Reblogging because so much of my week has been tying off the loose ends from Wadadli Pen (spoiler alert: there are still a few loose threads but I’m trying to…unclench about it). Plus I had some new pictures to share, so, here goes.
I wanted to share this candid because for me it captures what Wadadli Pen is about. If you’re not familiar, Wadadli Pen (the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize) is a project I started in 2003 in response to what I felt was a lack of a nurturing environment for young writers (as I was at the time, having just published my first book The Boy from Willow Bend) within my environment. The purpose was – and remains (though the scope has broadened) – to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. We launched our Challenge (a challenge, not a competition) in 2004 – and except for a three week hiatus (2007, 2008, 2009), it’s been on every year ever since. So, yes, it’s technically a competition where we ask young people (the definition of which has changed several times over the years) to submit entries (this, too, has changed from strictly fiction to fiction and poetry, to fiction and poetry and creative non-fiction – and have we had a time trying to explain that one, to visual art now and again). In fact, the main consistency (because even the word count has changed) has been that the entries have a Caribbean aesthetic (I know, I know, what does that even mean – but what I go back to is what one judge cautioned against, i.e. anywhere, nowhere stories; and it becomes necessary to insist on this because growing up on a small island, a former colony of Britain and in the shadow of American influence, you’re exposed to so much beyond your lived reality that overshadows that lived reality so that, as one young writer confessed and as I myself experienced, when you first start writing you’re mimicking what stories are supposed to be, based on the stories you’ve been exposed to, the lives of white people, blonde blue eyed white people because your black-skinned, brown-eyed, bushy-haired self is not yet, not even in your own imagining, worthy of her own story, and that’s why #diversitymatters particularly in children’s fiction like my own With Grace, – and while every Caribbean person is not black-skinned, brown-eyed, and bushy-haired, we come in all shades, cultures within cultures, Wadadli Pen is trying to step in to that gap and say tell the stories only you can tell, it’s not about regurgitating Caribbean clichés, and please don’t limit yourself genre wise, in fact go wild, but let what comes out come from the soil of your unique Caribbean-bred imagination, surprise us, better yet, surprise yourself). Damn, I should have typed long sidebar alert – I didn’t see it coming. But, anyway, in my mind at least, the prizes we hustle to grab for the selected winning writers, are not the point of the Challenge. Incentive, sure; reward, yes; but not the point. The point is for writers and non-writers to challenge themselves, use their voice, express themselves, and to develop their crafting of their message (for non-writers) and simply their craft (for writers). So, one of the things we do is once we’ve culled the list of entries down to a longlist of finalists, we return their entries to those few with edit notes, giving them the opportunity to revisit their story and re-submit before a final evaluation. We don’t command changes – some writers have opted not to edit their stories, and that’s their right – but we’re saying, take a second look, consider this; sort of our way of introducing them to the editing process, and also the kind of self-interrogation you do during the re-drafting phases (yes, phases, plural). So, I like this picture because the girl in the picture (2nd placed in the 13 to 17 age category) showed up at our partner bookstore to collect her prize and the guy in the picture, one of our 2017 judges, was chatting with her about one of her pieces (she submitted three). This kind of mentoring (yes, I count it as a moment of mentoring) is consistent with what Wadadli Pen is hoping to do developmentally – we don’t just want to give out prizes, we want to aid in the development of not just our young writers but our young people. So, moments like this unscripted, unplanned are priceless.
This is me with two of the winning students from the 12 and younger age category. Their teacher grabbed me for a quick photo with them right after the awards and encouraged them to keep writing. The one on the left, she said (and I’m paraphrasing poorly), was into sports not writing and didn’t think she had anything to write about – well, guess what, she wrote about her favourite sport and earned second place in her category. Will she write more? I don’t know. But hopefully she’s learned that she does have something to say. Also, this picture amuses me as by this point in the evening I’d been wearing the mask and the pirate hat (both from old Carnival J’ouvert costumes) all day and didn’t even remember I had them on – not that I would have taken them off to take the picture…if you’re going to dress up, you’ve got to commit! p.s. the earrings are by Saadie Christian, at Earthly Instincts in the craft market, in St. John’s City, Antigua. She does good work. Check her out.
This is the overall winner (on the right) – it hit me this week that as a 23-year-old teacher, she would have been 10 years old when Wadadli Pen launched. Seriously, wtf!!? Have we been doing that this long? Crazy. If I’ve said it once…if only I’d known what I was getting myself in to when I said, let me do this thing. Still, no regrets. Well, one regret, I regret the forever absence of one of the people who was there with me at the beginning. I remember that first year just the two of us (and my infant niece) trying to get the awards space ready even as people were coming up the stairs expecting us to have our sh*t together. In those early years, she did everything I didn’t do – except for judging – and she was also my ear to bitch to and my shoulder to cry on (actually, scratch that, she probably would have laughed her belly full if I tried to cry on her shoulder, but she was such a pillar to me in those years that her calling time out on her involvement was just as much a reason for our hiatus as the burnout I was feeling). Well, she died in 2015 (and two years later I’m still trying to make sense of that because she was my age and my sista-sister-sister-friend and I wasn’t ready). Re-naming the Challenge plaque in her honour in 2016 was a small gesture toward honouring her contribution to Wadadli Pen but also memorializing her life. So, whenever I see pictures of it, like this one, I think of her.
This one I wanted to share (though it’s not the best picture) because of the folks in it. The girl on the right won the 12 and younger age category and placed third overall, and the chief judge legit had to check with me to make sure her entry was written by an 11-year-old – but I’m most impressed with how she’s grown with the Challenge, placing a little higher in the finals each time since first submitting in 2014. And speaking of young people growing with the programme, the young lady on the left (co-hosting the awards) is a college student who, in the midst of exams and all that, served as our first ever intern assisting with media and admin tasks and picking up some new skills along the way. She is also one of our past finalists, having first submitted to Wadadli Pen in 2012.
Had to put in a group shot – this is what makes it worth it. Go here, please, to see some more pictures and other Wadadli Pen stuff; read the stories, please, and show these young writers some love.
So, this has been my week. I’ve done very little reading (inching closer to the end of Closure – ETA FINISHED! Click to read my review – and the middle of All the Joy You Can Stand) and took some time from reading, work (my adult education class, client projects), writing (okay, so I wrote one story but in my defense it’s one story more than I’ve written in too long), and Wadadli Pen yesterday to go searching for mangoes (because my own tree nar gwaan wid nutten). No luck. Hashtag sadface.
Linking to Sunday Salon, Sunday Post, and Mailbox Monday and I will say that while I haven’t started any new books or acquired any new books, my wish list continues to grow, so thanks Repeating Islands (for mentioning David Layton’s The Dictator) *shakes fist at Repeating Islands*. In book-ish news, I’ll mention that if you’re in New York or nearby, I shared an upcoming lit event that you might be interested in on my other blog – Word! Also, as a fan of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea (which is by Caribbean writer Jean Rhys and tells the story of the wife in the attic), I couldn’t resist sharing on the blog this review of Mr. Rochester. Not a flattering review but I appreciated the discourse. What else, I watched the last two eps of this season of Supernatural – I didn’t hate it (this season having somewhat redeemed the show from epic rants of Supernatural past); and I watched the first ep of Legends of Tomorrow – which I kind of did (hate); and tonight is American Gods – which I’m really kind of liking.