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A very good year

T&T writers enjoyed success in 2016
Saturday, December 31, 2016
From Mason Hall to Whitehall cover.

Of the 11 writers, six are from T&T.

In 2016, a year that was promising and trailblazing for T&T writers, this felt like less of a coincidence and more of a portent of powerful, locally-made success in storytelling.

T&T writers have dominated the international awards field, most notably with Vahni Capildeo's win of the 2016 Forward Prize for Poetry for her collection, Measures of Expatriation.

The prize, which carries a winner's purse of £15,000, has been won three years in a row by Caribbean writers: Claudia Rankine in 2014; Kei Miller in 2015; Capildeo in 2016.

Lance Dowrich emerged the winner of the Caribbean arm of last year's Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné scooped up the 2016 Wasafiri New Writing Prize for Poetry.

Caribbean writing is moving more solidly into the international award mainstream, and no one could be faulted for naming T&T a safe horse in that race.

Within awards that focus on the region, too, T&T writers made 2016 their domain.

Two winners of the CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature—Tamika Gibson in first place; Danielle YC McClean in third—are from T&T.

Last year's Small Axe Literary Competition was very nearly a national clean sweep, with three out of four prizewinning spots earned by T&T writers Portia Subran, Soyini Ayanna Forde, and Ayanna Gillian Lloyd. Regional prizes award the Caribbean's best of show, and T&T keeps bringing home the blue ribbons.

Awards weren't the only highlight of the past writing year for Trinis and Tobagonians: our representation at literary events both at home and abroad was high-flying, too.

Both the Brooklyn Book Festival and the Miami Book Fair featured T&T writers on their main festival programmes through strategic partnerships with the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013 co-winner Sharon Millar took her collection of stories The Whale House on tour in the UK: the multi-event reading series, produced by Renaissance One, saw Millar share excerpts from her short stories at the University of Leicester, the London Literature Festival, the University of Reading and more.

Appearances at fairs, festivals and public readings have become increasingly valuable additions to a writer's life: many a venue both near and far bore witness to a T&T scribe's passport stamp in 2016.

Even without travels and accolades, what is perhaps most gratifying of all is the fact that our writers haven't stopped publishing.

In what many thought would be a detrimental year for local reading, with the implementation of a 12.5 per cent Vat on books, it seems our literary culture has only rallied under pressure.

Historian Angelo Bissessarsingh's fame is comparable to a Trinidadian calypsonian or Tobagonian cricketer; the book launches he held last year were packed to the rafters in both north and south Trinidad.

Bissessarsingh's rockstar-tier popularity is proof that books can not only reach the masses, but speak directly to their needs, preoccupations and desires.

Other local writers have tapped into this vein, too, and produced books that span both historic and contemporary concerns.

A cross-section of these 2016 titles included Danielle Delon's A Handbook of Trinidad Cookery 1907; Judy Raymond's The Colour of Shadows; Keith Rowley's From Mason Hall to Whitehall, and numerous others.

From self-published memoirs to glossy coffee table compendiums, everyone had a story to tell.

Whether you wanted to read about an ambitious Tobagonian's rise to political power, or chart the time-tested roots of recipes made in Trinidad's British colonial kitchens a century ago, 2016 offered publications for both those palates and more.

In literature as in life, T&T has never been a speck in the Caribbean Sea, no matter what out of focus maps would have you believe.

The prowess of our writing continues to surge forth in uncertain global circumstances, when words and their power have never been more important.

The Walcotts, Lovelaces and Selvons of our generation are not only alive and well: they made 2016 an active, vibrant year in writing, reading and publishing.


Shivanee Ramlochan is a poet and blogger. She writes on books for the Sunday Arts Section.


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