Sunday, April 27, 2014

Despatches: great news for Jamaican/Caribbean literature: recognition and prizes galore

Obviously the big news for children’s writers is the result of the inaugural Burt Award for Young Adult literature in the Caribbean, announced at the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago. The winner of the first prize is A-dZiko Simba  Gegele (Jamaica),  for her book All Over Again, published by the young publisher, Tanya Batson-Savage of Blue Moon Publishing/Blouse and Skirt Books.  As I have said in previous posts, I love A-dZiko’s style. It is wonderfully lyrical. She is also a storyteller and a poet, so that she actually seems to perform her stories.  Congratulations to both A-dZiko  and Tanya. The other winners were Joanne Hillhouse (Antigua), second, for  her unpublished manuscript, Musical Youth, and  third,  Colleen Smith-Dennis (Jamaica), for her book, Inner City Girl (LMH Publishing). Again, I have liked this book from it came out; it is full of suspense. That two Jamaican books were in the top three is great. It’s not great because it’s  promoting Jamaica in the Caribbean, and the world, although that has merit; it’s great because it’s  promoting Jamaican literature  to Jamaicans. Perhaps for  them children’s/ young adult literature  will have some currency now.  At least, I hope so.

And as if that's not enough, late breaking news (after the first draft of this blog was written), I see in the Sunday Observer today that Jamaican, Diana McCaulay has won the 2014 Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize (administered by Bocas Lit Fest) for her work in progress , Loving Jamaica. So this is even  greater, or our cup runneth over. Congratulations to Diana, whose last book, Huracan, I really love.

Then right here at home, Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris  is our new Poet Laureate, the first  after 61 years.  Congratulations to Professor Morris who clearly so  richly deserves this recognition.  Moreover, for us to have this post again after an absence of 61 years, suggests that we are once more going to take this aspect of literature very seriously. One of Professor Morris’ tasks will be to promote poetry around the island, and I look forward to his promoting it in our secondary schools and teacher’s colleges, as I have no doubt he will. There is so much for our adolescents to discover and enjoy  in this world of literature.

Martin Henry, a columnist whose work I enjoy,  had  an article, Arts, technics, education and society in the Sunday Gleaner of April 20, 2014, in which he talked  about Professor Mervyn Morris’ appointment and the significance of the arts to the society. Naturally, literacy and literature were mentioned, and I quote, “Literacy is then the gateway into the literature (broadly defined) of the children’s culture (broadly defined from world to community), a tool for producing their own creative content, and a navigational instrument for finding their way about the world.”   He concludes, “I am aware of one very prestigious business school which teaches critical thinking, problem solving and decision making through literature and drama. These are the very skills of mind which schoolchildren and university youth must be  helped to develop through balanced exposure to the arts and sciences, . . . Civilized citizens make better workers. But civilization is an end in itself – and a desirable one.”

I do hope that those who have the power to make decisions to support and sponsor the arts and literature will recognize the significance of  Martin Henry’s piece. I am hopeful,  I am encouraged that with the appointment of Professor Mervyn Morris and the Burt Award going to A-dZiko Simba Gegele,  and another Jamaican, Diana McCaulay, winning this major literary prize, we will know yet again, that we too can write in abundance. And great advances will be made in our island towards the recognition of the civilizing effect of literature, or at the very least, the joy it can add to our lives.

(photos taken from the Sunday Observer, April 27, 2014,  and the Sunday Gleaner, April 20, 2014) 

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