Tag Archives: Jamaica

Carib Lit Plus (Mid to Late October 2022)

A reminder that the process with these Carib Lit Plus Caribbean arts bulletins is to do a front and back half of the month, updating as time allows as new information comes in; so, come back, or, if looking for an earlier installment, use the search window. (in brackets, as much as I can remember, I’ll add a note re how I sourced the information – it is understood that this is the original sourcing and additional research would have been done by me to build the information shared here – credit and link back if you use).

Art and Culture

Check the database of Antiguan and Barbudan Writings if you haven’t already and one of the sub-lists, Non-Fiction Antiguan and Barbudan Books, both just updated with a missed credit of a Natasha Lightfoot publication. Speaking of Professor Lightfoot was one of the voices called to weigh in recently after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Here she is on NPR.

“The Commonwealth, as a collective of former colonized nations, represents a kind of strength-in-numbers approach. To postcolonial statecraft, it fosters collective trade agreements. It, you know, encourages collective climate solutions. But it should be said that these member countries, as a conglomerate of mostly developing nations, need these collective solutions provided by the Commonwealth in part because of the centuries of extractive colonialism.”

(Source – Natasha Lightfoot on Twitter)

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Jhohadli’s art and culture column CREATIVE SPACE which runs this and every other Wednesday in the Daily Observer newspaper on October 19th 2022 features three Antiguan and Barbudan lyricists, composers, singers, players Laikan, Joy Lapps, and Asher Ottos’s latest releases.

Read about it. (Source – me)

Events

The Bocas UK Tour continues to November 3rd 2022. The October 29th 2022 events will be available for viewing online for free. To access go to the British Library ticketing and use the discount code  BOCASDIGI100. Programme highlights for Saturday include Ways in the World featuring Barbara Jenkins, Ira Mathur, and Grace Nichols; The Trouble with History featuring Cecil Browne, Ingrid Persaud, and Amanda Smyth; An Island is a World featuring Celeste Mohammed, Jacob Ross, and Celia Sorhaindo; Don’t call it Magic featuring Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, Karen Lord, and Pauline Melville; Mothers, Fathers, Daughters, Sons featuring Sophie Jai, Anthony Joseph, and Shivanee Ramlochan; and Beyond every Boundary featuring Canisia Lubrin, Tessa McWatt, and Nadifa Mohammed. There is a grand finale includes the performance of songs from Playboy of the West Indies: a Musical, adapted from Mustapha Matura’s original play, as long as presentations by Grace Nichols, Fred D’Aguiar, Shivanee Ramlochan, John Agard, Randolph Matthews, and Melanie Abrahams. (Source – Literary Arts Barbados/Ayesha Gibson-Gill email)

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Motion Picture Association Antigua & Barbuda.

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The University of Iowa’s International Writers Program will celebrate International Creole Day, on October 28th at 6:00 p.m. CDT, with a special reading: Rasanbleman Literè Kreyòl / World Creole Literature Gathering. Creole writers from countries around the world—including Jamaica (Dr. Donna Aza Weir-Soley) and Haiti (Jeanie Bogart, Patrick Sylvain, Jean Dany Joachim, Wilson Maceno, Jean-Andre Constant, Lokandya Fenelon) —will give readings in Kreyòl, live via Facebook. The event will be cohosted by Haitian journalist, novelist, and scholar Beaudelaine Pierre, whose debut novel Testaman was awarded the 2002 Prix Woman Kreyòl Jounal Bon Nouvèl, and IWP Director Christopher Merrill. (Source – IWP email)

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The Beniba Centre for Slavery Studies at University of Glasgow has announced that Antiguan-American historian Professor Natasha J. Lightfoot will deliver the 7th Annual James McCune Smith Lecture, set for 7pm on 17 November. Register to watch online. (Source – Natasha Lightfoot on Twitter)

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Late October to early November is Independence season in Antigua and Barbuda, the home country of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. We became independent on November 1st 1981 making this our 41st anniversary of Independence. Full programme below.

