How does it feel to be shortlisted for the inaugural Burt Award for Young Adult (YA) Literature for Island Princess in Brooklyn? It feels sort of wonderful! Even though we know that Island Princess in Brooklyn will go no further than the shortlist, (because those to read at Bocas have appeared on their programme posted on their website), I still feel sort of wonderful. It is an honour to be shortlisted and the others with me are talented writers. For those who do not know, the Burt Award for the Caribbean has been established by CODE, a Canadian charitable organization involved in advancing literacy and learning for 55 years, in collaboration with William Burt and the Literary Prizes Foundation. The idea is to address the need for young adult material in the Caribbean, and consequently, to encourage the writing of it. The prize is being administered by the Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago, and the prizes (these are 1st, 2nd and 3rd) will be announced at the Bocas Lit Fest in April.
There are 3 Jamaicans on the shortlist, which of itself is sort of wonderful for YA material. We, including myself, will have to stop saying that Jamaicans don’t read, because it is clear that we do write, so it follows . . . The thing is, it holds great promise for the future.
The other Jamaicans are A-dZiko Gegele for All Over Again (Blouse and Skirt Books – a new, young publisher, Tanya Batson-Savage, so congrats to them both). I love A-dZiko’s lyrical style; and Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis (LMH Publishing), and I have always liked this book, as you know (see post of Dec, 12, 2010 - you can click on the image to the right of this post ). Others shortlisted are: Barrel Girl by Glynis Guevara, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript), Musical Youth by Joanne Hillhouse, Antigua and Barbuda (manuscript) and Abraham’s Treasure by Joanne Skerrett, Dominica (Papillotte Press). I’m so delighted for us in the Caribbean that this award now exists and thankful to those who have brought it into being.
To foster interest in YA material, CODE had decided to do workshops on the writing of it, and these were held this month. Richard Scrimger, a Canadian award winning writer, and I were the facilitators for Jamaica, and Richard and Paloma Mohammed for the Guyana leg. We hope that these will result in even more entries for the next judging period. Exciting prospect! When I was facilitating that workshop I had no idea that I’d be shortlisted. So it was more so of a revelation. I had forgotten that workshops may also stimulate the facilitators to write. So that's a lovely bonus. In addition, things come to the fore to do with your writing which you may not have recognized, or allowed yourself to realize. Therefore I'll have to write a future blog on what I learned from doing that workshop.
When I wrote my children’s picture book, Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune, my message, one might say, was fame and fortune can be found at home. There is no need to migrate. The old lady in that story tells Cordelia that she has been all over the world but has not found it. They discover together that it is right here in Jamaica. That book was inspired by my younger daughter, who like Cordelia, stands out as being different. I did not know that until someone brought it to my attention. So that was a revelation!
Island Princess in Brooklyn was inspired by my older daughter’s experience in her short sojourn with her family in the USA. So by then I must have understood the intertwining of emotion and family with my writing. As I said in my blog for Brown Bookshelf, “This circle of family, of story, fills me with wonder.” ( http://thebrownbookshelf.com/2014/02/19/day-19-diane-brown/ ). However another revelation, it seems is that, yes, I can now face up to the fact that it’s not only all right to migrate, it may be essential for some. Elementary, you say; after all, all island people migrate. Yes, indeed, but it is not necessarily emotionally accepted deep in one’s heart.
Urban legend has it that as many Jamaicans live outside Jamaica as live here.
When Princess meets the old man on the subway with the 'Jamerican' accent, she begins to think she might be okay. He is one of us. All the migrations of my extended family before I was born, and my immediate and extended family in the seventies, did not truly meld those away with those here. But Princess McQueen did it. She said, ‘We are the same. Our stories are your stories and they deserve also to be told’. Perhaps, just as Princess, who resists the idea that she should need to leave her beloved Jamaica, comes to accept that both countries can be in her heart, so too, I have accepted this concept, and that only occurred to me recently. The stories of Jamaicans abroad are part of the stories of home. What a revelation!