The Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize

I mentioned the Hollick Arvon Prize in my Day Three post about the Bocas Lit Fest. This year it will be awarded in fiction, next year will be for non-fiction, and 2015 will be the year for poetry.

Now we have details, and I have been meaning to post them for some time! Please go to the Bocas Lit website to download the full guidelines and an entry form. Here are some highlights:

The Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize is an annual award which allows an emerging Caribbean writer living and working in the Anglophone Caribbean to devote time to advancing or finishing a literary work, with support from an established writer as mentor.


To be eligible for entry, a writer must:

1.    be of Caribbean birth or citizenship, living and working in the Anglophone Caribbean and writing in English
2.    be over the age of 18 by 30 September, 2012
3.    have had at least one piece of creative writing of no less than 2,000 words published.

This prize is an amazing opportunity for new writers hoping to launch a career:

The Hollick Arvon Prize, with a total value of £10,000 (approx. US$16,000), consists of:

1.    a cash award of £3,000 (approx. US$5,000)
2.    a year’s mentoring by an established writer
3.    travel to the United Kingdom to attend a one-week intensive Arvon creative writing course at one of Arvon’s internationally renowned writing houses
4.    three days in London to network with editors and publishers, hosted by Arvon, in association with the Free Word Centre and the Rogers, Coleridge & White literary agency.

The deadline is 30 September 2012, 6 pm Trinidad & Tobago time. Please spread the word.

Day Four of Bocas 2012 – The End

The last day of Bocas 2012 was a Sunday and the schedule was as packed as any other day, which made for some cruel choices. I split my time between two morning sessions, hearing a little of Kei Miller’s poetry but sadly missing Mervyn Morris to catch the end of the reading and interview with Rabindranath Maharaj. Rabindranath read from The Amazing Absorbing Boy, which was on the Bocas fiction longlist last year. His reading reminded me of Kei’s fiction; it was humorous even when events were semi-tragic. Is this a Caribbean thing, to tolerate writers who make you chuckle and smile and relax at misfortune before they slip the angst in like a stiletto between the third and fourth ribs?

Much to my disappointment, I missed the drama-documentary Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask directed by Isaac Julien. My presence was required for a panel to discuss ‘Anxieties of influence: postcolonial writing and literary tradition’. Here is a tweet and twitpic of the event, courtesy of Annie Paul.

It was a good time to feel intimidated. Winner of the Bocas 2012 poetry prize Loretta Collins Klobah, Shara McCallum who was longlisted for poetry this year, and Kei Miller who was longlisted for poetry last year – they are all bona fide university-affiliated academics, scholars, lecturers in literature. Then there was me. One of these things is not like the others. The moderator, literary critic Kenneth Ramchand, was kind and did not mock me for talking about the ‘voices’ of Terry Pratchett and Ray Bradbury (yes, of course I mentioned Paul Keens-Douglas, Andrew Salkey and others, but still!). I think, however, he may have downgraded his estimation of my intelligence when I flaunted my childhood decision to never study literature because teachers always sucked the fun out of it. (In my defence, I did take some English courses as an undergrad, but I was always disappointed by the literature courses, so I can’t say my decision was wrong).

Fortunately, my highly-qualified fellow panellists did not once make me feel like I had no right to be there. I had a lovely conversation afterwards with Loretta about the shared culture and history of the Caribbean expressed in different languages (she lives in Puerto Rico). Shara McCallum … did you know that she’s in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Tenth Annual Collection (1996, eds Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)? And so is Olive Senior! Who says that Caribbean speculative fiction is a new thing? I’m trying to tempt Shara to come to the World Fantasy Convention this year. We need a Caribbean posse to take over the parties.

I could’ve, should’ve, and didn’t attend the readings of the Bocas 2012 winners, again opting for a rest-afternoon to prepare for the final act, a party at the residence of Earl Lovelace. There was food, drink, conversation, music and dancing. It was the perfect conclusion to Bocas 2012. The chair of last year’s fiction judges, Margaret Busby (OBE, British co-founder of the publishing house Allison & Busby, born in Ghana, Barbadian father), very kindly complimented me on Redemption in Indigo and introduced me to Earl Lovelace. I congratulated him on his win this year. He congratulated me for being longlisted last year. I need to have grandchildren some day so I can tell them about this.

