They are: US Virgin Islands- based Tamika Gibson, for her first manuscript De First Family; Tennessee-based translator Danielle YC McClean for self-published debut novel The Protector’s Pledge; and award-winning author and attorney Lynn Joseph, for The Truth Is. Joseph is last year’s third place winner for Dancing in the Rain.
Senior Reporter JULIEN NEAVES posed ten questions to the three finalists. In this first of a three-part series we feature the responses from Gibson.
1. Are you originally from TT and what books did you read while growing up? I was born in Gasparillo and lived there throughout my entire childhood, until I left home for university. I inhaled practically everything Enid Blyton wrote, and I remember reading many Nancy Drew books as well. I also had those classics that came in the box sets, like The Swiss Family Robinson, The Secret Garden and The Water-Babies.
2. Who or what started your love of writing? I have baby pictures that show words taped on the walls in the background. That was all my mother’s doing, so she was definitely my first introduction to language and how exciting it can be.
3. How do you balance writing with your “day job”, family and other responsibilities.? It’s a challenge! Completing this manuscript, in particular, was a true test of discipline because I was in the middle of transitioning from one job to another. My saving grace is that I’m a night owl, so I get most of my writing done late into the night. And, I truly could not have a more supportive and encouraging family.
4. Who is your favourite author and why? My answer to this question changes constantly because authors impact me differently depending on where I am in life or what topics or writing styles I find appealing at a given time. I’m currently enjoying (Nigerian author) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work. She has a writing voice that’s so engaging and bold.
5. What book(s) is/are currently on your night stand? Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.
6. Tell me briefly about your short-listed book and what inspired the story.
De First Family is the story I wanted to read when I was a young adult, but couldn’t find. As much as I enjoyed the non-Caribbean novels, they lacked that immediate relevance, so I wrote for readers looking for those relatable and contemporary characters and themes. This book is a modern look at two protagonists, female and male, as they navigate their relationship with each other and try to understand their unique worlds.
It’s told at the height of a general election, so that charged atmosphere is the main backdrop as the story unfolds.
7. What was your first thought when you heard you were short-listed for the Burt Award, and what would winning the Burt Award mean to you? I was delighted and shocked, especially because this manuscript is my first. Although I was very proud of the quality of my work and am confident in my ability as a writer, there was still that lingering uncertainty regarding how my manuscript would be received.
So making the short-list is both validation and encouragement to continue producing the kinds of books that I believe deserve and need to be written. Winning the Burt Award would be the honour of a lifetime.
8. Three Trinbagonian female writers have been short-listed.
What are your thoughts? I am thrilled! Trinbagonians are incredibly talented and creative writers. So it’s exciting to have that acknowledged in a competition as highly regarded as CODE’s. But to see other women in this space - writers who look like me, and whom I and other women and girls can admire and identify with on an additional level…that brings another layer of pride.
9. What three characteristics do you believe are necessary to be a successful writer? I think the most important trait is honesty, because readers can sense when you’re not being authentic or when you’re holding back in telling the story. And they feel cheated when you do that. So you have to be honest in your portrayal of characters and the plot.
The second would be self-awareness, because you really must know and embrace your writing voice.
And discipline is non-negotiable, because it takes considerable time and effort to learn the craft of writing and execute well.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring Caribbean writers? The story is already in you. We, Caribbean people, are exceptionally fortunate because our lives are already filled with such fresh and interesting stories. We all have that superstitious aunt, or that neighbour who can’t hold his tongue, or that scandalous event that can only happen on your street, in your village. So trust that you already know the story you want to tell, and understand that the real task is telling that story bravely and in a way that only you can. Many are waiting to read it!.
ABOUT THE BURT AWARD
Established by CODE, Canada’s leading international development agency uniquely focused on advancing literacy and education in some of the world’s regions in greatest need, with the generous support of Canadian philanthropist William (Bill) Burt and the Literary Prizes Foundation, in partnership with the Bocas Lit Fest and CaribLit, the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature is part of a unique global readership initiative aiming to provide young people with access to books they will enjoy and want to read.
A first prize of CAD$10,000, a second prize of CAD$7,000 and a third prize of CAD$5,000 will be awarded each year to the winning authors. The Caribbean publishers of each winning title will also receive a guaranteed purchase of up to 2,500 copies, ensuring that the books get into the hands of young people through schools, libraries and community organisations across the Caribbean. Winning publishers also commit to actively market an additional minimum of 1,200 copies of each winning title throughout the region.
The three winners for this year’s Burt Award for Caribbean will be announced on April 29 at an award ceremony during the 2016 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
The other Burt Award 2016 finalists are: The Demise of the Queen’s College Adventure Club by Imam Baksh, Guyana (manuscript); Barberry Hill by Carol Mitchell, St Kitts & Nevis (manuscript); and Girlcott by Florenz Webbe Maxwell, Bermuda (manuscript).