CREATIVE SPACE #3 of 2022 (uploaded February 1st 2022)
CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 as a blog series and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition with EXTRAS running here on the blog and full interviews and extras on AntiguanWriter on YouTube. In 2021, the two–part CREATIVE SPACE mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on February 2nd 2022:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #3 OF 2022 – CARIBBEAN READERS PICK THEIR FAVES
In the world of arts and entertainment, it’s currently awards season. In film, which I enjoy tracking, all the chatter is about the various industry (critics, festival, and guild) awards leading up to the big kahuna (the Academy awards). In literature, finalists of the PEN America Literary Awards and NAACP Image Awards (which includes book nominees), as well as the Caribbean Readers Awards landed in recent weeks.
The winners of the latter include best novel Pleasantview by Trinbagonian writer Celeste Mohammed, who described her win as “a heartwarming surprise” and best poetry collection Pandemic Poems by Jamaican poet laureate Olive Senior, who was “thrilled to know this little book is getting around and gaining recognition for sharing the times we are going through.”
Other winners are Habitus by Radna Fabias of Curaçao (best translated work), Things I have Withheld by Jamaica’s Kei Miller (best non-fiction book), and ‘Bomber and the Breadfruit’ (best piece published in the Rebel Women Lit magazine). Rebel Women Lit is the literary collective behind the CRA.
The CRA, though still in its infancy, is of particular interest to me as a reader, writer, arts advocate, and Caribbean person. I was the person stalking the RWL web page and social media for the outcome of this year’s awards. No, I wasn’t nominated nor were there any nominees from Antigua and Barbuda; I was just that soup.
See, while we can obviously contend for international lit awards, the opportunities to really come through are slim – if #Oscarssowhite, most lit awards are #somainstream Many quality Caribbean books won’t even ping the industry’s radar. As Celeste said, “Many literary awards represent the voice of marketers, publicists, the taste-makers of the industry.”
There are regional prizes, of course – most notably Trinidad and Tobago’s OCM Bocas prize for Caribbean literature – but slots are few and, in any year, there’s always going to be a sense that there are books left on the shelf.
Every author wants to be plucked from that shelf.
In the social media age, a fair portion of readers are online, plucking books from the shelf and boosting the ones they love across booktube, bookstagram, book twitter, book tik tok, you name it: each conversation, and now opportunity to vote, giving books a little lift. Like Celeste said, they are “extremely valuable”.
The CRA has given readers the opportunity to both nominate and vote for their Caribbean faves. The quality of selections is undimmed – the readers proving to be as discerning as, while perhaps more open than, your standard awards committee.
The voting process seems to have been refined between last year and this, likely for greater manageability and to prevent abuses of such an open process; the number of voters, per the RWL website, was roughly 10 percent of the more than 5,000 voters in 2020-2021. Also, in the first year the categories were more expansive than in 2021-2022: from novel, young adult novel, middle grade/tween novel, translated works, poetry, non-fiction book, non-fiction individual pieces, short story collection, short story individual pieces, new content creators, critics and honorees and a live awards announcement in 2021 to the five named awards announced via statement this year. As coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize which has an awards component, I understand the need for quality control and manageability; so that’s how I interpret the adjustments. The stars didn’t align for me to interview the three RWL about the growth and changes and other aspects of the considerable work they do – which in a short five years, two as a registered company, include the book club that started it all, podcast, library, bookstore, and numerous literary events.
Final word, February’s Black History Month, and I know some Caribbean people think this has nothing to do with us, but keeping it book, how often do you #readCaribbean or #readBlackbooks Consider this month and this post a reminder to center us. See Wadadli Pen for more books of us.
Celeste Mohammed’s response re what the win means to her in full:
“I think it was Khalil Gibran who said that children are like arrows, you shoot them forth into the world not knowing where they may land. Well, to a writer, a book is a child. I am the parent of Pleasantview: a novel-in-stories, and when it was published (Ig, May 2021; Jacaranda Sep 2021) I had no idea what would become of it. Eight months later, it was such a heartwarming surprise to watch the book, my child, win Best Novel in the Caribbean Readers Awards 2022. Mostly, though, it was a vindication. I have always said to certain persons within the North American publishing industry, Caribbean people are a reading people. I have always believed the diaspora would embrace this book, if it was given a chance to be published. Yet, over the years, from 2016 to 2020, Pleasantview was rejected approximately thirty times. Everyone gave up on this book, except me and my two editors. I was two weeks away from self-publishing it, when it was finally accepted by an independent publishing house. So this win means I am not crazy, I was not foolish to have faith in Caribbean readers. I am now, in fact, forever indebted to them.”
Plus I have a teaser of what’s next for her:
“What’s next for me? I have a couple children’s books coming out via Greenwillow/Harper Collins. Also, I am currently working on my new novel-in-stories.”
Olive’s post-Pandemic Poems book Hurricane Watch is already creating buzz. Kate Kellaway after reading it wrote in The Guardian, ” I have emerged with the sense of having met a life-enhancing person through the most beguiling poetry – filled with intransigent tropical gardens, singular birds and a keen social conscience. I cannot think of a better way to read your way into 2022.”
Read about both years of the Caribbean Readers Awards here. N. B. Some Antiguans and Barbudans were named winners, nominees, or finalists in the inaugural year. Full disclosure: I was an honoree.
If you would like to be featured in a future CREATIVE SPACE or to pay for a (web only) sponsored post (on jhohadli.wordpress.com exclusively), BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
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