Both Sides

I should have posted this already but better late than never, I suppose. The delay is not a reflection of anything but not enough hours in the day. Something this Burt Award judging process reminded me of. I’ve judged writing contests, locally, before, but it was my first experience judging a book prize, and a regional one at that. I would learn that reading that many books on a schedule can have even a book lover whimpering, with no intended aspersions to the books themselves, please, no more. Interestingly, as the process narrows to the top contenders, you get a shot of adrenaline again as you spar with the other judges making a case for this choice over that until you arrive at as close to consensus as you can get with something as subjective as art. I’ve been on both sides of this process now and have intimate knowledge of how vulnerable you feel when you leap into this kind of thing, hoping they’ll pick you, steeling yourself for the probability that they won’t; and, as well, the grave responsibility you feel to give each writer a fair reading, to consider and re-consider. Hopeful on both sides of being surprised.

I remember receiving word a year ago around this time that my unpublished manuscript Musical Youth had been selected for the Burt short list; I remember it was maybe 3 in the morning and I called perhaps the only friend I can call at 3 in the morning without there being a life or death emergency. And the next time we fight, and we will, I have to remember that not only didn’t she immediately hang up the phone on me but she was right there with me, as awake as I was at the news. Musical Youth has been good to me and good for me as a writer, and I continued to do all I can to make sure it fulfills its potential as a book by reaching as many readers as it can. Books are meant to be read, right?
And these second set of Burt winners deserve an audience as well. In the end, I think all four judges agree on that. What’s more I think the core target audience, teens and young adults of the Caribbean, will enjoy the adventures these books take them on both in the moment, and later, on reflection. The top three haven’t been announced as yet (I know something you don’t know LOL) but you’ll see what I mean when they are and when, ultimately, you have the opportunity to read them. Meantime, big up to all who dared, big up to those on the short list, big up to the finalists and ultimate winners. To my fellow judges, it’s been real…seriously.
On the list are:
– Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh, Guyana (manuscript to be published)
– Putting Up a Resistance by Michael Cozier, Trinidad and Tobago (self-published book)
– Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript to be published)
– Prayer to the Motivator by Kamau Mahakoe, Jamaica (manuscript to be published)
– The Dolphin Catchers by Diana McCaulay, Jamaica (manuscript to be published)
For more, go here.

And given that it’s awards season, I’ll also mention that the Hollick Arvon long list has been announced, and the Bocas long and short list – special congratulations to Dorbrene O’Marde who’s Short Shirt biography Nobody Go Run Me made the long list of the latter. And let’s not forget the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, with four Caribbean writers claiming a spot.
All but one of these will be announced during the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad. Wishing all contenders success.

And since we’re talking prizes, I should mention that I have already been announced as one of the winners of the Caribbean Writer’s Flash Fiction Prize; and on April 11th, I will be announcing, during the awards ceremony at the Best of Books, the winner takes all winner of the Wadadli Pen 2015 challenge which I coordinate.

Gratitude for both – the opportunity to reap and to plant, the opportunity to see things from both sides. And to all who dare to leap, including myself, continue as Zora Neale Hurston’s mother said to her children to “’jump at the sun. We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.’”


Burt Works

So I have several things going on with the Burt Award people right now – notably the workshop I’ll be facilitating this weekend and serving as a judge for the 2015 prize, plus the reading this Friday (7 p.m. at the Best of Books), also under the banner of CODE sponsors of the Burt Award, from my new book Musical Youth, which exists as a published book thanks to placing second for the Burt Award earlier this year.

Collecting the second place Burt Award trophy, 2014, in Trinidad.

Collecting the second place Burt Award trophy, 2014, in Trinidad.

I held the physical book for the first time in my hands yesterday. WIN_20141119_164653 WIN_20141119_164553 WIN_20141119_164548And there’s just so much good and surprising behind the scenes amidst the bumps and hurdles (yes, they’re still there). it’s a weird time and I’m kind of all over the emotional map right now and, as a result, weirdly numb. I have no idea how it’ll feel to collect the Leonard Tim Hector Memorial Award later tonight for instance, because it’s kind of an odd and unexpected position to be in. it’s a blessing and a curse that I don’t have a lot of time right now for ruminating (which also means, unfortunately, not a lot of time to take it in) as I’m supposed to be running a two-day workshop this weekend and I have lots of books to read for the prize and I have my own reading to prepare for…and all the other stuff that has not been getting the attention it needs (if I’ve dropped the ball on something, please bear with me…). Anyway, I did want to take a minute to share with you the work of the Burt Award people, CODE, because they are a big part of everything that’s happening right now with me, and also because what they’re doing is potentially transformative work. So, please read on.

Burt Award Writing Workshops

The Burt Award

The Burt Award is a unique global literary award and readership initiative aiming to provide youth everywhere with access to books they will want to read. Established by CODE and made possible by the generosity of William (Bill) Burt and the Literary Prizes Foundation, the Award addresses an ongoing shortage of relevant, quality books for young people, while at the same time promoting a love of reading and learning at the middle and secondary school levels.

The Burt Award is offered in four African countries, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya, and has now also expanded to Canada and the Caribbean.

The intent of the prize is to champion literacy, build language skills and foster the love and habit of reading amongst youth and young adults.

Specific objectives are:

  • to recognize excellence in literature for young people;
  • to support and motivate the development of and access to high quality, culturally relevant reading materials at a critical stage of learning;
  • to support the development and acquisition of language skills  and to help foster  enthusiasm for and a love of reading;
  • to stimulate and support local publishing industries and celebrate the rich literary heritage of the countries and regions where we work;
  • to increase the stock of locally produced, English-language literature in libraries, schools, and community centres throughout the countries and regions where we work.

Burt Award Writing Workshops

Burt Award writing workshops are intended to help emerging or established writers of books for children or young adults, or writers interested in learning more about writing for young adults, develop their skills, deepen their understanding of writing strategies appropriate for this age group, and encourage them to submit their work for consideration for the Burt Award. CODE engages local in-country organizations and local facilitators to help host and lead the writing workshops. CODE also enlists the help of prominent and well-respected Canadian writers and publishers who volunteer to travel to co-facilitate the workshops.

Workshops can last from 1-3 days, and typically serve groups of 20-25 writers. The format is workshop style, with some lecture, some discussion, and lots of opportunity for writers to practice their craft.
You can learn more about Burt Award by clicking here:

About CODE

If you can read and write, you can learn to do, and be, anything. That’s the idea behind CODE. A Canadian NGO with over 50 years of experience, CODE supports literacy and learning in Canada and around the world. CODE works in partnership with local organizations to expand literacy in Africa and the Caribbean by providing children and youth with access to quality reading materials, supporting professional development for teachers and librarians, and strengthening national and local book publishing. In Canada, CODE has worked for over twenty-five years to engage Canadian teachers and students on literacy and global issues, and has established partnerships with Canadian educators, writers, and publishing industry.