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A-dZiko Simba Gegele Snags Inaugural Burt Award

A-dZiko Simba Gegele receives her award from William 'Bill' Burt

From a field of six shortlisted entrants for the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, Jamaica’s A-dZiko Simba Gegele’s vibrant debut novel All Over Again (published by Blouse and Skirt Books) danced to the finish line to earn the top award. The award was announced at a gala event as a part of the 2014 Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival, the Bocas Lit Fest on Friday, April 2014.

“A-dZiko Gegele is a sensational writer,” said Burt Award Chief Juror Mala Morton Gittens. “Her novel appeals to readers of all ages and all genders,” she continued, also describing the book as “linguistically exciting”.

The Burt Award, introduced last year among the slew of game changing prizes being spawned by the Bocas Lit Fest, is funded and orchestrated by CODE, a Canadian NGO dedicated to advancing literacy, in combination with philanthropist William ‘Bill’ Burt. 

HE Anthony Carmona talks to Simba Gegele after the award“I realized that reading fiction helped me achieve what I have in life,” Burt, a former commodities trader, said, explaining that he was keenly aware of how exposure to good “easy” books had shaped his own development and so wanted to share that. 

“It’s my hope that this prize will help young people here in the Caribbean read more and read better,” Burt said. 

The need to have the region’s youth reading voraciously, was the sentiment of the evening’s guest speaker His Excellency Anthony Carmona, President of Trinidad and Tobago, 

“When you read to a child, you entertain, educate, and develop and you bond with them, sometimes for a night, sometimes forever. When you teach a child to read, you entertain, educate, and develop and you bond with them, sometimes for a night, sometimes forever,” His Excellency said.(l-r) Simba Gegele, Mala Morton Gittens, Joanne Jillhouse and Colleen Smith Dennis

HE Carmona lauded the supporters of the award and noted that it is critically important that we find ways to move beyond the converted and introduce the Caribbean’s oral and written traditions to those with little or no exposure to it. HE Carmona also expressed great fondness for Simba Gegele’s island home, Jamaica, where he attended university at the UWI’s Mona Campus.

“So it is in fact a defining moment for me and I want all of you to give adulation to a great writer,” the President said.

Scott Walker, executive director of CODE, noted that The Burt Award is specifically designed to get books into the hands of readers.  As a result, the prize comes with two elements, a cash prize for the writer, as well as a guaranteed purchase of 2,500 copies of the title, that will be distributed to schools and libraries across the region. 

“We want them (the region’s children) to have so much choice it’s an embarrassment of riches,” Walker said. 

Justin Mohammed delights the audience with his reading of All Over AgainThe audience received a taste of what All Over Again had to offer through a dramatic reading from Justin Mohammed, member of the Lilliput Theatre, who had them bursting into gales of delighted laughter.

So, in keeping with the wish to encourage a diverse range of literature for young adults, the Burt Award presented three prizes. Joanne Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda received the second place for her manuscript Musical Youth, while Colleen Smith Dennis  (Jamaica) received third place for Inner City Girl, published by LMH Publishing.

Simba receives $10,000 CAD, while Hillhouse receives $7,000 CAD and Smith Dennis receives $5,000 CAD for first, second and third place respectively.

The inaugural competition had received a total of 38 manuscripts and published books. The other shortlisted entrants were Diane Browne (Jamaica, Carlong Publishing) for Island Princess in Brooklyn, Joanne Skerrett (Dominica, Papillotte Press) for Abraham’s Treasure and Gynis Guevara (Trinidad and Tobago) for Barrel Girl

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest 2014 takes place at the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago, April 23 - 27, Port of Spain.