The Royal Gazette’s Paul Johnston reports on the recent winners of the 2018 Bermuda Literary Awards.
A mother and son pulled off a double win in a prestigious literary awards competition. Florenz Maxwell was awarded the Children and Young Adult Fiction prize in the 2018 Bermuda Literary Awards for her novel Girlcott. Her son, Clarence Maxwell, won the Cultural Merit prize for his Pembroke, part of the Architectural Heritage series published by the Bermuda National Trust.
Ms Maxwell said her son’s win brought her more happiness than her own. She said: “I was very proud of him, because I know how hard he works. I was just really thrilled about that.”
Ms Maxwell’s book is about Desma Johnson, who turns 16 at the time of the pivotal 1959 Theatre Boycott. Ms Maxwell said: “It sort of disrupted her birthday plans. Through this disruption, and her disappointment, she found out what Bermuda was like as a segregated community.” Ms Maxwell was a member of the Progressive Group, the organisation behind the theatre boycott that led to the breakdown of segregation. But she emphasised that the book’s main character was not based on her. Ms Maxwell said: “It’s not an autobiography, in that sense of the word. “It’s difficult to explain to people that when you write fiction, it’s not an autobiography. It’s a combination of activities that have been a part of your life. It’s like knitting — you just put the pattern together.” She added that the only thing she shared with Desma was their skin colour. Ms Maxwell explained: “I wanted a dark-skinned girl as the main character because many of the books about our people have not been positive.”
Girlcott was awarded second place in the 2016 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.
Ms Maxwell, who was born in Pembroke and now lives in Warwick, said it was too early to say if another book was planned. She added: “Whenever anybody asks me that I tell them I’m still in the delivery room. Women know what that means.”
Lucinda Spurling, a film-maker, and Jonathan Smith, a former commissioner of police and ex-Progressive Labour Party senator, were among the other writers given awards. The competition, held every five or six years, was organised by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.
The winning entries were:
- Non-Fiction: Island Flames by Mr Smith.
- Drama and Screenwriting:Me and Jezebel by Ms Spurling.
- Children and Young Adult Fiction:Girlcott by Ms Maxwell.
- Brian Burland Prize for Fiction: Fried White Grunts by Colin Duerden.
- Cecille N. Musson Prize for Poetry:Pilgrimage by Paul Maddern.
- Cultural Merit: Pembroke, by Dr Maxwell.
- Founder’s Award:Bermuda, Chained on the Rock by Cyril Packwood.
Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sports, said that the awards recognised “talent, hard work, research, time and dedication”. She added: “The writing of a novel, or a book of poetry, stems from a desire to tell a story about the world we inhabit, in a way that holds meaning for its inhabitants. As the minister responsible for culture, I am delighted to have a mechanism through which to reward excellence in this area.”
The Bermuda Literary Awards began in 1999 to honour Bermuda’s writers. Books are eligible if they have been published after the previous awards. The Cultural Merit prize was added this year for “books or scripts that are notable for contributing to the preservation of Bermuda’s culture, heritage, folklife or history”. A Drama and Screenwriting prize was also added. Each winner gets a $2,000 prize and they will be presented with their awards in February.