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Eyes on the Prize

Posted: February 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Bocas Lit Fest has announced its longlist for its inaugural prize. Walcott’s White Egrets and Naipaul’s The Masque of Africa are both in the running, alongside works by Kei Miller and Tiphanie Yanique, two up-and-coming writers from the region.

I’m glad that Kei and Tiphanie are on that list alongside such as Walcott and Naipaul. It shows that those writers, both of whom are members of my generation, are capable of taking on giants with their work. Neither is a “new” writer, each having been published before (although this is Yanique’s first novel she has published her short stories and won prizes and acclaim for them); but neither has yet achieved the renown of Walcott and Naipaul.

I’ve heard commentators say the Bocas Prize should have been more open to unknown writers; I’ve also heard them say Walcott and Naipaul don’t need the money, so why should they be given the chance to compete for the prize? I beg to differ on both points.

There are developmentalĀ prizes for unknown writers but from the way Bocas has set up its prize I don’t think this is one of them. The criteria for judging a prize is necessarily an internal matter–it is up to those who give it to decide what criteria they are going to use to judge, and who is eligible. I see nothing wrong in seeking work by all regional writers, regardless of their status, and judging them by the standard of excellence. It is the right of the Bocas organisers to open their prize to previously published writers, even if such works submitted might be perceived to have an “unfair” advantage because their writers have more experience. As to the need of the writers, anybody who has had to live by his pen would tell you it’s a hard row to hoe at any stage in one’s career, the JK Rowlings and Arundhati Roys being in the minority and small, irregular paychecks being by far the norm for professional writers. I would not begrudge anyone that prize money. They have worked hard at their craft and I am glad for them. May the best writer win.


The Allen Prize opens!

Posted: September 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

So after years of planning, praying, hoping and organising, The Allen Prize for Young Writers is finally open!

You can read about it and get submissions formsĀ here.

It has been a long haul and we still have far to go. We are still waiting for funding, and still in the process of planning our inaugural seminar. Two very impressive regional writers have already signed up to talk at the seminar–but you’ll have to wait for the official release to get more info on that.

We have lined up a great head judge of The Allen Prize competition in Judy Raymond. Judy was my editor for many years, at the Trinidad Express and the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian. In a way she has always been my role model, because I remember reading her hysterically funny column with my brother when I was a teenager and she always epitomised for me the best combination of witty, erudite and accessible writing. As an editor she was exacting, sometimes scarily so, and pushed me to being the best journalist I could be. In short, I am well chuffed that she has agreed to head the judges for the prize competition.

This whole experience has been very humbling and I’m grateful to Judy and all the other people who have contributed so far, and those who will contribute in the future. And as Judy said in the press release about the opening of the competition, I can’t wait to read the results!