Tag Archives: literary festival

Caribbean Writers Discuss Publishing – Lessons, Breakthroughs, and Rights 1.2/5

Recently, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda) reached out to three female Caribbean writers (Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, Lisa Allen-Agostini of Trinidad and Tobago, and Shakirah Bourne of Barbados) with whom I have in common the distinction of being a finalist for the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature (Diana with Daylight Come in 2019 and Gone to Drift in 2015; Shakirah with My Fishy Stepmom in 2018; and Lisa with Home Home in 2017; my own Musical Youth was a 2014 finalist).

daylight comeGone to DriftMy-Fishy-StepmomHome HomeMusical Youth

The three writers interviewed for this series have further distinguished themselves by selling rights to U.S. editions of their Burt books (McCaulay’s Gone to Drift released in the US market with Harper Collins in 2016; Lisa’s Home Home’s US edition landing in 2020 with Delacorte Press; and Shakirah’s book forthcoming in 2021 with Scholastic). I want to thank them for making the time because I believe their experiences, different though they are, are an education on publishing, especially if you’re a Caribbean Writer. The conversation is serialized due to length (so click here for the start of the series) – there are 5 questions.

Q. 1.2. You’re all Burt authors – the process involves the opportunity to select from a number of Caribbean publishers, tell me about your decision making process – why was your publisher right for your book, and do you have any thoughts on the Burt Award experience generally?

Shakirah_Bourne pic
Shakirah: When I first decided to submit to Burt, I did research on the previous winning titles and several were published by Tanya Batson-Savage of Blue Banyan Books. I really admired the gorgeous cover designs and high quality of the books, and then truly enjoyed reading the stories. In making my final decision about a publisher, I spoke to previous Burt Award winners, and everyone spoke highly about Tanya’s editorial skills. Still, it was a tough decision because I was also impressed by another publisher who had great reviews and was passionate about my story.

After I had submitted the manuscript to Burt, I decided to try to find an agent in case the book wasn’t shortlisted and so I dived into the US publishing industry. Actually, it was more of a belly flop than a dive but luckily I managed to snag the interest of a top US agent at the same time I was informed that the manuscript was shortlisted for Burt. I thought I had to choose between the two opportunities, but a seasoned local author gave me a lesson in literary rights and I realized that I could negotiate with all parties. I’ve written about the full experience of finding an agent on my blog. In the end, I went with the publisher who had no issues in having only Caribbean rights to the book.

Lisa:  The best part of the Burt Award for me was the guaranteed publication and distribution to regional libraries and youth literacy programmes. Not only would I have a book, it would be sold and it would be in libararies and in young people’s hands. I was ecstatic about that. I self-published when I was 18 and I still have copies of the book at age 46 so I know publication without marketing and distribution is a bust. With Bocas Lit Fest, Burt also organised a schools reading tour which took me to meet hundreds of young readers and got mainstream media and online spotlights for the book.

Diana: Lisa was able to do the book tour, I see. I am glad Gone to Drift is in libraries throughout the Caribbean, but I’m also aware that this has to be supported by some programme, or it just remains on the shelf. I’ve tried to get Gone to Drift as a set book for regional exams, and I think now it is on an optional reading list, but not as required reading.

Shakirah: I loved knowing that the Caribbean edition was available in libraries and schools all around the region. As a previous self-published author, I never had the resources to get that far a reach. NALIS in Trinidad selected My Fishy Stepmom for their “One Book, Many Schools” programme, where students read the book and did displays, art competitions, craft activities etc inspired by the book. With the support of BocasLitFest, I created a My Fishy Stepmom Educational Package that included discussions, quizzes (Fishy Feud!) and even science experiments for young readers and is available free online. I had the absolute pleasure of librarians engaging with me on social media, and sending photos of classes reading the text and playing the games.

Barrackpore West Secondary School (Photo by BWSS Library Media Centre

Barrackpore West Secondary School (Photo by BWSS Library Media Centre)

Edinburgh Collage

Shakirah at Edinburgh International Book Festival.

