on the opportunities I’ve had to work with the Burt Award and/or Code since being short listed for this prize. I organized and facilitated a workshop in 2014 (in addition to assisting with distribution and promotion of all three Burt titles here in Antigua and Barbuda)

my gift1.jpg

presentation of Colleen Smith-Dennis’ Inner City Girl at Clare Hall Secondary school

Gift to Library

copies to the Public Library at the official launch of Musical Youth

; I was recruited as a judge for the 2015 Caribbean Burt prize; and I was hired in 2017 as a mentor for one of the finalists of the Burt Africa prize. Thanks to Caribbean Reads’ hustle, my book Musical Youth (added to the schools reading lists in Antigua and Barbuda in 2018 and to a reading list in Trinidad before that, with its second and hard cover editions published in 2019)

MUSICAL_YOUTH_Cover_FRONT_Final

new edition released 2019

continues to find new readers (I’ve personally presented it at readings in New York, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Croix, Barbados, and here at home).

with Muntsa Plana Valls and Auntie Janice and the staff at one of three schools visited

after a school presentation in St. Croix

It has earned accolades from the likes of Oonya Kempadoo (author of Buxton Spice) who said, “I first recognized the weight of her work by the response of the teens to her book, Musical Youth , in the Grenada Community Library. It remains one of the most popular books with teens, despite their tendency to shun Caribbean literature when they have a choice because they are required to read it in schools.”

Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis (Jamaica)

Bocas 5

Bocas Photo of finalists panel at the inaugural Code Burt award for Caribbean teen/young adult fiction (photo by Marlon James/original Bocas photographer)

If you’ve never heard of the Code Burt Award, I hope this post helps fill in the blanks and underscores the need for arts philanthropy. Per the Bocas press release announcing the wrapping up of the prize, “This unique literary award programme has inspired Caribbean writers to create fantastic stories; publishers have been supported to build young adult literature into their lists; teachers and librarians have been given fantastic resources; and young readers now have access to more books than ever before.”  I would say that we have always been telling fantastic stories and Burt gave us a platform to get them published while building the publishing infrastructure in the region and targeting the desired audience, ensuring that they, Caribbean teens, have stories they can relate to which also fire their imagination.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, unless otherwise indicated, this is written by author and Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse. All rights reserved.

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Burt Puts Out Third Call for Caribbean Teen Fic

In 2014, the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean literature finalists were

All Over Again – A-dZiko Simba Gegele (Jamaica)
Musical Youth – Joanne C. Hillhouse (Antigua and Barbuda)
Inner City Girl – Colleen Smith Dennis (Jamaica)

yeah

In 2015, the winners were
Children of the Spider – Imam Baksh (Guyana)
Dolphin Catchers – Diana McCaulay (Jamaica)
Dancing in the Rain – Lynn Joseph (Trinidad and Tobago)

In the first year, one, mine was an unpublished manuscript; in 2015, all three were unpublished manuscripts and, just like my Musical Youth, all three will be finding their way to your book shelves in a matter of months.

After this year’s announcement, Executive Director of CODE, the Canada based non profit which sponsors the Burt Award said, “We’re very excited that all three winning works this year are manuscripts, as it means the Awards are succeeding in helping generate new writing. A key objective is to encourage authors to write for young people, regardless of whether or not they already have a publishing deal…We know we can turn more youth on to reading if they have access to amazing books that truly speak to them, and our Award, combined with a guaranteed purchase, allows this to happen. Its win-win-win, as the market for Caribbean publishers is strengthened, Caribbean authors are rewarded for their craft and many thousands of entertaining, engaging books get into the hands of Caribbean youth.” Read More.

The next round of the Burt Award has been announced. So, there’s nothing left to say really except, get writing!

For details, go here.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). Excerpting, reblogging, linking etc. is fine, but PLEASE do not lift ANY content (images or text) wholesale from this site without asking first and crediting the creator of that work and/or copyright holder. All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.

