I don’t think I’ve caught my breath from Bocas as yet. Since returning from Trinidad, I’ve caught some zzzz’s then began packing right away for New York (and the PEN World Voices Festival) where I’ll be part of the Literary Safari. I’m not quite sure what to expect but if the Scotland and Trinidad trip have taught me anything these past few weeks it’s that things will happen as they will, adjust and roll with it. So, rolling, rolling, rolling.
The last few days I rolled into Bocas, literally. Arrived on Thursday, went straight from the airport to the launch event for Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean – the first publication by Peekash (a sub-imprint, I guess, of US based Akashic and UK based Peepal Tree). As a contributor to the collection, I really just wanted to be there. I got there late but just in time to catch readings by Sharon Millar and Barbara Jenkins, authors of two of my favourite pieces from the collection. The place was packed and the readings well received. Got to meet some of the folks I’ve only ever really met via social media – like K. Jared Hosein (whose Littletown Secrets I purchased later in the festival), Millar, Jenkins, and likely others. Oh, and I ran into Emma from the Commonwealth whom I’d only just met the week before when she put my Scotland trip together; it was like running into an old friend.
The following day was my morning reading and panel discussion with other finalists for the Burt Award. I read this excerpt from Musical Youth and loved being able to kick back and listen to readings by Ad-Ziko Gegele (of Nigeria, Jamaica…and, my add after my conversation with her, a little bit of Montserrat thrown in) and Colleen Smith-Dennis, also of Jamaica. I found both their readings very engaging, but (even more so during the lively and skilful reading of an excerpt from Ad-Ziko’s by a Trini youth during the awards ceremony) was particularly drawn in by Gegele’s narrative style and especially her adept use of the second voice. Not surprisingly, she claimed the main prize later that evening at our fancy duds gala. I took second and Smith-Dennis took third. I say we’re all winners…and we kind of are as one of the outcomes of making the top three is all of our books will shortly be available across the Caribbean. It was interesting reading the synopsis of my own Musical Youth in the programme, and not just because I suck at so tell me what your book’s about type questions but because reading the synopsis I got that whoever wrote it got it, probably more even than I did when I wrote it. As I explained during the panel, while writing it, I kind of slipped into a zone, where it was almost like I was chasing the story as it sprinted to the finish. I’ve never approached another project in that way; deciding to enter a contest with less than two weeks toward the deadline and finding that the story was there all along just waiting to be written. I had to pause for work, real life, story driven research, but the characters were always there waiting when I came back, every spare minute, to the keyboard. A part of me wishes I’d had more time to edit and all that stuff…as I wrote before, the only reader this manuscript had was my 15 year old niece. But maybe all of that is as it was meant to be. Bottom line, as I said in the panel, I approached it as I approach all writing projects from the inside-out, not the outside-in, with a commitment to being true to the characters’ experience. That’s something that’s consistent whatever the intended market. These Burt books though are intended for the teen/young adult market so now that it’s all said and done, it’ll be good to see how young people engage with them. I do believe as I said in the panel that if you give young people something they want to read, they will. Reading should first be fun. Hopefully they’ll find these books to be fun. I certainly had fun writing, in my case, Musical Youth.
I didn’t get to stay for much else at my first Bocas (of which my biggest regret is probably the Lovelace film A Writer in His Place which ran con-current with my panel), as I was scheduled to leave the following morning ahead of the PEN World Voices Festival. I had run ins with old mentors Carolyn Cooper and Mervyn Morris, and drive bys with a few other new and familiar faces, like Earl Lovelace and Velma Pollard whom I met for the first time last year in Guadeloupe, Bernadine Evaristo who I met in Antigua while she was still researching her now acclaimed book Mr. Loverman, Kei Miller who had just fed me in Scotland and had since been as far as Iraq and yet here he was reading from his much anticipated forthcoming poetry collection and signing my copy of his Writing Down the Vision, non fiction winner of the Bocas prize (I’d heard him read from it at Aye Write! And had to have it) . Plus there were the new people that I met and hopefully will remember the next time we meet again – yeah, I had one of those awkward do you remember me encounters, and I didn’t (I suck).
In the end, I felt somewhat melancholy as I taxied to the airport at that time of early morning when there’s not much else on the road and not much else to think about but the journey you’re on, the one you’re taking literally and the bigger journey, of life, of which it is a part. I felt strangely peaceful, peaceful, and thankful (my Burt trophy heavy in my Bocas bag, the first award of its kind for this bookworm-cum-writer from Ottos, Antigua who’s been paying and paying her dues). So yeah, thankful for this moment – I don’t suck. I am sleepy though. That’s the thing all of this journeying will do to you, totally tilt you off kilter, time wise. But it’s a small thing really, when you consider the reward, and I’m not just talking about the trophy, and all it represents, I’m talking about the nerves and the awkwardness and the connections and the poetry and the stories and the engagements and the travels and the conversations and the new places and faces, and the familiar places and faces, all of that and so many other memories to keep.
I’ll share pictures when I have them. UPDATED TO ADD THESE PHOTOS FROM THE BOCAS FACEBOOK AND WEBSITE.
*click image to see more pics.
Meantime, Plus, here are some links related to the prize and Bocas. Enjoy.