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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Belmont

Monday, April 21, 2014
Barbara Jenkins, winner of the first Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize at the Bocas Literary Festival last year

My name is Barbara Jenkins and I won the first Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize at the Bocas Literary Festival last year.


There's a benefit to writers doing newspaper features. But I'm not keen on exposure. I'm from a different time, when armhole in church was overexposure. 


I was delivered in my mother's bedroom in Upper Belmont Valley Road a couple of days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. A family of four children, like mine, was considered small. People easily had 11 children in two or three rooms without blinking. All four of us are still alive, but the others migrated to the Promised Land. They live in Florida.


Age is not a barrier to seeking adventure. Unless you want to take up skydiving.


I have three children, using 'have' loosely; also 'children.' Three adults who refer to me as 'Babs' were once my babies. My late husband Paul and I raised them in Cascade and they live all over the place now.


I attended Tranquillity Girls' Intermediate under Miss Umilta Mc Shine, headmistress extraordinaire, a woman on an unexpressed mission to shape the soft clay of the girls in her care into women who could learn well, get an exhibition to high school and escape the carved-on-stone fate of the underclass. Women who would walk backs straight, heads forward, recite a poem, look you in the eye and pelt down tamarind from the tree in the school backyard. She knew we mattered, we were the people of a future here in this island.


I attended St Joseph's Convent, PoS. Least said soonest mended. Though almost all of my enduring friendships were forged in that furnace.


School is a scandalous wastage and abuse of human potential. We incarcerate thousands of lovely, bright, eager, inquiring young people in sterile concrete structures for up to 14 years, bully them into accepting questionable authority and teach them little of long-term value. [And then] blame them when they resist [or] vent their inchoate rage and frustration on the population.


I was raised Catholic but am no longer a believer.


I sing with the Lydians. From  Pat Bishop, I learned a way of looking at the world.


After 72 years, sometimes an ideal evening is lying in bed reading and nothing else. Sometimes it's a great Lydian performance. Sometimes it’s listening to waves crashing on a cliff in Toco or sucking their way back through sand at Grande Riviere. Sometimes it's a book club meeting, a good film and drinks somewhere after.


I can’t say I have a favourite writer. [To] say Alice Munro [would] demote Edwidge Danticat or Coetzee or my darling Garcia Marquez. If I had a favourite I'd never read as much as I do.


The Hollick-Arvon Prize is for new or emerging writers. I didn't have 'a book' when I applied. I sent in excerpts of two short stories that had already won prizes and a chapter from the book I was/am working on.


My “craft” was honed by a lifetime of reading everything, anything. I am a compulsive, insatiable, addicted reader. I started “writing” with two friends in 2007, women who teach English Literature in real life. They wanted company.  I was selected to go on the Cropper Foundation/UWI residential writing workshop in 2008.



I went to do the MFA at UWI in 2010–2012. The short story collection Sic Transit Wagon came out of the MFA manuscript. I can honestly say I have been very lucky to have such good friends and support [as] Bocas and UWI. After [this weekend’s] Bocas ’14, I go to the UK for a weeklong writing workshop in Shropshire.


If I hadn't had the validation of an external prize early on, the Commonwealth Short Story, Caribbean Region, in 2010 and 2011, I don't think I would have pressed on seriously. Not at this stage of life anyway and with no ambition to be a writer. I would have learned bridge instead.


The best thing about the prize is the mentoring. The worst thing is people expecting you to want the limelight and interpreting your reluctance as some sort of diva affectation. This sudden interest in me is just a surprising blip at the end of a long busy and hardly examined life. Sic transit gloria mundi. Soon pass.


What is an un-hyphenated Trini? We still have those?


Trinidad & Tobago means home to me. 


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