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Voices to tell our stories

shadiasimpson, [email protected]

Voices to tell our stories

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AS WE GO our leisurely way this weekend watching movies, surfing the Internet and being impacted by foreign heroes of the big and small screens, we should pause and realize that our own images and culture are absent from much of the entertainment that bombards us and that we imbibe simply because there’s no major alternative.
It need not be so, but the situation has become perennial because of the dire need in Barbados and the region for more creative writers telling our stories to the world.
Even a cursory glance at the books we read and films we watch, not to mention the dearth of Barbadian drama that lives only in our fond memories of Earl Warner and company, reveals a startling exclusion of our own daily reality and a culturally starved audience that needs to see itself in film, on stage and television and in literature.
Occasional “discoveries” about aspects of Caribbean culture, as told by American and European travel writers embedded in luxurious resorts and yachts, are no more our stories than the “discovery” of this new world by Christopher Columbus!
And this is why the importance of fora like the Irving Burgie Literary Award competition must not be overlooked. In fact, we commend the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) for its continuing support of the literary arts through its Read-In, Writers’ Fest, National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) and, by extension, the myriad film festivals, calypso competitions and songwriting contests.
It was significant that NCF cultural officer for literary arts Ayesha Gibson-Gill noted on Thursday that while Burgie is renowned worldwide as a lyricist – having penned the words to our National Anthem and several songs for Harry Belafonte’s 1956 album Calypso which was the first album in the United States to sell over a million copies – he has maintained the annual local literary award, which he established in 1980, out of a belief that, in Gill’s words, “the foundation of good writing will . . . make you into a good storyteller [and] social commentator”.
And for the Caribbean, it’s no mean achievement that within the last three generations brilliant creative writers have emerged from within this treasure chest that houses the cultures of four colonial empires and two continents. Hence, writers of the eminence of Roger Mais, Nicolás Guillén, Aimé Césaire, Samuel Selvon, George Lamming, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, V.S. Naipaul and Earl Lovelace have also made their mark.
So who should be reflecting today’s Barbadian realities moreso than the articulate young ones currently benefiting from the solid base of 50 years of universal free education? They need not echo T.S. Eliot or even Tupac; they have the technology to spread the message of their reality and, more importantly, a unique voice that has been described as “mature” beyond their years by the Irving Burgie Literary Award’s panel of judges.
These fresh poetic and prose voices should therefore be encouraged and validated within these 166 square miles, so that when they quickly cross the region and reach metropolitan readers and audiences, they would do so with the confidence that “our story” is worth telling.
Congrats to this year’s winners!