That’s it! I have shared with you my highlights of Bocas 2012. I hope you have enjoyed them. It is only the second year of the Bocas Lit Fest and it’s already a literary festival of note not only regionally but internationally. Follow their twitter @bocaslitfest and their website. Enter your work, if eligible, for consideration. Start making plans to come to Bocas 2013. You might just see me there.

Day Three of Bocas 2012

With no scheduled appearances, I was able to enjoy the fest like a reader, and whenever wifi was available, I tweeted more. I’ve put links to those tweets at the relevant parts.

First I attended a very enjoyable morning event featuring Joseph O’Neill, Irish author of the award-winning Netherland. The topic was ‘the joys – and perils? – of writing a Trinidadian character’. This sounded very much like a ‘Writing the Other’ kind of situation, so I was interested to hear his strategy. Surprisingly, it appears that in order to write the Other, it helps if you know the Other. O’Neill played cricket in a New York club and thus acquired several Trini teammates. He also visited Trinidad when he was a barrister in the UK assessing appeals from death row prisoners. In addition to the direct experience, he noted two cultural similarities: Trinidad and Ireland both have a verbal culture, and both have the ‘smartman’ character ‘found everywhere people from places without power are trying to bluff their way upwards’.

After lunch, I wandered about looking at the booksellers’ tables. I indulged in a bit of nostalgia. Did you know Peepal Tree Press has a reprint series, Caribbean Modern Classics? I bought Andrew Salkey’s Riot. I still have my copy of Hurricane from school days, but these new reprints are beautiful and I might just get the full quartet (includes Drought and Earthquake, which should tell you something about the region I live in).

I just now looked at the illustrations, which I always loved, and felt a strange familiarity. Yes, they were the illustrations from the old 70s edition I’d read, but wasn’t that the style of the illustrator of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters? I looked it up, and behold! It was William Papas! I can’t believe it took me so long to realise this!

I didn’t linger for the afternoon sessions but left early to rest up and prepare for the main event – the awards ceremony for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Hoping to find a snack to tide me over for the duration of the ceremony, I took an early shuttle to the venue with Frank Birbalsingh, chair of the non-fiction panel of judges … but wait, this is a good time to talk about the judges. I’ve already mentioned two of them in previous posts. Erna Brodber was one of the non-fiction judges, and Rabindranath Maharaj was one of the fiction judges. I met Achy Obejas, another fiction judge, when someone on my twitter list introduced us by handle and she re-introduced herself in person! I had dinner and much marvellous conversation with poetry judges Kendel Hippolyte and Nicolette Bethel, whose twitter feed (@nicobet ) under the #bocas2012 hashtag makes for rich reportage. The full list of judges, the longlist of books, the shortlist, and the prizewinner are all at the Bocas blog, but check that later and stay with me for now.

As I said, we got there early, but before we could snoop around for a roadside food cart, Nicholas Laughlin (the utterly charming programme director of Bocas 2012 – no really, I am not being a luvvie, we all adored him) snaffled up Frank to take him to his assigned front row seat. Insufficiently hungry (or brave) to forage by myself, I followed them into the COLD (typical!) theatre and vaguely decided that I might as well take in the pre-ceremony concert. It was the best non-decision I ever made. After proving their mettle with Peter Warlock’s Songs for Tenor and String Quartet, the faculty musicians of the University of Trinidad & Tobago then blew us away with The Old Yard: Carnival Portraits from Trinidad, composed by Adam Walters. The music was accompanied by images by Maria Nunes and each movement was prefaced by a poem by Muhammad Muwakil (I need to know when those poems will be available for purchase, because they were striking). I enjoyed the images even more when I discovered that the gentleman sitting beside me was Michael Jobe, whose carnival designs were featured during the fourth movement which celebrated the moko jumbie (stiltwalker).

Want a taste?

Here are three of the five movements on Adam Walter’s soundcloud.

Here are some of Michael Jobe’s moko jumbies, captured by Maria Nunes.

The entire Carnival photo gallery is huge, but well worth a look. You’ll see there some of the other images used for The Old Yard. I could not find the Carnival Bat, but there are the Blue Devils, the Midnight Robber, and Dame Lorraine.