One of the most rewarding opportunities was being able to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2019. Janet Smyth, who was the Head Judge for Burt and also the Children & Education Porgramme Director extended an invitation to all the Burt winners and we were all part of the Schools’ programme. I also was asked to conduct two workshops during the festival. I met so many of my favourite authors and was fangirling throughout the entire event.


Q.2. and the author responses will follow in the next installment of the series.

All images are courtesy of the authors and interview was conducted and published by Joanne C. Hillhouse. You can excerpt and share with link-back/credit but do not republish without permission.

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#Throwback One Move leads to Another

This is a blast from the past – an article written after the first staging of a literary festival in Antigua in 2006. Ah, if we could just hold on to the things that we start . Anyway, here’s what I said then. Images featured in this post are from different years of the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival. The last ABILF was held in 2010. We’ve seen literary festivals flower throughout the region  – something I’ve written about for Writers’ Digest magazine – while many don’t know Antigua and Barbuda even had one (I know this, I’ve been asked in my travels representing for myself and my country). So, file this one under memories.


by Joanne C. Hillhouse

For writers, stories lurk in every experience; and, without a doubt, Antigua and Barbuda’s first international literary festival in 2006, was an experience!

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The workshops, readings, and panels were part of it, sure; but throw a group of writers together and there’s bound to be lots of chat off the pages.  “One morning,” remarked African-American author, L. A. Banks (ETA: now deceased), “I was eating alone before a session and two ladies sat at an adjacent table discussing ‘the paranormal’. Then suddenly they saw my name tag and drew me into their conversation. Before long, an author colleague (Tananarive Due) happened by with a coffee and decided to join in, and, from there, Nalo Hopkinson passed our growing table and decided to join the conversation’s fray as well. It was magical! We laughed, told stories, and we walked away with as much fodder for new books as did the ladies who drew us into the conversation in the first place.”

At the Lit Fest, this communing of creative minds was commonplace, even with the beach and all its delightful diversions a few paces away (ETA: the festival moved around but this first one was held right on the beach at the Jolly Beach Resort). The festival literally was a book lover’s buffet and, for the writers, a reinvigorating respite.

Little wonder then that there was a shower of superlatives in its wake. “…One of the best I ever attended. If you missed it you missed a major event,” wrote Caribbean-American author, Elizabeth Nunez, in a widely circulated festival review; while Caribbean Canadian Sci-Fi novelist Nalo Hopkinson blogged, “Antigua rocked. I had an amazing time.”

In part, it was the setting. We don’t boast of having 365 beaches for nothing; beaches, ideal for viewing each evening’s explosion of colour as the sun dips into the sea, I might add.

“I’m back in grey London and I cannot wait to return for more,” Tamarind Books owner Verna Wilkins relayed, when asked for comment after last year’s Fest.

Still, the setting was just the brawta, as we say in Antigua. The festival wrapped books, knowledge, invaluable networking opportunities, and a good time into a tidy weekend package. “I believe each author walked away as a student as well as a teacher,” Banks mused.

As a local author, I have this setting all the time; even if I don’t always slow down to take it in. An ever-eager student, however, I did take in much of what the festival had to teach.

Lesson One – There is no single route, no single reason why…

Sometimes, we get off track: pre-occupying ourselves with those running alongside, behind, or ahead of us. Marita Golden, author and founder of the USA’S Hurston Wright Writers Week, brought perspective with her reminder that upwards of 160,000 books are published in the U.S. alone annually, with a mere handful getting the kind of promotion that could make them into bestsellers. The thing to remember is what compelled us to write in the first place. Antiguan-Canadian author Althea Prince told how her book How the East Pond Got Its Flowers was born of her desire to tell her daughter a story that portrayed her ancestors as people; not slaves. Wilkins’ Tamarind Books was inspired by children; “intrinsic in my work is empowerment for children, especially children who’ve been excluded,” she said. Meanwhile, Victoria Murray, author of A Sin and A Shame said during one of her readings, “I start writing with a ‘What If’ question. I write so I can breathe because I do not want this product backed up inside me.”
Lesson Two – Feel The Fear…

We’re often taught that fear is weakness. Golden shared that her previous novel took her five years; that sometimes you think the story is one thing, and it has a mind to go another way; that “you’re never going to stop being afraid…(but) you have to face the fear and write through it.”
Lesson Three – Work It, Baby!

