Friday, February 13, 2015

The Launch of the Lignum Vitae Writing Awards - Jamaica: meaningful awards, meaningful monetary prizes


On Tuesday , February 10, 2015, the Lignum Vitae Awards were launched under the auspices of the Jamaican Writers Society (JaWS) and the Jamaican Copyright Licensing Agency (JACOMPY). The awards are named for  outstanding Jamaican authors. The Lignum Vitae tree is indigenous to Jamaica and can be seen all over the island.

The Una Marson Award  for adult creative writing  and the Vic Reid for children’s were instituted and previously managed by the National Book Development Council of Jamaica.  The Vic Reid will now be for young adult literature and the Jean D’Costa  Award has been added for children’s. It was a well executed event.  I felt elated, as if we had achieved something, and indeed we have. The prize money, courtesy of JAMCOPY, is significant, as if we are really giving a writing prize worthy of writing prizes. It was also heartwarming (trite but true) to see the librarians and other persons who were involved with the National Book Development Council of Jamaica, who first administered the awards, and the young persons who are now carrying this on. Passing of the mantle, another trite but true expression. And even though some of the older ones are still involved, ready and willing to assist, it is great to see this transition. The president of JaWS, Tanya Batson-Savage, did  us proud in her address and comments. Literature as identity creation! I think we are to be delighted when we see that the things we really care about are in good and passionate hands.

Velma Pollard, well know Jamaican writer of poetry and prose, the guest speaker, spoke to the contribution of the writer to society: to heal, inspire and defend our values (taken from the words of a journalist, she told us), to hold a mirror up to nature (Shakespeare); the writer  is a voice . . .a meaningful silent narrative (the words of which) break into our silent spaces and may even cause us to act. Loved that ‘break into our silent spaces’.

I love to find meaning in things, events, occasions, activities, perhaps because there is always meaning, for you, for me, and we may all discover different meanings, as we are at different points on our various journeys. So I took with me the meaning of transition, of things of value to me, of things I cared about passionately, being protected by those coming after, with equal passion.

There is also one important thing about living in small places, and that is, that our great people can be known to you, have touched your life,  have guided your way. It makes all events doubly significant.

Vic Reid: (His son was at the launch, which I think was lovely). I think that Vic Reid was the first Jamaican writer who made me aware that books for older children,  as opposed to folktales and picture storybooks for younger children, were being written by a Jamaican. I think I was young. I’m not saying that there weren’t others; I’m just saying that was the emotional tie for me. I also like that he wrote historical fiction. I love reading about how real events may have affected ordinary people. What better way to understand history. Hence my own time travel adventures to real events in our history.

Una Marson: I tell a true story of a steamer trunk of books in the house in which I lived as a child. Amongst them was a book written by a woman, a Jamaican woman, with her picture in the front. That’s when I discovered that black people wrote books. I’m not saying that that is how my childlike mind actually analysed it, but I know that I was astonished and fascinated.  If she could do it, then so could I. I think that was Una Marson. I do not know why I think so. Then wonderful connection! My grandmother acted in a play called London Calling at the Ward Theatre, written by Una Marson. I wasn’t around then, but I found the playbill amongst my grandmother’s things. It feels as if my grandmother was part of our creative history, as if we were there in the beginning, and so the creativity was passed on.

Jean D’Costa: Yes, I know her, and she actually was our guest speaker when we were trying to revive the Children’s Writers Circle a few years ago. I like her writer’s voice. It speaks to me. My favourite book of hers is Voice in the Wind, which regretfully is out of print. It is one of my favourite children’s books by a Caribbean or any other author.  I think of this book as a quiet book which ‘may break into my silent spaces’, as I snuggle in bed under a comforter (it is rather cool here now, and it is quite often cool when it rains). It has a mystery, a bit of the unexplained. It is not the magical realism of our cultural paranormal, duppy stories or mystic religion. It is rather that which we share as all human beings, the unexplained.

And what is the point of this post, once I told you about the awards, you might ask. I think that:

1)      it is the continuity from generation to generation, because without that the cultural  thread is broken;

2)      it is the making of meaning; what we take away from any event or book which we recognize as a part of our lives or the lives of our ancestors, and which so emboldens us, that it keeps us writing for the next generation.

It is of note that the Lignum Vitae means ‘wood of life’.


  1. Thank you for this post, Diane. I think we need to have clarified what we mean by the young adult category. Some authors and publishers consider it to be for 12-15 year-olds, while others use the term to describe books for older teens. Personally, I think there needs to be a category for 12-15 year-olds, but young adult is a confusing name for it. Strictly speaking an adult is someone over 17, so young adults would be 18-25. Do they need to be in a special category? By the time children reach the age of 16, they are reading adult literature.

  2. Useful, interesting post Diane, I hope there are many writers in the wings eager to make use of this opportunity to become known. A question- is it for fiction only?

    Helen, I would like to see more discussion on this YA age division. Some include it in the broad definition of Children's Literature, but i take your point about differences in age groups within the 12 to 18,16-25, 14 up all of which I have seen as definitions.
    Gets confusing at a reading advertised for children when the book is for the YA Years and very young children turn up.
    I guess it will be sorted out eventually.