(Source – Ministry of Creative Industries and Innovation on facebook)

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These are some scenes from the inaugural Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett-Coverley Festival was held on Saturday (October 15) in Gordon Town, St. Andrew. Named for the late Jamaican poet and activist who popularized folk storytelling and use of the local vernacular in said storytelling, the festival formed part of Jamaica’s 60th anniversary of Independence. The festival was organized by Jamaican writer Opal Palmer Adisa who in 2021 edited a book entitled 100+ Voices for Miss Lou: Poetry, Tributes, Interviews, Essays (pictured in the collage above; one of Ms. Lou’s books is pictured below).

Opal is quoted by the Jamaica Information Service as saying, “At a time, under colonial rule, when Jamaican language, Jamaican culture, and ‘Jamaicanism’ wasn’t respected, Miss Lou stood steadfast, and that is why we are here. I am here… because I want to make sure every Jamaican child understands the work that Miss Lou has done and that we continue to salute her and study her work, not in a one dimensional way, but in the nuance and multiple ways that Miss Lou wrote. She was a tremendous writer.”

If you’re Caribbean, not just Jamaican, you’ve likely heard if not read Ms. Lou. Do you have a favourite? (Source – various, online)

Accolades

ABS TV’s director of news, Garfield Burford, originally of Jamaica but resident in Antigua and Barbuda, is in the US participating in the State Department funded International Visitor Leadership Programme, specifically the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. Burford was nominated by the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, as was Barbados-based Stetson Babb.

Deputy Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Simone Kendall poses with Garfield Burford following a meeting in Barbados

The US Embassy Bridgetown said in a press release, “Over the course of the two-week program, participants from several countries will review the history and importance of press freedom in the United States; examine the structure, practices, and future of broadcast journalism in the United States; illustrate how new technologies shape the way news is gathered, reported, distributed, and consumed; and explore the crucial role of responsibility and accuracy in reporting in a democracy.” I reached out to find out how any of you reading this might qualify for opportunities like this and was advised that participantsf for this programme are nominated by an Embassy representative (working closely with NGOs, GOs, and various civil society partners; to proactively seek out opportunities, see the Embassy Education and Exchanges link. (Source – ABS TV on instagram and email from the US Embassy in Barbados)

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Jamaican novelist Nicole Dennis-Benn has reportedly inked a deal for her next book. Per Publisher’s Weekly, “Nicole Dennis-Benn sold her new untitled novel to Random House’s Marie Pantojan at auction. Julie Barer at the Book Group represented Dennis-Benn in the North American rights agreement. The novel follows a young Jamaican girl named Faye who grows up with her family in a small coffee-farming village and returns home after a unhappy time as a model to find a community she no longer recognizes. Dennis-Benn is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Here Comes the Sun and Patsy, both published by W.W. Norton’s Liveright imprint. The former, her 2016 debut, was named a New York Times Notable Book and was a finalist for a 2017 Young Lions Fiction Award. Patsy, published in 2019, won a Lambda Literary Award.” (Source – Nicole Dennis-Benn on twitter)

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US-based Jamaican writer Geoffrey Philp will collect the Silver Musgrave medal in November 2022. Per Jamaicans.com, “Awarded annually in recognition of excellence in art, science, and literature, the Musgrave Medal is named in memory of Sir Anthony Musgrave, the founder of the Institute and the former Governor of Jamaica.” Philp’s award is for literature. The author of 12 books, he has another, Archipelagos, forthcoming, and is working ona Marcus Garvey themed graphic novel. (Source – Geoffrey Philp on Twitter)

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Jamaica has bestowed previously announced national honours on various recipients (143 of them) including a number of people in the arts. The list includes, among others, original Dreamgirls cast member Sheryl Lee Ralph, a veteran actress currently featured in an Emmy award winning role in Abbott Elementary on TV; dancehall artiste Agent Sasco; and jazz pianist Monty Alexander.

(Source – Daily Observer newspaper/Antigua)

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Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes is the 2022 winner of Narrative magazine’s fourteenth annual poetry contest with The Forgettable Life and Other Poems. Their Fall Story Contest remains open to October 28th 2022. Meanwhile, this is only the recent accolade (after his Emmy, Forward, and Windham Campbell Prize) for the Ghanaian born poet who has spent much of his life in Jamaica and, I believe, is now resident in the US, where he teaches at the MFA level. (Source – Narrative email)

Wadadli Pen Stats

The YouTube channel – traffic is up but subscription could be a lot better. Top content for 2022 so far is 1, AB TODAY BEST of BOOKS International Literacy Day FEATURE, 2, GMAB June 2nd 2021, and, 3, World Book and Copyright Day Chat with Barbadian Author Cherie Jones.

