Wadadli Pen 2016 Winner: a Response

This concerns the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize and I already shared it on that blog, but I thought it merited a double post because Wadadli Pen is one of the things I am most passionate about, most invested in, and which, for all I’ve written, feels like my most valuable contribution to date as a literary arts activist. The programme, which I launched in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, isn’t about me. It is about every young writer who embraces the opportunity to use his/her voice, tell his/her stories, and by so doing add to the narrative of our lives – because that’s what storytellers do as they interpret and imagine who we are, have been, could be, and might have been. I really value this programme and it’s good when I’m reminded that I’m not alone in so doing. Daryl George , a youth worker, was asked, as the 2016 Challenge winner to pen a response, and his response goes further than I had anticipated in underscoring the value he places on the Wadadli Pen programme. Thank you, Daryl.

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Above, scenes of Daryl from the Wadadli Pen Challenge 2016 Awards ceremony; below, Daryl’s letter.

It gives me great pleasure to provide the response for the 2016 edition of the Wadadli Pen Prize. The Wadadli Pen Challenge, going on 12 years strong, is the only literary competition in Antigua and Barbuda geared towards youth, and one of only a very few in the entire Caribbean. Thanks must go out, first and foremost, to Joanne Hillhouse: the time, energy, and effort necessary to arrange the Wadadli Pen Challenge is significant, yet she does it anyway. So too for the many sponsors who do believe in young people and who have put their money where their mouth is when it comes to investing in our youth and our culture.

Writing for the Wadadli Pen Challenge this year wasn’t easy: and that is precisely why it’s so beneficial, year in and year out. It is only through effort that we can grow, and only through difficulty can we triumph. We had a number of young persons enter the Wadadli Pen Challenge in 2016, and I believe that the process of writing a cohesive story or poem in 600 words or less, tailoring each word and each sentence for maximum impact, has allowed these young persons to increase their writing ability just a little bit more. I hope that those who had the fortune to receive feedback from this challenge will continue to broaden their talents, and to hone their skills to become even better writers.

With the good also comes the bad, and with the yin also comes the yang. I was disappointed this year at the coverage, or lack thereof, from a number of prominent local media houses. In a time where positive stories about youth seem to grow rarer and rarer, I do believe that this was an opportunity for them to step up and provide coverage in order to motivate those youth seeking positive avenues for their expression. I also am disappointed in the lack of supporting initiatives from relevant government stakeholders in pushing the culture of Antigua and Barbuda: too often we focus on promoting the “sexy” issues and topics around our youth while ignoring the amazing ability of the literary arts to act as a powerful force in promoting our local culture.

That being said, I look forward to 2017. I look forward to youth across Antigua and Barbuda sitting down, whether with pen and paper or on their laptops, and dreaming. Using their words to paint landscapes, using their imagination to create vivid images, and using their creativity to touch the soul of others. I look forward to youth stretching themselves to come up with their own unique stories, their own personal characters. And I look forward to reading all about their adventures next year and in years to come.

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