The Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean literature holds a special place in my heart, and in my writing and publishing journey. I submitted a rough (very rough) manuscript to it in 2013 and, when the winners were announced at Bocas in 2014, was first runner-up behind A-dZiko Gegele’s wonderful All over Again. My manuscript, after a rigorous and tight (given the set publishing timeline) editing process, was published, and this is one of the beauties of the prize (that it has Caribbean publishers bid to publish the winning books if they don’t already have a publisher). Around the time Caribbean Reads, the publisher I selected, was rolling out the book,
Shop Indie Bookstores, late 2014, I was commissioned by CODE, sponsors of the Burt Award, to run a workshop on writing teen/young adult fiction – these workshops were another developmental aspect of their work here in the Caribbean. If you’re keeping track, this prize is discovering new talent and new material (especially if you consider that in my year, mine was the only unpublished manuscript among the top three while in the two years since unpublished manuscripts have dominated the top three), investing in Caribbean publishing and in writer development – thereby helping build or bolster the infrastructure for future writing and publishing out of the region. It is also recruiting and using a mix of regional and extra-regional expertise in evaluating the submitted works – I know because I was part of such a panel in the 2014-2015. And it was hard but it was also good – debating the merits of the submissions and then the ordering of the top three: Children of the Spider,
Shop Indie Bookstores, and Dancing in the Rain. I now have those three books – all of which were unpublished manuscripts when I knew them – in my hands. Whatever your criticisms of Bocas and I’ve read some of them – hell, I’ve had some of my own – its introduction of the Burt Award (which already existed in Africa and among indigenous communities in Canada) to the Caribbean, is a valuable contribution: new writing, stronger publishing platforms, deeper evaluative and critiquing skills, new material for an under-served market, new books. And I look forward to the new books coming out of the Award’s 2016 cycle and to more writers, even if they’ve been disappointed in the past, trying again – I’ve seen where persistence pays. I hope more writers come forward, I hope the small and unique and unheard voices get heard, I hope this Award is with us for awhile, and I hope Caribbean youth embrace these books. They are, everyone I’ve read so far, good and engaging books with appeal to teen/young adult and adult readers alike. And now we can look forward to three more with this announcement from the people at Bocas (who through this prize and others continue to stimulate and reward new additions to the Caribbean literary canon):
Debut novelist Tamika Gibson wins
CODE’s 2016 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature
Port of Spain, 29 April 2016 — CODE announced the winners of its third annual Burt
Award for Caribbean Literature, which recognizes outstanding writing for young
adults by Caribbean authors, at the 2016 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port-of-Spain,
Trinidad and Tobago.
Tamika Gibson received the first prize of$10,000 CAD for her first novel, De First
Family. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Ms. Gibson now lives in the US Virgin Islands.
Florenz Webbe Maxwell of Bermuda won the second prize of $7000 CAD for Girlcott,
and Danielle Y.C. McClean of Trinidad and Tobago, now based in Tennessee, took
home the $5000 CAD third prize for The Protector’s Pledge.
The winners were selected by a jury administered by The Bocas Lit Fest and made up
of writers, literacy experts and academics from the Caribbean and Canada.
De First Family and Girlcott are unpublished manuscripts, and The Protector’s Pledge
was self-published. CODE will facilitate the publication of all three novels by
connecting the authors with Caribbean publishers, and will also purchase up to 6000
copies of the winning titles and donate them to schools, libraries and community
organizations across the region.
“It is a great thrill to discover and recognize such fine literature for youth,” said CODE
Executive Director Scott Walter. “Our job now is to ensure the novels end up in the
hands of young readers throughout the Caribbean. High quality, culturally relevant
books have long been known to help encourage the love and habit of reading, and
these winning titles are sure to find an eager audience.”
“We are all winners – readers, writers, society, the book industry,” says Marina
Salandy-Brown, founder and director of the Bocas Lit Fest, “our partnership with
CODE is a high impact one, and it is now up to us in the region to do our part in
nurturing the intelligent and passionate readers of the future, using these wonderful
literary tools that have been put at our disposal. We are very grateful to CODE.”
The 2016 shortlist also included: The Demise of the Queen’s College Adventure Club
by 2015 first-place winner Imam Baksh; The Truth Is by 2015 third-place winner Lynn
Joseph, Trinidad & Tobago; and Barberry Hill by Carol Mitchell.
The Burt Award for Caribbean Literature was established by CODE—a Canadian
charitable organization that has been advancing literacy and learning for 55
years—in collaboration with the Literary Prizes Foundation. CODE’s Burt Award is a
global readership initiative that includes programs in the Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya,
Tanzania, and Canada.
To date, CODE has distributed 15,000 award-winning books to readers in eleven
Caribbean countries. It further supports local writing and publishing through
workshops for writers and editors and through reading promotion initiatives, such as
sponsoring events that connect winning authors directly with young readers.