Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass  March 2000

Literary Award Winner

Mary Geo. Quinn has been unanimously selected the winner of the first annual King of Redonda Literary Award for her memoir Recollections. She will receive a prize of EC$1000.

The competition was organized by King Robert the Bald of Redonda (also known as Bob Williamson, whose published writings include a book of short stories called Bunk) and Chris Doyle, the well-known author of marine guidebooks to the Eastern Caribbean, with the aim of discovering and acknowledging high quality Caribbean writing. "The idea had occurred to me some time ago, and I mentioned it to Chris one day over a beer in the Galley Bar," says Bob. "He offered to put up five hundred EC as a prize and I decided, in an adventurous mood, to match his offer."

A requirement for the competition was that entries, which could be book manuscripts, short stories, essays or poems, had to be written by residents of the Eastern Caribbean islands. Twenty-eight entries were received.

Recollections, a book-length first-person narrative by Mary Geo. Quinn of Antigua, was the unanimous winner. Honorary mentions were given to a short story entitled `Mummy Lord's' by St. Vincent resident Narendra Sethia, a collection of poetry and prose named `Dusted Off Dreams' by Karil Sampson of Antigua, an unpublished novel set in Montserrat called When the Volcano Blows by Colman Hayward, and another short story, `Too Much Ole Talk', by Torshia Thomas of Trinidad.

Also coming in for praise from the judges were `The Struggles of Benny' by Trinidadian Jerome Teelucksingh, `Moonlight Bright' by Sandy Pomeroy of St. Thomas, `Antigua Snippets' by JoJo Tobit of Antigua, `The Wisdom of a Child' by Carriacou resident Margaret Allen and `A Day in the Life of a Turtle' by Selma Duncan of Bequia.

The judges for this year's competition were Trinidadian writer Willie Pinheiro, former St. Vincent bookstore owner Dreana Hughes, Compass editor Sally Erdle and Bequia resident journalist Nicola Redway.

Willie Pinheiro describes his first choice, Recollections:

"A young girl relates the trauma of having her home and family displaced to make way for an American military base. Forced to leave all that is familiar and comfortable to her, her words paint a picture of village life and of the characters that make it unique, and of her family. It is typical of the time when mothers with limited resources took care of the children's upbringing, discipline and guidance, and of a time when fathers worked hard to provide for them all.

"Recollections should rank as a West Indian classic."

Pinheiro also has high regard for Dusted Off Dreams:

"A collection of poems and short stories that reflect the emotions and observations of the author. His pen slices through and exposes the contradictions of life in our society of sex, drugs, love and the environment. Of government officials and politicians. Of the way things are."

Dreana Hughes says, "Many of the entries made very interesting reading. My vote goes to Mary Geo. Quinn's Recollections this is the one I enjoyed the most. But in my opinion both book-length manuscripts Recollections and When the Volcano Blows have good publishing potential."

Sally Erdle noted, "Many entries displayed a social conscience and illuminated various aspects of West Indian life, ranging from Karil Sampson's explorations of his own consciousness-raising to Torshia Thomas's portrait of a drunkard loser. Others highlighted awareness of environmental issues, including works by Selma Duncan, John Smith and Margaret Allen. Astrill Ollivierre celebrated the beauty of her homeland, while long-time resident expatriates such as JoJo Tobit gave their views on island life.

"`Too Much Ole Talk' is very neatly done, with a good ear for dialogue and a nice sense of irony. `Dusted Off Dreams' is an intriguing body of work. Some parts are better than others, but any flaws are those of youth Karil Sampson is obviously a writer of great potential.

"My favorite is Recollections. Within the first few paragraphs, the reader is plunged straight into the action of an important time in the islands' social history. I kept thinking about this story for days after reading it, and flashes of it still pop into mind at odd times the sign of a winner."

Nicola Redway also has praise for Recollections:

"A wonderful piece of writing, which is not only rich in Caribbean history and culture, but is also a beautifully crafted account of childhood and the dramas of life seen through the eyes of a child and related through her interaction with her family. The characters of her father and mother are particularly acutely recorded.

