Belizean Chairs Commonwealth Book Prize; Laments Decline In Caribbean Writing


In a society where reading is a fast-fading past-time, and there are less than a handful of bookstores, news of the Commonwealth Book Prize probably doesn’t tank very high.Except that this year, a Belizean has been chosen to chair the selection committee. He is Godfrey Smith, who’s written only one book, the well-received George Prize Biography – which won a regional prize. That caught the attention of Commonwealth Foundation and they gave him the nod to hold the prestigious chair.His work started in January and ended in April where he read through over 20 novels that had been shortlisted. Bearing in mind that the prize is only for first time novel writers, he said it was an eye opening experience.godfreysmith.may23.13

Godfrey Smith – Chairman, Commonwealth Book Prize
“It was a grand excursion through cultures, through soaring and even shocking imaginations from some of these writers; I quite honestly was staggered and floored by how great I thought some of these novels were. Remember these are first time novels so I read some of them and I said ‘this possibly couldn’t have been this person’s first novel’ but really it was. The styles vary – you could see good writing but within the safe scaffolding of careful architecture, you could see where somebody really worked on structure in the novel. The ones that I think that excelled were the ones that almost effortlessly captured your imagination, that were bold in their narrative style and you could sense there was no real effort, no contriving to create that perfect novel.”

Jules Vasquez
“I understand that there was only one entry from the Caribbean Region.”

Godfrey Smith
“Certainly there was only one entry from the Caribbean Region that made it in the long list of 70 add, whether there were others, I’m not sure. Yes it was only one entry and it was a self published entry disposable people – a writer from Jamaica.”

Jules Vasquez
“Is this some sort of unusual year that you would only have one long listed from the Caribbean Region.”

Godfrey Smith
“No, I think it is a downturn and I’ve said this in conversations that I’ve had with the leading Caribbean Book Publisher Ian Randle and of course he bemoans the fact that it’s going down, not much is coming out. Yes I suppose that would militate strongly against what I said earlier – that there is hope and I think with time it can happen, certainly that time is now and much needs to be done.”

Jules Vasquez
“This region which is norm for writers who have won the Nobel Prize is there some reason that there seems to be a downturn in this sort of epic, prolific, imaginative writing.”

Godfrey Smith
“If I were to hazard or speculate, the time when the Caribbean was most prolific I think was that period leading it into independence and of course the time of colonialism was an important period in terms of getting people to express themselves in terms of supposed oppression etc and strife as close as the Caribbean could have come to being on a strife ridden time. That period having passed perhaps the peoples of the Caribbean can be considered complacent when you look at region like India and Sri Lanka, there’s a lot going on, there are not only millions of people but it creates almost like a pressure cooker effect where people have to compete. Writing then becomes an outlet for somebody to express themselves. Look in places like Bangladesh, I attended a Literary festival there and it’s attended by hundreds and hundreds of young people who dream about writing – as seeing as a way out of poverty as a way of creating a career and a life style. It occurs to me that things are too laid back and no great pressure or issue to fight for seems to exist for people to feel deeply about things and want to write about it.”

Smith travels to the Hay Festival in Wales next week where the overall winner will be announced. Regional Winners have already been selected.

Books eligible for the prize are from commonwealth countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Canada, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

As for young, hopeful Belizean writers, the Commonwealth foundation is working with the Caribbean literary festival to organize training for the Caribbean.

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