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New prize open for submissions

THE JOHNSON AND AMOY ACHONG CARIBBEAN WRITERS PRIZE, a new literary prize announced at the 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, is now open for submissions.

The prize is named after Johnson and Amoy Achong and commemorates their lives as loyal and hardworking citizens of this country whose children have continued to contribute to the building of Trinidad and Tobago.

Their son, philanthropist Dr. Kongshiek Achong Low, sponsor of the prize, is a medical practitioner and Chairman of Medcorp Limited. Speaking at the Prize announcement in March 2018, Dr Achong Low said his parents were very undereducated but knew and taught their children the value of education.

The Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize, which is managed by The Bocas Lit Fest and Arvon, is an annual award, which allows an emerging Caribbean writer living and working in the Anglophone Caribbean to devote time to advancing or finishing a literary work, with support from an established writer as mentor. The prize is offered across three literary genres – fiction in 2019, non-fiction in 2020 and poetry in 2021.

The Prize consists of a cash award of TT$20,000 (or the equivalent in USD), a year’s mentoring by an established writer, travel to the United Kingdom to attend a one-week intensive Arvon creative writing course at one of Arvon’s internationally renowned writing houses, and three days in London to network with editors and publishers, hosted by Arvon, in association with the Free Word Centre and a leading London literary agency.

The first winner of the Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize will be announced in 2019.

This Prize replaces the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, which ran between 2013 and 2015. The inaugural winner in 2013 was Barbara Jenkins of Trinidad and Tobago, and the winner in the final year, 2015 was Trinidadian Danielle Boodoo Fortuné. Both writers launched their books that resulted from the Hollick Arvon Prize at the 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

Marina Salandy-Brown, founder of the non-profit organisation Bocas Lit Fest that created the prize, expressed her deep satisfaction that after several years of looking for a new sponsor, Dr Achong Low saw the value of investing in literature and our new writers. “Personal philanthropy of this sort is still in short supply and I hope that it will raise awareness of and support for a sector that is burgeoning but still needs ardent nurturing.”     

Download the prize guidelines and entry form here.                 


Q: Who is the prize named after and why? 

A:  Johnson and Amoy Achong are the names of my parents.   My father emigrated to Trinidad from Guangdong (Canton) China in the late1930’s. My mother was born in Trinidad of mixed parentage. They were married in the mid 1940’s and had six children. My father never went to school and my mother attended school for 4yrs of her childhood life. They both however valued the concept of formal education very highly and all their children were always encouraged to pursue knowledge via education.

My father knowing what he had lost forever in his childhood while in China would send monies back to China which funded the building of a school in his home village and created scholarships for many of the children of that village who went on to become professionals in many varied disciplines. I had the major denouement of this school and what it had meant to his home village when I had my first and only so far, visit to China in 2006. My father had long passed away in 1978 but in 2006, the outpouring of the love and extreme respect that the remaining inhabitants of that village still evidenced for my father was both touching and remarkable. In front of that school there is a marble engraving that bears his name in commemoration of what he had done for his community.

Both my parents were ‘only’ children. I remember my mother who having been born and raised in North Trace, Monkey Town, and coming to live in Port of Spain with a zero network of acquaintances, trudging the streets of POS in 1958 trying to find a place in a ‘quality’ secondary school for both my elder brother and sister, especially since my brother had no further chance at doing the “Exhibition” examination….all in an effort so that they would have a chance at being as well educated as possible. 

Q:  Why did you decide to support this particular initiative?

A:  I am supporting this initiative for many reasons but it all come down to the fact that I consider it worthwhile.

  1. The Bocas Lit Fest Organisation has credibility.
  2. I believe that reading provides knowledge and one can only read if someone writes.
  3. I believe that the world has lost its soul and very much so Trinidad and Tobago. We need the Humanities to nurture our souls. This is one way I can help to change our society.
  4. There is incredible untapped talent in Trinidad and Tobago as well as the wider Caribbean. This is my miniscule way of trying to ‘water and fertilize’ this talent. This as well will help our society.
  5. It would also be kind of kicksy if one of the three persons who become winners of this prize over the 3 year interval were to one day go on to be a world renowned author.

Q: Personal philanthropy is still quite rare in T&T   Do you think your generosity could serve as an encouragement to others?   

A: I certainly hope so. People in Trinidad and Tobago are ultra mercenary. Sad! Few understand the joy of giving and seeing their charity turn into greater good.

Q: What are your expectations of the prize?

A: I am a chauvinist. It is my hope that all winners over the 3-year interval will be Trinis or from Tobago. But my best answer comes from a personal experience.

In 1971 I actually encouraged a friend of mine, one David Hochoy (nephew of Sir Solomon Hochoy), to forego the urging of his parents to do medicine and to follow his dream of the Arts (Stage, Music, Dance). My parting words were, “I believe you will be good at whatever you choose to do and one day if you do become great, I would be so proud to say that I did know you.”

About 39 years later and now being in the Internet age, I googled David Hochoy and he became and is presently a mega son of our soil in Dance and Choreography internationally. Go Google!!