This blog – Site visits are down (no down credited in part to us not having a Challenge this year and to there being fewer new posts overall) and here too subscription/follows could be a lot more. Top content this year has been 1, “Nobody go run me” (a classic by calypsonian Short Shirt from our lyrics page), 2, Antiguan and Barbudan Cultural Icon – Paul King Obstinate Richards (proving that there’s interest in our calypso content), 3, and About WADADLI PEN.

A reminder to engage with and share our content. (Source – in-house)

Books & Other Reading Material

UK writer Ann Morgan has published a new edition, 10 years on from the first, of her book A Year of Reading the World. This new Vintage edition is paperback with a new foreword. Reading the world started out as a project Morgan blogged about during the London Olympics, and here we are. To get primed, you can read about Ann’s project in this previous Wadadli Pen post, and about the first Reading the World book and the Caribbean presence in it here. And remember, like Ann said on Twitter, “Indie bookshops, like indie publishers, are heroes of the book world.” (Source – Ann Morgan on Twitter)

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The winning stories in the 2022 BCLF Elizabeth Nunez Award for Writers in the Caribbean and Caribbean-American Writers have been posted. Ther former is Bahamian writer Alexia Tolas’ “The Fix” and the latter is Haitian-American Yveka Pierre’s “Nadege goes Home”.

Alexia’s “The Fix” was described by judges as “a poetic story which deftly matches form to function with the verse format of the ‘spells’ driving the action forward. This psychological examination of an insecure lover embodies the scale of a fable while delivering an intimacy through the voice of the narrator. The Fix revels in its aurality and orality and delivers a full sensual experience that haunts the reader long after the final sentence.”

Pierre’s “Nadege goes Home”, meanwhile, has been praised for its “use of metaphor [which] invokes the poetry of Haitian Kreyol. The language of the story moves with a rhythm most strongly discernible in its dialogue. Metaphor, language and rhythm combine in this story about siblings to touch deep feelings and create a texture rich with the sense of lived experience.”

Hear more about these stories and other Caribbean literature on the BCLF Cocoa Pod[cast].

Per the BCLF website, “The BCLF Short Fiction Story Contest is an annual writing competition geared towards unearthing and encouraging the distinctive voice and story of the Caribbean-descended writer and expanding the creative writing landscape of Caribbean literature. It aims to provide a conduit through which writers of Caribbean descent find encouragement and empowerment to weave and share their stories. Both of the contest’s prizes are directed to the two distinct voices and perspectives which comprise the Caribbean identity – writers who were born and live in the Caribbean and those who reside in the diaspora.” (Source – BCLF email)

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The latest collection of shortlisted stories from the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story prize is now available to read on Adda. One set is published here and another set is published here. As a reminder Adda has also published the Speak Out! series and I have now published in Blogger on Books my thoughts on Issue 1 of Speak Out! (Source – Commonwealth Foundation email)

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The annual Antigua and Barbuda Conference took place on October 13th and 14th 2022. I was a presenter. You can view my presentation and read the entire presentation on the Appearances page on my Jhohadli blog and/or the New Daughters of Africa Blogger on Books page. (Source – me)

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Viré: The English Version, a novella by Maëlla K., producer of the Karukerament podcast, hit the marketplace in September 2022.

This is her first novella. (Source – promotional author email)

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, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and The Jungle Outside). All Rights Reserved. Subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Lorna Goodison to succeed Mervyn Morris as Jamaica’s Poet Laureate

“Goodison picks up the mantle from Professor Mervyn Morris, who was the first Poet Laureate of Jamaica appointed by the government. Goodison, who has authored 12 books of poetry as well as short story collections and a memoire will be invested as Poet Laureate of Jamaica on May 17, 2017, at a ceremony held at King’s House in Kingston. She will serve in the post from May 2017 through to May 2020.

