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Janet Morrison, Diana McCaulay and Donna Hemans Take Home Lignum Vitae Awards 2015

Janet Morrison, Donna Hemans and Diana McCaulay win 2015 Lignum Vitae Awards

Janet Morrison, Diana McCaulay, and Donna Hemans beat out a field of nine (9) writers to become the winners of the 2015 Lignum Vitae Writing Awards, taking home a total of $1 million in the process. The literati studded awards event, charmingly hosted by Dahlia Harris, was staged by the Jamaican Writers Society in collaboration with the Jamaican Copyright Licensing Agency, at the National Gallery of Jamaica on Friday, November 6, 2015.

Donna Hemans took home the Una Marson Prize for adult literature, earning a sleek trophy (designed by Nucleus Creative) and a purse of $500,000. Hemans who currently lives in the United states previously authored River Woman, finalist for the Hurtston/Wright Legacy Award (2003). Her short fiction has appeared in Crab Orchard Review and Stories From Blue Latitudes: Caribbean Women Writers at Home and Abroad and she has received fellowships from Hedgebrook, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Dahlia Harris host of the 2015 Lignum Vitae Writing Awards

Interestingly, two of the shortlisted entrants in the category had previously claimed the Una Marson prize while it was managed by the Book Development Council of Jamaica. Ellis, won the prize in 1993 for the collection Flaming Hearts and Other Stories and again took it home in 1999 for Till I’m Laid to Rest. Kei Miller earned the award in 2006 for The Same Earth. Additionally, while they were submitted to the award as manuscripts, Ellis’ The Angel Share and Miller’s Augustown are both slated for publication in 2016. 

Diana McCaulay took home the Vic Reid Award for young adult literature for her novel Gone to Drift. Gone to Drift, then titled The Dolphin Catchers, had previously placed second in the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature and is also slated for publication early next year. McCaulay earned a Regional Prize in the Commonwealth Short Story competition for the short on which the novel is based. She is also no stranger to the previous iteration of the awards, having earned a ‘high commendation’ for her novel Dog Heart.JaWS and JAMCOPY pulled off a literati studded event

Of the three winners, Janet Morrison is the newest to fiction. However, her play The Fisherman copped the 2012 BBC International Playwriting Competition.  Her collection of short stories A Different Me: A Better You earned the Jean D’Costa Award for children’s literature.

The judges reports generally had high praise for the winners, but also spoke to the general need to greater editorial attention in the submitted works. Jean D'Costa the evening's guest speaker

Jean D’Costa, the evening’s guest speaker, spoke to the role and value of fiction in our lives. As chief judge for the prize named in her honour, she also had high praise for Morrison’s A Better You: A Better Me which she remarked provided a great lens through which to see persons with disabilities. 

The evening was bookended by musical selections from DJ Iset Sankofa, while Tribe Sankofa, having opened with a striking mash-up of Mel Cooke’s ‘Creation’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Natural Mystic’ presented dramatic readings of the excerpts of the winning pieces, as well as a tribute to the late Anthony Winkler with a hilarious reading of his novel The Duppy. Tribe Sankofa

The inaugural staging of the awards had received 43 entries which were whittled down by prejudges, with the shortlist and final winners selected by three panels comprising academics, writers and literary critics: Dr. Erna Brodber (chair), Dr. Kezia Page and Mrs. Winsome Hudson for the Una Marson Award; Ms. Carolyn Allen, Ms. A-dZiko Simba Gegele and Dr. Cherrell Shelley Robinson for the Vic Reid Award and; Mrs. Jean D’Costa (chair), Dr. Rebecca Tortello and Ms. Hazel Campbell. 

The award is to be presented biennially.

The Complete Shortlist 

The Una Marson Award for adult literature:

The Cherry Picker - Patrick Brown

The Angel’s Share - Garfield Ellis

The Road to Timnath - Sylvia Gilfillian

Tea By the Sea  - Donna Hemans

August Town – Kei Miller

The Vic Reid Award for young adult literature

The Titchfield Turnabout – Paula Lennon

Gone to Drift – Diana Macaulay

The Jean D’Costa Award for children’s literature

A Different Me: A Better You – Janet Morrison

Duppy in the Wardrobe – Helen Williams