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Sharon Millar - A Writer to Watch
Plagued by a struggling publishing industry, many Caribbean writers find it best to migrate to the metropoles where the machinery of agents and managers make the road from manuscript to book a little less precarious. As publicity for writers often near non-existent, one of the benefits of the region’s prominent literary festivals such as Trinidad and Tobago’s Bocas Literary Festival and Jamaica’s Calabash International Literary Festival is the flashlight they shine on emerging talent that can often otherwise go unnoticed. Sharon Millar is one of the emerging writers spotlighted at the 2012 Bocas Lit Fest.
“It was just inconceivable that you could write from Trinidad. It’s just now that I’m 46 that I feel I have the support,” she explains. “I still think that big countries have an advantage. They have the publishing machinery and they have the academy.”
Yet 2012 has been a good year for Millar, firmly indicating that she is one of the Caribbean’s emerging writers to watch. Millar’s short story ‘Friends’ was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and the announcement came shortly before the 2012 Bocas Lit Fest. 'Friends' is a visceral, gripping tale of a kidnapping told from the perspectives of both the victim and the victimizer.
Like many aspiring writers, Millar benefited from workshops with the late Wayne Brown. However, it would be 15 years before she decided to take writing seriously. In 2010, Brown, who had by then fallen ill, encouraged her to pursue the MFA at Leslie University, which she recently completed. She admits that although she is naturally inclined toward writing short-stories, she is considering writing a novel.
Millar expresses gratification for the CWW short-listing. “I was surprised. You always hope and pray but it’s always a big surprise,” she says. "It's a huge deal to me. I think there's a tremendous amount of validation there for me." She describes writing as a solitary task often plagued by self doubt, but explains that one of the unexpected bonuses from being on the CWW short-list was realizing how many of the other writers from disparate parts of the world felt the same way.
Of course, being short-listed for the CWW Short Story prize comes with other benefits as prizes can significantly augment a writer’s career and are important to both emerging and established writers. Having been short-listed for the Small Axe Literary Competition, she knows that the attention does not immediately or necessarily lead to publication. She is therefore modest in her hopes from what fruit the CWW attention will bear.
“All of a sudden you appear on a radar," Millar explains, hoping to leverage the attention she has received. “At the very least I would hope that this story (‘Friends’) gets published in an anthology,” she says.
The short story is slated to be part of a collection of stories exploring moral dilemmas that Millar has been building. Millar explains that 'Friends' is based on several true experiences and captures a particular sense of unease that pervaded Trinidadian society for approximately four years. The unease was caused by a spate of kidnappings which raged across the country.
"There was a terrible fear in the society because you started to mistrust people you thought you knew," she explained. She points out that the story explores the small things that trigger terrible things.
She describes the Trinidad which appears in her work as a small tight society with complicated stories and a lot of pain. “The stories are about women being pushed to the edge, doing things that they could never have conceived themselves doing,” she explains. “It’s about how extra-ordinary circumstances can push people to do extra-ordinary things and not necessarily good things,” Millar says.
Millar believes it is important that contemporary Caribbean writers focus on the here and now rather than delving into nostalgia, and says that is what she is trying to do.
“I’m trying to tell the story of what’s happening now,” she says. “I think that we need to document what’s happening now, so that people can read them later and understand what was happening.”