A hard truth re-emphasized at the Fest: after you’ve poured your soul and years of your life into this work, after you’ve given it all you have to give; then the work starts. Hate self-promotion? Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Jason Van Orden outlined practical online approaches to self-promote cheaply. For a writer working today, he stressed, not having a web presence is not an option. So, hey, check me out at http://www.myspace.com/jhohadli (where I especially enjoy blogging on books), http://www.antiguanice.com, or my blog at http://www.amazon.com (ETA: I’m no longer on myspace and antiguanice – though Wadadli Pen and the Cushion Club still are – but actually you can now find me in all these places); all set up since last year’s conference. I’ve received questions and feedback; also little notes like this one from a new My Space friend who bought my books as a gift for a niece after discovering me online: “My niece just rang me to tell me that she finished ‘Boy from Willow Bend’   and ‘Dancing Nude in the Moonlight’; she loved them both.” Priceless!

Lesson Four – Network

Business cards were exchanged which is a good thing when you have agents, publishers, booksellers, and writers knocking elbows.

African-American author Christine Lincoln wrote me, “While at the festival in Antigua, I spoke with Verna who started Tamarind (Books) and learned a great deal from her – mainly that I can do what she has done!”

Lesson Five – One Move Leads to Another

For Prince, 2006 was her first time home in nine years. She’ll be back and conducting workshops at the 2007 Fest.

Also, you’ll notice the stronger Caribbean presence in this year’s Festival line-up; that’s a move in the right direction. As one of the coordinators said “Caribbean literature … would add another dimension to the Festival and certainly attract a broader audience.”

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!, Fish Outta Water, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. Seriously, a lot of time, energy, love and frustration goes in to researching and creating content for this site; please don’t just take it up just so without even a please, thank you or an ah-fu-she-subben (credit). 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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Mailbox – 2015 Alliouagana Festival of the Word

It’s been 20 years since the start of volcanic activity and this year’s programme will explore various aspects of the theme Volcanic Ash: Journeys and Connections.

The first event is the 3rd Distinguished Lecture in the Alphonsus ‘Arrow’ Cassell Memorial Lecture Series.  This will be presented by Dr. Aldrin Sweeney who has chosen as his topic Thinking Beyond the Ash: Using Our Volcanic Resources.  The Lecture will be held in the Conference Room at the Cultural Centre on Thursday November 12, 2015 at 7.30 pm.

Baroness Floella Benjamin, the Patron for the Festival for 2015, will be talking about her own journeys at the Opening Ceremony which starts at 8.15 pm on Friday November 13.  Other highlights for the evening include an Africana Fashion Show and the launch of new books by Edgar Nkosi White and David Lea.

The rest of the weekend will be devoted to events, many of which are now regular fixtures on the Festival Calendar.  These include exciting workshops with exceptional authors both local and visiting, readings and signings, the MVO creative writing competition award ceremony on Saturday and the Book Lovers’ Parade on Sunday.  The Parade is coordinated this year by Miss Montserrat / Miss Jaycees Caribbean Queen, Sharissa Ryan, with assistance continuing from our partners, the Coral Cay Team.

Coretta Ryan (Sharissa’s sister) is behind a new event for the 2015 literary festival.  Word Up will be held away from the Cultural Centre and Spoken Word artists, calypsonians and poets are invited to showcase their work at 8 pm on Saturday November 14 at the Lyme in Brades (home of Nanny’s Café).Word Up Flyer V2 compressed

Thanks to the Government of Montserrat, major sponsor for this year, a special fare of EC$200 round-trip is being offered for anyone travelling by ferry out of Antigua for the Festival.

Full programme: AFW_E-Programme_2015_Final

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Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival coming back

I don’t have a lot of information on this as yet, but as one of the region’s earlier literary festivals (started in 2006), I’m glad to see that the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival [ABILF] is on its way back with November 9th to 11th 2012 given as the festival dates.

A notice at the site says: “We are currently finalising the 2012 programme of events. Please check back soon for a full listing.”

I’ll keep you posted as well. But you can also keep checking their website and their facebook page.


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