Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Burt Caribbean Award for Young Adult Literature and our Authentic Voices: a much needed sponsor


I promised a comment on the Burt Caribbean Award for this next blog and yet thoughts on 'own voices' pull at me. Having thought about it some more, I find they are intertwined. As our young people move from childhood to the distractions of the teenage years, the period of further development of the self concept, bombarded by social media and  media in general, they need a cultural  anchor for this journey towards adulthood. I am not for one moment suggesting that we miss out on the exciting Divergent series, the emotionally engaging Hunger Games series, nor even the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy books which, in fact, by now they have probably out grown. There are wonderful new and exciting books out there, books galore, books like sand. 

This is where the Burt Caribbean Award for Young Adult literature came in. I have enjoyed these books, become overawed at the ideas, the gorgeous language, the sway of emotions. And then suddenly the euphoria was over! It ended! I believe it was decided that money be directed instead to indigenous writers in Canada. ( Please correct me if this is wrong). I applaud this. It’s not my business, but I have wondered how the indigenous people of North America have been 'abandoned' for so long. I once created a bit of excitement at an overseas conference in the USA by asking a question about the country not supporting their development more. Chaos erupted! Shouting from people at the back and the front of the room. (On occasion I have been known to be carried away with emotion and done things like this.) When I explained to some Jamaican officers later, one said, “Then, Diane, you come to mash up the people’s country.”  "No," said I, "but this is not right." You know, Jamaican  righteous indignation. So I am overjoyed for this move. Not the same country, nor the same First Nations, but you get the drift.

So, guys, why can’t somebody here in the Caribbean be convinced to be a replacement sponsor for that award? Everybody supports adult writing. Brilliant! But are we going to treat YA writing like we have done with children’s for years. Adolescence is when our young people explore, interrogate values, attitudes, cultural norms. This is when they begin to become the adults they will be. So we say, 'what a way the teachers migrate, eh', 'what a way the nurses migrate eh', and so on.  Big time Brain Drain! However, people have always migrated from island nations, for economic reasons, more opportunities, but some stay. Some even go to study abroad and come back ( I did); the ebb and flow of island life. But what if, exposed to more YA literature, more caught the spirit of our lives, and wanted to contribute more of  themselves than remittances! What a something, eh! No, I’m not knocking remittances. People from developing countries all over the world go abroad to work to send money, barrels home. 

You are going to say that nobody can prove that reading your own literature as a young adult made a difference to the adult you became. Well, you can do a research paper on attitudes, values and behaviours  if you wish, to see what you can find out. We have enough Burt Award books for you to do that.

I’m not asking for any big prizes. Just give a first prize, if that’s all you can do. There must be a company, a trust, a 'somebody' that can do this. If I was wealthy I would do it in a heartbeat. Our own authentic voices call to our young people to let them know what we have achieved, what they can achieve. They can’t hear them if they can’t get the books, right?

So my next blog will identify some of the things I learnt from the Burt Award books that I never knew before, or things that I liked, engaged my emotions; or even those that made me wish I could write like that. Working on the cliff hangers!



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