‘Hollow Calabash’ tops Barbados literary awards

From left Anderson Lowe; Governor of the Central Bank, sponsor of the awards, Cleviston Haynes; Sharma Taylor; Claudia Clarke; and Sarah Venable.
Photo by George Alleyne

Sharma Taylor last weekend bucked what was beginning to resemble a trend of there not being a first prize winner of Barbados’ premiere writing arts award, Frank Collymore Literary Endowment (FCLE).

The hallmarks of her collection of short stories titled ‘Hollow Calabash’ were credited with attributes such as ‘compelling and vivid characters’ ‘novel story-telling angles’ and ‘easy to read’.

For 22 years, including last weekend, the FCLE has been annually awarding writers for excellence in works of drama, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, prose.

In the last two years, however, judges had determined that the quality of writing submitted was below standard and not worthy of the number one Endowment top prize, and that position was left open.

But this year the committee of judges said that beyond a shadow of a doubt they were impressed and one judge found Taylor’s work ‘unputdownable’.

While Taylor picked up the $5,000 top prize, Claudia Clarke earned $3,000 and second place for her prose fiction titled, ‘CircleSquare’; and Anderson Lowe’s ‘Inside the Blackbelly Sheep’ got him the $2,000 that comes with third place.

Two honourable mentions went to Ingrid Persaud for her collection of short stories under the label ‘So it Go’, and Sarah Venable for her poems, ‘Tropic of Sweet and Sour’.

“This year we’ve been particularly impressed not just with the three winners, first, second and third [places], remarked the MC and committee member, Dr Yvonne Weekes. “Remember there’ve been a couple of years when we didn’t have a first prize winner.

“We are so excited that we have three winners this year as well as two honourable mentions.”

Taylor, a Jamaican resident in Barbados, wrote her ‘Hollow Calabash’ in a predominantly Jamaican dialect, and according to the citation it “offers novel story-telling angles, is easy to read”.

Her short stories are said to be, “driven by compelling and vivid characters, who are trying to reclaim things that have lost, or to fill the emptiness inside”.

Peculiarities in Claudia Clarke’ character portrayal was also hailed.

“The characters are highly relatable, the Coo Coo well stirred, the steamed flying fish buckled back as folks contrive to make the most of life in this contrary geometric construct known as CircleSquare.”

Anderson Lowe’s 11 short pieces for ‘Inside the Blackbelly Sheep’ “reflect a close understanding of Barbadian life and mores. … The collection does not shy away from examining delusion, back-biting and hypocrisy. A major strength of the collection is its satirical clear-eyed and unromantic tone”.

Chairperson of the FCLE committee, Barbados poet laureate Esther Phillips, said “several scripts were eliminated early in the competition because the work submitted was not substantial enough for us to make a reasonable assessment”.

Consistent with the top three winners and one honourable mention being prose fiction entries, she added, “the short fiction entries showed a reasonably good understanding of character; plot and dialogue”.

In spite of many of the poetry entries revealing ‘genuine emotion’, she reported that however, “for the most part the poetry submitted read too much like prose simply separated into lines”.

Nonetheless the chairperson remarked, “I am personally gratified to see that individuals are becoming more and more confident that our own life in the Caribbean is worth writing about”.

She said regional writers “must see the value of recording our own authentic Caribbean experience”

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