Tanya Batson-Savage (Susumba) writes that poet Lorna Goodison will step into the role of Jamaica’s second official poet laureate, becoming the first Jamaican woman appointed to the post. Our warmest congratulations! Here are excerpts from Susumba: [. . .] Goodison picks up the mantle from Professor Mervyn Morris, who was the first Poet Laureate of Jamaica […]

via Lorna Goodison First Female Poet Laureate of Jamaica — Repeating Islands

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LOCAL FILM MAKERS INVITED TO THE INAUGURAL JAMAICA FILM FESTIVAL

Press release – Monday, February 23, 2015 – St. John’s, Antigua: Antiguan and Barbudan film makers are invited to send entries to the inaugural Jamaica Film Festival slated for July 7 to 11 in Kingston.

Film Commissioner and Manager of Creative Industries at Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), Carole Beckford stated that the festival will allow existing and potential film makers, script writers, directors and producers to meet and network with key stakeholders in the film industry, locally, regionally and internationally.

“JAMPRO has contacts with Toronto, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas and Cuba, and we continue to maintain those contacts to get the word out. However, we are very keen to showcase films from film makers in Antigua and Barbuda and the wider Caribbean. We are also inviting persons involved in marketing and distribution for films and television productions….we are targeting our Caribbean partners and some universities. We want to invite persons who host major film festivals across the world, so we are providing the market space for people to network,” Miss Beckford said.

Films can either be a feature (50 minutes or more) or a short (less than 50 minutes). Films must not have been publicly shown before July 2013.

“The festival begins on July 7, with an international show; Wednesday and Thursday mornings there will be workshops, then screenings in the afternoon. Friday is music day, where we will look at all the videos that were submitted with a barrage of music being played throughout Kingston. We have engaged our play producers to have special showings also, and Saturday night is the Grand Gala and awards,” the Film Commissioner outlined.

She pointed out that although the festival will be based at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, there will be a multiplicity of locations that will be utilised, including Kingston’s three main sports bars – Cuddyz, Tracks & Records and Triple Century – where screenings will take place.

Interested film makers can contact the organizers at jamaicafilmfestival@jamprocorp.com or apply online at http://www.filmjamaica.com. Final deadline for all entries is May 15, 2015.

InternationalCallForFilms2015

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Out of Jamaica: DRP Summer Series 2014

This just in to our in box:

PRESS RELEASE

June 23, 2014

The Drawing Room Project Season of Literature Continues

Following their magnificent inaugural Writers’ Retreat with Christine Craig at Country Thyme,  Highgate St Mary [Jamaica].  The Drawing Room Project (DRP) returns to Kingston [Jamaica] to host The DRP Summer Series 2014 on 5th, 6th and 13th of July.  This series of workshops in Poetry and Fiction is aimed at beginner to early career writers, . Jamaican writers Mel Cooke, Sharon Leach and Lenworth Burke are mentors for this series.
Mel Cooke leads the first session; Voicing Our Times.  Participants will grapple with social subjects and write about them in personal ways.  They can anticipate new poems that are  poignant and skilfully crafted. The poet and journalist’s first collection, Eleven Nine, was published in 2008 by Blouse and Skirt Books and his spoken word album Seh Sup’m: Live from Kingston, in 2013.  Cooke has also been published in the Jamaica Journal, Jubilation!: Poems Celebrating 50 Years of Jamaican Independence, Peepal Tree Press,  and So Much Things to Say, Akashic Books.
People. Not Characters ! will be led by Sharon Leach, winner of a Musgrave Bronze Medal in 2012 and author of the award winning collections What You Can’t Tell Him: Stories, 2008 and Love It When You Come, Hate It When You Go, 2014.  Leach is renowned for her gritty characters and participants will find this workshop particularly enriching to lift their prose off the page and give them life in the minds of readers.
Lenworth Burke leads the final cohort of fiction writers in Sculpting The Draft, where those participants stuck on their first or second drafts will be guided through the editing process to make the tough cuts and polish their story into a distinct finish.    Burke was the winner of the Jamaica Observer Literary Awards  for Fiction in 2000 and was long-listed  for the Boca Lit Fest’s Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize in 2013. His short stories and poems have been published in several anthologies including Focus 1983; So Much Things To Say ; and in the Bearing Witness series from the Jamaica Observer
This is the third major project by the DRP which is providing writers with a space to grow and engage in a supportive creative process.   Writers of both poetry and fiction stand to benefit from participating in all three workshops which address key elements of craft.
The Drawing Room Project is a voluntary association founded by Millicent A. A. Graham and Joni Jackson, who are both fellows of The Calabash International Literary Festival Trust Writers Workshops.  For more information contact the group at drawingroomproject@gmail.com

