Attributes such as ‘compelling and vivid characters’, ‘novel story-telling angles’ and ‘easy to read’ are the hallmarks of a collection of short stories titled Hollow Calabash that ensured author, Sharma Taylor, walked away with the 2019 Frank Collymore Literary Endowment (FCLE) first prize.
In doing so in the Frank Collymore Hall Saturday night, she bucked what was beginning to resemble a trend of there not being written entries good enough to earn the first place in this premiere Barbados annual literary awards endowment.
For the last two years, judges had deemed the quality of writing submitted below standard and not worthy of the number one FCLE prize, and that position was left open. But this year, according to the citation, all the FCLE committee judges were impressed and one judge found Taylor’s work ‘unputdownable’.
Overall, the 70 entries of drama, fiction, nonfiction, poetry and prose made a quality year for the Endowment.
“This year, we’ve been particularly impressed not just with the three winners, first, second and third [places],” remarked the evening’s MC and committee member, Dr Yvonne Weekes. “Remember, there’ve been a couple of years when we didn’t have a first prize winner.
“We are so excited that we have three winners this year as well as two honourable mentions.”
While Taylor picked up the $10,000 prize, Claudia Clarke earned $6,000 and second place for her prose fiction titled, CircleSquare; and Anderson Lowe’s Inside the Blackbelly Sheep got him the $4,000 that comes with third place.
Two honourable mentions went to Ingrid Persaud for her collection of short stories under the label So it Go, and Sarah Venable for her poems, Tropic of Sweet and Sour.
Taylor, a Jamaican resident in Barbados, wrote her Hollow Calabash in a predominantly Jamaican dialect, and according to the citation, “offers novel story-telling angles, is easy to read”.
Her short stories are said to be, “driven by compelling and vivid characters, who are trying to reclaim things that [they] have lost, or to fill the emptiness inside”.
Peculiarities in Claudia Clarke’s character portrayal were also hailed.
“The characters are highly relatable, the Coo Coo well stirred, the steamed flying fish buckled back as folks contrive to make the most of life in this contrary geometric construct known as CircleSquare.”
Anderson Lowe’s 11 short pieces for Inside the Blackbelly Sheep “reflect a close understanding of Barbadian life and mores… The collection does not shy away from examining delusion, back-biting and hypocrisy. A major strength of the collection is its satirical clear-eyed and unromantic tone”.
Chairperson of the FCLE committee, Barbados poet laureate Esther Phillips, said “several scripts were eliminated early in the competition because the work submitted was not substantial enough for us to make a reasonable assessment”.
Consistent with the top three winners and one honourable mention being prose fiction entries, she added, “the short fiction entries showed a reasonably good understanding of character; plot and dialogue”.
In spite of many of the poetry entries revealing ‘genuine emotion’, she reported that however, “for the most part, the poetry submitted read too much like prose simply separated into lines”.
Nonetheless, the chairperson remarked, “I am personally gratified to see that individuals are becoming more and more confident that our own life in the Caribbean is worth writing about.” She said regional writers “must see the value of recording our own authentic Caribbean experience”.
“We need have no fear of parochialism since every experience, from the standpipe to the rum shop, to the corporate offices, or to the heights and terraces derives from the universal experience of human complexity and struggle to which we are all subject.” (GA)