More Than A Literary Festival

The 2021 Johnson & Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize Shortlist

Akhim Alexis, Jay T. John and Desiree Seebaran, all from Trinidad and Tobago, will now compete for the 2021 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize (JAACWP).  The valuable award will enable one of them to advance their ambition as a poet.  

This is the region’s only prize for emerging writers, and this year’s winner will be announced during the upcoming virtual NGC Bocas Lit Fest, which takes place from April 23 to 25. 

Eight of the ten writers longlisted for the third and final year of the Johnson and Amoy Achong Writers Caribbean Prize were from Trinidad and Tobago. A total of 35 submissions were received from seven other Caribbean countries — Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Bahamas and Guyana. 

The judges remarked that the quality of the 2021 Prize entries was uneven. “Many of the poets failed to sustain their opening imagery, some deployed disconnected symbolism, inappropriate diction, inconsistent code-switching between English and Creole, and in some cases, were obviously too prosaic. But the top contenders were accomplished or very promising. History, myth, gender, and identity are the most common areas of engagement. At the level of experiment, robber talk, the mechanics of spoken word, the tradition of nursery rhymes, rasta groundation, and elegiac tradition are evident.”

It is not the first time that Trinidadian writers have been so dominant in the final line-up. According to the founder of the award, Marina Salandy-Brown, “I have to agree with the view that something is shifting in the literary environment here, and it is not a miracle. We at the Bocas Lit Fest simply added our different, complementary skills to the many other efforts that have been made to develop our writers over a long period. We have been able to affect the ecosystem positively and we are seeing the results of years of work on the part of everyone, especially those who aspired to become accomplished writers.”

JAACWP has been sponsored for three years by philanthropist and medical practitioner Dr Kongshiek Achong Low, in memory of his parents and is administered by the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago and the literary charitable trust Arvon in the UK.  Sharma Taylor, 2019 winner of the Johnson and Amoy Achong Prize for fiction, has gone on to win other literary prizes and her debut novel was picked up by Virago Press for publication in 2022.

The Johnson and Amoy Achong Writers Caribbean Prize consists of a cash award of $3,000US and attendance at an intense creative writing course at one of Arvon’s internationally renowned writing houses, plus a three-day stay in London to network with editors and publishers, hosted by Arvon and in association with the Free Word Centre. The winner is also mentored by an established writer in the genre and gets the chance to be agented by Aitken Alexander Associates literary agency in the UK.

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