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An honour and a test
In early September, the inaugural CaribLit Residential Writing Programme will kick off in Grande Riviere, Trinidad. The workshop will be moderated by two members of the CaribLit initiative, the writers Monique Roffey and Kei Miller. It will comprise 15 participating writers, each of whom is seeking publication in either prose or fiction form. Some of the participants have been previously published, by imprints such as Peepal Tree Press. Monique Roffey won the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, for her novel Archipelago, published by Simon & Schuster. Her previous books include Sun Dog; the Orange Prize-shortlisted The White Woman on the Green Bicycle; and the memoir With the Kisses of His Mouth.
Kei Miller writes both fiction and poetry. His 2006 collection, Fear of Stones, was shortlisted for a 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. He is the recipient of the 2013 Rex Nettleford Fellowship in Cultural Studies. Almost anyone with more than a fleeting interest in honing her craft as a writer in Trinidad, and the region, will know that workshop opportunities are thin on the ground. The Cropper Foundation Residential Writers’ Workshop occurs once every two years, and is an honoured testing arena for nascent literary talent in the Caribbean. The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (Antigua and Barbuda) and the Allen Prize for Young Writers (T&T) both incorporate workshop sessions into their organisational structure, resulting in rich dividends for fledgling youth scribes. Still, it’s easy enough for adult creative writers to feel that they’re suffering for their art, without accessible mentorship to be had, except at prohibitive costs.
Admirably, CaribLit’s first residential programme for creative writers is to be administered with a waived cost for tuition; participants are to pay for room and board only. As one of the 15 participants, I’m mindful that workshops—particularly those geared toward non-beginning writers—are not for the faint of heart. I’m expecting to have my work dissected, flayed, solidly interrogated and plucked apart into more pieces than comforts my spirit, and that’s all fine. Rigorous self-examination is the blistering, wonderful core of why these workshops work: they prompt the writer to own up to her weaknesses, to evaluate the merit of each sentence, each artful metaphor and witty verse. They aren’t formatted to fluff one’s ego; they’re structured for maximum engagement with raw material, critical perception and constructive feedback.
A writing workshop, above all, isn’t a vacation, though it may provide soothing moments of respite: a stroll along a sandy beach, or an intense rambling conversation with a fellow workshop participant. These upcoming four days will be a crucible, of sorts: a gauntlet that is also a luxury. We live in a world where we still subject each other to chemical warfare over ambiguous goals, so to be able to retreat into writing is a boon, in no uncertain terms. If I have any reigning hope for my impending time at the CaribLit Residential Writing Programme, it is for the deepening of my humility. A writing life takes time, and energy. It signifies work—work that, at its best, is pleasurable, transformative and character-defining. Workshops are wondrous for the things they teach you about yourself, and they leave lasting impressions when you apply those truths to both your art and your life, insofar as the two are divisible states of being.