 

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Calabash

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In 2007, I attended this superlative literary festival with a group of Antiguan and Barbudan writers.  Just Write Writers Retreat founder Brenda Lee Browne, Unburnable author Marie Elena John, S E James, author of Tragedy on Emerald Island and other books, author of two teen books including Living Life the Way I Like it Akilah Jardine, and me (author of several books none of which, at the time, included Oh Gad! which wouldn’t be released til 2012) journeyed to Jamaica for the adventure. We had an amazing time and I dream still of being part of the line-up, though I’d probably swallow my tongue if I ever got the call. I think to how long it took me to work up the nerves to do the things I did do such as read from the Boy from Willow Bend at the open mic, tell Colin Channer how much I liked Waiting in Vain and beg a picture off of him, chat with Caryl Philip about Dancing in the Dark and the origins of Bert Williams (Antiguans still say Antigua), and approach authors of books I bought for signatures. My favourite moments involved the time spent sitting in the audience soaking up the sun and the words, writing, liming and chatting with the others. We had a great time. And plan to get there and to all the literary festivals in the region, whether as a group of Antiguan and Barbudan artistes on a cultural mission or as a solo writer on a promotional tour, and I will, I will, I will, I will, I will …attracting patronage and/or raising funds for this kind of mission remains difficult; there’ve been disappointments…but if artistes and especially writers in Antigua and Barbuda know anything it’s how to lean on their own resources and reserves to make things happen. It will happen. Until then, check out these images from our trip…and mark the dates from the Calabash calendar above and plan your own trip.

Signing up for the open mic...yep, that's author extraordinaire, Marlon James, with the sign up sheet and clipboard.

Signing up for the open mic…yep, that’s author extraordinaire, Marlon James, with the sign up sheet and clipboard.

with Colin Channer...so nervous

with Colin Channer…so nervous

From left, S E James, me, Akilah, Brenda Lee, Caryl Philips, and Marie Elena John.

From left, S E James, me, Akilah, Brenda Lee, Caryl Philips, and Marie Elena John.

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Your Style

 

Here’s the link  http://issuu.com/ezineslimited/docs/your_style_ezine_may_2012

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Dreaming of Havana

The Havana Book Fair is coming up in February. I’d actually like to attend (scratch that, really like to attend). In part because I have a book coming out in 2012 and a little advance publicity never hurt but mostly because I’m a lover of books and I’ve found events of this nature to be a joy, even with the inevitable hiccups; events like Breadloaf in Vermont to which I applied for and won an international fellowship in 2008 (and don’t ask me how much I’d like love to do the 2012 Breadloaf in Sicily…and not just for the opportunity to return to lovely Italy), Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival (which I’ve been active in since it started in 2006) and the Calabash International Literary Festival (2007). Mostly because they allow for (in fact, encourage) total literary immersion. You lose yourself in books and engagements with writers, you open yourself to learning,you slow down and feel the world again, and you have so much fun (that’s right, writers know how to party too). The fact that I’ve never been to Cuba and would absolutely love to go would be a possible bonus of the experience. The challenge is always money and sometimes information and access. In fact, funding (to cover airfare, accomodation and other expenses) and for the writer hoping to get mileage out of the experience (visibility) are often stumbling blocks even with festivals closer to home (Dominica, Montserrat, Trinidad). With Calabash, in Jamaica, we (in Antigua) put a group of writers together and applied for donor funding from the Commonwealth in order to attend. It was a remarkable experience (huge understatement).