On to the ceremony! There was the announcement of a new prize, the Hollick-Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, which will offer support for an unpublished Caribbean writer resident in the region to complete a work in progress. It’s an amazing opportunity, and if you think you might fit the criteria, keep an eye on the Bocas blog which will soon post details on how to enter.

The chairs of the panels spoke about the longlisted books, and short videos of readings and interviews with the winners were shown. The winner for poetry, Loretta Collins Klobah, and the winner for non-fiction, Godfrey P. Smith, both glowed as they spoke the honour of being listed with the winner for fiction, Earl Lovelace. George Lamming, overall chair of the judging panel, spoke movingly of the role of literature in keeping history alive, particularly those events which some try to forget or erase. He then announced the winner of the Bocas Prize: Earl Lovelace for his novel Is Just a Movie.

This is a very long post, so I will draw the veil of discretion over the post-ceremony celebrations. I did, however, have the pleasure of drinking, talking and sharing antipasto and bruschetta with writer Myriam Chancy and critic Charmaine Valere.

One more day, one more post. There will be dancing!

Day Two. Bocas Continues Fine.

I was scheduled for a two-hour workshop with award-winning author Rabindranath Maharaj (born in Trinidad, based in Canada) on the topic ‘Getting to the end: how to bring a work in progress to its best conclusion’. Due to the assigned time, I missed other interesting morning events like Michael Anthony’s talk on the evolution of Carnival and W.A.R. Stories, a documentary on the life of Walter Rodney directed by Clairmont Chung. Once more, my inability to bilocate proved a nuisance.

I learned more from helping to conduct that workshop than I would have learned from taking it! Rabindranath was all kindness and reassurance, and I leaned heavily on his years of experience teaching writing. I was not ashamed to ask a question or two myself. Some questions and answers were retained for later musing. Why does a novel get stuck? Because something isn’t working and perhaps your own suspension of disbelief has been compromised. But what isn’t working and why? Is the character development consistent? Does the plot make sense? What about my own work – do I also feel it when the society doesn’t make sense even if the characters are individually consistent in their words and actions? When do you admit defeat (or at least temporary retreat) and put down an unfinished draft? When does a novel ‘end’? At the first draft, the final draft? The first edit, the copyedited manuscript? The reviews and reader-reactions that inspire the author to change their approach in future, perhaps-related works? There are different strategies for getting through each of these stages.

Here’s my post-workshop tweet and a tweet plus twitpic from writer/researcher/lecturer Rhoda Bharath. I look a bit wrapped up; the air conditioning was on full-force!

After a quick lunch I prepared myself to record an interview for the podcasters at The Spaces Between Words. They are a lovely, professional team. They worked hard for the duration of the lit fest and they have a long list of podcasts from Bocas writers and others waiting in their queue. Check out their Still to Come page – classics and debuts, legends and new wave! I read a bit from Redemption in Indigo and answered some questions, and although I can’t guarantee I made sense it was one of the best interview experiences I have ever had. My heartiest thanks to interviewer Nicha Selvon-Ramkissoon, assistant editor and technical assistant (and photographer!) Ryan Durgasingh and editor Giselle Rampaul.

After the interview, I wandered into the tail-end of an afternoon talk by Anne Walmsley (former Caribbean editor for Longmans) on ‘Caribbean Publishing in the 1970s’. The audience appeared fondly nostalgic and slightly awed at her account of the nurturing of the Caribbean literary voice in that decade. I was drawn in as well by the mention of Ann Musgrave, the late proprietor of one of my favourite bookstores in Barbados, the Cloister, which could always be counted on to have shelves well-stocked with Caribbean literature.

Two incredible days down, two more days of Bocas to come!

Introducing the Bocas Lit Fest 2012

I thought I would blog daily while at Bocas 2012, but once I got there I didn’t want to dutifully blog and I didn’t want to take pictures of everything. I wanted to enjoy myself and I did, only tweeting and taking snapshots when I felt like it. Now I want to look back, remember, and tell you all about the amazing people and works I have encountered.

