I’ve never met or even spoken to Maggie Harris
outside of the virtual world of social media, but she feels like part of the Wadadli Pen family, having contacted me well into the 2014 season to offer a copy of her book Kiskadee Girl as part of the prize package.
The book promptly came in the mail all the way from the UK where Maggie, Guyanese by birth, lives; and it’s since been added to the library of Ariel Dunnah who was third placed overall, in addition to being second placed and honourable mention in the 18 to 35 age category of the Wadadli Pen 2014 Challenge.
All of that preamble to say two things.
First, big up big up big up to Maggie Harris for being the regional winner of the prestigious and highly competitive Commonwealth Short Story prize. As we did a few weeks ago when Diana McCaulay another former prize donor and Wadadli Pen associate family member as a result claimed the Hollick Arvon Prize at Bocas, we feel in a celebratory mood, like we’re celebrating one of our own. Congratulations, Maggie, and fingers crossed that you’ll take the big win in Uganda in June.
Second, to all Antiguan and Barbudan writers reading this, this is a prize you need to go for. True confessions, I’ve gone for this prize several times, and I persist in going for it because I will not be undone by my failures, and because it is a significant prize in the doors it can open, the validation it can bring, and the sense of personal satisfaction that it will give…and that’s before you even get to the purse. The truth is, as a writer while you are your only real competition, it’s important to keep pushing yourself, challenging yourself, and step into those fields that can cause you and your writing to flourish. One of the reasons we do Wadadli Pen is to encourage this mindset, and one of the reasons we give short-listed writers the opportunity to benefit from the judges’ critique is to reinforce how essential craft is, and as a part of that, revision. One of the Commonwealth winning writers mentioned revising her story 12 times; for some writers that’s on the low side. You wrestle with the story, trying to get it right, and you try always to put your best effort forward. And the not making it the first two, three or ten times is no reason to give up, that too is part of the writer’s life; it’s not always easy but we pick ourselves up and we persist. I mention this here because I’m disappointed to learn how few Antiguans (too often none) actually take a shot at these prizes – prizes like the Burt Award for which I recently claimed second prize in 2014, prizes like Hollick Arvon for which another Wadadli Pen family member Brenda Lee Browne was long listed in 2013, and yes prizes like the Commonwealth Short Story prize which afforded me though not a finalist to be picked as one of only 13 writers from across the Caribbean, and the only one from Antigua, for the recently published Pepperpot collection, which also resulted in me being offered opportunities to read in Glasgow at the Aye Write! festival and in New York at the PEN World Voices festival. I mention the only one from Antigua not to suggest that I’m special in anyway because there are people as or more talented than me from the 108 by 62, the only difference is that, in spite of the hurts and set backs, I persist, I work at it and I research and reach for the opportunities. We need to try to swim in bigger waters, people; submit to those journals, go for those prizes, seek publication, access, and opportunity. You know why, because we have the talent here in Antigua and Barbuda, and while it takes more than talent – things like discipline, skill building, networking, and more – there’s no reason we shouldn’t reach for every opportunity.
Brenda Lee has a tag line, “just write”; how about we add “…and go for it”. Sure you might get rejected but you could turn out like Maggie Harris: “overwhelmed and thrilled… (and) very grateful”.
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