With the 2012 conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, to be held in Suriname, much as I did with the BIM Conference on Caribbean Women Writers in 2008, I submitted my credentials (such as they are…something along the lines of pick me! pick me!) and was happy to be invited as a featured writer from the English Speaking Caribbean (more on that no doubt as it draws closer…including the inevitable panic). I’m looking forward to a return to Suriname, the country is always part of the experience, but I’m also looking forward to being in the company of people who write and people who love to read and write.

And so I’d like to figure out a way to make Cuba happen, not just for me but for other writers. But, of course, February’s just around the corner… I had the idea once I heard about the conference to reach out for information and maybe assistance in making this happen; I’ve tried but so far that has been a disappointing (at times, frustrating) dead end. It’s time like these I do think an Arts Council which could, among other things, access and provide funding (a la an endowment for the arts) would, as I’ve been discussing with fellow artists and writers lately, be a Godsend…too many missed opportunities, too much little tangible support for the arts on our piece of the rock.

So, all I can say at this moment, if not this year, then next or the next or next… (independently, if necessary). I always like to have something to shoot for, and a tour of all of these literary festivals (and more around the world) is definitely on my to do list. It should be on yours too if you’re a book lover and/or writer (and if you have the resources). The opportunity to step out of the world of distractions into the world of the Word is ah-may-zing. And there are the stolen moments too…getting up early to walk the beach in St. Elizabeth, sitting on a rock by the river in Vermont…at each one, you make your own. And, I’ve found, you wake up every day, writing.

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Caribbean writers singled out in Commonwealth Short Story competition

Winners of the 2011 Commonwealth Short Story competition have been announced and there are two Caribbean-ers among them. The first is Barbara Jenkins of Trinidad and Tobago: Regional Winner from the Caribbean for her story Head Not Made For Hat Alone. “I wrote the story,” she’s quoted as saying, “after a particularly dystopian  morning on the road. Everything in the story is real – culled from a  number of experiences and observations. So perhaps the writing was a  sort of catharsis?”

I should note that I first came across Jenkins’ name recently when flipping through Volume 24 of the Caribbean Writer: on the page announcing the year’s prize winners her head-thrown-back-in-full-laugh picture as the Winner of the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for Short Fiction was two slots above the picture announcing me as the Winner of the David Hough Literary Prize for a Writer Living in the Caribbean. Kind of cool to be two degrees of (no not Kevin Bacon but) separation away from a winner of the highly competitive Commownwealth Short Story Competition. I can think of only two Antiguans and Barbudans who made the cut in recent years, Hazra Medica, whose story, the Banana Stains, was among those Highly Commended in 2008 and Mary Geo Quinn  whose story, Joe, was similarly Highly Commended in 2002 Commonwealth Short Story Winners 2002.

Winning is kind of a big deal given the international scope of the competition as noted by the other Caribbean notable of 2011, Diane Brown, a Jamaican whose story, The Happiness Dress, won a Special Prize as a Story for Children. She said, “Winning this special prize for a short story for  children is a singular honour. This acknowledgement of the work of a  local writer of children’s fiction gives that writing an international  platform.”

Per a release from the Commonwealth, “a panel of international judges made the choices from over 2000 entries”. Overall 2011 winner was Philip Nash of the UK with his story Rejoinder. Best regional entries, in addition to Jenkins, were Martha by Basett Buyukah of Kenya, The Maoist by Nikesh Murali of India, and Ginger Beer by Sarah Bainbridge, New Zealand.

The winning stories – all 26 of them – will also be available in audio format. In fact, it may interest you, dear reader, to note that when I was formulating the structure for the Wadadli Pen competition back in 2003, I did a little piggy backing in terms of the word limit on the Commonwealth Short Story competition because like that competition I wanted entries to be a good and compact length for radio broadcast. So, audio recordings and distribution to media outlets of the winning entries have been part of our mission and action from day one. In fact, if you visit, Anansesem* – the Caribbean Children’s e-zine – you’ll hear some of the recordings that came out of our competition in the early years in  their special Wadadli Pen issue. If I could figure out how to do it, I’d post them here, too; and soon as I can figure out funding, we’ll do more of the same. Point is though rather than reinventing the wheel, I did take some cues re structure from the Commonwealth contest, adapting it, of course, to be its own thing relevant to our context in Antigua and Barbuda (and the Caribbean).