"Fascinating and absorbing. I place it first because of its breadth, and its wonderful observation and recollection of past time. I loved it."

Of `Mummy Lord's', she says:

"An exquisite vignette rich in imagery which will be instantly familiar to anyone who has lived in the Caribbean and discovered its timeless, unique character, its special relationship with rum and the deeply ingrained echoes of its colonial past. I found both the writing and the characters languid, evocative, and full of dignity, and was left with a sense of rich dark velvet.

"It was hard to put this in second place, and it was certainly not through any faults or deficiencies. It was simply that Recollections is so wonderfully complete, and offers so much to so many different types of readers."

All of this year's judges agreed that it was a pleasure to discover so much new writing talent in the Eastern Caribbean, but noted that it was difficult to choose a first-place winner, as they had been asked to compare "apples and oranges" the entries included fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose in many forms. Because it is the wish of the organizers to expand the competition in future by giving awards in various categories, more sponsors are being sought for donations in increments of EC$500 from each company or individual. Chris Doyle has agreed to remain a sponsor for next year's prize, as has the King. If you are interested in contributing toward next year's prizes in the King of Redonda Literary Award, write to Bob Williamson, Schooner St. Peter, Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua, or E-mail [email protected]

Excerpts from the Judges' Favorites

Recollections by Mary Geo. Quinn

In the small agricultural village of Winthorpes in Antigua, we knew nothing about radios, televisions, telephones and electricity. The only newspapers we ever saw were out-dated ones. Grown-ups who worked as grooms, butlers, maids or gardeners in the surrounding plantation houses occasionally brought these home with left-over foods wrapped in them. It was from these, and also from listening to conversations at their workplaces, that the grown-ups learnt about the start of World War Two. We children learnt about it at school.

On this particular evening, some of the neighbors were under a tree near our yard, telling Nansi stories. On Lovers' Lane nearby, some young men and women were flirting, while in the corner under a calabash tree some older men sat debating as to whether or not pawpaw leaves were the best bait for catching angel fish. My sisters and brothers and I were under a Christmas bush tree in our yard playing the game Black Girl in the Ring.

I had been chosen to go inside the ring. I had just begun to show my "motion" when a man named Man Smith passed along and called out in a voice which in the still air sounded like thunder, "Alyou hear the sad news?"

Mummy Lord's by Narendra Sethia

Mummy Lord's stood on the street corner and had a large gingerbread balcony overlooking the street below. The building hadn't seen a coat of paint in 50 years and the wood was heavily splintered and cracked, the timbers rotten and termite-infested. The deep gutter outside the entrance ran parallel to the wharf and was a popular resting-place for those who had consumed Mummy Lord's strong white rum.

There was something of New Orleans about this old colonial building with its latticed balcony, though I do not recall having seen a structure in that city quite as neglected. And yet, in spite of its unsavoury appearance and location, it possessed a certain charm. Here, amongst the flies, the seething mass of people jostling in the markets or staggering about with the familiar gait of one who has succumbed to the ravages of that strong white rum, here, amidst the stench of the abattoir and the fruits fermenting in the hot sun and the crates of fish stacked on the wharf, here was also the focal point of the town where voluminous ladies in colourful dresses and large straw hats gossiped with their friends, laughing heartily and flashing their even, white teeth whilst small children danced on the pavements to the sound of calypso. There seemed to be music in the very way that they walked, swaying their hips rhythmically as if to the sound of some inaudible West Indian ballad.

Dusted Off Dreams by Karil Sampson
This is for the Bus Drivers
The ones that play the tunes that make you feel like starting a new day
Without them I wouldn't have the courage to go to work

This is for the Teachers
The ones that still care
The ones that try to reach as well as teach

This is for the Taxi Drivers
The ones that will pick me up at night
Who don't assume my skin and my age make me a criminal

This is for the Builders, Creators, Fixers and Dreamers
These are our army against the Destroyers, Haters and Hurters
Let us love them so they may have the faith and strength to win

This is for the West Indian
This is for you.


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