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New Book Selfie

My new book Musical Youth is here in Antigua - it's been on Amazon in kindle and paperback form since earlier this month. I've got a reading at 7 p.m. on Friday 21st November 2014 at the Best of Books...and I'm excited to report that I'm going to be sharing the spotlight with some of the 2014 Wadadli Pen Challenge winners.

My new book Musical Youth is here in Antigua – it’s been on Amazon in kindle and paperback form since earlier this month. I’ve got a reading at 7 p.m. on Friday 21st November 2014 at the Best of Books…and I’m excited to report that I’m going to be sharing the spotlight with some of the 2014 Wadadli Pen Challenge winners.

WIN_20141119_164553 WIN_20141119_164548

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CODE SPONSORED TEEN AND ADULT WORKSHOPS SET FOR ANTIGUA IN NOVEMBER

Get on it quick. Registration deadline is November 11th 2014.

Here are the details re the teen workshop:

The workshop is offered as part of CODE’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, which aims to provide Caribbean youth with access to books they will enjoy and want to read. Through the Award’s book purchase and distribution program, a minimum of 1,200 copies of each winning title is donated every year to Caribbean youth through schools, libraries and community organizations. Workshop participants will have the option of adding their school to the distribution list for free copies of the 2014 winners.

DETAILS OF TEEN WORKSHOP: Caribbean workshops_Nov2014_teens

Here are the details of the workshop targeted at adults…interested in writing teen content:

Offered as part of CODE’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature — which aims to provide Caribbean youth with access to books they will enjoy and want to read — the workshops are intended to help emerging or established writers of books for teens or young adults develop their skills, deepen their understanding of writing strategies appropriate for this age group, and encourage them to submit their work for consideration for the Award.

DETAILS OF ADULT WORKSHOP: Caribbean workshops_Nov2014_adults

I’ve been lobbying CODE to locate one of these workshops in Antigua and Barbuda since I first learned about them so, yay, for this. And looking forward to the opportunity to facilitate. In other me and CODE news, my book – you know the one that placed second for the Burt Award – Musical Youth – yeah, that one, it’s dropping soon. And I couldn’t be happier. I’m planning a reading event with CODE for the Friday before the workshops so you’ll be able to get a teaser of the book. Looking forward to all of it. Here’s the cover,  with art work by Antigua and Barbuda’s own Glenroy Aaron. Sweet, right?

MUSICAL_YOUTH_Nov1

 

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Wadadli Pen Update

Apart from blogging and funding applications, these last few months have been Wadadli Pen down time, a time in which a part of my brain has been pre-occupied with how to proceed with this project while the other half deliberately avoids thinking about that very question. It came front and centre for me, though, when I was contacted by Janie Conley-Johnson whose company produces several publications including the Food and Driink Guide, which like Wadadli Pen is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

With Janie and her husband and business partner Gulliver Johnson at the 2012 launch of my book Oh Gad! - out in mass market paperback as of July 2014

With Janie and her husband and business partner Gulliver Johnson at the 2012 launch of my book Oh Gad! – out in mass market paperback as of July 2014

“Wadadli Pen –Need the Lowdown!” was the subject line of a very enthusiastic email in which she declared, among other things, “I’d love for us to feature the Wadadli Pen competition…as something fresh, local and positive.”

I was divided, not entirely in that headspace. But I agreed to meet and I’m glad I did. Talking about Wadadli Pen always reinforces for me why I started this programme in the first place, what we’ve managed to achieve over the years, and what I still dream of doing – including some day being able to let it go knowing it will continue independent of me. Meantime, there’s a desire to do so much more than a once a year Challenge with the hope of continuing to kindle creative expression among young Antiguans and Barbudans.

Janie’s articulated goal is to do more to raise the profile of arts and culture in Antigua and Barbuda, and, in the case of Wadadli Pen, help with our goals by getting the word out about the project and hopefully helping to attract the kind of deep-pocketed and generous philanthropist a project like this needs. Not unlike what CODE has been able to do to promote YA Caribbean publications thanks to William Burt. Will it happen? Who knows. But the dream is real and the work continues.

And to mis-quote Eoyore from Pooh, Janie, “thanks for noticing us.”

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,  Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). 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 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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