Anyway, that’s enough rambling. Congratulations to winners from the region, past and present, and, since the competition is an annual exercise, dare we say, future. Deadline for the next round of submissions is November 30th; details re eligibility will be posted at www.commonwealthwriters.org by October 18th according to this release posted to the Caribbean Literary Salon.

For the full list of winners and their stories, as well as back editions, go to http://www.commonwealthfoundation.com/Howwedeliver/Prizes/CommonwealthShortStoryCompetition/2011winners

THIS JUST IN: Commendation also went to Kathyann Husbands and Edwina Griffiths of Barbados, and Sonja Dumas of Trinidad and Tobago; for Love Honour and Obey, White Shoes, and Letting Cockroaches Live, respectfully.

*Please note Anansesem is currently in the process of being re-located to here.

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At Calabash

In 2007, a group of Antiguan writers

Here we are (image includes S.E. James, me, Brenda Lee Browne, Marie Elena John) with Kittitian writer Caryl Phillips, author of Commonwealth best book winner A Distant Shore

, with assistance from the Commonwealth Foundation made its way to the Commonwealth Foundation. It was an amazing experience. One blogged about here by Sharon James. And here’s what I wrote back then:

By jhohadli

 

In one of our conversations, Brenda Lee and I marvel at their sureness, at the tender age of teen-something.

We’re talking about a young writer we know – me through Wadadli Pen [a youth writing competition I coordinated between 2004 and 2006 coordinate] and Brenda through the various writing workshops she conducts. This young writer would shortly head to Washington for participation in a prestigious writing workshop.

We’re, also, talking about Akilah, another young Antiguan writer standing a few paces away on this breezy day in this coastal fishing village-cum-literary Mecca. Just two nights earlier, she’d launched her latest book; and before the day is out she’ll face the many expectant faces gathered under the Calabash tent from the podium beneath the thatched stage, her back to the sea, her words hitching a ride on the brisk wind.

I’ll take a turn at mic – Open Mic – as well, reading from my first book The Boy from Willow Bend. It would be a shame, I’d decided, to travel all this way and not leave my footprints in the brown-sugar-brown sand at Treasure Beach. But it is narrower footprints that occupy my mind at this writing, on this night – still, except for the rushing surf and my stirred up thoughts. The prints of one bold enough to step before the same sizable crowd that had South African Writer, Commonwealth Writers-prize-best-first-fiction nominee for All We Have Left Unsaid Maxine Case, remarking, rather nervously, that this was the largest crowd she’d ever read to.

There she stands, the youngest of our group; gaze unclouded, shoulders square.

Young hearts, run free. Who sang that? Candi Staton? Well, there it is; and it’s a beautiful thing. Like music.

Perhaps this is the definitive sign that we’ve come a long way; back in real time, in Antigua. Sure, we still don’t have a home for our public library – haven’t in my lifetime. Sure, we still have no cultural policy; nor it seems the will to dig one from amidst the talent and dreams and quest for identity, the collective floundering for a hold as waves of change blow unrelentingly in. Sure, the arts still enjoy stepchild status; doesn’t pay. Not really, not as bountifully as the professions I still shy away from as if from a life of certain bondage.

But these girls – these Antiguan writers not yet out of their teens – are a far cry from the girl with a dream in her heart that she hardly dared believe in. Practicality, security, were the lyrics woven into the music of her world; there, even when the tune had no words. The confidence to dance to her own strange beat, without apology, took time; and she still sometimes loses step.

Perhaps – even with the things still missing; library, cultural policy, nurturing environment for the arts, arts financing – their bold steps are a sign that strides are being made. In some measure, the much more populous field has something to do with it; that once vast field where once a lone warrior stood pen poised before her like a sword cutting through the detritus. But it’s something else, too, something innate.

Of course, we muse – Brenda and I, we’re far from that proverbial There. How many children are still taught that art is trivial, incidental to life not its very heartbeat? How many with this singular talent, to writetodrawtosingtodance, never truly emerge, are never taught how to use God’s gift, how to multiply this talent? How dismissive are we still of the arts? It doesn’t have the currency of politics or sports, or currency? Aren’t we still forced to hedge our bets (yes, even these daring kids that dare give voice to dreams that we, at their age, wrapped in cotton wool)?