Day one of the festival started with a welcome ceremony. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Independence, there were four readings of classic works from around fifty years ago: the prose of V.S. Naipaul, poetry by Derek Walcott (both of them Nobel Laureates, as I’m sure you already know), a speech by Eric Williams, and satire by ‘Macaw’, the pseudonymous Trinidad Guardian columnist. The excerpt from Derek Walcott’s ‘The Star-Apple Kingdom’ concluded on a powerful image:

… a black woman, shawled like a buzzard,
climbed up the stairs and knocked at the door
of his dream, whispering in the ear of the keyhole:
‘Let me in, I’m finished with praying, I’m the Revolution.
I am the darker, the older America.’

It was beautiful … gorgeous readings expertly read … an excellent beginning. Our appetites were whetted. Here’s the one tweet I managed.

Off I went to my first selected event (there were usually three events on at a time, so we were forced to choose). Jamaican novelists Sharon Leach and Kei Miller (who is also a poet) read from their novels. Sharon’s segment was enthralling and cleverly ended on a cliffhanger – a fender-bender, a carjacking, and a gun to someone’s head. Kei read from a work in progress which fascinated me. I recognised the same voice as in Redemption in Indigo: the personified omniscient narrator. He told of tragic events with a comic twist. We laughed at a man proud to be stricken with an STD in his old age, laughed at his instinctive horror when he was told he could expect to live another twenty years or more, laughed as he died of heart failure shortly afterwards in his sleep, in a wet dream. You had to be there. I’m sorry I’ll have to wait a while for this to be completed and published.

My tweets and twitpics of the event are herehere and here.

Here’s one of Kei’s poems featured in the UK Guardian and an article in the Jamaica Observer about an award for Sharon last year.

My own reading took place in the afternoon. I was sharing a timeslot with Erna Brodber. Erna Brodber. She is an elder for almost all aspects of my career, as a writer, a sociologist, folklorist and pattern-maker. She has received awards and honours for her fiction, her research and her community work. I felt awed. She read from her most recently published novel The Rainmaker’s Mistake and captivated all who listened.

I invite you to look here for the view from the official Bocas 2012 blogger Shivanee Ramlochan. There’s also my post-session tweet.

If you want to know more about Bocas than what I was able to take in, check out the hashtag #bocas2012 and the official blog.

I’ve turned off comments on this blog due to unrelenting spam, but if you were at Bocas and have a tweet, article or site that would add to the Day One overview, do message me on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll edit it into this post.

Tomorrow I’ll give you a glimpse of my second day at the Bocas Lit Fest!

Bocas Lit Fest 2012

Do follow my twitter carefully for the next few days (check the sidebar or go straight to @Karen_Lord). I’m in Trinidad for the Bocas Lit Fest having a marvellous time, and it’s far easier to update on the iPad with Twitter (snatching wifi wherever I can find it). I’ve already heard from two incredible Jamaican writers, Sharon Leach and Kei Miller. My own reading is scheduled for later this afternoon, and I’m sharing a slot with the legendary Erna Brodber, Jamaican writer and winner of the 1989 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the Caribbean/Canada region.

Bocas Prize Longlist

You know the old cliché: ‘it’s an honour just to be nominated’? Sometimes there’s no other way to describe it.

Redemption in Indigo is on the longlist for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Here’s the full list:

Elegguas, by Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados) — Wesleyan
A Light Song of Light, by Kei Miller (Jamaica) — Carcanet
White Egrets, by Derek Walcott (St. Lucia) — Faber

The Loneliness of Angels, by Myriam Chancy (Haiti/USA) — Peepal Tree
Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord (Barbados) — Small Beer
The Amazing Absorbing Boy, by Rabindranath Maharaj (Trinidad and Tobago/Canada) — Knopf Canada
How to Escape a Leper Colony, by Tiphanie Yanique (US Virgin Islands) — Graywolf

Beauty and Sadness, by Andre Alexis (Trinidad and Tobago/Canada) — House of Anansi
Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti/USA) — Princeton
The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad and Tobago/UK) — Picador

Such glorious company! I can barely find words to express my awe but this doesn’t seem like the right occasion for emoticons!

Another pleasant bit of news – there’s a lovely, thorough review of Redemption in Indigo (very spoilery, beware) by Alisa K. Brathwaite at SX Salon on Small Axe.