Desiree Seebaran wins Caribbean writers prize

A report from Loop Trinidad and Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago poet Desiree Seebaran has won the 2021 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize (JAAWP), the region’s only prize for emerging writers.

In the third and final year of the Prize, dedicated to the advancement of new Caribbean voices, Seebaran won out over the other two shortlisted poets, Akhim Alexis and Jay T. John. All three are Trinbagonians.

The prize offers an opportunity to advance a current work in progress.  

In the official announcement during the Winners’ Row event at the 2021 NGC Bocas Lit Fest on Saturday, April 24  Seebaran was announced the winner of the JAAWP by Chief Judge Funso Aiyejina.  

Prof Emeritus Aiyejina said that Seebaran’s submission was the winner “because of its confident tone and sensitive exploration of gender and culture. This winning poet is witty, evocative, and challenges orthodoxy. The lines are tight, crisp, and, because they are so well-honed, effortless and unforced.”

This year’s competition received a total of 35 submissions, spanning eight Caribbean countries – Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Bahamas and Guyana. 

The judging process was blind, with names and nationalities of the entrants withheld from judges until the longlist had been chosen.

The Prize, launched in 2018, has been sponsored by Dr Kongshiek Achong Low, philanthropist and medical practitioner, in memory of his parents, Johnson and Amoy Achong, and was administered by the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Arvon in the UK. 

Jamaican Sharma Taylor, who won the prize for fiction in 2019, has had her debut novel picked up by publisher Virago, to be released in 2022. Amanda Choo Quan, from Trinidad, won the 2020 Prize for non-fiction. 

During the prizegiving, Dr. Achong Low reaffirmed his pleasure to have sponsored the prize in his parents’ names, saying that despite them having limited access to formal education, reading opened so many doorways for them and him.

Seebaran receives the equivalent of US$3,000 in local currency and is expected to travel to the United Kingdom for a one-week intensive Arvon creative writing course, as well as a three-day stay in London to network with editors and publishers, hosted by Arvon in association with the Free Word Centre.

She will also be mentored by an established writer in the genre and has the opportunity to be agented by a literary agency in the UK.

Over the weekend of April 23-25, the NGC Bocas Lit is serving up its 11th annual festival as a virtual offering, via live streams on its website, Facebook and YouTube pages. 

It includes continuous programming, with around 100 participants involved in the dozens of events.

Title sponsor of Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival is the National Gas Company, lead sponsor is First Citizens, main sponsors are the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and One Caribbean Media. The National Lotteries Control Board, Massy Foundation and UWI are sponsors.

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