But it is progress, of a sort, to have stretched for the high branches, plucked and sucked, like a particularly sweet mango, the various opportunities that have leaked from this pen. To be here at Calabash – the Caribbean’s premier literary festival started in Jamaica by Waiting in Vain author Colin Channer, poet Kwame Dawes, and producer Justine Henzell back in 2001. It is progress that five of us – all literary arts activists and writers – looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this”; and raised the funding (thanks to the Commonwealth Foundation, thanks to Caribbean Airlines) and did.

Marie Elena remarks as we amble back to the Cacona guest house on our last day at Treasure Beach (which I like to think of as Treasure Island) that it feels like we’ve stepped out of time. I must admit – and did – that I was not ready to step back in.

Only an hour earlier, we’d shook hands and posed for a keepsake with Channer, and joked with internationally-renowned Kittitian scribe, Caryl Phillips poolside in the magical glow of twilight.

Hours earlier, we’d sat with a savvy New York editor as she schooled us on the industry, a lesson tailored to fit Caribbean writers.

Hours earlier we’d allowed Cindy Breakspeare (former Ms. World and, yes, Damien Marley’s mommy) and others to lead us through Ganesh’s tragicomic world with their relay-style reading of V. S. Naipaul’s Mystic Masseur.

For hours upon hours, we’d listened, delightedly, to reading after reading (wondering if an Antiguan crowd would ever give itself over to hours of just this), the listening itself lesson after lesson on shaping character, plotting, creating atmosphere, pacing. Caryl (“I love fiction because I can hide”) Phillips shares his memoirs. American poet Linda Susan (“grab those notes like you own them”) Jackson conjures Etta and Billie in What Yellow Sounds Like. Aussie Andrew O’Connor, a Commonwealth best first fiction nominee effortlessly tickles us with his readings from Tuvalu.

Beautiful. Like music. The wind blows strong and the tent flaps excitedly – its own applause, as the bodies sway forward as though at a Tanya Stephens concert. And we buzz excitedly many a morning after, with ideas on how we could bring even a fraction of this experience home. We hope to find a way to do so, before real life, real time, overrides best intentions. We want to bring the salt of the sea breeze, the music of the words, the vibes that grabbed hold, shaking loose the constraints of life back in real time. We want to bring this flow, this letting go and letting one’s art live, this urge to create and serve the art that was gifted to us. We want to bring the desire to reach for the high notes and to understand (and use well) the tools we use.

The experience clings like fresh dew, and we are refreshed. And that’s the best reason to go to these things after all. To hear Maryse Condé, yes. To meet writers from far flung areas – as far as New Zealand, yes. To learn, to network, to grow, yes. But mostly to stand still and soak it up, feel it infuse and energize. Like music.

It’s a reminder that the journey is the thing. Lloyd Jones, announced at Calabash as best book winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, shared with one of our group that it took him 12 drafts to complete the Dickensian inspired Mr. Pip. And in that there is hope that our own daily struggles with the page and with finding our way to the page, aren’t so bleak.

One conversation, with Sharon and Brenda, is about the challenges of being a writer in Antigua; the writing you have to do in order to do the writing you want to do, how little of you it leaves to give to the writing you need to do. You debate about whose grass is greener, whose lawn better manicured.

In the end, you all agree that events like Calabash are like manna in a desert. You want to stretch this moment. Let your muse out to play, at will. Listen – to the surf, to the words. Watch as a young Antiguan literally half your age (and how scary is that; tick tock) steps to the mic. Believe in your thrumming heart that, not only is your rhythm not discordant, it is music to the ears.

This article references the trip of the first ever Antiguan delegation to the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica. That delegation consisted of Marie Elena John, author of Unburnable, Sharon James, author of a series of children’s books that begins with Tragedy on Emerald Island, Akilah Jardine, author of a duo of teen books that begins with Living Life the Way I Love It, writer and literary activist Brenda Lee Browne, and Joanne C. Hillhouse, author of The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. It’s been previously published in the Daily Observer newspaper, Antigua – June 1st 2007, on my blog at www.myspace.com/jhohadli, and in the U.S. publication, the Coup.

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